Museums Corner | Behind the Royal Affair

Power, decadence, luxurious dresses and a bloody execution – this is the story of Johann Friedrich Struensee, the royal physician whose affair with the Danish queen is the subject of En kongelig affære (A Royal Affair), a film currently out at the cinema starring Mads Mikkelsen as the eponymous antihero.

The ill-fated love triangle between the mad Christian VII, his queen Caroline Mathilde, and Struensee, coupled with the  physician’s desire to change Denmark politically bore dire consequences for them all. In April 1772, Struensee paid the ultimate price for his ambitions: his life. The king divorced Caroline Mathilde and she was sent to exile. She never saw her children again and died when she was only 23 years old.

You can come closer to one of the most dramatic events in Denmark’s history at the museums. Kulturklik has composed a collection of good pointers for a trip in the footsteps of Caroline Mathilde and Struensee. Feel the presence of the love story and time travel back to life at the court of King Christian VII and the vicious execution of Struensee.

In Caroline Mathilde’s footsteps
Christiansborg Palace offers guided tours in Caroline Mathilde’s footsteps and takes you on a trip back to 17th century Christiansborg. Admire her bridal costume in the Palace Chapel and listen to the story about her rapturous infatuation with Struensee among horses and coaches in the Royal Stables. Follow her to the fateful masquerade at the Court Theatre and experience the last moments of her fate, which are depicted on the flamboyant tapestries in the Great Hall. Learn the full story of the royal affair and see what is left of the greatest and most splendid palace in Denmark.

The Last Summer of Struensee and Caroline Mathilde
Far away from Copenhagen, in a time filled with royal formalities, the court of Christian VII spent an entire summer at Hirschholm Castle in 1771. Caroline Mathilde and Struensee were able to escape the royal etiquette and the slander and live out their affair. After the fall of Struensee, the castle was never really used again, and after many years of degeneration, it was finally torn down in 1810. At Hørsholms Egns Museum you can size up the beautiful castle, which was once called ‘The Versailles of the North’ thanks to its many paintings, mock-ups and blueprints, plus a few collector’s items from the castle. Feel the happiness of the couple’s last summer together, and take a walk in the scenic surroundings, which used to frame the grand castle.

The beauty ideals of the 17th century
The fashion in the 17th century was agonising, precious and time-consuming. Both men and women made a virtue out of exhibiting the body and used practically everything: from corsets and hip pads to wigs and face powder. The fashion spread from the court to the lower social classes. At Designmuseum Danmark you can experience Caroline Mathilde’s toilet fixings, which consist of no less than 30 parts in gold-plated silver, including a huge mirror, candlesticks, a hairbrush and a funnel. The delicate things went wherever the queen went, and you needed a trunk to transport them. This May there is a new exhibition, ‘Rococo-mania’, which is going to centre around a dialogue between the styles of the 17th century, and the art and design of the present.

The executioner’s axe
On 28 April 1772 a chained Struensee was led up to Østerfælled where thousands upon thousands of people had turned up for the execution. First Struensee’s right hand was chopped off, then his head, whereupon his body was parted and his head was put on a skewer and put on display. At the National Museum of Denmark you can view the executioner’s axe, which is said to have not parted the head from the body until the third stroke.

If you want to know more about Struensee, you can also visit the exhibition Struensee, Love, Insanity, Idealism at The State Archives.

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