Princess Augusta of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach (Augusta Marie Luise Katharina; September 30, 1811 – January 7, 1890) was the Queen of Prussia and the first German Empress as the consort of Wilhelm I, German Emperor and King of Prussia.
Wilhelm I (March 22, 1797 – March 9, 1888) of the House of Hohenzollern, was King of Prussia from January 2, 1861 and the first German Emperor from January 18, 1871 to his death, the first Head of State of a united Germany. He was the second son of King Friedrich-Wilhelm III of Prussia (himself son of King Friedrich-Wilhelm II) and Louise of Mecklenburg-Strelitz.
Princess Augusta of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, circa 1838, by Carl Joseph Begas
Augusta was the second daughter of Carl-Friedrich, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach and Maria Pavlovna of Russia, a daughter of Pavel I of Russia and Sophie Dorothea of Württemberg.
Meeting with Wilhelm
Augusta was only fifteen years old when, in 1826, she first met her future husband, Prince Wilhelm, 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.
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 King Friedrich-Wilhelm 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.
King Friedrich-Wilhelm 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 Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, 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.
Wilhelm I, German Emperor and King of Prussia
It was suggested by some courtiers that if Eliza Radziwill 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 Czar declined. The second adoption plan by Elisa’s uncle, Prince August of Prussia, likewise failed because the responsible committee considered that adoption does not change “the blood.” Another factor in the adoption falling through was the Mecklenburg relations of the deceased Queen Louise of Prussia (wife of Friedrich-Wilhelm III) influence in the German and Russian courts.
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 August 25, 1826, in writing and through the intervention of his father. Augusta agreed and on October 25, 1828, they were engaged.
Wilhelm wrote to his sister Charlotte, the wife of Nikolai 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, in the end, it was an inwardly happy marriage despite outward appearances.
On June 11, 1829, Wilhelm and Augusta were married in the chapel of Schloss Charlottenburg.
Augusta, German Empress and Queen of Prussia
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 has mixed feelings of his wife’s “lack of femininity”.
Despite the coldness and distance between them they did conceive two children. The first was Prince Friedrich-Wilhelm (later Friedrich III, German Emperor), born on October 26, 1831. Seven years later Princess Louise, was born on December 3, 1838.
Friedrich III, German Emperor and King of Prussia.
Princess Louise of Prussia, Grand Duchess of Baden.
Augusta as a politician
A strong area of difference between Wilhelm and Augusta was politics. Wilhelm was a staunch Conservative while Augusta was very Liberal.
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.
In liberal circles, an idea was seriously discussed as to whether or not to force the King to abdicate, Prince Wilhelm renounce his rights to the throne, and instead have Augusta take up a regency for their son, Friedrich. Because the letters and diaries of that time were later destroyed by Augusta, it is not clear whether she seriously considered this option.
Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom and Augusta, German Empress and Queen of Prussia. Their elldest children, Victoria the Princess Royal and German Emperor Friedrich III were married.
In his memoirs, Chancellor Bismarck describes Wilhelm I as an old-fashioned, courteous, infallibly polite gentleman and a genuine Prussian officer, whose good common sense was occasionally undermined by “female influences”. This was a reference to Wilhelm’s wife, who had been educated by, among others Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and was intellectually superior to her husband. She was also at times very outspoken in her opposition to official policies as she was a liberal. Wilhelm, however, had long been strongly opposed to liberal ideas.
* Here are some interesting genealogical information on Elisabeth Ludovika (November 13, 1801 – December 14, 1873) who was a Princess of Bavaria and later Queen consort of Prussia as the wife of King Friedrich-Wilhelm IV of Prussia.
Elisabeth Ludovika was born in Munich, the daughter of King Maximilian I Joseph of Bavaria and his Queen, Friederike of Baden, and she was the identical twin sister of Amalie of Bavaria, consort of King Johann I of Saxony. Another sister was of Sophie of Bavaria Austria, wife of Archduke Franz-Carl of Austria and she was the mother of Emperor Franz-Josef I of Austria-Hungry and Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico. Another sister was Caroline of Bavaria the wife of Franz II, last Holy Roman Emperor and first Emperor of Austria. The youngest daughter was Ludovika of Bavaria, wife of her cousin, Duke Maximilian Joseph in Bavaria. Ludovika of Bavaria was the mother of Emperor Franz-Josef’s consort, Empress Elisabeth of Austria (Sisi), who was Elisabeth’s godchild and namesake.