Photo: King Christian VII of Denmark. © The Royal Danish Collections.
Queen of Tears, on until August 30, is the latest exhibition at Powysland Museum and tells the intriguing yet tragic tale of the life of Caroline Mathilde (1751-75).
Bringing together objects, paintings and documents from museums and royal collections in Denmark, Germany and the UK, it relates the fascinating story of a British princess who went on to become a Danish queen.
Powysland’s Danish-born curator Eva Bredsdorff told the 24 Hour Museum why Caroline’s story had to be told.
"It is a story that most Danes know and yet it’s a story that, despite the fact she is a British princess, is completely unknown over here."
Photo: Caroline Mathilde. © The Royal Danish Collections.
Born in 1751, Caroline Mathilde was the youngest sister of England’s King George III and in 1766, aged just 15, she married King Christian VII of Denmark.
Despite giving birth to the future King Frederik VI, Caroline’s marriage was an unhappy one and as her husband descended into madness, the young queen fell in love, and began an affair, with his doctor Johann Friedrich Struensee.
According to Eva Bredsdorff, it was just the kind of scandal that would appeal to a modern audience: "If there had have been tabloids in 1771 they would have really got their teeth into that wouldn’t they?"
With this in mind the curator, with a little help from the Daily Mail, mocked up a screaming front page to introduce visitors to the story at the entrance to the exhibition.
Photo: Johann Struensee. © The Royal Danish Collections.
"I sent them some pictures and some words and they’ve written it like a modern newspaper story," said Eva.
Ironically, it would be the world of publishing that helped bring about a tragic end to the story.
Struensee took on more and more power until he virtually ruled the country in the King’s name and after granting freedom to the nation’s press, satirical pamphlets and articles about his relationship with the queen began to appear.
A coup by members of the Danish royal family, politicians, the nobility and the army, led to the doctor’s arrest, gruesome execution and Queen Caroline’s imprisonment at Kronborg Castle near Elsinore.
Photo: the arrest of Johann Struensee. © Hørsholm Egns Museum.
Although her brother King George III sent three ships to escort her to Celle, near Hanover in Germany, Caroline was forced to leave her son and the daughter she’d had with Struensee in Denmark and died three years later aged just 24.
The exhibition was made possible by a £45,000 Heritage Lottery Fund grant, which not only covered the cost of bringing together a host of rare artefacts, but also paid for the security upgrade necessary for this small museum to put on such a show.
"This has been a unique opportunity for Powysland Museum to make its mark in an area of British history that has tended to be overlooked," added Prof Tom Pritchard, chair of HLF Wales.
"It’s both a demonstration of the authority and resourcefulness of our Welsh museums, and further evidence of innovation in devising ways of supporting the community through attracting visitors."