Reel Norden : Nordic Film & History

Behavior: A Royal Affair

King Christian VII’s Behavior


King Christian VII was born to Queen Louise of Great Britain and King Frederick V of Denmark. When Christian VII was only two years old, his mother died, and his father was an alcoholic for the remainder of his childhood, often neglecting him. (1) Much of his time was spent with Ditlev Reventlow, his teacher. Reventlow subjected Christian to his ‘hardening’ treatment which included flogging, threatening, mocking and terrifying Christian. These beatings would leave Christian foaming at the mouth and convulsing. (Hester 47) Some historians argue that his childhood led to his childish and unstable behavior throughout his life.


During his reign, Christian was actually mentally ill. It is now been hypothesized that he was Schizophrenic and bipolar, or suffered from Porphyria, a genetic disorder, that parallels his symptoms as well as those of some other members of the royal family. (3) He would have sudden outbursts and the people around him could not control him, except for Struensee. Struensee wrote about Christian’s behavior in a memoir highlighting his “inconsistency, indifferences to and disgust for all things.” (4) He also wrote about Christian laughing uncontrollably at inappropriate times. Struensee diagnosed Christian’s problems with that of ‘a bad habit’, that would be uncovered as frequent masturbation, and cold baths were described as a remedy. (5)


In the movie, A Royal Affair, he was portrayed more as an ill-behaved child than anything else. He seemed to have very little respect for others and especially any sort of family members. It did not appear that Christian had many sudden outbursts in the movie, but rather he would use unreasonable thinking skills or come to bizarre conclusions. The behavior of the king in the movie was a very watered down version to what he was actually like. If they used Sturensee’s diagnosis of excessive masturbation, that was not portrayed in the film. They would show him going to brothels, or infrequently having sex with Caroline, instead of pleasuring himself. In one scene he is shown in a bathtub talking to Struensee. Which would be accurate to his prescribed remedy for Christian. It must be said that though many believe he had schizophrenia it is hard to determine what exactly he suffered from, since there is no doctor today that could correctly analyze his behavior back then. What we do know for sure is that he had severe mental and emotional issues that greatly impacted his life and made him a prime target of manipulation.


 Johan Struensee

  Johan Struensee was a very bright, intelligent doctor from Germany. The council thought King Christian VII would benefit by having a personal doctor on his tour across Europe, their connection was so strong that Struensee was appointed as Christian’s royal physician. Struensee and Christian grew quite close, being one of the only people the King trusted, their bond strengthened and Christian would consult him on government matters. (6) It is almost as if Struensee played the role that a queen, or present day First Lady to the president of the United States would play. Relationships in this family were not a strong suit, but the trust a closeness between King Christian and Struensee displayed that some type of positive relationship occurred in Christian’s life.

Caroline Matilda

Caroline Matilda was the daughter Fredrick Prince of Wales and Augusta of Saxe-Gotha.  When growing up the greatest grief that Caroline had felt was when she left her sister  Louisa, who then died two years later from tuberculous infection. (Hester 40). Caroline’s depression increased as well as her homesickness as she left England to meet her future husband Christian VII, who was her first cousin. ( Hester 42,45).  

Caroline was nervous but most of her homesickness had gone away when she meet Madame de Plessen, who was to be her lady in waiting.  It is said that sometimes Christian would send a messenger to ask whether Caroline had been undressed and was waiting for him to join her.  Madam de Plessen was shocked by this and had Caroline tell him that she had to finish her game of chess before she went to bed. (hester 56-57)  Some say that Christian had asked Madam de Plessen to ride in the same carriage as him to Charlottenlund.  During the ride he got the carriage to a fast speed, let the reins loosen and once they were near a snow-drift jump off the carriage leaving Plessen in the carriage that tipped over.  He did also attempt to save her, but his attempt included rolling her over and over, pulling up her dress and throwing snow in her face.( Hester 58)


Throughout the film you can see Caroline Matilda’s moods change.  First she is happy to be with her husband.  Then you see them take away her books and she starts to fall into a deep depression.  This is caused by both her books being taken away and also being taken away from something very familiar and being put in a strange land among people who may not speak her language and who have different standards that she doesn’t understand. (4) The film shows Caroline refusing the king many times with the excuse of having to finish her chess game.  In the film Christian is seen shoveling snow into Madame de Plessen’s face while on a walk with Caroline and a few other ladies and telling her that he never wanted to see her again.


Works Cited

  1. Alberto Cavanna, Andrea E. Cavanna “Christian VII of Denmark and Tourette Syndrome: fact or fiction?” Neurological Sciences (October, 2014):1611.  DOI 10.1007/s10072-014-1804-7.

  2. Hester W. Chapman, Caroline Matilda: Queen of Denmark (New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, inc, 1972)47.

  3. Johan Schioldann, Villa Awang Awang, Melayang-Pejeng Kaja, "Struensee's Memoir on the situation of the King (1772): Christian VII of Denmark." History of Psychiatry (May 2013): 232-33. DOI: 10.1177/0957154X13476199.

  4. Johan Schioldann, Villa Awang Awang, Melayang-Pejeng Kaja, “Memoir of the King” History of Psychiatry (May 2013): 230.

  5. Johan Schioldann, Villa Awang Awang, Melayang-Pejeng Kaja, “Memoir of the King” History of Psychiatry (May 2013): 230.

  6. Johan Schioldann, Villa Awang Awang, Melayang-Pejeng Kaja, “Memoir of the King” History of Psychiatry (May 2013): 228.

  7. Hester W. Chapman, Caroline Matilda: Queen of Denmark (New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, inc, 1972), 40.

  8. Chapman, Caroline Matilda: Queen of Denmark, 42,45.

  9. Chapman, Caroline Matilda: Queen of Denmark, 56-57.

  10. Chapman, Caroline Matilda: Queen of Denmark, 58.

  11. Chapman, Caroline Matilda: Queen of Denmark, 55.

This page references: