Augusta of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach
|Birth||30 September 1811, Weimar, Thuringia, Germany|
|Death||7 January 1890, Berlin, Germany (aged 78 years)|
Princess Augusta of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach (Augusta Marie Luise Katharina; 30 September 1811 – 7 January 1890) was the Queen of Prussia and the first German Empress as the consort of William I, German Emperor.
Augusta was the second daughter of Charles Frederick, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach and Maria Pavlovna of Russia, a daughter of Paul I of Russia and Sophie Dorothea of Württemberg.
While her father was an intellectually limited person, whose preferred reading up to the end of his life was fairy tales, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe spoke of Augusta's mother Marie as "one of the best and most significant women of her time." Augusta received a comprehensive education, including drawing lessons from the court painter, Luise Seidler, as well as music lessons from the court bandmaster, Johann Nepomuk Hummel.
Meeting with Wilhelm
Augusta was only fifteen years old when, in 1826, she first met her future husband, who was more than fourteen years older than her. Wilhelm thought the young Augusta had an "excellent personality," yet was less attractive than her older sister Marie, whom Wilhelm's younger brother, Karl, had already married. Above all, it was Wilhelm's father who pressed him to consider Augusta as a potential wife.
At this time, Wilhelm was in love with the Polish Princess Elisa Radziwill. The Crown Prince at the time was Wilhelm's elder brother, Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm (later Frederick William IV). He and his wife Elisabeth Ludovika had been married three years and had no children. Although it was not anticipated that they would remain childless (which turned out to be the case), the court did expect that Wilhelm, as heir presumptive to the throne, should make a dynastic marriage and produce further heirs. Frederick William III was indulgent of the relationship between his son Wilhelm and Elisa, but the Prussian Court had discovered that her ancestors had purchased their princely title from Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor, and she was not deemed noble enough to marry a potential King of Prussia. Ironically, Crown Princess Elisabeth Ludovika, who as a Bavarian princess was considered to be of correct rank, counted both Bogusław Radziwiłł and Janusz Radziwiłł among her ancestors, albeit through female descent.
It was suggested by some courtiers that if Eliza Radziwell was adopted by a family of adequate rank, then a marriage with Prince Wilhelm was possible. In 1824, the Prussians turned to the childless Alexander I of Russia to adopt Elisa, but the Russian Tsar declined. The second adoption plan by Elisa's uncle, Prince Augustus of Prussia, likewise failed because the responsible committee considered that adoption does not change "the blood." Another factor was the Mecklenburg relations of the deceased Queen Louise's influence in the German and Russian courts (she was not fond of Elisa's father).
Thus, in June 1826, Wilhelm's father felt forced to demand the renunciation of a potential marriage to Elisa. Thus, Wilhelm spent the next few months looking for a more suitable bride, but did not relinquish his emotional ties to Elisa. Eventually, Wilhelm asked for Augusta's hand in marriage on 29 August (in writing and through the intervention of his father). Augusta happily agreed and on 25 October 1828, they were engaged.
Historian Karin Feuerstein-Prasser has pointed out on the basis of evaluations of the correspondence between both fiancées, what different expectations Wilhelm had of both marriages: Wilhelm wrote to his sister Charlotte, the wife of Nicholas I of Russia, with reference to Elisa Radziwill: "One can love only once in life, really" and confessed with regard to Augusta, that "the Princess is nice and clever, but she leaves me cold." Augusta liked her future husband and hoped for a happy marriage.
On 11 June 1829, after a strenuous three-day trip from Weimar to Berlin, Wilhelm married his fiancée, fourteen years younger than he was, in the chapel of Schloss Charlottenburg.
The first weeks of marriage were harmonious; Augusta was taken favorably in the Prussian King's court, however, Augusta soon started to be bored with its military sobriety, and most courtly duties (which may have counteracted this boredom) were reserved to her sister-in-law, Crown Princess Elisabeth.
In a letter which Wilhelm wrote on 22 January 1831 to his sister Charlotte, he complained of his wife's "lack of femininity". Prince Friedrich (later Friedrich III of Germany), was born later that year on 18 October 1831, three years after their marriage and Louise, was born on 3 December 1838, seven years later.
Augusta as a politician
Augusta was very interested in politics. Like so many other liberally-minded people of the time, she was hopeful regarding the accession of Friedrich Wilhelm IV, her brother-in-law, who was regarded as a potentially modern and open king. However, he refused to grant a constitution to Prussia, and led a far more conservative government than was expected from his liberal ideals during his years as the crown prince. A "united landtag" was created by the King in reaction to the crop failures and hunger revolts of 1847, but was soon dissolved a few months later. Prince Wilhelm was held responsible for the bloodshed of the March revolution in 1848, in Berlin and on the advice of the King, Wilhelm fled to London, and Augusta and their two children withdrew to Potsdam.
In liberal circles, an idea was seriously discussed as to whether or not to force the King to abdicate, the Crown Prince renounce his rights to the throne, and instead have Augusta take up a regency for their son. Because the letters and diaries of that time were later destroyed by Augusta, it is not clear whether she seriously considered this option. After, in May 1848, 800 members of the German National Assembly met in the Frankfurter Paulskirche to discuss German unification and Prince Wilhelm returned from London the following month. A year later, in 1849, he was appointed Governor-General of the Rhine Province and in the spring of 1850, he and Augusta took up residence in Koblenz.
