Thursday, March 27, 2014

"The True Goddess Was Revealed With Her Step..."

Portrait of the then Grand Duchess Elizabeth Alexeievna of
Russia, c.1800. From The Royal Collection.

This was how the Comte de La Garde de Chambonas described the Empress Elizabeth Alexeievna of Russia during her stay in the Austrian capital for the Congress of Vienna in 1814. He described her as an "angel on earth", and went on to say that:
"She was endowed with a charming face, her eyes reflecting the purity of her soul. She had magnificent auburn hair, which, as a rule, was allowed to fall loose on her shoulders. Her figure was elegant, lithe, and supple, and even when she wore mask, her walk revealed her identity in a moment. No woman realised more thoroughly the line of Virgil: 'Incessu patuit Dea...' To a most delightful disposition there were added a cultivated and quick intellect, a passionate love of art, and a boundless liberality in money matters. The graceful elegance of her person, her noble bearing, and her inexhaustible kindness won her all hearts. Neglected almost from the first hour of her union by a husband whom she worshiped, her solitude and grief had bred a kind of melancholy. Stamped on every feature, that feeling lent to the accents of her voice and to her slightest movements an irresistible charm."

Anecdotal Recollections  of the Congress of Vienna
by the Comte de La Garde de Chambonas

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Princess Anna of Prussia, Landgravine of Hesse-Kassel

One of the most famous painting by Franz Xaver Winterhalter was that of Princess Anna of Prussia. The princess, dressed in this painting in a diaphanous attire of tulle and silk, completed this enchanting ensemble by wearing several rows of pearls on her neck, hands and waist.

Princess Anna was the youngest daughter of Prince Charles of Prussia and Princess Marie of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach. She was born in Berlin on May 17, 1836. As a member of the Prussian royal family and one of the leading beauties of the Prussian court at that time, she was the object of admiration among young men. Princess Anna was not only good-looking, but she was also exceptionally clever and charming. 

In 1852, she met the young Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria when he was on a visit to Berlin. He fell in love with Anna and wanted to marry her. The emperor's mother, Archduchess Sophie, was also quite taken with her, and wrote a letter to her sister, the Queen of Prussia, referring to Franz Joseph's feelings: "...the happiness that showed itself to him like a fleeting dream and made an impression on his heart -- alas -- much stronger and deeper than I had first thought".

As much as Franz Joseph wanted to propose to Anna, she was already engaged to Landgrave Frederick William of Hesse-Kassel. To further add complications, the Prussian court were against an alliance with Austria. The Archduchess Sophie, determined as ever, was hopeful that "this sad marriage, which they are imposing on this charming Anna and which leaves her no prospect of happiness whatsoever, could be prevented". The matchmaking was unsuccessful and Anna married Frederick William on May 26, 1853 at the Charlottenburg Palace in Berlin.

The 17 year-old Anna was Frederick William's second wife. He was previously married to Grand Duchess Alexandra Nikolaievna of Russia, a cousin of Anna on her mother's side, but Alexandra died tragically of tuberculosis shortly after giving birth to her baby. Frederick William lost both his wife and son on the same day and it was a devastating blow for him. It took him a long time to find another wife, but the tragedy of Alexandra's death seemed to have preyed into his mind long after he married Anna. Both he and Anna shared a harmonious married life; both respected each other, but Frederick William never truly got over his loss of Alexandra, and as a result he became emotionally distant towards Anna. Nevertheless, the couple went on to have six children.

Anna was considered a fashionable woman who place an utmost care in her appearance. Her splendid figure was flattered by her taste for dresses that have ample skirts and low neckline. 

She was also very interested in music and the arts. She had remarkable talent in playing the piano, having been trained by German composer Theodore Kullak. She was also a great friend of Clara Schumann, Anton Rubinstein and Johannes Brahms; the latter even dedicated a piano quintet for her.

Later in her life, Anna converted to Roman Catholicism, much to the chagrin of the Prussian court, especially the Kaiser William II.

Landgravine Anna of Hesse-Kassel died on June 12, 1918 and she was buried in the Fulda Cathedral.

Read about Landgrave Frederick William's first wife here:
Grand Duchess Alexandra Nikolaievna of Russia

Monday, March 17, 2014

A Greater Happiness


"Ever more and more, stronger and deeper, grow my love and devotion, and my longing for you. Never can I thank God enough for the treasure He had given me for my very own--and be called yours, darling, what happiness can be greater? ... No more separations. At last united, bound for life, and when this life ended we meet again in the other world to remain together for all eternity. Yours, yours."
- Letter of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia to her husband, Nicholas II, shortly after their marriage.

Image is from:

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Wilhelm and Ella

Long ago, there was a prince who fell deeply in love with a princess. He wanted to marry her, however, his love was unreciprocated. The princess never returned his affections, as she had fallen in love with someone else. The prince married another princess, but he never truly forgot about his first love.

The story between the youthful Crown Prince Wilhelm of Prussia (the future Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany) and his affection for his beautiful cousin, Princess Ella of Hesse (the future Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna of Russia) was like from a fairy tale. But unlike fairy tales, the story did not have a happy ending.

The Crown Prince was then a 16-year-old student, completing his studies at the University of Bonn. During the weekends, he would pay a visit to his Aunt Alice in Darmstadt. It was during these visits that he started falling love with Ella, who was only 11 years old at that time. He wrote to his mother: "Cousins look very nice, Victoria full of mirth, had a very good complexion; Ella--who is my special pet--is much grown and is exceedingly beautiful, in fact she is the most beautiful girl I ever saw. She is more quiet than Victoria but still very intelligent. She and I both love each other warmly… I think that, if God grants that I may live till then I shall make her my bride once you allow it." 

Wilhelm loved spending time with Ella and his affections for her only increased as the time went by. He wrote about her to his mother with tenderness and she was one of the few people who could quiet his exuberance. Wilhelm's grandmother, the Empress Augusta, was very keen about their relationship. She encouraged Wilhelm's affection for Ella and was thrilled with the prospect of them getting married. However, Wilhelm's mother, Victoria, was not enthusiastic about the match. She thought that Wilhelm and Ella were too closely related. Furthermore, she was not very fond of Ella, and had other marriage plans for his son. Lastly, Ella herself did not have the same feelings as Wilhelm. She was flattered of the attention, but this is not enough to make her agree for a marriage. And so she politely refused Wilhelm's offer of marriage.

Wilhelm was hurt; he later married Princess Augusta of Schleswig-Holstein, and Ella married Grand Duke Serge of Russia. But it was said that he never truly forgot about her and kept a photo of her on his desk until his death. Years later, when Wilhelm was an old man, he wrote a letter to his grandson who wanted to marry a lady below his rank. He wrote how he had to choose between love and duty: "You will no doubt well know that only few sovereigns in the world are lucky enough to be able to marry the object of their first love. For example, in my youth exactly the same thing happened to me, when my parents refused to allow me to marry my cousin Ella of Hesse. A relationship which my grandmother Kaiserin Augusta especially fostered and which I had begged my parents from the bottom of my heart to permit. My heart bleeding, I obeyed the severe command of duty."

Since Wilhelm and Ella's relationship was one of history's many 'what ifs', it can be quite amusing to ponder about what could possibly happen to them, to Germany and to the whole world if they got married.

Quotes from:
Young Wilhelm: The Kaiser's Early Life, 1859-1888
by John C. G. Röhl

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