Louise of Prussia (1776–1810)

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Louise of Prussia (1776–1810)

Queen of Prussia during a time of profound crisis brought on by Napoleonic expansionism, who emerged as a much-revered icon of patriotism, national unity, and steadfastness in adversity. Name variations: Louise of Mecklenburg-Strelitz; Louisa, Luise von Preussen. Pronunciation: Lou-EE-za. Born Princess Luise Auguste Wilhelmine Amalie von Mecklenburg-Strelitz on March 10, 1776, in Hanover, Lower Saxony, Germany; died on July 19, 1810, in Hohenzieritz (duchy of Mecklenburg, Germany); buried in Charlottenburg, Berlin, Germany; daughter of Charles II Louis Frederick, hereditary prince (later duke) of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1741–1816), and Frederica of Hesse-Darmstadt (1752–1782, daughter of Landgrave George of Hesse-Darmstadt); her stepmother was Princess Charlotte of Hesse-Darmstadt (1755–1785); sister of Frederica of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1778–1841); educated at home by a Swiss governess at her maternal grandmother's court in Darmstadt; married the Prussian crown prince, the future Frederick William III (1770–1840), king of Prussia (r. 1797–1840), on December 24, 1793; children: Frederick William IV (1795–1861), king of Prussia (r. 1840–1861, who married Elizabeth of Bavaria [1801–1873]); William I also known as Wilhelm I (1797–1888), the future kaiser or emperor of Germany (r. 1871–1888, who married Augusta of Saxe-Weimar ); Frederica (1799–1800); Charlotte of Prussia (1798–1860, who married Nicholas I, tsar of Russia); Charles (1801–1883, who married Marie of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach );Alexandrine of Prussia (1803–1892); Ferdinand (1804–1806); Louise (1808–1870); Albert (1809–1872, who married Marianne of the Netherlands ); and one other who died in infancy. Frederick William III's second wife was Auguste von Harrach , princess of Leignitz (1800–1873).

Became queen of Prussia (1797), when her husband succeeded to the throne at the death of his father, King Frederick William II; best known for her dramatic meeting with Napoleon at Tilsit (1807), where she naively attempted to gain milder terms for her country, which had suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the French; immortalized in traditional German historiography as the royal paradigm of virtuous, devoted, and patriotic Prussian motherhood.

On a chilly November day in 1805, Frederick William III, king of Prussia, and his lovely wife Louise of Prussia met for a dramatic encounter with Tsar Alexander I of Russia. Napoleon had advanced across the Rhine and was marching down the Danube, crushing Austrian resistance along the way. Austria, Russia, and Prussia had just entered into an alliance designed to stop the French juggernaut, and the tsar wanted to pay homage to the memory of Frederick II the Great before returning to St. Petersburg. That evening, Frederick William and Louise met Alexander at Frederick's tomb in the garrison chapel at Potsdam, where they solemnized their pact. The way lit by smoking candles, Alexander and Louise stepped into the dank crypt, holding hands, while Frederick William waited outside. The tsar then stooped to kiss the coffin of the famous warrior-king and swore never to desert his friends or Prussia. Five years later, deserted by the gallant tsar, Prussia lay prostrate at the feet of imperial France, and the beautiful queen lay dead in her cold marble tomb.

Alexandrine of Prussia (1803–1892)

Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. Born on February 23, 1803; died on April 21, 1892; daughter of Louise of Prussia (1776–1810) and Frederick William III (1770–1840), king of Prussia (r. 1797–1840); married Paul Frederick (b. 1800), grand duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin; children: Frederick Francis II (b. 1823), grand duke of Mecklenburg; William, duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin (b. 1827).

