Frederick V of Denmark

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Frederick V
C.G. Pilo - Portrait of Frederik V in Anointment Robe - Google Art Project.jpg
Portrait by Carl Gustaf Pilo, between 1748 and 1751
King of Denmark and Norway
Reign6 August 1746 – 14 January 1766
Coronation4 September 1747
Frederiksborg Palace Chapel
PredecessorChristian VI
SuccessorChristian VII
Born(1723-03-31)31 March 1723
Copenhagen Castle
Died14 January 1766(1766-01-14) (aged 42)
Christiansborg Palace, Copenhagen
FatherChristian VI of Denmark
MotherSophie Magdalene of Brandenburg-Kulmbach

Frederick V (Danish and Norwegian: Frederik V; 31 March 1723 – 14 January 1766) was King of Denmark–Norway and Duke of Schleswig-Holstein from 6 August 1746 until his death in 1766. He was the son of Christian VI of Denmark and Sophie Magdalene of Brandenburg-Kulmbach.

Although the personal influence of Frederick was limited, his reign was marked by the progress of commerce and trade, and art and science prospered under his reign. Unlike his parents who were deeply devoted to Pietism, Frederick grew into a hedonist. As regent, he took part in the conduct of government by attending council meetings, but he was afflicted by alcoholism and most of his rule was dominated by able ministers who were influenced by the ideas of the Age of Enlightenment. His ministers marked his reign by the progress of commerce and the emerging industry. They also avoided involving Denmark-Norway in the European wars of his time. Although Frederick V wasn't personally interested in cultural affairs, his first wife was, and the public entertainment and freedom of expression that had been banned during his father's reign was again permitted.

Early years[edit]

Birth and family[edit]

Frederick's birthplace, the Copenhagen Castle, c. 1730.

Prince Frederick was born on 31 March 1723 as the grandson of King Frederick IV of Denmark and the only son of Crown Prince Christian and Sophie Magdalene of Brandenburg-Kulmbach.[1] He was the last Danish prince to be born in the then antiquated and overextended Copenhagen Castle, which dated from the late 14th century, and had assumed a monstrous appearance and started to crumble under its own weight after several extensions. Demolition of the castle began in 1731 to make way for a more adequate royal residence, the vast Baroque style Christiansborg Palace, from where Frederick would eventually reign.

As the Crown Prince's eldest son, Frederick was destined to rule from birth. An younger sister died in infancy in 1724, and his only surviving sister, Princess Louise, was born in 1726. On 12 October 1730, King Frederick IV died and Frederick's father ascended the throne as King Christian VI. Frederick himself became Crown Prince at the age of seven.[1]

Upbringing and education[edit]

Prince Frederick as a child wearing the blue sash of the Order of the Elephant.

Christian VI and Queen Sophie Magdalene were deeply devoted to Pietism, a movement within Lutheranism that combines its emphasis on biblical doctrine with an emphasis on individual piety and living a vigorous Christian life. As a consequence, Frederick was given a strictly religious upbringing. At the age of 7, he received his own royal household with the German nobleman Georg Wilhelm von Söhlenthal as his hofmeister. Söhlenthal was an ardent supporter of the Moravian Brethren, and his home was the center of the pietistic circles in Copenhagen. He shared a deep religious piety with the king, and for a time he was Christian VI's adviser on ecclesiastical matters. However, Söhlenthal did not succeed in influencing the spiritual development of the Crown Prince, as he was an overly gentle and weak character, and in 1738 he was dismissed from his position as hofmeister.[1]

Frederick's education became rather deficient. In 1730 the king entrusted the significant and well-educated privy councillor Iver Rosenkrantz supervision of Crown Prince Frederik's upbringing, but this had no influence on the actual teaching. Rosenkrantz was a supporter of the traditional Lutheran orthodoxy, while Christian VI more and more became a proponent of Pietism and lost confidence in Rosenkrantz. The Crown Prince's education was therefore completely carried out in the German Pietist spirit that prevailed at court.[2] Like his ancestors, he only had a poor command of the Danish language.[2] His mother ironically referred to him as "Der Dänische Prinz" (literally The Danish Prince in German) because he occasionally spoke Danish.[3] In 1740 he was confirmed and from then on was given a seat in the Council of State.

