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Augusta of Saxe-Weimar (1811–1890)

Augusta of Saxe-Weimar (1811–1890)

Empress of Germany and queen of Prussia. Name variations: Marie Louise Augusta of Saxe-Weimar. Born Marie Luise Katharina Augusta, princess of Grand Duchy of Weimar, on September 30, 1811, in Saxe-Weimar, Germany; died in Berlin on January 7, 1890; second daughter of Karl Friedrich also known as Charles Frederick, grand duke of Saxe-Weimar, and Marie Pavlovna (1786–1859); educated at home; married William I (1797–1888), the future Kaiser Wilhelm I, emperor of Germany (r. 1871–1888), on June 11, 1829; children: Frederick Wilhelm III also known as Frederick III (b. 1831), king of Prussia and emperor of Germany (r. 1888); Louise of Baden (1838–1923).

Because her father Charles Frederick, grand duke of Saxe-Weimar, insisted on a well-educated and cultured court, Princess Augusta of Saxe-Weimar was raised as a scholar. Her royal blood would lead to her match, in 1829, with Prince Wilhelm of Prussia (the future kaiser Wilhelm I). The prince had long loved his cousin, Elisa Radziwill , but it was considered inappropriate for the two to marry since Elisa was not of royal lineage. Still deeply in love with Elisa, Wilhelm had nevertheless renounced her and continued to live as a bachelor until he was 32 years old.

Princess Augusta was 18 when she married Wilhelm, and the two could not have been more different. She was a learned liberal, he a relatively uneducated conservative, 16 years her senior. From the first, they were ill-matched, as Augusta freely announced her opinions, often in direct contrast with her husband. A beautiful but vain woman, Augusta did not accept her aging gracefully. She indulged in glittery, expensive garments and jewelry, and used heavy makeup. She was also known for her impassioned displays, her passionate friendships, her explosions of anger, and her fiercely held opinions. Wilhelm and Augusta fought frequently and led separate lives, sequestered on different floors in their home in Berlin, Germany.

In 1858, when Wilhelm was named king of Prussia, succeeding his brother, Augusta was 47 years old. During the regency, the couple had done away with any pretense of a unified marriage. Augusta had often spent time away from Berlin, either with her brother in Weimar or with her daughter Louise of Baden . Augusta's opinions had been unwelcome in Berlin, and she turned her attentions from politics to Catholicism. (Though she never converted, she no longer practiced Lutheranism, the predominant religion of the regency.) Augusta returned to Berlin for the crowning, and fully immersed herself in the pomp and ceremony she so enjoyed. In 1871, as Wilhelm was named emperor of Germany, she stood by his side, and again in 1879 she thrilled at an elaborate golden anniversary party, despite the obvious irony. By this time, both Wilhelm and Augusta were in declining health. Under her layers of make-up and finery, Augusta was pale and aging. Confined to a wheelchair in her later years, she had become an object of quiet ridicule in Germany, no longer beautiful enough for the public to endure the spectacle she tended to create.

In March of 1888, 91-year-old Wilhelm developed a cold. Days later, in the hours before his death on March 9, he asked for the picture of Elisa Radziwill, which he had kept on his desk. Wilhelm and Augusta's son, Wilhelm II, was named king of Prussia and emperor of Germany.

Augusta caught the flu at the beginning of 1890, and her weakened body succumbed on January 7. Having never loved her husband nor been loved by him, she had thrown herself fully into the only comfort her titles offered—beribboned and bejeweled celebrity. Augusta lay in state for three days before she was buried on January 11, 1890.

sources:

Aronson, Theo. The Kaisers. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1971.

Crista Martin , Boston, Massachusetts

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