Frederica of Hesse-Darmstadt (1752–1782)

Duchess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. Name variations: Frederica of Hesse; Frederika of Hesse. Born Frederica Caroline on August 20, 1752; died after the premature birth of her 11th child on May 22, 1782; daughter of imperial lieutenant field marshal Prince George William, landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt (1722–1782) and Marie Louise Albertine of Leiningen-Heidesheim (1729–1818); married Charles II (b. 1741), grand duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, on September 18, 1768; sister of Charlotte of Hesse-Darmstadt (1755–1785), who married Charles II after Frederica's death; children: Charlotte (1769–1818); Theresa (1773–1839); Louise of Prussia (1776–1810); Frederica of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1778–1841); George (1779–1860, grand duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz); and six others.

Louise of Prussia was born Princess Luise Auguste Wilhelmine Amalie von Mecklenburg-Strelitz on March 10, 1776, in Hanover, Germany, in the Palais an der Leinestrasse. Both her paternal and maternal family backgrounds were that of the middling German aristocracy. Her father, hereditary Prince Charles II Louis Frederick of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, was the son of Duke Charles of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1708–1752) and Elizabeth of Saxe-Hildburghausen . First serving as lieutenant-general in the Hanoverian army, and resident in Darmstadt from 1787 to 1794, in 1794 he succeeded his brother, who had died without male issue, as duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. The family had strong dynastic connections to England, for Charles Louis' sister, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz , was the wife of King George III. Louise's mother, Frederica of Hesse-Darmstadt (1752–1782), was the daughter of imperial lieutenant field marshal Prince George William of Hesse-Darmstadt (1722–1782) and Marie Louise Albertine of Leiningen-Heidesheim (1729–1818), frequently referred to by Louise as "Princess George." Frederica died when Louise was six, after the premature birth of her 11th child. Two years after Frederica's death, Louise's father married his first wife's younger sister, Princess Charlotte of Hesse-Darmstadt (1755–1785). That marriage was also of short duration, for Louise's stepmother died a week before Christmas, just one year later, and young Louise was sent off to Darmstadt to live with her maternal grandmother Princess George in the "Old Palace" of that Hessian town.

A warm family atmosphere reigned at Princess George's, and with grandmother's relatively modest financial situation, the household was simple by prevailing noble standards. By all accounts, Louise enjoyed a happy childhood after the deaths of her mother and stepmother. She was a cheerful and lively girl, which earned her the nickname Jungfer Husch, or "Little-Miss-in-a-Hurry." Louise had five siblings: two elder sisters, Charlotte (1769–1818) and Theresa (1773–1839); one younger sister, Frederica of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1778–1814); one younger brother, George (1779–1860); and one half-brother Charles (1785–1837), the son of her stepmother. Initially living in Darmstadt with her sisters, in 1787 Louise was joined by her brothers who arrived from Hanover.

Little emphasis was placed on Louise's education, and she and her sisters were given a Swiss governess, one Demoiselle Suzanne de Gélieu from Neuchâtel. While French—the universal language of the aristocracy and of diplomacy—was the language of instruction, and polite French manners were cultivated, as was common at all 18th-century European courts, private conversations were often held in the regional German dialect. Thus, much of Louise's correspondence is in rather old-fashioned French with frequent spelling errors, and she often mixed French and German. French language instruction aside, the curriculum also included some history, geography, and English. Louise was a quite average, perhaps not overly diligent student, whose sense of her own faults is revealed in at least one self-deprecating copybook entry: "Contents hastily scribbled on April, 22, age 13: Oh shame of shames! 1789." Other copybooks contain little drawings and doodles, and sometimes Louise was sent to bed without dessert, as punishment for not having studied hard enough.

Later, as queen, she was to realize her lack of formal education, especially in history, and make plans for a course of self-improvement. This included the establishment of an informal literary circle, and readings of Schiller, Goethe, Herder, Wieland, Jean Paul, Robertson, Gibbon, and Hume. Still, she never became anything close to "intellectual." Conversely, her education in the Protestant faith figured prominently, and early on she developed a deep, simple trust in God, as evident in her religion copybooks. Indeed, religion provided her with important moral support for the rest of her days.