Crown Prince Frederick in the uniform of the Royal Horse Guards. Portrait by Andreas Møller, probably c. 1740.

Prince Frederick proved himself from an early age to have a completely different nature from his strict and somewhat gloomy parents.[2] He was gentle and kind in nature, cheerful and accessible to everyone, and wanted to see his subjects happy. Unlike his secluded parents, who were rarely seen outside their palaces, he enjoyed spending time in public with people from all walks of life. Despite his upbringing in a strictly pietistic home, he was not himself gripped by pietism.[2] Although certainly not unfamiliar with religious sentiments, Frederick grew into a hedonist who enjoyed the pleasures of life such as deer stalking, wine and women.[2]

This hedonism, however, evolved to debauchery, and Frederick became well known for a libertine lifestyle marked by sexual licentiousness and alcoholism. With a group of other rakes, he would tour the city's taverns and brothels, to an extent that his father at one point considered having him declared legally decapacitated.[4] The King's more prudent advisers, however, spoke against it, as it would legally be a violation of the King's Law (Latin: Lex Regia; Danish: Kongeloven), the absolutist constitution of Denmark and Norway from 1665.[5] Furthermore, it would also compromise the monarchy to an unprecedented degree to admit that the future king was unfit to rule.[4]

Of the outmost importance for the future of the Crown Prince and his realm, was the 1730 appointment as his chamber page of Adam Gottlob Moltke, a nobleman from Mecklenburg who was eleven years older than Frederick. Moltke had been a page to his father, and upon the accession of Christian VI became the chamber page of the new Crown Prince. The King and Queen counted on Moltke to teach the Crown Prince to control himself, and in 1743 Moltke was promoted to Hofmeister.[6] In fact, Moltke did nothing to control Frederick's sexual appetite nor his alcohol consumption, but in return a lifelong relationship of trust was established between the two men, which was to become crucial after Frederick's ascension to throne.

First marriage[edit]

Frederick (first from left) and Louise (last from right), then crown princes of Denmark, with King Christian VI and Queen Sophie Magdalene sitting. Hirschholm Palace can be seen in the background. Painting by Marcus Tuscher c. 1744.

Crown Prince Frederick's propensity for debauchery accelerated his marriage negotiations.[5] In 1743, a dynastic marriage was negotiated between him and Princess Louise of Great Britain, the youngest daughter of King George II and Caroline of Ansbach. They where married in a proxy wedding ceremony on 10 November 1743 in Hanover, with the Princess's brother, the Duke of Cumberland, acting as the representative of the groom. A week later, the entourages of Louise and Frederick met in the border city of Altona in the then Danish Duchy of Holstein, where Frederick met his wife for the first time.[7] Louise and Frederick then travelled together to Copenhagen, where Louise held her official entry into the Danish capital to great cheers from the population on 11 December 1743. Already the same day a second wedding ceremony with the groom present was held in the chapel of the newly completed Christiansborg Palace.

The Crown Prince and Crown Princess sharing cherries in their apartment at Charlottenborg Palace, a scene described by Charlotte Dorothea Biehl. History painting by Wilhelm Marstrand, 1868.

After the wedding, the newlyweds initially took up residence at Charlottenborg Palace[a], a Baroque style residence of the Danish royal family located at Copenhagen's largest square, Kongens Nytorv. They lived there until, in 1745, they could move into the completed Prince's Mansion[b], a city mansion remodeled for them by the Danish architect and royal building master Nicolai Eigtved in the new Rococo style, and located just across the Frederiksholm's Canal from Christiansborg Palace. Their home quickly became the setting for a lively and entertaining court which differed greatly from the rigid and heavy etiquette that prevailed at the court at Christiansborg Palace.

