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Christian VII
Christian VII 1772 by Roslin.jpg
Portrait by Alexander Roslin, c. 1772
King of Denmark and Norway (more...)
Reign 14 January 1766 – 13 March 1808
Coronation 1 May 1767
Christiansborg Palace Chapel
Predecessor Frederick V
Successor Frederick VI
Regents
Chief Ministers
Born (1749-01-29)29 January 1749
Christiansborg Palace, Copenhagen, Denmark
Died 13 March 1808(1808-03-13) (aged 59)
Rendsburg, Duchy of Holstein
Burial Roskilde Cathedral
Spouse
(m. 1766; div. 1772)
Issue Frederick VI of Denmark
Louise Auguste, Duchess of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenburg
House Oldenburg
Father Frederick V of Denmark
Mother Louise of Great Britain
Religion Lutheran

Christian VII (29 January 1749 – 13 March 1808) was a monarch of the House of Oldenburg who was King of Denmark–Norway and Duke of Schleswig and Holstein from 1766 until his death in 1808. For his motto he chose: "Gloria ex amore patriae" ("Glory through love of the fatherland").

Christian VII's reign was marked by mental illness and for most of his reign, Christian was only nominally king. His royal advisers changed depending on who won power struggles around the throne. From 1770 to 1772, his court physician Johann Friedrich Struensee was the de facto ruler of the country and introduced progressive reforms signed into law by Christian VII. Struensee was deposed by a coup in 1772, after which the country was ruled by Christian's stepmother, Juliane Marie of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, his half-brother Frederick, and the Danish politician Ove Høegh-Guldberg. From 1784 until Christian VII's death in 1808, Christian's son, later Frederick VI, acted as unofficial regent.

Early life

Birth and family

Thefirstchristiansborg copenhagen
Christian's birthplace, Christiansborg Palace in Copenhagen, c. 1750

Christian was the son of King Frederick V and his first wife Louise of Great Britain. He was born in the Queen's Bedchamber at Christiansborg Palace, the royal residence in Copenhagen. He was baptized a few hours later the same day. His godparents were King Frederick V (his father), Queen Dowager Sophie Magdalene (his paternal grandmother), Princess Louise (his aunt) and Princess Charlotte Amalie (his grand-aunt).

Christoph Willibald Gluck - La contesa dei numi - titlepage of the libretto - Kopenhagen 1749
Title page of the libretto for La Contesa dei Numi, Copenhagen, 1749

A former heir to the throne, also named Christian, had died in infancy in 1747, and the newborn was thus crown prince from birth; therefore, hopes were high for the future of the new heir apparent. Christoph Willibald Gluck, then conductor of the royal opera troupe, composed the opera La Contesa dei Numi ("The Contention of the Gods"), in which the Olympian Gods gather at the banks of the Great Belt and discuss who in particular should protect the new prince.

At birth, Christian had two elder sisters, Princess Sophia Magdalena and Princess Wilhelmina Caroline, and the family was joined by another daughter, Princess Louise in 1750. In 1751, almost three years after Christian's birth, his mother Queen Louise died during her sixth pregnancy, just aged 27 years. The following year, his father married Duchess Juliana Maria of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, who gave birth to Christian's half-brother, Prince Frederick in 1753.

Childhood and education

Christian7as crownprince
Christian as a boy

After the early death of his mother, the prince was largely denied parental affection. His stepmother Queen Juliane Marie showed no interest in him, preferring her biological son Prince Frederick. The father became increasingly indifferent to the shy, sensitive child, who was also prone to epileptic seizures. Nonetheless, early historians state that Christian had a winning personality and considerable talent, but that he was poorly educated and systematically terrorized, and even flogged, by a brutal tutor, Christian Ditlev Frederik Reventlow, the Count of Reventlow. He seems to have been intelligent and had periods of clarity, but had severe emotional problems, possibly schizophrenia, as argued by Doctor Viggo Christiansen in Christian VII's mental illness (1906).

Early reign

Accession

Christianviidenmark
Coronation portrait of Christian VII by Jens Juel

After a long period of infirmity, Frederick V died on 14 January 1766, just 42 years old. At the death of his father, Christian immediately ascended the thrones of Denmark and Norway as their sixth absolute monarch, a few weeks before his 17th birthday. Later the same day, Christian was proclaimed king from the balcony of Christiansborg Palace. Christian's reign was marked by mental illness which affected government decisions, and for most of his reign, Christian was only nominally king. His royal advisers changed depending on who won power struggles around the throne.

