A tour of the 17th century struensee The Hirschsprung Collection The National Museum of Denmark Medical Museion Greve Museum copenhagen history

A tour of the 17th century

The 17th century was coloured by globalization, gossip and greed. Does this sound familiar? The questions and new experiences the Danes went through in the 17th century resemble those, we are passing through today.
Monday, May 4, 2015


Globalization, gossip and greed
The trade aboard was increasing exponentially and many different languages were heard on the streets of Copenhagen. In the salons the tongues were wagging merrily among the nobility of the urban society and the noveaux-riche bourgeoisie. Here the high-ups could talk of new ideals such as freedom, equality and brotherhood while they pigged themselves with coffee they had traded in for abducted Negros from the western coast of Africa.

A multitude of 17th century encounters
At the museums you can find a multitude of 17th century encounters. Rationalism and freethought in the 17th century Copenhagen suffered a loss of the head (if one may say so) when the royal physician Johan Friedrich Struensees head was separated from his body in the year 1772. Struensee was the royal physician to the schizophrenic King Christian VII but rose in power to a position of “de facto” regent of the country in 1770. He was inspired by the principles of autonomy and enlightenment which were in fashion in Europe at the time. He also had an affair with Queen Caroline Mathilde. In 1772 the Copenhagen rationalism came to a halt and Struensee was executed on April 28th. At The National Museum of Denmark you can see the axe which severed the canny head from the shrewd body.

A Royal Affair
If you want to see Struensee in action at the court you can visit The Hirschsprung Collection where Kristian Zahrtmann’s painting “Scene from the Court of Christian VII 1772” is displayed. The painting depicts a scene in which Struensee and Caroline Mathilde are preoccupied by a game of chess while the king is lolling on the sofa and ragging a parrot.

Struensee’s right hand as well as his head was chopped off at Østerfælled, where Fælledparken is situated today. The body was afterwards drawn and quartered. The parted body of the royal physician was drawn through the city to Vesterfælled where the parts were laid out for years till there was nothing left but the bones. Someone stole a tooth from the mouth of Struensee which can be found at Medical Museion. Here you can also experience Panodil and Strepsil of old as you can visit an apothecary from the 17th century.

The average 17th century person
Are you more interested in learning about the conditions of the average 17th century person; you can visit Greve Museum and see how the paupers lived. The lord allowed the almshouse to be erected there in 1710 and hired a leaseholder to make sure that the poor behaved themselves.

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Article by

Jakob Skaaning, journalist