Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Caroline Matilda

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CAROLINE MATILDA (1751–1775), queen of Denmark and Norway, was the ninth and youngest child of Frederick and Augusta, prince and princess of Wales. She was born at Leicester House in London, 22 July 1751, a little more than four months after her father's death. Her childhood was spent in the comparative seclusion of her mother's court, where she was well, though we may conclude by no means rigorously, educated. Pleasant traditions attach themselves to this period of her life, at Kew and elsewhere (Keith; L. Wraxall). It came to a close with her engagement, announced to parliament 10 Jan. 1765, to Christian, prince royal of Denmark, son of Frederick V and his popular first wife Louisa, youngest daughter of George II of Great Britain. The match seems to have given satisfaction in England as 'adding security to the protestant religion;' but it possessed no special political significance. By the death of Frederick V, 14 Jan. 1766, Christian VII succeeded to the Danish throne, and 1 Oct. in the same year Caroline Matilda was married to him by proxy (her brother the Duke of York) at the Chapel Royal, St. James's. Two days afterwards she embarked from Harwich for Rotterdam, whence she proceeded to Altona and Roeskilde. From this place Christian VII conducted her to the palace of Frederiksberg, near Copenhagen, where her solemn entry and formal marriage followed 8 Nov. (Annual Register for 1766; Malortie, ii. 63-9). Her English and Hanoverian suite having quitted her at Altona, Caroline Matilda was left alone in a strange land among doubtful surroundings. Her popular reception had been warm; but the king was indifferent to her. Christian VII, a youth of feeble character and selfish disposition, was by self-indulgence beginning to reduce himself to a mental condition which in some measure justified Niebuhr's comparison of him to Caligula. Next by birth to the throne stood his stepbrother Frederick, the son of his father's second wife Juliana Maria, a princess of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel. There is no reason whatever for supposing that Juliana Maria was either now or for some time afterwards animated by jealous or hostile feelings against the young queen (this supposition, of which the Authentische Aufklärungen are a main source, is refuted by Reverdil, 327, and by the other evidence reviewed by Wittich, 185-8); on the contrary, they and the other queen dowager, Sophia Magdalena, widow of Christian VI, lived together 'dans une grande intimité et dans un ennui paisible' (Reverdil, 138). Queen Caroline Matilda took no interest in public affairs (ib. 162; cf. Wittich, 26). Though she was from the first treated with coldness by her husband, her troubles began when Count von Holck, by taking advantage of the peculiarities in the king's temper, established himself as favourite; on 21 Dec. 1767 he was appointed marshal of the court. On the king's return from a journey to Holstein in the previous summer, on which he was not accompanied by the queen, he was provided with a mistress; nor was any change in the situation brought about by the birth of an heir to the crown (afterwards Frederick VI), 28 Jan. 1768. Hoick succeeded in ousting from office Frau von Plessen, the queen's mistress of the robes, who had gained her confidence and whose old-fashioned severity might have kept her from the path of error (Reverdil, 73-4). From 6 May 1768 to 14 Jan. 1769 the king was on his travels in England, Paris, and elsewhere, while the queen remained at Frederiksberg, gaining the good-will of her neighbours by her kindliness and her attention to her maternal duties (Keith, i. 184). Christian VII's suite on his journey included John Frederick Struensee, a physician of Altona, who had been appointed surgeon-in-ordinary to the king for the occasion, and who on the return to Copenhagen was appointed to the post in permanency. From this point forward the ambitious adventurer's political rise began. His plan was at first by no means based upon any connivance with the queen; on the contrary, he relied upon the aid of a new royal mistress, who however died in the following August (N. Wraxall's private journal ap. L. Wraxall, i. 216; cf. Reverdil, 147). Both this person and Struensee had been odious to the queen; and when about this time she consulted the latter on a supposed attack of the dropsy, it was the king who had obliged her to do so (ib, 148). Struensee advised amusement and exercise as the best cure, and these remedies answering, she naturally gained confidence in her physician. Struensee was beyond all doubt a man of unusual intelligence, and, as his confessions to Münter suffice to prove (Conversion, &c, 41-2), a convinced lady-killer. While the king encouraged an intimacy which kept the queen amused, Struensee seems to have exerted himself to bring about a better understanding between the royal pair, and by his efforts to have gained the approval of both. In January 1770 he was assigned rooms in the Christiansberg palace (L. Wraxall, i. 221); and his successful inoculation of the crown prince early in the year raised him higher than ever in the royal favour (Authentische Aufklärungen, 40; the process was of quite recent introduction). He was now