Marriage

Christian VII and Caroline Mathilde - first dance
Christian VII and Caroline Matilda dance at the wedding held at Christiansborg Palace, the image has inscriptions in French

Later the same year, the young king married his first cousin, the just 15-year-old Princess Caroline Matilda of Great Britain, in a dynastic marriage. They had been betrothed already in 1765. Her brother, King George III of Great Britain, was anxious about the marriage but not aware that the bridegroom was mentally ill. They were married in a proxy wedding ceremony on 1 October 1766 in the Chapel Royal of St James's Palace in London, with the Princess's brother, Prince Edward, Duke of York and Albany, acting as the representative of the groom. After her arrival in Copenhagen, another wedding ceremony took place on 8 November 1766 in the royal chapel at Christiansborg Palace. Marriage celebrations and balls lasted for another month. On 1 May 1767, Christian VII and Caroline Matilda were crowned King and Queen of Denmark and Norway in the royal chapel of Christiansborg Palace.

Frederik 6s fødsel
The king visiting the newborn crown prince and the queen after the birth.

The marriage was unhappy. He ultimately sank into a condition of mental stupor. Symptoms during this time included paranoia and hallucinations. The king showed little interest in the queen and only reluctantly visited her in her chambers. On 28 January 1768, Queen Caroline Mathilde gave birth at Christiansborg Palace to the royal couple's probably only child, a son and heir to throne, the future King Frederick VI.

Struensee

Struensee Juel
Portrait of Johann Friedrich Struensee by Jens Juel.

The progressive and radical thinker Johann Friedrich Struensee, Christian's personal physician, became his advisor and rose steadily in power in the late 1760s to de facto regent of the country, where he introduced widespread progressive reforms. Struensee was a protégé of an Enlightenment circle of aristocrats that had been rejected by the court in Copenhagen. He was a skilled doctor, and having somewhat restored the king's health while visiting the Schleswig-Holstein area, he gained the king's affection. He was retained as travelling physician (Livmedikus hos Kong Christian VII) on 5 April 1768, and accompanied the entourage on the king's foreign tour to Paris and London via Hannover from 6 May 1768 to 12 January 1769. He was given the title of State Councilor (etatsråd) on 12 May 1768, barely a week after leaving Altona. The neglected and lonely Caroline Matilda entered into an affair with Struensee.

From 1770 to 1772, Struensee was de facto regent of the country, and introduced progressive reforms signed into law by Christian VII. Struensee was deposed by a coup in 1772 after which the country was ruled by Christian's stepmother, Juliane Marie of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, his half-brother Frederick, and the Danish politician Ove Høegh-Guldberg.

Divorce

The king divorced Caroline Matilda in 1772 after they had produced two children: the future King Frederick VI and Princess Louise Auguste. Struensee, who had enacted many modernising and emancipating reforms, was arrested and executed the same year. Christian signed Struensee's arrest and execution warrant under pressure from his stepmother, Queen Juliana Maria, who had led the movement to have the marriage ended. Caroline Matilda, retaining her title but not her children. She eventually left Denmark and passed her remaining days in exile at Celle Castle in her brother's German territory, the Electorate of Hanover. She died there of scarlet fever on 10 May 1775 at the age of 23.

Later life

Christian VII (Dajon)
profile relief by Nicolai Dajon (1748–1823)

Christian was only nominally king from 1772 onward. Between 1772 and 1784, Denmark-Norway was ruled by his stepmother, the Queen Dowager Juliane Marie, his half-brother Frederick, and the Danish politician Ove Høegh-Guldberg. From 1784, his son Frederick VI ruled permanently as prince regent. This regency was marked by liberal, judicial, and agricultural reforms, but also by disasters of the Theatre War, French Revolutionary Wars, and the beginning of the Napoleonic Wars, also at the same time the Norwegian separatist movement was on the rise.

Death and succession

ChristianVII coffin Roskilde Cathedral
Christian VII's sarcophagus in Frederick V's Chapel at Roskilde Cathedral

Christian died at age 59 of a stroke on 13 March 1808 in Rendsburg, Schleswig. Although there were rumours that the stroke was caused by fright at the sight of Spanish auxiliary troops which he took to be hostile. Ulrik Langen, in his biography of the king, did not indicate that there was any external cause. He was buried in Roskilde Cathedral and was succeeded by his son Frederick VI.

Legacy

Contribution to science

In 1769, Christian VII of Denmark invited the Hungarian astronomer Miksa Hell (Maximilian Hell) to Vardø. Hell observed the transit of Venus, and his calculations gave the most precise calculation of the Earth–Sun distance to that date (approx. 151 million kilometres). Hell's companion János Sajnovics explored the affinity among the languages of the Sami, Finnish, and Hungarian peoples (all members of the Finno-Ugric language family).

Cultural depictions

Zahrtmann Christian VIIs hof
Kristian Zahrtmann: Scene from the court of Christian VII. History painting from 1873 at the Hirschsprung Collection.
Interiør fra Christian VII's Hof (Kr. Zahrtmann)
Kristian Zahrtmann: Interior from the court of Christian VII. History painting from 1881 at the Hirschsprung Collection.

Christian VII, the story of his marriage, and his wife's affair with Struensee has featured in many artistic works:

Literature

  • 1935 : Die Gefangene von Celle – a 1935 novel by Else von Hollander-Lossow
  • 1935 : The Favourite of the Queen (German: Struensee: Doktor, Diktator, Favorit und armer Sünder; later Der Favorit der Königin) – a 1935 novel by Robert Neumann
  • 1948 : The Queen's Physician – a 1948 novel by Edgar Maass
  • 1953 : Converse at Night in Copenhagen (Danish: [Samtale om natten i København] Error: {{Lang}}: text has italic markup (help)) – a 1953 novel by Karen Blixen
  • 1955 : Caroline Matilda, princess of Great Britain and queen of Denmark – a 1955 novel by Geoffrey Vaughan Blackstone
  • 1969 : The Lost Queen – a 1969 novel by Norah Lofts
  • 1985 : Letter from Celle – a 1985 dramatic poem by Edward Lowbury
  • 1999 : The Visit of the Royal Physician (Swedish: [Livläkarens besök] Error: {{Lang}}: text has italic markup (help)) – a 1999 novel by Per Olov Enquist
  • 2000 : Prinsesse af Blodet - en roman om Caroline Mathilde – a 2000 novel by Bodil Steensen-Leth
  • 2015 : There's a mad king in Denmark (Italian: [C'è un re pazzo in Danimarca] Error: {{Lang}}: text has italic markup (help)) – a 2015 biographical novel by Dario Fo

Stage

  • 1827 : Struensee – an 1827 drama by Michael Beer with stage music by his brother Giacomo Meyerbeer (Stuttgart and Tübingen: Cotta 1829, premiered in Munich in 1828). The play was originally forbidden under the rule of the Prussian King Frederick William III, and finally allowed by his more liberal successor Frederick William IV and premiered in Berlin in 1856.
  • 1991 : Caroline Mathilde – a 1991 two-act ballet staged by the Royal Danish Ballet and choreographed by Flemming Flindt to music by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies.
  • 2008 : The Visit of the Royal Physician (Danish: [Livlægens besøg] Error: {{Lang}}: text has italic markup (help)) – a 2008 opera staged by the Royal Danish Opera and composed by Bo Holten to a libretto based on Enquist's 1999 novel.

Film

  • 1923 : The Love of a Queen (German: Die Liebe einer Königin) – a 1923 German historical drama silent film directed by Ludwig Wolff, in which Christian VII is played by Walter Janssen.
  • 1935 : The Dictator – a 1935 British film directed by Victor Saville, in which Christian VII was played by Emlyn Williams. The film depicts his relationship with Caroline Mathilde, who is played by Madeleine Carroll.
  • 1957 : King in Shadow (German: Herrscher ohne Krone) – a 1957 West German feature film based on Neumann's 1935 novel, and directed by Harald Braun, in which Christian VII was played by Horst Buchholz.
  • Caroline - den sidste rejse [da] - a 2010 Danish film
  • 2012 : A Royal Affair (Danish: [En kongelig affære] Error: {{Lang}}: text has italic markup (help)) – an Academy Award-nominated Danish historical drama film directed by Nikolaj Arcel, in which King Christian is played by Mikkel Boe Følsgaard.

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Cristián VII de Dinamarca para niños

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