What was Christian VII of Denmark best known for?

Christian VII was a monarch who ruled as the King of Denmark and Norway from 1766 until his death in 1808. He was born on January 29, 1749, in Copenhagen, Denmark, and was the son of Frederick V of Denmark and Louise of Great Britain. Christian VII is known for his mental instability, which had a significant impact on his reign.

He ascended to the throne at the age of 17 (with his coronation happening on 1 May 1767), and his reign was marked by a series of regencies due to his mental illness. He suffered from a condition that is believed to have been schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, which often caused him to exhibit erratic and unpredictable behavior.

Christian VII of Denmark

His anti-social behavior began around his pre-teenage years, when he would play cruel pranks on his paternal grandmother. In his later teens, he would run wild in the streets with his friends and mistresses, vandalizing property and making a huge nuisance of himself. Image: Christian VII of Denmark as a boy.

During his reign, power was primarily held by influential figures at court, including his stepmother, Queen Dowager Juliane Marie, and later his physician, Johann Friedrich Struensee. Struensee, who gained considerable influence over the king, introduced a series of reforms aimed at modernizing Denmark, such as abolishing torture, limiting the influence of the nobility, and promoting freedom of the press.

Louise of Great Britain was the mother of Christian VII of Denmark. Portrait of Queen Louise by Swedish painter Carl Gustaf Pilo, c. 1745 (Rosenborg Castle).

However, the reforms of Struensee faced strong opposition from conservative forces, and in 1772, a coup d’état orchestrated by members of the nobility resulted in his downfall. His personal life was also tumultuous. He married Caroline Matilda of Great Britain in 1766, but their marriage was unhappy and eventually dissolved.

Christian VII of Denmark’s reign is often seen as a period of transition in Denmark. Despite his personal struggles, some of the reforms initiated during his reign laid the groundwork for later developments in Danish society.

After his death on March 13, 1808, he was succeeded by his son, Frederick VI.

What are some of the outright bizarre things you should know about Christian VII of Denmark and his reign?

As a result of his mental illness, the major decisions of the kingdom were not made by him. For example, from 1784 until his death in 1808, it was his son, Frederick VI, who unofficially acted as regent. The following are some of the strangest behaviors Christian VII became infamous for:

He had the annoying habit of throwing food at his dinner guests.

Some of Christian VII’s courtiers recount stories of how the king slapped them in the face in the middle of a conversation for no apparent reason. Simply put, he never acted his age as he reveled in engaging in childish pranks for the rest of his life.

Sometimes, he played very cruel pranks on his paternal grandmother, Sophie Magdalene of Brandenburg-Kulmbach (1700-1770). For example, he became notoriously known for putting pins on his grandmother’s throne. And sometimes, he hurled things at the poor old woman.

Another bizarre behavior of Christian VII of Denmark was his frequent wild runs in the streets of Copenhagen. He engaged in this unruly behavior with his friends and mistresses. And in some cases, they would vandalize property and stay all night at brothels.

When he was introduced to people and when the bowed to him, the king would often leapfrog over them as a way to amuse himself.

As he grew older, so did his hallucination and fits of rage grow. In some cases, he even self-mutilated himself. He is said to have built his own torture rack and then asked his courtiers to tie him to the rack. The mentally unstable monarch would then ask his servants to flog him.

Christian VII of Denmark was known to have other mental problems, including excessive paranoia.

Such was his addiction to masturbation that some historians have come to call him the ‘Masturbating Monarch”.

Christian VII of Denmark

His physicians became very concerned that his frequent masturbation could stunt his growth and be detrimental to his emotional health. Basically, Christian did not have the best life growing up because of the loss of his mother and the iron-fisted teaching technique used by his tutor Ditlev Reventlow. Some of the crazy behaviors he exhibited was going around the streets beating people and vandalizing property with a spiked club. In addition to his anxiety, he also suffered from hallucinations. Image: Interior from the court of Christian VII of Denmark by Danish painter Kristian Zahrtmann

Questions and Answers

Here’s is what you need to know about Christian VII of Denmark:

How long was his reign?

Christian VII of Denmark ruled from 1766 until his death in 1808. He became king of Denmark at age 16 following the death of his father, Frederick V, on January 14, 1766.

His coronation ceremony took place on May 1, 1767 at the Christiansborg Palace Chapel in Copenhagen. Today, the present building, the third with this name, serves as the seat for the executive, judiciary and legislature, making it the only building in the world that houses all three of a country’s arms of government.

Coronation of Christian VII of Denmark

Christian VII became king of Denmark at age 16. His reign lasted until his death in 1808. Coronation portrait of Christian VII of Denmark by Danish painter Jens Juel

Who were his parents?

His parents were King Frederick V and Louise of Great Britain. His mother was the youngest surviving daughter of King George II of Great Britain and Caroline of Ansbach. It is said that his parents’ marriage was done purely for political reasons as George II, who was feuding with Prussia, wanted the support of Denmark.

