|King of Denmark and Norway |
|Reign||14 January 1766 – 13 March 1808|
|Coronation||1 May 1767|
Christiansborg Palace Chapel
|Born||29 January 1749|
Christiansborg Palace, Copenhagen, Denmark
|Died||13 March 1808 (aged 59)|
Rendsburg, Duchy of Holstein
(m. 1766; div. 1772)
|Issue||Frederick VI of Denmark|
Louise Auguste, Duchess of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenburg
|Father||Frederick V of Denmark|
|Mother||Louise of Great Britain|
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 half-brother Frederick was designated as regent of Denmark-Norway in 1772. From 1784 until Christian VII's death in 1808, Christian's son, later Frederick VI, acted as unofficial regent.
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).
A former heir to the throne, also named Christian, had died in infancy in 1747; 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. His mother Queen Louise died in 1751, two years after his birth. The following year his father married Duchess Juliana Maria of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel.
Early historians state that he 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 suffered from severe emotional problems, possibly schizophrenia, as argued by Doctor Viggo Christiansen in Christian VII's mental illness (1906).
After a long period of infirmity, Frederick V died on 14 January 1766, just 42 years old. Later the same day, Christian was proclaimed king from the balcony of Christiansborg Palace, weeks before his 17th birthday. Christian's reign was marked by mental illness which affected government decisions, and for most of his reign Christian was only nominally king. His court physicians were especially worried by his frequent masturbation. His royal advisers changed depending on who won power struggles around the throne.
The young King was betrothed to his fifteen-year-old cousin Princess Caroline Matilda, sister of George III of the United Kingdom, who was anxious about the marriage but not aware that the bridegroom was mentally ill. The dynastic marriage took place at Christiansborg Palace on 8 November 1766. After his marriage, he abandoned himself to the worst excesses, especially sexual promiscuity. In 1767, he entered into a relationship with the courtesan Støvlet-Cathrine. He ultimately sank into a condition of mental stupor. Symptoms during this time included paranoia, self-mutilation and hallucinations.
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.
The king divorced Caroline Matilda in 1772, after they produced two children: the future King Frederick VI and Princess Louise Auguste. However, it is widely believed that Louise was the daughter of Struensee—portrait comparisons tend to support this hypothesis. 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, 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.
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.
Christian died at age 59 of a stroke on 13 March 1808 in Rendsburg, Schleswig. Although there were rumors 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.
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).
Christian VII, the story of his marriage, and his wife's affair with Struensee has featured in many artistic works:
|Ancestors of Christian VII of Denmark|