Saturday, June 15, 2013

Napoleon and the Queen of Prussia

On display in Charlottenburg Palace in Berlin are the crown jewels of Frederick the Great and his successors. If you look closely, you'll see that there are no actual jewels in the crowns. It's not clear what happened to them. It reminds me of the fact that, when George IV was crowned, he had to rent the jewels for his regalia, and send them back after the coronation. There's no hint, though, that the Prussian royals were that hard up when these crowns were made, so the jewels probably went missing much later.

Crown Jewels of Frederick the Great of Prussia

The only jewels that do survive in Charlottenburg are these diamond earrings, dated to about 1800, which belonged to Queen Luise, the consort of King Frederick William III, the king who was so closely involved in the Napoleonic Wars. Queen Luise was much loved by her people, partly because she did not maintain a separate court, but stayed at her husband's side. She also produced nine live children, even though she died at the age of only 34.

Diamond earrings of Queen Luise of Prussia c 1800
 In spite of being almost constantly pregnant, she operated as advisor to her husband throughout their marriage, which was reputedly a happy one. He was rather cautious and, possibly, not very bright. Luise, on the other hand, was very clever and much more prepared to take risks, including advocating war against the French.

Of course, Prussia's battles against the French were not often successful! So perhaps there were sensible grounds for the Prussian King's caution. However, encouraged by his wife, he did take part in the campaign against the French from 1806. His army was crushed at the Battle of Jena in 1806 and the royal family had to flee. They took refuge at Königsberg under the protection of Tsar Alexander of Russia, who was rumoured to be enamoured of Luise. But then Alexander, too, was defeated by Napoleon.

Napoleon made peace with the two rulers at Tilsit in 1807. His terms for Prussia were particularly harsh. Luise tried to intercede with Napoleon during the Peace of Tilsit. It is said she fell on her knees and begged for more lenient terms for Prussia. She certainly tried to intercede with him. Napoleon was reputed to have said that she was "the only real man in Prussia" – but he didn't give her better terms. Perhaps because he was worried about what Josephine might say?

Tilsit: Napoleon, Tsar Alexander, Queen Luise of Prussia, Frederick William III of Prussia

Frederick William III was very much the junior partner against the French, but he was eventually victorious over Napoleon, in alliance with Austria, Russia and Britain. But by then his beloved queen was long dead and he did not remarry for over a decade after he lost her. He wasn't short of heirs – seven of their nine children lived to adulthood – so there was no great pressure. Eventually, in 1824, Frederick William III married his mistress, Auguste von Harrach, but she was not made queen as she was not of royal blood. They remained married until his death in 1840. Though she nursed him through his final illness, the establishment clearly did not approve; she was not allowed to attend her husband's funeral. Very sad.

Crown Princess Elizabeth

Fabulous Curls even in 1824
 This is Frederick William's daughter-in-law, Crown Princess Elizabeth, in a bronze bust dating from 1824. I've included these photos more for the hairstyle than anything else. The three-dimensional bronze shows the hair detail beautifully, don't you think?

Hairdressers must have been very skilful in those days, considering there was no hairspray to keep those gorgeous curls in place.

That's the last of my stories about Berlin and the royals from Charlottenburg.  Next month?  The Royal Rat Catcher and other stories... 



Elizabeth Hawksley said...

I did enjoy this post, Joanna.

I wonder if Crown Princess Elizabeth's hairstyle could be an Apollo knot, which came into fashion in 1824. It was held in place by Glorvina pins. They have some Glorvina pins in the V and A; they are very like hair pins, though rather thicker. You'd certainly need something to keep that wonderful concoction in place.

Elizabeth Hawksley said...

Re: Glorvina pins. Apologies, I meant hat pins, not hair pins. Why Glorvina? It was the name of the heroine of Sydney, Lady Morgan's bestselling novel of 1806 'The Wild Irish Girl'.

I haven't read the book but, from the title, I imagine that Glorvina's hair would probably need securing!

Elizabeth Bailey said...

Lovely pictures, and what a great story about Luise. Though constant pregnancy must have been hell. Not much surprise she died at 34, poor woman. I enjoyed the post so much.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Elizabeth and Liz. Very interested to hear about Glorvina pins. Hadn't come across them before.

And yes, the thought of nine pregnanacies before the age of 34 is enough to make a woman want to escape to a nunnery.

Louise Allen said...

Lovely pictures, thanks, Joanna. The Glorvina pins sound just right for lock-picking. Now there's a plot idea!

Anonymous said...

Love it, Louise. But I guess you have first dibs on it...