Augusta of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach

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Augusta of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach
Augusta, Königin von Preußen und Deutsche Kaiserin.jpg
Coronation portrait by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1861
Queen consort of Prussia
Tenure2 January 1861 – 9 March 1888
German Empress consort
Tenure18 January 1871 – 9 March 1888
Born(1811-09-30)30 September 1811
Weimar, Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach
Died7 January 1890(1890-01-07) (aged 78)
Berlin, German Empire
(m. 1829; died 1888)
Augusta Marie Luise Katharina
FatherCharles Frederick, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach
MotherGrand Duchess Maria Pavlovna of Russia
SignatureAugusta of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach's signature

Princess Augusta Marie Luise Katharina of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach (30 September 1811 – 7 January 1890) was the queen of Prussia and the first German empress as the consort of William I, German Emperor.

Early life[edit]

Princess Augusta of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, circa 1838, by Carl Joseph Begas

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[edit]

Augusta was only fifteen years old when, in 1826, she first met her future husband, Prince Wilhelm (William), who was more than fourteen years older than her. William thought the young Augusta had an "excellent personality," yet was less attractive than her older sister Marie, whom William's younger brother, Karl (Charles), had already married.[citation needed] Above all, it was William's father who pressed him to consider Augusta as a potential wife.[citation needed]

At this time, William was in love with the Polish Princess Elisa Radziwill.[1] The Crown Prince at the time was William's elder brother, Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm (later King 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 William, as heir presumptive to the throne, should make a dynastic marriage and produce further heirs.[citation needed]

King Frederick William III was indulgent of the relationship between his son William and Elisa, but the Prussian court had discovered that her ancestors had purchased their princely title from Emperor Maximilian I, and she was not deemed noble enough to marry a potential King of Prussia.[2] 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 Radziwill was adopted by a family of adequate rank, then a marriage with Prince William 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, William's father felt forced[citation needed] to demand the renunciation of a potential marriage to Elisa. Thus, William spent the next few months looking for a more suitable bride, but did not relinquish his emotional ties to Elisa. Eventually, William asked for Augusta's hand in marriage on 29 August (in writing and through the intervention of his father). Augusta 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 William had of both marriages: He 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."[citation needed] Augusta liked her future husband and hoped for a happy marriage, in the end, it was an inwardly happy marriage despite outward appearances.[citation needed]

On 11 June 1829, William married his fiancée in the chapel of Schloss Charlottenburg.

Married life[edit]

Princess Augusta of Prussia 1853.

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 William wrote on 22 January 1831 to his sister Charlotte, he has mixed feelings of his wife's "lack of femininity". Prince Friedrich (later Emperor Frederick 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[edit]

Augusta was very interested in politics. Like so many other liberally-minded people of the time, she was hopeful regarding the accession of Frederick William 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 dissolved a few months later. Prince William was held responsible for the bloodshed of the March revolution in 1848, in Berlin and on the advice of the King, William 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 William 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[edit]

The Empress Augusta Monument 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 (Frederick) 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 William's only daughter, Princess Louise (then 17 years old), married Frederick, Grand Duke of Baden, and in 1858 their son Frederick 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 modern country like the United Kingdom would guide Frederick in the direction of a liberal monarchy at home.

Return to Berlin[edit]

In 1858, William 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.

William 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 William was rather small. 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 small) influence on her husband.

Queen Victoria with the Queen of Prussia in the gardens of Frogmore House, circa 1867.

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 who, contrary to custom, inherited the former Queen Elisabeth's jewelleries, which were supposed to be left to Augusta.

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 of Surgery. Augusta was an avid supporter of the Red Cross movement, and the Augusta Fund at the International Committee of the Red Cross still exists today.[3][4] She was also suspected of having been a secret Catholic by many members of the prussian court. Her daughter-in-law Victoria wrote in a letter to her mother Queen Victoria stating that Augusta "has a great leaning towards the Roman Catholic religion", during the wars of the risorgimento Augusta was interested in preserving the temporal powers of the Pope which brought her into conflict with the Chancellor Otto Von Bismark who would later go on to organize the Kulturkampf[5]

German Empress[edit]

Empress Augusta in old age, 1880s

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 William 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 after the war, as it seemed he was the only suitable man to support her beloved grandson, Wilhelm (William). However, the younger Wilhelm disliked Bismarck and soon forced him to resign during the first few years of his own reign.

Last years[edit]

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 also renewed her vows with her husband on his 90th birthday in 1887, but he died a year later. Only 99 days later, her son, who had succeeded to the throne as Frederick III, succumbed to cancer of the larynx. Seeing her beloved grandson Wilhelm become king and emperor that year, she died over a year later on 7 January 1890, aged 78, at the Altes Palais Unter den Linden during the 1889–1890 flu pandemic. Augusta was buried in the Mausoleum im Schlosspark Charlottenburg [de] beside her husband.



Among others, the following were named for her:



  1. ^ Nottingham Evening Post - Wednesday 8 January 1890
  2. ^ Nottingham Evening Post - Wednesday 08 January 1890
  3. ^ Dromi, Shai M. (2020). Above the fray: The Red Cross and the making of the humanitarian NGO sector. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press. pp. 95–100. ISBN 9780226680101.
  4. ^ "Special Funds". International Review of the Red Cross. Retrieved 12 June 2020.
  5. ^ {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  6. ^ a b Staatshandbuch für das Großherzogtum Sachsen / Sachsen-Weimar-Eisenach (1885), "Genealogie" p. 6
  7. ^ "Schwarzer Adler-orden", Königlich Preussische Ordensliste (in German), vol. 1, Berlin, 1886, p. 6
  8. ^ "Königlich Preussische Ordensliste", Preussische Ordens-Liste (in German), Berlin, 3: 1255, 1877 – via
  9. ^ Almanach de la cour: pour l'année ... 1817. l'Académie Imp. des Sciences. 1817. p. 70.
  10. ^ "Real orden de Damas Nobles de la Reina Maria Luisa". Guía Oficial de España (in Spanish): 166. 1887. Retrieved 21 March 2019.
  11. ^ "Soberanas y princesas condecoradas con la Gran Cruz de San Carlos el 10 de Abril de 1865" (PDF), Diario del Imperio (in Spanish), National Digital Newspaper Library of Mexico: 347, retrieved 14 November 2020
  12. ^ Staatshandbuch für den Freistaat Sachsen: 1873. Heinrich. 1873. p. 155.
  • Karin Feuerstein-Praßer; Die deutschen Kaiserinnen 1871–1918, Regensburg 1997, ISBN 3-492-23641-3
  • Wilhelm Treue (Hsg); Drei Deutsche Kaiser – Ihr Leben und Ihre Zeit 1858–1918, Verlag Ploetz, Würzburg 1987, ISBN 3-87640-192-5

External links[edit]

Augusta of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach
Cadet branch of the House of Wettin
Born: 30 September 1811 Died: 7 January 1890
German royalty
Preceded by Queen consort of Prussia
2 January 1861 – 9 March 1888
Succeeded by
Title last held by
Maria Teresa of the Two Sicilies
as German Queen
German Empress consort
18 January 1871 – 9 March 1888