named councillor of conference and reader to the king and queen; and from this time the intimacy between the latter and Struensee must have rapidly reached its climax. Indeed, if certain evidence brought against the Queen after her catastrophe is to be believed, the familiarity between her and Struensee had attracted the suspicions of her attendants as early as the winter of 1769-70 (see Bang's indictment, ap. Jenssek-Tusch, 281 seq.) After this they had imposed restraint upon themselves, but only for a time; soon their intimacy was paraded before the capital (see the anecdote of the queen passing in her riding-habit on Struensee's arm by the corpse of the dowager Sophia Magdalena when it lay in state. May 1770, ap. Wittich, 51 note), and revealed itself in the provinces, to which the court paid a visit in June (see the testimony of Prince Charles of Hesse ap. L. Wraxall, L 232).

During this visit, perhaps while the court sojourned at Travendahl, Struensee perfected his ambitious projects in company with Enevold von Brandt, a former royal page who had returned to the court, and with Shack Charles, count von Rantzau-Ascheberg, to whom Struensee owed his admission to the royal service and whose high official career had been arrested largely by Russian influence. Their intrigues resulted by the end of July in the dismissal of Hoick and others, among whom were his sister Madame von der Lühe, the mistress of the robes, and other ladies attached to the person of the queen. Shortly before this Caroline Matilda's mother, the dowager Princess of Wales, paid a visit to the continent, where for many reasons she wished to meet her daughter. The proposed meeting at Brunswick was, however, postponed; nor was it till August that mother and daughter met—for the last time—at Lüneburg. Struensee was in the queen's company, and the princess found no opportunity of doing more than requesting Woodford, the British minister to the Lower Saxon Circle, to make representations to the queen concerning her conduct; nor was the Duke of Gloucester, who shortly afterwards paid a visit to Copenhagen on the same errand, more successful (Reverdil, 159-60). At Hirschholm, near Copenhagen, where the court spent the rest of the summer, the fall of Bernstorff, the chief minister of Denmark, was brought about. This change of government may be briefly described as disagreeable to the Russian and therefore agreeable to the Swedish, agreeable to the French and therefore disagreeable to the British, interest at Copenhagen. Hereupon, in defiance alike of national traditions and public feeling, the reforms of Struensee in court, state, and social life ran their course; and though 'there might be something "rotten" in the state of Denmark, there was nothing rusty' since the new brooms had been set to work (Keith, i. 229). He was appointed master of requests December 1770; in the same month the council was suppressed by a royal decree; 18 July 1771 he was made cabinet minister, and his orders were declared to have the same validity as if signed by the king; 22 July—the queen's birthday—he and Brandt were created counts. His administration met with universal obloquy. The queen shared his unpopularity, partly because he gave every possible publicity to her regard for him, which was the best security of his position, partly because her conduct seemed to furnish a strange comment on the spirit of her favourite's reforms. There seems indeed to have been little truth in the rumour as to the extraordinary license prevailing at her court. But the sovereigns were completely surrounded by Struensee's creatures, who belonged as a rule to his own class; the court, says Reverdil (271), who returned to Denmark about midsummer, had the air of servants in a respectable house sitting down to table in the absence of their masters. Struensee's attempts at retrenchment in court expenditure were counterbalanced by the extravagance of Brandt; and on one occasion which became notorious the queen seems to have shared with them in a gift from the royal treasury (Wiwet's indictment ap. Jenssen-Tusch, 278-9). Reverdil found the king, whose condition was already near to imbecility, willing to allow the queen to conduct herself with the most open familiarity towards her favourite (260). Shrewd observers thought that the latter occasionally exhibited indifference towards the advances of the queen (ap. Wittich, 184); but he well knew that her support was indispensable to him. Colonel (afterwards Sir Robert) Murray Keith, who arrived as British minister at the Danish court in June 1771, clearly perceived the condition of affairs, but behaved with great discretion, reserving his intervention for a 'dangerous extremity' (keith, i. 227-8). Even the news of the birth, 7 July, at Hirschholm of a princess (Louisa Augusta, afterwards married to Duke Frederick Christian II of Augustenburg) was coldly, if not suspiciously, received by the capital; the queen dowager was, however, ready to be a godmother at Caroline Matilda's request (Authentische Aufklärungen, 103). The queen nursed the infant herself. Indeed the maternal instinct was always strong in her, and although she was reproached for giving her son an early training, which by Struensee's advice was based on the principles of 'Emile' (Reverdil, 264-5), it seems on the whole to have been successful.