Life in Koblenz
Augusta enjoyed life in Koblenz and it was here that she could finally live out Court life as she was accustomed to during her childhood in Weimar. Meanwhile, their son Friedrich studied nearby in Bonn and became the first Prussian Prince to receive an academic education.
Koblenz was subsequently visited by many liberal-minded contemporaries, including the historian Max Dunker and legal professors August von Bethmann-Hollweg, Clemens Theodor Pertes and Alexander von Schleinitz. Critically, Augusta's tolerance towards Catholicism at Koblenz (and throughout her lifetime) was scorned in Berlin and was felt inappropriate for a Prussian Protestant Princess.
In 1856 Augusta and Wilhelm's only daughter, Princess Louise (then 17 years old), married Frederick, Grand Duke of Baden, and in 1858 their son Friedrich married Princess Victoria, the eldest child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Augusta saw this as a personal triumph and hoped her new daughter-in-law's liberal upbringing, particularly under Prince Albert, in a contemporary country like the United Kingdom would guide Friedrich in the direction of a liberal monarchy at home.
Return to Berlin
In 1858, Wilhelm became Regent after his brother was no longer able to lead his government due to suffering several strokes. He and Augusta traveled to the Court at Berlin.
Wilhelm soon dismissed the old ministry when he succeeded his childless brother as King in 1861 and appointed liberal ministers of his own, notably from his own Court at Koblenz, including: Alexander von Schleinitz, who became Foreign Secretary; August von Bethmann, who became Minister of Culture; and Karl Anton of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen who became Minister President of Prussia. The conservative opponents saw this as the work of Augusta, but her political influence on Wilhelm was rather low. This became evident a few months later, when he dissolved Parliament, which was not bending to his will. The King appointed Otto von Bismarck as the new Prussian Minister President. Augusta, now Queen, regarded Bismarck as her mortal enemy and Bismarck likewise despised Augusta for her (albeit low) influence on her husband.
Augusta was particularly horrified at Bismarck's foreign policy and his cause in the commencement of the Austro-Prussian War. At the same time, she became more and more estranged from the King and Bismarck began to comment negatively on the Queen in Parliament; the Queen reacted by being rude to Bismarck's wife, Johanna.
The Queen soon began to suffer from her manic-depressive phases again and started making frequent trips to Baden-Baden, in search of a cure. At this time, the Prussian population was rejoicing in the victory at Königgrätz, but Augusta began mourning for the dead and injured. Augusta also became estranged from her daughter-in-law, Victoria.
Augusta, who clearly abhorred war, founded the National Women's Association in 1864, which looked after wounded and ill soldiers and convened with Florence Nightingale for ideas. Several hospital foundations exist today from Augusta's initiative, including the German Society For Surgery.
The Austro-Prussian War soon ended in 1866 but four years later, the Franco-Prussian War started in 1870 and Augusta continued to hold Bismarck personally responsible. However, the aftermath of the war left Wilhelm as German Emperor and Augusta as German Empress.
Augusta felt the Imperial Crown a personal defeat; she wanted the Prussian supremacy in Germany to succeed by "moral conquest" and not by bloodshed. Her opinion of the war was established by erecting an educational establishment in Potsdam in 1872, as "a home for the education of destitute daughters of German officers, military officials, priests and doctors from the field of honour as a result of the war of 1870-71."
Augusta buried her differences with Bismarck only in her last years, as it seemed he was the only suitable man to support her beloved grandson, Wilhelm. However, Wilhelm disliked Bismarck and soon forced him to resign during the first few years of his own reign.
Augusta had suffered from rheumatism for many years and in June 1881, she received heavy injuries from a fall which left her dependent on crutches and a wheelchair, but this did not hinder her from fulfilling her duties.
She finally made amends with her husband on his ninetieth birthday in 1887, but he soon died a year later. Only ninety-nine days later, her son, who had succeeded to the throne as Friedrich III, succumbed to cancer of the larynx. She did, however, see her beloved grandson Wilhelm become King and Emperor that year, but died a year later on 7 January 1890, aged 78. Augusta was buried in the mausoleum of Charlottenburg beside her husband.
Titles, styles, honours and arms
Titles and styles
- 30 September 1811 - 11 June 1829 Her Serene Highness Princess Augusta of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach
- 11 June 1829 - 2 January 1861 Her Royal Highness Princess William of Prussia
- 2 January 1861 – 18 January 1871 Her Majesty The Queen of Prussia
- 18 January 1871 - 9 March 1888 Her Imperial and Royal Majesty The German Empress, Queen of Prussia
- 9 March 1888 - 7 January 1890 Her Imperial and Royal Majesty The Dowager German Empress, Dowager Queen of Prussia
- Dame of the Order of Louise
Among others, the following were named for her:
- The Protected cruiser SMS Kaiserin Augusta, built by the German Navy on the year of her death.
- Kaiserin-Augusta-Straße in Berlin and the Berlin U-Bahn station in that street.
- The Kaiserin Augusta Gymnasium, founded in 1818 and named for her in 1876.
|Ancestors of Augusta of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach|