Saturday, August 6, 2016

Elisabeth Ludovika of Bavaria, Queen of Prussia

Princess Elisabeth Ludovika of Bavaria,
Queen Consort of Prussia
by Joseph Stieler
My post for today is about another beloved Prussian queen, Elisabeth Ludovika, consort of Frederick William IV of Prussia. The Bavarian-born princess was one of the daughters of Maximilian I, King of Bavaria and his second wife, Caroline of Baden. Elisabeth, called "Elise" by her family, has an identical sister named Amalie who would become Queen of Saxony. By all accounts, Elisabeth's childhood was happy and carefree. She and her sisters were allowed to roam freely around the Nymphenburg Palace. Court atmosphere was tolerant and liberal, owing to their father's preference for a simple and bourgeois way of life. The Bavarian princesses were also taught in literature, history and geography by the philologist and theologian Friedrich Thierch. The Bavarian royal family spent their summers in Tegernsee, where the countryside greatly appealed to Elisabeth. Her visits to Tegernsee intensified her love for her homeland and she would always remain a Bavarian in heart and soul.

Portrait of Elisabeth as a Bavarian princess
Elise's father had a keen interest to the marital prospects of his daughters. He wanted to secure a "close family relationship" with Prussia and had his intentions known to its king, Frederick William III. The King of Prussia had two sons in marriageable age in 1819. The eldest, also named Frederick William, was 24 years old, and the other one, William, was 21. The two brothers were in a search for brides when they visited Baden-Baden in 1819. At that time of their visit, the Bavarian royal family were also there at the same time, taking advantage of a health bath. Frederick William became acquainted with Elise and soon enough he found himself drawn to her unusually beautiful eyes. He wrote to a friend how he was "...very struck by the beautiful eyes of Princess Elise... her lovely, graceful face, eyes as clear as the Neapolitan sky, black eyebrows, dark hair... I can only dream about her". It was now apparent that the Prussian Crown Prince had fell in love with Elise. As for Elise, she reciprocated his feelings, finding him intelligent, artistic and gentle. Frederick William was clearly determined to marry her immediately, however, there were religious hindrances for the wedding to take place.

Elise was a Catholic and as a future Queen of Prussia she had to convert to Protestantism. This was something that she could not personally accept by her own self. She politely refused to convert and her strong convictions made her even more worthy and precious in the eyes of Frederick William. Despite the King's objections to the Catholic religion of the princess, he personally liked Elise. However, the couple still had to wait for four years during which political and diplomatic negotiations took place. The long wait only drew the couple closer together until finally King Frederick William III finally gave his consent for the marriage to take place. There was a condition, however, that Elise would convert as soon as possible after the marriage on her own conviction. An elated Frederick William wrote a letter to Elise in which he expressed his happiness in finally being allowed to marry the love of his life. "For four years, it is your image that lives in my heart... And that I will keep this love faithfully all my whole life. I am confidently putting my happiness in your hands." 

Frederick William IV, King of Prussia
Frederick William and Elisabeth married on November 16, 1823 in a Catholic ceremony at Munich Residenz. They left Munich soon after and arrived in Berlin at the end of November where they was given a warm reception. They had a Protestant wedding on November 29 at the chapel of the Berlin Palace. Before the wedding, Elise's father, King Maximilian, wrote to his daughter's future father-in-law: "I now commend you my dear child. I am confident that Elisabeth will endeavor to seek your grace and fatherly love. She is extremely happy and her old father as well." Elise was also writing an enthusiastic letter to her brother Ludwig about the kindness of her in-laws, especially the King. "I am indescribably happy. My new family is
extremely amiable. I have found here all domestic happiness and unity, just like ours."

The people's impression of the new Crown Princess were generally favorable, but she was unfairly compared to her husband's late mother, the popular and beautiful Queen Louise. For her part, Elise never tried to live up to her mother-in-law's image and immense popularity even though she was very much aware of the high expectations that people put on her since she was now the highest-ranking woman in the Prussian court. She did not find pleasure in social events, preferring to stay in her rooms.

Even though the match between Frederick William and Elisabeth was primarily politically motivated, it was still a love match. Their letters to each other reveal a deep mutual affection and intimacy. They also both shared a keen interest in the arts, history and architecture and Elise strongly supported her husband in all his works. After 7 years as Crown Princess, Elise finally converted to Protestantism. Frederick William was happy and proud of his wife's decision although in her heart she would always remain a Catholic. She was also constantly homesick for Bavaria, spending long periods in Tegernsee with her mother. As a sweet gesture and as a way to alleviate his wife's homesickness, Frederick William gifted her the Charlottenhof Palace in Potsdam and designed it himself in allusion to his wife's Bavarian origins. He and Elisabeth would spend their summers here.

On 1840, Frederick William became King of Prussia as Frederick William IV. He was offered to be made German Kaiser by the democratic people but he refused, saying that his "crown was made of dirt and clay" and that he was too modest to become Emperor. But in reality, he viewed his position as God-appointed one and that his kingdom was likewise given by God and that any human intervention lessen the sanctity of his kingdom.

Elisabeth as Queen of Prussia
Now as Prussia's Queen Consort, Elisabeth dipped in politics and actively supported the friendship between Prussia and Austria. She dedicated her energy for the welfare of the poor and orphans. She helped established many hospitals and schools among them the Königin-Elisabeth-Hospital in Berlin. The only one thing that was lacking for the couple was their childlessness. But despite this, Frederick William and Elisabeth remained strongly in love. Their childlessness made Frederick William's brother, William, as heir to the throne and was thus not allowed to marry the woman that he truly loves, Elisabeth Radziwill.

When her husband became ill, she personally nursed him all throughout his long illness. Her dedication to him was greatly admired by those around her. At the death of Frederick William, Elisabeth found it hard to adjust to a life without him. Fortunately, she found support in the kindness of her niece-in-law, Princess Victoria ("Vicky"), the wife of her husband's nephew. Vicky comforted Elisabeth during the early days of her widowhood and the two women developed a closer relationship.

On her widowhood, Elisabeth withdrew from public life and stayed in Charlottenburg Palace where she dedicated her time in charity works. She was held in high regard by members of the Prussian royal family, especially her brother-in-law William, the future Emperor. While on a visit to her twin sister in Dresden in 1873, Elisabeth died. She was buried beside her husband in the Church of Peace in Potsdam.


deeps said...

thats History n classic all over here...

Anne Smith said...

Beautiful and kindhearted Elisabeth!

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