The overthrow of Struensee was the result of a court intrigue, not of any popular movement; but some time before it was brought about the wildest charges had been spread against the queen and him. It was said that they intended to shut up the king and proclaim the queen as regent—a rumour, as Charles of Hesse in repeating it points out, absurd in itself, as the king was rather a protection to them than an obstacle (Wittich, 115n.) Towards the end of 1771 they began to grow uneasy, and when early in September a malcontent body of Norwegian sailors made a tumultuous visit to Hirschholm the queen prepared everything for flight. Another panic followed in connection with a popular festival held at Frederiksberg 28 Sept.; if Reverdil is to be believed (287), this was caused by a real plot, of which Juliana Maria was at the bottom. In October Struensee thought it necessary virtually to abolish the liberty of the press, which had been one of his most striking reforms. Then Brandt himself, Struensee's confederate, engaged in a desperate scheme for the minister's removal; 'means would be found for consoling the queen' (Falckenskjold ap. Wittich, 122). This danger was averted by a grotesque affray between the king and Brandt, which afterwards proved fatal to the latter; but Struensee's anxiety continued. About this time (according to the Authentische Aufklärungen, 122-3) he threw himself at the feet of the queen, imploring her to allow him for both their sakes to quit the country, but she induced him to remain. On the other hand, he told Reverdil, to whom he was not otherwise confidential, that his devotion to the queen alone kept him at his post (288). The same writer relates a characteristic anecdote how the queen, who had a pleasant voice, facetiously declared that when in exile she would gain her bread as a singer (290). Struensee's arbitrary system, however, continued; when, 30 Nov., the court migrated to Frederiksberg, military precautions were taken for its security, and Copenhagen itself was placed under effective control. Finally, an order for the disbandment of the guards as such led to their mutinous march to Frederiksberg on Christmas eve, and to scenes in the capital which left no doubt as to the sentiments of the population. It is said (by L. Wraxall, ii. 78) that about this time Keith offered Struensee a large sum of money if he would leave the country; but there is no notice of any such proposal in Keith's 'Memoirs,' and he was probably too discreet to have made it. The court returned to Copenhagen 8 Jan. 1772. By this time the mine had been laid. Rantzau, discontented with his share of the spoils and with Struensee's unwillingness to adopt his political views, had determined to overthrow the favourite. He induced the dowager queen Juliana Maria, who during the summer had watched the progress of affairs from Fredensborg, where she lived isolated with her son Frederick, to approve of the plot, by showing her forged evidence of a conspiracy between Struensee and the queen against the king (Reverdil, 328). The details of Rantzau s scheme were settled in Juliana Maria's palace 15 Jan. (ib. 329), and its execution was fixed for the night from 16-17 Jan., after the termination of a masked ball in the Christiansborg palace. Though Rantzau himself hesitated at the last moment, the palace revolution was punctually and successfully carried out by himself and his confederates. Struensee, Brandt, and their chief actual or supposed abettors were placed under arrest, and on the same night the queen was with cynical brutality taken prisoner by Rantzau, accompanied by a body of soldiery under Major Castenskjold. With her little daughter in her arms she was hurriedly driven to Kronborg, a royal castle and prison on the Sound, near Elsinore, and there consigned to carefully guarded apartments. It is said that in the evening she saw in the distance Copenhagen illuminated in celebration of her disaster (ib. 336-8).

