Sunday, May 17, 2020

Queen Caroline of Bavaria: A Royal Stepmother and Mother

Stepmothers are often portrayed as wicked and evil in fairy tales and other stories. They were almost always the antagonist in a story and hell-bent in making the protagonist's life miserable. Among royal families, there were also stories of stepmoms who were (although not exactly wicked and evil), downright difficult or were unable to endear themselves to their stepchildren. Or stepchildren hating their stepmothers because they were loyal to the memory of their beloved biological mother. Then there were also stories of intrigues and family disputes.

But there was a royal stepmother who was the complete opposite of the fairy tales' portrayal. Not only was she became a beloved member of the family but also a doting and devoted stepmother to her stepchildren. She was Princess Caroline of Baden, future Queen of Bavaria.

Princess Caroline of Baden, was the second daughter of Charles Louis, Hereditary Prince of Baden and Princess Amalie of Hesse-Darmstadt. She came from a close-knit family, a characteristic that she would want for her own family someday. Her upbringing was more French than her native German, so it was quite ironic that several years later, she developed a deep hatred with anything French. This hatred was largely rooted to the execution of Louis Antoine Henri de Bourbon, Duke of Enghien, at the instigation of Napoleon Bonaparte. Caroline was said to be very much in love with the Duke and that her family considered him a potential husband for her. But they eventually had to drop the matter because of their fear of French opposition.

Caroline of Baden, later Queen of Bavaria, 1820.
Portrait from Karolinen Gymnasium

Instead of marrying a dashing young man like the Duke of Enghien, the 20-year-old Caroline agreed to marry the 40-year-old Maximilian, Duke of Palatinate-Zweibrücken, who two years later became the Elector of Bavaria.

"Good Father Max", as the Bavarian people fondly referred to him, was a widower. He fell in love with Caroline when he met her while his family and her family fled to Ansbach from the advancing French army. Max had been a widower for about a year when he asked for Caroline's hand in marriage. Given his age and his widower status, he understood that what he was asking from Caroline was not easy, considering also that he had four small children in tow. This was evident from a letter he sent to Caroline's mother:

"You will think I am the most ridiculous person in the world because I am writing to you even though we live under the same roof. But it is better to express one's self in writing than verbally. Especially in this case, because it pertains to the luck or misfortune of my life. I love the Princess Caroline; I am well aware of the boldness in my position to offer my hand, so tell her if such a loving heart, straight and honest character could make her look away from my age and my qualities as a father of four. I beg you not to reject my application. Read my letter to your lovely daughter and above all, do not influence her. Her heart should dictate the answer."

Max's children had a rather difficult upbringing because of the family's constant need to move to safety from the advancing French army. They were extremely attached to their mother who provided them a loving, secure and comfortable home-life despite the constant fear. That is why when Augusta Wilhelmine died at the age of 30 due to consumption, her entire family was devastated. The children found it hard to cope with the lost, and Max, now a widower with four small children found it difficult to be both a father and a mother to them. Perhaps it was also for this reason that he decided to immediately "find" a new wife who could care and look after his naturally boisterous children.

The children of Maximilian of Bavaria from his first wife who reached adulthood.
Clockwise from top:
Ludwig I, King of Bavaria,
 Augusta, Duchess of Leuchtenberg,
Prince Karl Theodore of Bavaria,
and Charlotte, Queen of Wurttemberg and then Empress of Austria

For Caroline, it was challenging enough to agree to marry an older man "out of convenience". But she was also to become a young stepmother to his four children; the oldest was half of Caroline's age (the 10-year-old and difficult Ludwig). Then the second one, Augusta, though very pretty, was a highly energetic girl. Then there was 4-year-old Charlotte and the almost one year-old Karl.

Fortunately, Caroline proved to be a no non-sense woman, with a firm and highly driven personality. Soon after her marriage, she took the four children under her wing. Initially, it was only with Charlotte and Karl that she succeeded in gaining affection. Then, slowly, the reluctant Augusta also warmed to her. However, the story was completely different with Ludwig, who would carry a lifelong antipathy towards his stepmother despite her best efforts in trying to gain his trust.

Marriages based on love were a rarity among royalty and nobility in the past centuries. After all, a marriage was not about feelings or emotions, but about politics, dynasties, kingdoms, and money. Although this was how it started for Caroline, eventually, she also genuinely fell in love with the kindhearted Max. She was a good husband to her and good father to their numerous children. She was especially impressed of how an affectionate father he was - and the only thing that made him frown was Ludwig's attitude towards her.

While caring for her four stepchildren, Caroline also became a mother to eight more children, of which only five reached adulthood. Stepchildren or biological children, she loved and cared for all of them. In the palace rooms, small pieces of furniture were set up, so that every children could always find a suitable seat. Her private rooms became a family room because wherever she was, the children followed her around. Every summer, they went to the country in a sort of "family vacation". They stayed in Nymphenburg Palace and its park was a paradise to the children as they were free to romp and play around.

The children of Maximilian and Caroline who reached adulthood
From left to right:
Elisabeth, Queen of Prussia,
Amalie, Queen of Saxony,
Sophie, Archduchess of Austria,
Maria Anna, Queen of Saxony,
and Ludovika, Duchess in Bavaria

She wholly and devotedly fulfilled her role as a mother, describing it as her most important duty and top priority. In second place, she dealt with her role as queen and "mother of the land". She made sure that all her children received good education and instilled in them a deep sense of duty. Even as adults, they enjoyed a lifelong good relationship with one another (except with Ludwig). That is why when the time came for her children to marry, she made sure that each one of them married well, especially her numerous daughters. One daughter became an empress, four became queens, one an archduchess and two duchesses. Raised in a happy, secure, affectionate, and close-knit family, her daughters would always have a profound love for "home".

King Maximilian and Queen Caroline with their five daughters.

The eldest of the girls, Augusta, was selected personally by Napoleon Bonaparte to be the wife of his stepson, Eugene de Beauharnais. This marriage was highly significant for Maximilian and Caroline since this paved the way for Bavaria to be raised from an electorate to a kingdom. But before the marriage could take place, Napoleon and Josephine had to ingratiate themselves to the indomitable Caroline, who was highly reluctant to allow her stepdaughter to marry Napoleon's stepson. When the wedding was finally set, the French emperor and empress wasted no time in showering presents to Caroline and Augusta when the couple visited Munich in January 1806. Caroline wrote about the generous presents: "When I came back from dinner, a valet brought me a box full of things... Augusta received just as much: gold-embroidered tulle dresses, lace." Although Augusta and Eugene's marriage started out as a marriage of convenience, fortunately, it turned out to be a love match. Caroline could breathe a sigh of relief knowing that her beloved eldest stepdaughter was happy.

From being a young and inexperienced girl thrust into the role of motherhood to children that were not even her's to begin with, Caroline transformed into an exemplary wife, mother/stepmother, and queen, fulfilling each role impeccably all at the same time.

Other posts about Caroline's family:

Frederica of Baden - about Caroline's sister who became a Swedish queen consort
Elizabeth Alexeievna of Russia - Caroline's sister who became an Empress of Russia
"A Sacrifice for My Country" - about Princess Augusta of Bavaria, Caroline's stepdaughter
Elisabeth Ludovica of Bavaria - Caroline's daughter who became Queen of Prussia


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