Life in Darmstadt was pleasant, and punctuated by occasional excursions to noble relatives scattered about Germany, or a ten-day trip to the Netherlands in the summer of 1791—described by Louise in a 34-page diary kept in French—with her grandmother and sister Frederica. In July 1792, Louise and Frederica, properly accompanied by their governess, also traveled to Frankfurt to witness the coronation of Holy Roman Emperor Francis II. The formal ball was held at the residence of the Austrian ambassador, Prince Esterhazy, and Count Metternich—later the Austrian chancellor and master of congress diplomacy—chose none other than Louise, an attractive young lady and a fine waltz partner, for the opening dance. But in early October, soon after the battle of Valmy, in which the French revolutionary forces turned the tide against the First Coalition, Louise and her family fled Darmstadt in the face of advancing French troops. They moved to Hildburghausen, in Thuringia, to the home of her sister Charlotte, who, in 1785, had married Frederick, duke of Saxe-Hildburghausen. Charlotte patronized the arts and sang well—the family called her Singe-Lotte—and thus concerts, dances, and gay masquerades brightened Louise's stay at Hildburghausen. Soon joined by her father, Louise remained there for six months. In March 1793, she returned to Darmstadt.

Charlotte (1769–1818)

Duchess of Saxe-Hildburghausen. Born in 1769; died in 1818; daughter of Charles II Louis Frederick, duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, and Frederica of Hesse-Darmstadt; sister of Louise of Prussia (1776–1810); married Frederick, duke of Saxe-Hildburghausen, in 1785; children: Catherine Charlotte of Hildburghausen (1787–1847).

Louise first met her future husband in Frankfurt on March 14, 1793. The Prussian

king Frederick William II was seeking suitable wives for his two eldest sons, Crown Prince Frederick William and Prince Louis. On the 18th, Frederick William II formally requested the hands of Princess George's granddaughters for his sons. While the crown prince initially had difficulties choosing between Louise and her equally attractive younger sister, the couple was officially engaged on April 24. Prince Louis was matched with Frederica. True to aristocratic fashion, the formalities were left in the hands of an accomplished diplomat and confidant of the king, the marquis Girolamo Lucchesini. But Frederick William's service in the Prussian army, fighting in the coalition against revolutionary France, and court etiquette made it hard for the young couple to get to know each other, though the crown prince visited Louise in Darmstadt as often as he could. In fact, between betrothal and marriage, Louise had to let her grandmother read all letters addressed to her fiancé, to ensure their propriety. To circumvent this censorship, Louise slyly added candid postscripts.

Louise was certainly an attractive wife-tobe. She was soon renowned for her beauty, and her physical attributes were described in minute detail by the famous period painter, Madame Elisabeth Vigée-Le Brun . Louise was often compared to a Greek statue, and Germaine de Staël , who met her in Berlin in 1804, was also struck by her comeliness. Louise was, in fact, attentive to her personal appearance, used cosmetics to good effect, and knew how to clothe herself with elegance. Yet many contemporaries stressed that her beauty came from within. Frederick William's memoirs describe a sweet-voiced, cheerful, humorous, often playful personality. But she had her little faults. Not very imbued with the Prussian spirit of order in daily life, she often slept till noon, was unpunctual, and ate between meals—giving rise to occasional disputes with her husband. And she appears not to have been immune to handsome and dignified men, her own letters indicating that she could be impressed by flattery. Her most celebrated virtue, however—fortitude in adversity—was not to be tested for some years. Louise's own writings indicate that she saw herself primarily as wife, parent, and mother of her people.

She had charisma … and her life-story was marked by the characteristic elements of brilliance, gloom, tragedy, even sentimentality. Her early death, interpreted by the populace as a personal sacrifice for the fatherland, completed the creation of a legend.

