Born 1768, died 1839. King of Denmark 1808-1839 and Norway 1808-1814. Son of King Christian VII of Denmark and Queen Caroline Mathilde. Father of Princess Vilhelmine (later wife to King Frederik VII of Denmark). Married to Queen Marie Sophie Frederikke (originally of Hesse-Kassel).
As the son of the insane King Christian VII and the distant and unloving Queen Caroline Mathilde, the young Crown Prince Frederik had a harsh childhood. The strict upbringing directed by the German court physician Friederich Johann Struenseee (secretly the queen's lover, and completely in control of the weak-minded king, Struensee was the de facto ruler of Denmark at the time) was intended to harden the frail boy. That Frederik grew into a hard man may well be due to this harsh childhood. Certainly, much of his life is clearly explained by the rigours of his early years.
Despite a certain lack of formal education (Struensee's pedagogical theories were somewhat influenced by Jean Jacques Rousseau's idea of leaving a child in its natural state, allowing it to learn by itself), the 16-year-old crown prince nevertheless managed to execute a carefully planned coup d'état, in 1784, toppling Struensee and replacing his rule with a new government, headed by himself as Prince Regent, and his own coterie.
As the young regent grew into full adulthood, he took on more and more of the dignity relinquished by his demented father. In 1790, he married Marie Sophie Frederikke of Hesse-Kassel, by whom he later had eight children - though only two daughters survived to adulthood (by his official maitresse, Frederikke Dannemand, he also had two daughters and two sons).
Over the years after the coup, the Prince Regent slowly asserted his authority over his co-conspirators in the coup, A.P. Bernstorff, C.D.F. Reventlow and H.E. Schimmelmann. By the time of Bernstorff's death in 1797, Prince Frederik had managed to become in fact what he had been in name - absolute ruler of Denmark, in his father's name. During this period, he also tightened his grip on the reins of power. One instance of this straitening of authority was the so-called Printing Liberty Act of 1799 - in spite of the name, a censorship law.
During Frederik's regency, Denmark's foreign policy was active like seldom before. This led to the Battle of the Roadstead of Copenhagen, in 1801, a major naval battle that resulted in a victory for the British forces (under the officer who was no gentleman, Horatio Nelson). Nevertheless, the talented Prince Frederik managed to avoid the more drastic political consequences of the defeat, through masterly use fo delaying tactics.
When the escalation of the Napoleonic Wars forced Denmark to side with either Britain or France, Prince Frederik naturally chose to side with Napoleon, a choice that was to lead to the despicable terror bombardment of Copenhagen in 1807 by the British Royal Navy and Army - the first use of weapons of mass destruction against a civilian population in world history.
In 1808, following his father's death, Frederik finally assumed the kingship that had been his in all but name for 24 years. Now formally absolute monarch, he immediately disbanded the Council of State (Danish: Statsrådet) and assumed direct rule, aided by his corps of adjutants (known as "the red feathers" for their distinctive hat ornaments).
Following the defeat of Napoleon, Denmark was bankrupt and bereft of allies. Despite his personal appearance at the Congress of Vienna, Frederik was forced into the humiliating Treaty of Kiel, in 1814, and had to sign away his rights as King of Norway to the King of Sweden. The same year, the Council of State was reconvened, though many decisions were still made by the king and his ministers without consulting the council.
Though his intelligence was mediocre, Frederik was a vigorous ruler, wih generally good judgement. Despite his early efforts to allow some social change, in the latter years of the 18th century, his conservative style of government during his years as king caused him to be identified with opposition to social change. His complete lack of sensitivity to the hazards of ínternational affairs likewise came under criticism. In short, he was a complex figure - well suited to the monarchy in some respects, incompetent in others.