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Royals are known for living lives of wealth and privilege and that is true. However, that wealth and privilege doesn’t shield one from hardship and tragedy. In this series I will examine the hardships of the family of Charles Wilhelm Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, his wife, Princess Augusta of Great Britain and their children.

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Charles Wilhelm Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg

Charles Wilhelm Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, Prince of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel (October 9, 1735 – November 10, 1806) was the Prince of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel and Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg and a military leader. His titles are usually shortened to Duke of Brunswick in English-language sources.

He was the first-born son of Charles I, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel and his wife Philippine Charlotte of Prussia. His father was the ruling prince (German: Fürst) of the small state of Brunswick-Lüneburg, one of the imperial states of the Holy Roman Empire. Philippine Charlotte was the favourite daughter of King Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia and sister of Friedrich II of Prussia. As the heir apparent of a sovereign prince, Charles Wilhelm Ferdinand received the title of Hereditary Prince. (Although known by the cumbersome triple name Charles Wilhelm Ferdinand , for the rest of this blog entry I’ll refer to him simply as Charles).

The royal houses of the former Duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg had traditionally married within the family, to avoid further division of their family lands under Salic law. By the time, Brunswick-Lüneburg had consolidated back into two states, Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel and the Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg (Hanover).

The electorate was ruled by the Hanoverian branch of the family in personal union with the Kingdom of Great Britain. It was therefore arranged for Charles to marry a British-Hanoverian princess: Princess Augusta of Great Britain, daughter of Frederick Louis, Prince of Wales and his wife, Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, and sister of the reigning King George III. Augusta was given a careful education. She was not described as a beauty, having protuberant eyes, loose mouth and a long face.

On January 16, 1764, Charles married Princess Augusta of Great Britain, eldest sister of King George III. The couple were second cousins to each other, being great-grandchildren of George I of Great Britain, Elector of Hanover. As such, they were not related in a particularly close degree, yet there had been many bonds of marriage between the House of Brunswick-Bevern and the House of Hanover, themselves both branches of the House of Guelph.

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Augusta of Great Britain

Augusta never fully adapted to life in Brunswick due to her British patriotism and disregard of all things “east of the Rhine”. This attitude did not change with time, and twenty five years after her marriage, she was described as: “wholly English in her tastes, her principles and her manners, to the point that her almost cynical independence makes, with the etiquette of the German courts, the most singular contrast I know”.

In 1777, Augusta announced to Charles that she would retire from court life and devote herself to the upbringing of her children and religious studies under the Bishop of Fürstenberg. The reason was her disapproval of the relationship between Charles and Louise Hertefeld whom he, in contrast to his previous mistress Maria Antonia Branconi, had installed as his official royal mistress at the Brunswick court.

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Augusta of Great Britain

In 1780, Charles succeeded his father as sovereign prince of the Principality of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, one of the princely states of the Holy Roman Empire. The duke was a cultured and benevolent despot in the model of Friedrich II the Great of Prussia. He was also a recognized master of 18th century warfare, serving as a Field Marshal in the Prussian Army.

In 1806, when Prussia declared war on France, her husband, the Prince of Brunswick-Wolfenbuttel, 71 at the time, was appointed commander-in-chief of the Prussian army. On October 14, of that year, at the Battle of Jena, Napoleon defeated the Prussian army; and on the same day, at the Battle of Auerstadt, he was struck by a musket ball and lost both of his eyes; his second-in-command Friedrich Wilhelm Carl von Schmettau was also mortally wounded, causing a breakdown in the Prussian command.

Severely wounded, the Duke was carried with his forces before the advancing French. Augusta, with the Hereditary Prince and Hereditary Princess, fled to Altona, where they were present at her dying spouse’s side. Because of the advancing French army, they were advised by the British ambassador to flee, and they left shortly before the death of the Prince. He died of his wounds in Ottensen on November 10, 1806.

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The Duke and Duchess of Brunswick-Lüneburg

Augusta then went to stay at the Duchy of Augustenborg, where her nephew-in-law was sovereign. She remained there with her niece, the Duchess of Augustenborg (daughter of her sister the late Queen Caroline Mathilde of Denmark), until her brother George III of the United Kingdom finally relented in September 1807, and allowed Augusta to come to London. There she resided at Montagu House, at Blackheath in Greenwich, with her daughter, Caroline the Princess of Wales, but soon Augusta fell out with her, and purchased the house next door, Brunswick House. Augusta lived out her days there and died in 1813 aged 75.

Part II will be a discussion about their children.