In solitude, relieved only by the presence of her infant daughter, whom she nursed through an attack of the measles, and by occasional visits from the faithful Keith, Caroline Matilda awaited her fate. The genuineness of her letters to Keith and to her brother, George III, is open to serious doubt they are given by L. Wraxall, ii. 205-7). Her attendants were persons whom she disliked (ib. ii. 203), and she had to listen to pulpit addresses, which must have been hard to bear (the best account of her period of confinement is stated by Wittich, 143 note, to be that of Schiern in Hist. Tidsskr. iv. vol. ii. 776 seqq.; see also Coxe ap. Adolphus, i. 544-5). During the course of her imprisonment she must have heard of the death of her mother, the dowager Princess of Wales, 8 Feb. 1772. The interrogatory of Struensee began 20 Feb., but it was not till the third day of his examination that, under pressure, he confessed to criminal familiarity with the queen; afterwards he sought to throw the blame as much as possible on her. Questions affecting the legitimacy of the Princess Louisa Augusta were, however, satisfactorily answered. Brandt, in his interrogatory, declared that Struensee had confessed his criminality to him (Reverdil, 394-8). Hereupon a commission of four subjected the queen to an interrogatory at Kronborg; at the first visit, acting it is said on Keith's advice, she refused to answer, declaring that she acknowledged no superior or judge besides the king. At the second, 9 March, Struensee's confession signed by him was shown to her, when she avowed herself guilty, and signed a written confession, generously taking the original blame upon herself (Reverdil, 400-1; according to Jenssen-Tusch, 401-2, she was induced to sign by the assurance that her confession would mitigate Struensee's fate; while this, though possible, is improbable, the dramatic account of Falckenskjold, which is also that of the Authentische Nachrichten, 223-8, is almost certainly fictitious. Horace Walpole s account, Journal of the Reign of George III, i. 77-9, 90, is clearly untrustworthy. On the whole subject of the queen's examination and confession, see Wittich, 222-32). On 24 March an indictment was preferred against the queen before a tribunal of thirty-five notables (it is given at length in Jenssen-Tusch, 226-40); on 2 April her defence was delivered (ib. 241-53; Wittich notices that while her advocate Uldall here represents her as asserting her innocence the crime is admitted in his defence of Struensee. For the rest his pleas on behalf of the queen are in essence hardly more than technical); sentence was given on 6 April and communicated to the queen on the 8th. It declared her marriage with the king to be dissolved. Her name was hereupon removed from its place in the liturgy (the order of Matilda, which she had instituted on her birthday in January 1771, had been abolished immediately after the catastrophe). Capital sentences on Struensee and Brandt followed shortly afterwards, and were carried out 28 April. It is said that in her prison the queen intuitively knew the day of her favourite's doom.

In England the news of Caroline Matilda's arrest had created a passing excitement (see Gibbon's flippant letters to Holroyd in his Miscellaneous Works, ii. 72-6; cf. Walpole, i. 3, 42). At first George III's government took up a threatening attitude, but the public press made indignant comments on the supposed apathy of Lord North's administration (Walpole, i. 89; cf. L. Wraxall, ii. 169). Soon, however, public feeling acquiesced in the manifest opmion of the initiated, that the affair had better be taken quietly. Keith's activity at Copenhagen had been acknowledged pendente lite by admission to the order of the Bath (Keith, i. 121); but, as is now known, the diplomatic correspondence between the two courts at this stage gave rise to no very serious differences. While George III was informed of the evidence against his sister and of the necessity of removing her from the court after the sentence pronounced against her, he was assured that every possible consideration would be extended to her, and that her name would not be mentioned in the sentences of Struensee and the other delinquents (Schiern ap. Wittich, 252-3). The latter promise, at all events, was substantially kept. When, however, after the sentence of divorce, the Danish government proposed to banish Caroline Matilda to Aalborg in Jutland, the British ministry resolved to make at least a show of active intervention. The protests of Keith (i. 192) seem to have been followed by a threat of the rupture of diplomatic relations, and a squadron was ordered to sail for Copenhagen. But a few hours before the time fixed for its weighing anchor the news arrived that the Danish government had promised the liberation of the queen (cf. the account in Walpole, 90-1, where the king is said to have known his sister s story two years before the catastrophe). Keith had further obtained the grant to her of an annual pension of the value of 5,000l., and notwithstanding the divorce she retained the title of queen (see Lord Suffolk's grandiloquent letters ap. Keith, i. 286-9). Two frigates and a sloop were hereupon ordered to Elsinore by the British government, and on 3 May the queen, over whom after her enlargement a 'deputation of noblemen' had been appointed to hold watch, quitted the Danish shores under a royal salute. She had been obliged to part from her daughter, whom in the lines supposed to have been written by her at sea (Keith, i. 299) she is absurdly made to commend to the care of Keith, the companion of her voyage.

At Stade, where Caroline Matilda arrived on 5 June, and where she parted with her Danish suite, she was received with much ceremony by the Hanoverian authorities, and held a reception on the day after her arrival. Hence she proceeded to the Göhrde, an electoral hunting-seat near Lüneburg, where she delayed for several months till the castle at Celle should have been put in order for her. On 20 Oct. she held a formal entry into this her destined residence, where a court was organised for her in due form, and whence she afterwards made occasional visits to Hanover of a ceremonial nature (cf. MaLortie, ii. 73-88 for details). At Celle itself her life seems to have been a quiet one, though she received visitors, among them her sister, the Hereditary Princess Augusta of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, who, according to Wraxall, was set to watch her conduct by George III (Posthumous Memoirs, i. 372, 375). A small theatre (still in existence) was constructed in the castle for her amusement. She read German assiduously, and requested her brother, George III, to send her some English books (Keith, i. 304); but the memory of her sojourn is above all associated with the charming jardin français in the immediate neighbourhood of the castle, where stands the monument, with her medallion in relief, erected by the Lüneburg-Celle estates (cf. Annual Register for 1775). Sir Robert Keith, who visited her in November 1772, reported to Lord Suffolk that he had found her in a contented frame of mind and with no wish for any communications with the Danish court beyond what immediately concerned the welfare of her children (Keith, i. 301-4). Another English visitor who first saw her in September 1774 was N. W. Wraxall, a young but travelled gentleman, ingenuously in search of adventure and employment. He returned in October as the secret agent of a number of Danish noblemen, exiles in Hamburg, and others, who were conspiring for a counter-revolution at Copenhagen, which should restore Caroline Matilda to the throne. To his written overtures she signified her assent, through a gentleman in her confidence, but she declined to take any steps until the approval of George III should have been obtained. Wraxall returned to Celle on three subsequent occasions, when he had personal interviews with the queen, whom three emissaries from Copenhagen appear likewise to have reached. He failed, however, in London to obtain an audience from George III, or to elicit more than that the king, while approving the project, could not undertake to support it with money or otherwise till it should have been successfully executed. Wraxall was still waiting in London when the news reached him of Queen Caroline Matilda's death; but he afterwards held that the scheme would have been carried out with or without George III (see N. Wraxall's Posthumous Memoirs, i. 372-414; and cf. L. Wraxall's Narrative, i. 173-241, compiled from the above, his grandfather's private journal, and a manuscript entitled Historical Narrative of the Attempt to restore the Queen; with Wittich's comments, 257-9. The existence of a Danish party in sympathy with the plan is corroborated by a letter of George III to Lord North; see Stanhope, v. 309 note).