—S. Fischer-Fabian

On December 13, 1793, the young bride-tobe departed for Berlin. With her pleasant demeanor, natural charm, and beauty, she virtually came, saw, and took her subjects' hearts by storm. Draped in the fashionable "Directoire-style" gowns inspired by Greek antiquity, both revealing and flattering her gracious figure, she frequently flaunted the stiff court etiquette, e.g. choosing her own partner at masked balls. Both she and her fiancé even used publicly the informal German form of address, the Du. One famous episode recounts her bending down to pick up a little girl, sent to declaim a poem in her honor, and kissing her. "From that moment on," Heinrich Hartmann asserts, "everyone knew that Louise would not only be the Queen, but also the Mother of her people and fatherland."

The official reception was held in Potsdam on the 21st, the wedding on Christmas Eve. The match was something of a contemporary sensation, since the spouses-to-be really did love each other, while, in their social caste, marriages were typically arranged purely for reasons of dynastic union. Constance Wright described Louise's husband as "intelligent in practical affairs, kind-hearted, conscientious, upright and hardworking. He detested luxury and prided himself on his reserve." True to his thrifty middle-class character, Frederick William had asked his father to donate to the poor the money previously earmarked for the illumination of Berlin in honor of the wedding. After the ceremonies, the young couple immediately moved into the relatively simple Kronprinzenpalais, as Louise's husband considered the Berlin Palace too ostentatious. With his reserve and her vivaciousness, most sources agree they complemented each other nicely.

Unfortunately, their six-week honeymoon was soon rudely interrupted by the call to duty. Frederick William had to join the Prussian troops intervening to preserve order in Poland after the Second Partition, and Louise followed his movements on a map she had hung in her room. His letters written during the campaign reveal a sensitive nature and sympathy for the plight of the common soldier, especially the wounded. Louise shared this empathy for the situation of the unfortunate, and was later known by her subjects for her caring attitude. The campaign, however, was not successful—her husband complained of a miserable war and insufficient logistics—and Prussia withdrew by September 1794.

Until the death of the king in 1797, Louise and her husband lived mostly in privacy. In 1794, their first child, a premature daughter, was delivered dead at birth, for Louise had previously fallen down the stairs. In 1795 and 1797, Frederick William (later the crown prince, known as "Fritz") and Wilhelm (the future kaiser) were born, and seven more pregnancies were to follow. Of ten children, three failed to survive infancy. Still, Frederick William noted that her pregnancies tended to be happy ones, and after each delivery she seemed to emerge physically fresh and rejuvenated. The children were, of course, largely brought up by a succession of governors and governesses, but both parents always took a keen interest in their education, monitoring the work of the tutors closely. Particular attention was paid to the education of the eldest son, as future successor, and Johan Peter Ancillon, noted historian and member of the Berlin Academy, was ultimately chosen by Louise to oversee his instruction. Just as Louise was a tender and loving mother, Frederick William was a caring and affectionate father, a genuine family man—quite a rarity among Hohenzollern monarchs. Louise loved to horse around with the children on the floor, showing them how to do somersaults, and on Christmas, which was always spent alone with the family, only Frederick William was permitted to light the tree. Indeed, with his thrift and her cheer, they soon became the model of a happy, middle-class family.

Frederick William was excluded from affairs of state, and after Prussia concluded peace with France, at Basel (April 5, 1795), his duties were of a routine military nature, involving regular spring troop maneuvers, the inspection of fortifications, and the like. The family's domestic routine was enlivened by occasional summer sojourns at the Oranienburg Palace, or visits with Louise's father and grandmother. One of their favorite residences was the modest country seat Frederick William had built in 1795 at Paretz, near Potsdam, on the Havel River. Here they could escape the ostentation of Berlin, go for picnics and boat-outings, and visit the summer house on Peacock Island. S. Fischer-Fabian painted an idyllic picture of a couple "seen strolling arm in arm at the zoo, riding through the biting dust of troop reviews, traveling in their coach on arduous excursions to the most distant of provinces, and on jaunts with the children. They became the ideal of harmonious family life. In fact, it became fashionable to emulate them." But such private bliss could not last forever, for on November 16, 1797, the king died, and Louise's husband mounted the throne of the Hohenzollerns as Frederick William III.

