"A member of the suite of one of the best known of our Princes tells a romantic story" about the late Empress Augusta, widow of Wilhelm I, according to a report in the Chicago Daily Tribune. The report was based on a letter that was first published in Berlin.
Augusta, who was born a Princess of Saxe-Weimar, where she was "hedged about with all the straightlaced etiquette the small German principality affected." At age seventeen, the princess was very much into romance and had "learned by heart the stories" of the glittering and romantic court of Louis XIV of France. She was so well read that "she was prepared to fall in love" with the first man who would "appeal to her sense of beauty." But the "rigid surveillances" of her parents made the meeting of young men nearly impossible.
Before this "romantic spirit had lived long enough to die," Princess Augusta fell in love with a French nobleman of "long lineage" who had stopped in Weimar "in the progress of a long jaunt from Auvergne."
The nobleman stayed at Weimar for several weeks and became a "favorite of the Grand Duke." The Frenchman was "accomplished, handsome and a daredevil." It was at a court ball where the nobleman was permitted to partner the princess, and they "indulged in love at first sight."
Their love soon developed into "indiscretion, which took the form of secret meetings in the palace grounds." The princess' maid and her lover's valet served as the conduits who passed on the correspondence and arranged the meetings. The maid, "whether through carelessness or spite, lost one of the nobleman's letters. The letter was found by Augusta's mother before the maid "could recover it."
The letter was full of passion and eloquence, "burning with the love song of the smitten Parisian, and filled with all those pretty words that came with the Grand Monarch."
The letter also includes words referring to elopement and "pictured the ideal life of love on the pastoral lands of the new America."
Augusta's parents were "consumed with rage," and their indignation in "unstinted volume."
The Ducal Chamberlain challenged the young Frenchman to a duel, and "the lover fell, mortally wounded." As he fell to the ground, the nobleman tore open his tunic, and "there, pressed against his heart, was a handkerchief" belonging to Augusta.
The Grand Duchess of Saxe-Weimar was so "affected by this incident" that she "silently placed the handkerchief on the breast of the young man" in his coffin, and the handkerchief was buried with him. His body "was covered with roses, strewn upon him by the devoted Augusta, and she, from swoons and sobs, became hysterical and almost crazed."
For weeks, Augusta cried and moped around the palace. Her parents became concerned about her health, and were "convinced that her sorrow must have relief or she would have become insane." The solution, they thought, was a marriage, and the groom would be Prince Wilhelm of Prussia. Augusta gave "her indifferent consent, to the marriage. Wilhelm also saw the marriage with "equal unimportance," as he too was heartbroken over a lost love.
Augusta and Wilhelm accepted that this marriage was arranged by their parents. It was not a marriage based on love or affection. The couple was always polite to each other, they respected each other, but there was no love between them. Empress Augusta "preferred French books, ideas, dress, and sentiment." She considered French to be her favorite language.
In a letter to his sister, Charlotte (Empress Alexandra), the wife of Nicholas I of Russia, Wilhelm said of Augusta: "the Princess is nice and clever, but she leaves me cold."
It was not a surprise that Carl Friedrich and his wife, Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna of Russia would consider Wilhelm as a husband for Augusta. The marriage was also encouraged by Wilhelm's father.
Wilhelm's brother, Karl, was married to Augusta's older sister, Marie.
The marriage took place in the chapel at Schloss Charlottenburg in Berlin on June 11, 1829.
Augusta was never comfortable at the Prussian court. In October 1831, she gave birth to a son, the future Friedrich III. A second child, a daughter, Luise, was born seven years later. Augusta suffered several miscarriages but by the mid-1840s, the prince and princess were living largely separate lives. The princess was a manic depressive, an illness her husband could not understand, and he sought comfort from mistresses. Augusta was well-educated and instilled her son the need for a liberal Germany. She and Queen Victoria corresponded often, and it is no surprise that Victoria's eldest daughter, Victoria, married Augusta's son, Friedrich, in 1858.
Prince Wilhelm was the second son of King Friedrich Wilhelm III. It was only due to the childless marriage of his brother, Friedrich Wilhelm IV, that Wilhelm succeeded in 1861 as King of Prussia. It was during the Franco-Prussian war in January 1871, when Wilhelm was proclaimed as German Emperor.
Empress Augusta died at Berlin on January 7 at Berlin.