The death of Queen Caroline Matilda, which took place 11 May 1775, was caused by a sudden attack of inflammation of the throat. She was of a plethoric habit of body, and had not been ill for more than a week (see N. Wraxall's account of her last days, based on the information of her valet Mantel, in Memoirs of the Courts of Berlin &c. (1799), i. 77-87. He mentions the story, which also appears in Brown's Northern Courts, of her having, just before she was taken ill, inspected the corpse of a page who had died eight days previously, and also refers to the suspicions of poison which were rife at Celle with regard to her own death). A Lutheran clergyman (Pastor Lehzen) who attended her afterwards published an edifying account of her last days. The letter to George III declaring her innocence, said to have been written by her on her deathbed, is almost certainly spurious; her assertion in the same sense to the French pastor, Roques, rests on a secondhand statement made five years after her death (Wittich, 231 note). She was buried in the vault of the town church at Celle, where her coffin with a Latin inscription, in which she is entitled Queen of Denmark and Norway, is still shown near those of the Celle dukes and that of her unfortunate grandmother Sophia Dorothea (for an account of her funeral see Malortie, 89-92). In England the news of her death met with little public comment; but the faithful N. Wraxall contributed a 'character' of her to the 'Annual Register' of the year. Though of late she had grown stout, she must have been very attractive in person; she was fair to a degree which exasperated her husband (Walpole, i. 91: 'elle est si blonde'); her likeness to her brother, George III, which at once struck observers (ib. 174), is very perceptible in her portrait at Herrenhausen. The queen's male costume on horseback has become famous (cf. Jenssen-Tusch, 73 note, as to her portraits at Copenhagen); the fashion was a common one.

[The existing English biographies of Caroline Matilda are that incorporated in vol. i. of the Memoirs and Correspondence of Sir Robert Murray Keith, edited by Mrs. Gillespie Smyth, 2 vols., London, 1849, and Sir C. F. Lascelles Wraxall's Life and Times of Queen Caroline Matilda, 3 vols., London, 1864. Both are uncritical, though the latter is valuable where based on the private papers of the author's grandfather, Sir Nathaniel W. Wraxall. The literature on Struensee's rise and fall and on Queen Caroline Matilda's relations to him is extremely large, and from the Memoirs of an Unfortunate Queen (London, 1776) onwards must be used with the greatest caution; and sensational versions of the story like that in vol. i. of John Brown's Northern Courts (London, 1818) may be left aside. It should in particular be noticed that every endeavour was made during the threequarters of a century which ensued upon the catastrophe to make a complete review of the historical evidence on the subject impossible. By far the best survey of it, together with a careful examination of special points, such as the queen's relations to Struensee, will be found in K. Wittich, Struensee (Leipzig, 1879). Here are only added the titles of some other works which have been used in the above article—Authentische und hōchstmerkwürdige Aufklärungen ūber die Geschichte der Grafen Struensee und Brandt ('Germanien,' 1788); Struensee et la Cour de Copenhague, 1760-72; Memoires de Reverdil, publiés par A. Roger (Paris, 1858); G. F. von Jenssen-Tusch, Die Verschwröung gegen die Königin Caroline Mathilde und die Grafen Struensee und Brandt (Leipzig, 1864); N. W. Wraxall, Memoirs of the Courts of Berlin, Dresden, &c., vol. i. (London, ] 799); id., Posthumous Memoirs, vol. i. (London, 1836); C. E. von Malortie, Beiträge zur Geschichte des Braunschweig-Lüneburgischen Hauses und Hofes, 2 Heft (Hannover, 1860); Horace Walpole, Journal of the Reign of George III from 1771 to 1783, edited by Dr. Doran (London, 1859), vol. i.; Annual Register, 1766, 1772, 1775; Adolphus, History of England from the Accession of George III (London, 1802), i. 541-5; Lord Stanhope, History of England from the Peace of Utrecht (5th edition, 1858), v. 306-9; Havemann, Geschichte der Lande Braunschweig und Lüneburg (Göttingen, 1857), iii. 579-82 ; C. F. Allen, Histoire de Danemark, trad, par E. Beauvois (Copenhagen, 1878), ii. 192-215.]

A. W. W.