Although the marriage was arranged, the couple got along quite well, and at least during the first years, their relationship was apparently amicable. The couple had five children, of whom the eldest son, the heir to the throne Crown Prince Christian, did not survive infancy. Although Frederick came to feel high regard for his wife and always treated her with kindness, he reportedly was not in love with her, and continued his debauched lifestyle. Louise pretended not to notice his adultery, as he enjoyed random liaisons with others. During the years 1746–51, the king had a favorite mistress named Madam Hansen with whom he also had five children.[5]


The Norwegian Masonic historian Karl Ludvig Tørrisen Bugge claimed Frederick V as crown prince was included in the Copenhagen Masonic Lodge St. Martin. This was probably June 1744, and inspired by the Prussian king Frederick the Great who was also included in a masonic lodge in his youth. They both had fathers who were violently opposed to the Masons, but unlike the Prussian king, Frederick V never published his membership of the lodge.[8]



Portrait by Carl Gustaf Pilo (Nationalmuseum)

On 6 August 1746—the day before his parents' silver marriage festivities—his father died at the age of 46 at Hirschholm Palace, the royal family's summer retreat north of Copenhagen. At the death of his father, Frederick immediately ascended the thrones of Denmark and Norway as their fifth absolute monarch at the age of just 23. The new king and queen then moved the short distance from the Prince's Mansion across the Frederiksholm's Canal into the large Christiansborg Palace. On 4 September the following year, they were anointed in Frederiksborg Palace's Chapel, the traditional place of coronation of Denmark-Norway's monarchs during the days of the absolute monarchy, on the island of Sealand north of Copenhagen.[9]

What Frederick and Louise on a small scale had begun at Charlottenborg and the Prince's Mansion, they now continued at a large scale at Christiansborg. Frederick V's accession to the throne brought about a great change in life at the Danish court, which now became far more festive and acquired a more easy-going tone than under his strictly religious parents. Almost as a sign of the new times, the heavy iron chains that had previously surrounded Christiansborg to keep the people at distance disappeared, court life regained its luster, and the palace's halls and salons once again became the setting for balls and social gatherings.[5]


The king's favourite and the de facto ruler of Denmark-Norway during the king's reign, count A. G. Moltke. Portrait by C.G. Pilo, 1760.

The personal influence of Frederick was limited, making him one of absolute rulers who least made for the state's strength. Just after his accession he appointed A. G. Moltke, whom he had as a favourite, as his Lord Chamberlain — an office that had previously been a mere court post. Now it became an outstanding position that gave Moltke opportunity as the king's confidential friend to be around him from morning till night, with the king talking to him about whatever was on his mind, which enabled Moltke to make his influence felt in all areas where he pleased. One of his main tasks was to take care that his dissolute Majesty didn't damage the Royal household's reputation with his constant orgies. Frederick's main interest was primarily the arts of war that rivalled the anti-military attitudes that characterized his counsellors; he enjoyed hunting and stayed often at the Jægersborg Dyrehave estates.

Although the king, as regent, took part in the conduct of government by attending council meetings, he was afflicted by alcoholism and most of his rule was dominated by very able ministers such as A. G. Moltke J. H. E. Bernstorff and H. C. Schimmelmann. These men marked his reign by the progress of commerce and the emerging industry of gunpowder plant and cannon foundry in Frederiksværk, built by Johan Frederik Classen. They also avoided involving Denmark-Norway in the European wars of his time. The country remained neutral even for the duration of the Seven Years' War (1756–63), despite its proximity to combatants Russia and Sweden, an act which undoubtedly shaped the perception of the period as a happy time.

In the same period the Royal Frederiks Hospital and the Royal Orphanage (Det kgl. Opfostringshus) was created, a school intended for poor boys that still exists today, opened in Christianshavn on 1 October 1753. On 29 June 1753 Frederick V created Denmark's first lottery, called the Royal Copenhagen Lottery—a lottery that exists to this day as Klasselotteriet.

Art and science prospered under his reign, and although he wasn't personally interested in cultural affairs, the public entertainment and freedom of expression that had been banned under the pietistic hypocrisy (characterized during his father's reign) was again permitted. This change was influenced by his first wife, and in 1748 Nicolai Eigtved's Komediehus (Playhouse) on Kongens Nytorv was opened, and the Royal Danish Academy of Art (Det Kongelige Danske Kunstakademi) in Copenhagen was also founded under his name and officially inaugurated on 31 March 1754, his 31st birthday. Frederick purchased what would become known as the Danish West Indies from the Danish West India Company in 1754. As an active Freemason, he set up on 24 June 1749 the first Masonic lodge in Norway.[8]

Second marriage[edit]

Juliana Maria as Queen dowager showing a portrait of her only son Hereditary Prince Frederick. Painting by Johann Georg Ziesenis, 1766-67.

Queen Louise died suddenly on 19 December 1751 at Christiansborg Palace, predeceasing her husband by fourteen years and causing great impact on the royal family and the court's life, where she was adored. She was buried with great pomp at Roskilde Cathedral. At the time of her death, she was pregnant with her sixth child, who also died.

Although initially unwilling to remarry a foreign princess, unless it was with an English princess, none of whom were available at the time, a new marriage for the king, arranged by Moltke, took place at Frederiksborg Palace on 8 July 1752 to Frederick the Great of Prussia's sister-in-law Duchess Juliana Maria of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, daughter of Ferdinand Albert II, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg. The marriage was frowned upon by the people who saw it as too early for the King to remarry. Neither did the formal princess appeal to his own taste, and with the court she was never popular—with no other identifiable cause than her sense of rigid etiquette, practised in German princely courts, that may have seemed less friendly than the English Louise. During his second marriage, the king had a relationship with Charlotte Amalie Winge.

Their only child, Hereditary Prince Frederick, was born in 1753. He was, in his turn, father of King Christian VIII of Denmark and grandfather of Louise of Hesse, the future queen of Denmark. Juliane Marie died in 1796, having been regent for her son Prince Frederick.

Death and burial[edit]

Frederik V's catafalque in Christiansborg Palace Chapel in March 1766.
Frederick V's sarcophagus in Roskilde Cathedral

In 1760 Frederick broke his leg in a drunken accident, which greatly weakened him. According to Dorothea Biehl's statements the king was often seen in a condition "where his arm was not strong enough to bring his hat on his head again without Moltke's help." The king died at the age of forty-two, after a twenty-year reign. He had been a pleasant change compared to the pious Christian VI's autocracy, and when Frederick died there were many who mourned. His last words were reportedly: "It is a great consolation to me in my last hour that I have never wilfully offended anyone, and that there is not a drop of blood on my hands."[10]

After lying in state with great pomp at the chapel at Christiansborg Palace in Copenhagen, he was interred next to Queen Louise in Roskilde Cathedral on the island of Zealand, the traditional burial site for Danish monarchs since the 15th century.[11] His monument in Roskilde cathedral was completed in 1769, and designed by the Danish sculptor Johannes Wiedewelt. It includes a large sarcophagus resting on footpieces and decorated by numerous sculptures, behind which is a column topped of an urn, a medallion with the king's portrait, and on each side of the sarcophagus, sitting approx. 9' high above the floor, are two crowned, grieving female figures representing Denmark and Norway. The memorial chapel in which it is placed was created as a collaboration between Wiedewelt and the Danish architect Caspar Frederik Harsdorff.



Statue of Frederick V on horseback by Jacques Saly at the centre of the Amalienborg Palace Square. It was commissioned by Moltke, as Director of the Danish Asiatic Company.

On 1 August 1771, five years after the king's death, an equestrian statue of Frederick V dressed in the garb of a Roman emperor by the French sculptor Jacques François Joseph Saly was unveiled in Amalienborg Square in Copenhagen.