Frederick V of Denmark

Frederick V of Denmark was the father of Christian VII of Denmark. Portrait of Frederick V of Denmark, by Swedish paitner Carl Gustaf Pilo, c. 1751.

What the above means is that Christian VII of Denmark was the maternal grandson of George II of Great Britain and the cousin of George III of Great Britain. Interestingly, Christian, like his cousin George III, suffered mental illness, most likely a bipolar disorder.

Christian VII of Denmark's parents

Perhaps the death of his mother when he was just three had a long-lasting impact on his mental and emotional health. Furthermore, his tutor, Christian Ditlev, Count of Reventlow, frequently beat him, permanently scarring the already frail young prince emotionally and mentally.

What was his early life like?

It’s been stated that Christian was quite the affable type and reasonable amount of talent. He was quite the intelligent child and hardly showed any sign of mental disorder. However, towards his early teens, he started to suffer from very serious emotional problems. To be specific, he experienced severe mood swings which made him have an erratic and sometimes irrational behavior.

His hallucination and unintelligible speech also began around his pre-teens. Historians like to think that the young Christian showed classic symptoms of bipolar disorder or even schizophrenia.

It is also a known fact that Christian’s father, Frederick V, had severe mental issues towards the end of his life.


Christiansborg Palace in Copenhagen, c. 1750

Christian VII of Denmark was born in Christiansborg Palace in Copenhagen. Image: Christian’s birthplace, Christiansborg Palace in Copenhagen, c. 1750

His mentor, Christian Ditlev, Count of Reventlow, used a heavy-handed approach when it came to tutoring Christian. It’s been said that Reventlow would beat the young prince so bad that he would start foaming on the mouth. It is not improbable that the punishment visited upon the young prince exacerbated his mental and emotional problems.

Christian Ditlev, Count of Reventlow

Christian Ditlev, Count of Reventlow (1710-1775) was Christian VII of Denmark’s tutor

Who was Christian VII of Denmark’s wife?

Caroline Matilda of Great Britain - wife of Christian VII of Denmark

Caroline Matilda of Great Britain was the wife of Christian VII of Denmark. Portrait of Caroline Matilda of Great Britain by Scottish artist Catherine Read, 1767

In 1766, Christian tied the knot with his 15-year-old cousin, Princess Caroline Matilda, a sister of King George III of Great Britain. The couple tied the knot on October 1, 1766 at the Chapel Royal of St James’s Palace in London. The Danish ceremony place at the royal chapel at Christiansborg Palace on November 8, 1766.

The couple were crowned King and Queen of Denmark and Norway on May 1, 1767. The ceremony took place at the royal chapel of Christiansborg Palace. They gave birth to their first child, and probably their only child, Frederick (later Frederick VI), on January 28, 1768.

His marriage was not the best of royal marriages as he became obsessed with a number sexual deviant behaviors, including having sex with male and female prostitutes. Quite certainly, his new bride must have been taken aback Christian’s unhealthy obsession with musturbation.

It’s said that he engaged in the activity so much that it drew the concern of royal physicians, who believed that the king’s habit was having a huge toll on his general health. Some of the physicians even believed that the king’s addiction to musturbation would make him infertile and stunt his growth.

How did he die?

On the 13th of March 1808, Christian VII of Denmark had a severe stroke and died. He was 59 and was survived by his son, Crown Prince Frederick VI. He was buried at the Roskilde Cathedral, a cathedral of the Lutheran Church of Denmark. The exact burial place is the Frederick V’s chapel, which is also the burial place of his father, Frederick V, and his successors Frederick VI, Christian VII, and Frederick VII.

Who succeeded Christian VII to the throne?

Upon his death in 1808, Christian VII of Denmark was succeeded to the throne by his only son, Frederick VI, who reigned from 1808 to 1839.

Portrait of Frederick VI of Denmark by German portrait painter Friedrich Carl Gröger, 1808

How did Christian VII of Denmark’s mental illness affect his reign?

Christian VII of Denmark’s reign was characterized by his battle with mental illness, which led to him being more of a nominal king for most of his rule. The composition of his royal advisors fluctuated based on power struggles surrounding the throne.

During the period from 1770 to 1772, his court physician Johann Friedrich Struensee took on the role of de facto ruler and implemented progressive reforms that were approved by Christian VII.

Juliana Maria of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel

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

However, Struensee was overthrown in a coup in 1772, and subsequent governance fell into the hands of Christian’s stepmother, Juliane Marie of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel (1729-1796), his half-brother Frederick (1753-1805), and the Danish politician Ove Høegh-Guldberg (1731-1808). His half-brother served as regent from 1772 to 1784.

From 1784 until Christian VII’s demise in 1808, his son, who would later become Frederick VI, assumed the unofficial position of regent. During this period, he effectively ruled on behalf of his mentally unstable father.

