Saturday, June 4, 2016

Elisa Radziwill and Prince William of Prussia: A Love Found and Lost

Princess Elisa Radziwill as the Goddess Peri by
Wilhelm Hensel. She wore this costume on the
play "Lalla Rookh".
(Courtesy of Getty Images)
Long before Kaiser William I, became King of Prussia and German Emperor, he had been in love with a pretty Polish princess named Elisa Radziwill. Theirs was a touching but poignant story; due to their ranks and the political circumstances surrounding them, the call of duty eventually outweighed their love for each other. Love was not enough to conquer all. 


Their story coincided with the political situation in Prussia towards the end of the 18th century. Prussia had successfully absorbed a large portion of Poland but the Poles proved to be uncooperative in assimilating them. However, Prussia's hope was a certain Pole named Prince Anton Radziwill, who accepted Prussian supremacy over his country and married one of its princess, Louise. He made Berlin his home and enjoyed an idyllic family life. As relatives of the Hohenzollern royal family thru his wife, Anton's children grew up in the company of their Hohenzollern cousins. One of his children, Elisabeth, grew up particularly close to Prince William, the second son of King Frederick William III of Prussia. "Elisa" as she was called, was said to be very beautiful and was musically- and artistically-gifted like her parents. Eventually William and Elisa's friendship blossomed into love. When they confessed their love for one another, William was 24 and Elisa was 18, and it was their deepest desire that someday they would marry. Their relatives were fond of the relationship between the couple seeing how they were truly devoted to each other. However, when the prospect of marriage was finally brought up, it was met with uncertainty.




Elisa's parents: Princess Louise of Prussia and Prince Anton Radziwill


William was the heir presumptive to the Prussian throne. His eldest brother, Prince Frederick William, was childless, and it was expected that William would eventually inherit the throne. Because of this, he was also expected to marry a princess within his rank and have children. Unfortunately, Elisa was not that princess. Although her mother was a Prussian princess by birth, she descended into her husband's rank as a mere Polish noble. Thus, Elisa was considered to be not royal enough to marry the heir to the Prussian throne.

To raise some hopes for the couple, William's father, the King of Prussia turned to Alexander I about the possibility of adopting Elisa to raise her rank, but the Russian emperor declined. Furthermore, there were laws which govern the ruling families that adoption does not change the blood. Various committee were consulted and Elisa and William went through anxious time, waiting, as the whole matter would remain undecided for the next five years . They also had to endure long periods of separation, as William was constantly away from Berlin because of his duties. Elisa wrote to her friend:
"It was a sad and sorrowful time, but we found consolation in our love. We understand each other perfectly; there is no doubt, no uncertainty. On the evening before his departure for Teplitz, William spent the evening at our house. We sat in the garden till midnight, and we were able to talk alone... We talked only as brother and sister, but he spoke to me earnestly...without a hint of selfish love, that I could not repress my tears. In this short time, he has become far dearer to me than ever before, and I am determined that whatever may happen I will remain faithful to him and keep the love for him in my heart."
William I, King of Prussia and
Emperor of Germany 
As the years past, there were intermittent hopes for the young couple. One time, the King and his two sons, Prince Frederick William and Prince Carl, visited Elisa and her family in their home in Silesia. Elisa was naturally nervous about the visit but the whole day passed without the matter being brought up. As the King and the princes prepared to leave, the King warmly embraced and kissed Elisa to which she burst into tears. The two princes were also clearly affected with sympathy for her.

For the next three years, William and Elisa, did not see each other. When the opportunity finally came in 1825 to to visit her beloved, William spent a whole week with Elisa, and this was certainly a time of so much happiness for them. In the end, after five years of waiting, the matter of elevating Elisa's rank was declared impossible and William's father had no choice but to demand William to give up Elisa. 

William, despite his great love for Elisa, had to abide to his high sense of duty, and give up on her. He and his father later wrote to her family about the impossibility of their marriage. Elisa's first thought was that William had a change of heart and that he had now held no affection for her. She wrote to her friend: "What moments of joy I have lived in these five years despite the bitter hours it brought me! What sorrow is there in this life that I have not tasted? It is enough."

Elisa Radziwill
William then spent the next months looking for a suitable princess and he found that suitability on Augusta of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach. Despite his upcoming marriage to Augusta, William still remained emotionally-attached to Elisa and met her for the final time. Her mother described the meeting between Elisa and William: "He arrived at 12 o'clock... I went to see him. His emotion was so visible and so intense that I too lost my self-control, and it was with feelings of the greatest distress that I took him to my room, where Elisa was waiting. I was sorely afraid of the effect which the meeting would have upon them both. Yet, as God willed it, so it happened. His love strengthened Elisa's heart. She is now convinced that William fulfilled the King's wish out of his strict sense of duty. She is quieter than before, and her sorrow has been softened. She knows that it was stern necessity and his father's will which intervened, and not in any inconsistency of heart in his part."

Soon after William's marriage to Augusta, Elisa's health deteriorated. She had been suffering from tuberculosis and she died unmarried in 1834 at the age of 31.

William never forgot about Elisa and this was seen as the primary reason why his and Augusta's marriage was not a happy one despite having two children. He admitted to his sister that he was capable of loving only once and that he remained emotionally distant to his wife. He kept a miniature of Elisa on his desk until his old age and on his deathbed, he asked for the it to be brought to him as he breathed his last with his first and true love by his side.




3 comments:

Carol Smith said...

What a sad story. 😞

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your blog. Very interesting info and lovely layout. Several weeks ago I saw the E lizabeth vige lebrun, exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of art and I was awed by the portrait of Louise radziwill. after researching her portrait I learned of her daughter Elisa from her marriage to Anton. Both mother and daughter were stunningly beautiful. The LR portrait stood out from all the others including the paintings of Marie Antionette, as well as those of Madame du Barry. The Painters self portrait, age 27 was breathtaking as were the pictures of her daughter age 8--12. Where is the oil painting of Elisa wearing 5 strands of pearls located? Is it in a museum? Thx again!

Gem said...

To Anonymous: I do not have information regarding the portrait of Elisa wearing pearls and its location.

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