Places named after Frederick V[edit]

Succession crisis[edit]

Within one hundred years of his time, Denmark faced the crisis of his male issue (the main branch of the Royal House) becoming extinct. This created a succession crisis beginning from his grandson's reign that affected both Denmark and Schleswig-Holstein. Finally, his great-grandson through the female line, Christian IX of Denmark, who was married to his great-granddaughter Louise of Hesse-Kassel (or Hesse-Cassel), became the designated heir.

2021 bust controversy[edit]

In February 2021, Frederick V came suddenly to the focus of a historical-political controversy when a group of radical artists removed a bust of this King and sunk it in Copenhagen Harbor, in protest of Denmark's role in the Atlantic slave trade during his reign.[12]

Cultural depictions[edit]


Frederick V appears in the early part of The Visit of the Royal Physician (Swedish: Livläkarens besök), a 1999 historical novel by Per Olov Enquist, which mainly deals with his son Christian VII. As depicted in the book, Frederick's contemptuous and overbearing attitude to his son had a significant part in causing the mental instability which characterized Christian's life and reign.


Name Birth Death Notes
Crown Prince Christian Copenhagen, 7 July 1745 Frederiksborg, 3 June 1747 died in infancy
Princess Sophia Magdalena 3 July 1746 21 August 1813 married, 1766, Gustav III, King of Sweden; had issue
Princess Wilhelmina Caroline 10 July 1747 19 January 1820 married, 1763, William I, Elector of Hesse; had issue
King Christian VII 29 January 1749 13 March 1808 married, 1766, Princess Caroline Matilda; had issue
Princess Louise 30 January 1750 12 January 1831 married, 1766, Prince Charles of Hesse-Kassel; had issue
Hereditary Prince Frederick 11 October 1753 7 December 1805 married, 1774, Duchess Sophia Frederica of Mecklenburg-Schwerin; had issue

His officially recognized children by Else Hansen:

  • Frederikke Margarethe de Hansen, Countess of Destinon (1747–1802)
  • Frederikke Catherine de Hansen, Countess of Lützau (1748–1822)
  • Anna Marie de Hansen, Mrs. Fehmann, later Mrs van Meulengacht (1749–1812)
  • Sophie Charlotte de Hansen, Countess d'Origny (1750–1779)
  • Ulrik Frederik de Hansen (1751–1752)


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Today, the Charlottenborg Palace serves as the base of the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts.
  2. ^ Today, the Prince's Mansion houses the National Museum of Denmark.



  1. ^ a b c Holm 1891, p. 305.
  2. ^ a b c d e Holm 1891, p. 306.
  3. ^ Feldbæk 1990, p. 123.
  4. ^ a b Scocozza 1997, p. 156.
  5. ^ a b c d Bech & Eller 1980.
  6. ^ Feldbæk 1990, p. 217.
  7. ^ Louise, page 399, (Dansk biografisk Lexikon / X. Bind. Laale - Løvenørn) (1887-1905) Author: Carl Frederik Bricka
  8. ^ a b K.L. Bugge, Det danske frimureries historie, bind 1, 1910, s. 191-194.
  9. ^ Monrad Møller, Anders (2012). Enevældens kroninger. Syv salvinger - ceremoniellet, teksterne og musikken [The coronations of the absolute monarchy. Seven anointings - the ceremonial, the lyrics and the music] (in Danish). Copenhagen: Forlaget Falcon. pp. 104–27. ISBN 978-87-88802-29-0.
  10. ^ Frederik den Femtes Hof, Charlotte Dorothea Biehls Breve og Selvbiografi.
  11. ^ "Frederik 5. Dansk 1746-66". (in Danish). Retrieved 25 April 2022.
  12. ^ Caara Buckley, "The Sinking of a Bust Surfaces a Debate Over Denmark’s Past", New York Times, February 15, 2021


External links[edit]

Frederick V
Born: 31 March 1723 Died: 13 January 1766
Regnal titles
Preceded by King of Denmark and Norway
Duke of Schleswig
Count of Oldenburg

Succeeded by
Preceded by Duke of Holstein
with Charles Peter Ulrich (1746–1762)
Paul (1762–1766)
Succeeded by