Frederick, Hereditary Prince of Denmark

Hereditary Prince Frederick, Regent of the Kingdoms by Danish painter Vigilius Eriksen.

Why did he divorce his wife?

Plagued by years of mental illness, Christian’s reign was in effect dominated by many power-hungry people, one of them being his stepmother, Juliane. In 1772, he was pressured by Juliane into divorcing his wife, Caroline Matilda. Distraught as her children were taken away from her, the young queen was exiled to Celle Castle in Germany. She spent the remainder of her life all alone and died of scarlet fever on May 10, 1775. She was just 23 years old.

Why was his physician Struensee executed?

Christian was also pressured, again by Juliane, to not only arrest but also execute his former senior official, the physician Struensee. First, the physician’s right hand was chopped off.

Then, on April 28, 1772, Struensee was beheaded, drawn and quartered. He was charged with usurping his royal authority in contravention of the Royal Law (Kongelov). His second charge was lèse majesté (lese-majesty), the act of offending the dignity of a monarch or a ruling head of state. Both crimes were considered capital offences, according to the Kongelov.

Johann Friedrich Struensee

Johann Friedrich Struensee – physician to Christian VII of Denmark

Did Struensee have an affair with Christian’s wife, Caroline Matilda?

Struensee’s scandalous affair with Queen Caroline Matilda (also known as Caroline Mathilde), created a wave of controversy, particularly when monarch’s daughter, Princess Louise Augusta, was born. This affair became a catalyst for a series of intrigues and power struggles that ultimately led to Struensee’s downfall and ultimately his death.

Initially, the Danish queen held a dislike for Struensee. However, she found herself trapped in an unhappy marriage, neglected and rejected by Christian VII due to his mental illness and sexual deviant behavior. In her loneliness, Struensee emerged as one of the few individuals who paid attention to the queen, making genuine efforts to alleviate her troubles.

As time passed, Caroline Matilda’s feelings for the young doctor deepened, and by the spring of 1770, they became lovers. Furthermore, Struensee’s influence grew significantly after he successfully administered a vaccination to the infant Crown Prince Frederick VI in May.

Struensee even played a prominent role in the upbringing of Crown Prince Frederick VI, imparting Enlightenment principles that advocated a return to nature, as outlined in the ideas of Genevan philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778).

Christian VII of Denmark: Quick Facts

Christian VII of Denmark

Christian VII of Denmark. Portrait by Swedish painter Alexander Roslin, c. 1772

Reign: 1766-1808

Predecessor: Frederick V

Successor: Frederick VI

House: Oldenburg

Born: January 29, 1749

Place of birth: Christiansborg Palace, Copenhagen, Denmark

Died: March 13, 1808

Place of death: Rendsburg, Duchy of Holstien

Buried at: Roskilde Cathedral in eastern Denmark

Mother: Louise of Great Britain

Father: Frederick V of Denmark

Half-brother: Frederick, Hereditary Prince of Denmark

Spouse: Caroline Matilda of Great Britain (married: 1776; divorced: 1772)

Children: Frederick VI of Denmark, Louise Auguste of Denmark and Norway

Religion: Lutheran

Motto:Gloria ex amore patriae” (“Glory through love of the fatherland”

Other facts about Christian VII of Denmark

  • In his 42-year reign, he had two regents. The first was his half-brother Frederick, Hereditary Prince of Denmark from 1772 to 1782; and second was his son, Frederick (later Frederick VI of Denmark) from 1784 to 1808.
  • His mother, Louise of Great Britain (1724-1751), was the first wife of his father. His parents tied the knot in 1743 at a ceremony at the Roskilde Cathedral on the island of Zealand (Sjælland). His mother was the youngest surviving daughter of King Georg II of Great Britain (reign: 1727-1760) and Caroline of Ansbach (1683-1737). His mother was a very beloved figure in the Danish court.
  • His mother was struck by illness after a pinched umbilical hernia during her pregnancy with her sixth child. Despite the desperate attempts by the court physicians to save her life and that of her unborn child, she passed away at Christiansborg Palace on December 19, 1751. She was just 27 years old. She was buried at Roskilde Cathedral on the island of Zealand.
  • His step mother, Duchess Juliana Maria of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, was the sister-in-law of Frederick the Great of Prussia.
  • He had four siblings: Princess Sophia Magdalena of Denmark (1746-1813), Princess Wilhelmina Caroline of Denmark (1747-1820), and Princess Louise of Denmark (1750-1831). From his father’s second marriage (to Juliana Maria), he had a half-brother called Frederick.
  • His godmothers were Queen Dowager Sophie Magdalene, who was his paternal grandmother, his aunt Princess Louise, and his grand-aunt Princess Charlotte Amalie.
  • Christian VII of Denmark’s favorite mistress was the courtesan Støvlet-Cathrine (1745-1805). He even visited the brothels with her.

Støvlet-Cathrine – Christian VII of Denmark’s mistress

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