Soon after Frederick William's accession, it became clear that his reign would be marked by a dramatic departure from the domestic policies of his father. First, he announced that the king

would live on the income of the crown prince, and he and his wife would continue their residence in the modest Kronprinzenpalais. This was not just a simple reflection of Frederick William's thrifty middle-class character—as for example his short hair style and bourgeois trousers—but almost a fiscal necessity, given Prussia's deep debt, the financial legacy of both the last war and unsound budgetary policies. To get a better picture of the precise state of his realm, he embarked on an official five-week fact-finding mission through the provinces, accompanied by Louise, as she was to do frequently throughout his reign. Convinced on various counts that profound reforms were in order, Frederick William proceeded first to abolish serfdom on crown estates, reform tariffs and taxation, and promote religious toleration. In addition, several committees were set up to consider other social and military reforms.

In foreign affairs, Prussia remained largely on the sidelines of the coalition wars being fought by the monarchies against Napoleonic France. In the Treaty of Basel, his father had recognized the French occupation of the west bank of the Rhine and been promised compensation through the later secularization of ecclesiastical territory to the east of that river. Finally, Prussia had declared its neutrality in the conflict, a successful policy until 1805.

For Louise, these first years of her husband's reign were fairly uneventful. She traveled throughout the realm with Frederick William, sometimes reviewing troops at his side; periodically visited her father, or other friends and relatives; and went to Bad Pyrmont, a famous spa near Hanover, to take the waters. A high point of this period was Louise's meeting with Tsar Alexander I in Memel, in June 1802. Much impressed with his personality, which she considered very humane and kindhearted (during the meeting, she was ill for a time, and he often sat by her bedside), she began an enthusiastic correspondence that lasted for years. Indeed, during the later war with France, she was to put all her faith in his aid, calling him "Our saviour, our support, our hope." Yet by 1808, her rather naive image of Alexander as a staunch ally of Prussia was to be cruelly shattered.

The last five years of Louise's life were dominated by the deep crisis of the Prussian monarchy. On May 18, 1804, Napoleon, the "vomit from hell"—as she once called him—crowned himself emperor of the French and embarked on an aggressive foreign policy. While another Franco-Prussian treaty (June 1, 1804) reconfirmed the neutrality of northern Germany, by September 1805, France had violated Ansbach, an important holding of the Hohenzollern family. From this point on, Louise began to take greater interest in politics and worked hard to boost her husband's fragile self-confidence during these trying times. She also increasingly took the side of the opposition in Berlin against foreign minister Christian von Haugwitz's francophile foreign policy—indeed, as Hans-Joachim Schoeps notes, she became the central figure among the dissatisfied patriots. But Prussia needed allies, and on November 3, 1805, signed the Treaty of Potsdam with Austria and Russia, pledging first to mediate with France on behalf of the Third Coalition, but also to enter the war with 180,000 troops if Napoleon refused its good offices. The treaty was soon a dead letter, however, for by December 2, Napoleon had occupied Vienna and defeated the combined Russo-Austrian armies at Austerlitz.

Meanwhile, French diplomatic pressure on Prussia was increasing. On December 15, 1805, Napoleon and Prussian envoy Haugwitz signed the Treaty of Schönbrunn: Prussia was to obtain the electorate of Hanover, affiliated with Britain, in exchange for Ansbach, Cleves, and Neuchâtel, and the two nations were to join in an offensive-defensive alliance mutually guaranteeing each other's territory. Louise pleaded with Frederick William not to ratify the treaty, and her popularity with the army soared. "It had become a cult," explains Wright, and "Louise had become the army's alma dea, as truly a patriotic symbol as the brazen Goddess of Victory riding in her chariot atop the Brandenburg Gate." By February 15, 1806, France had imposed on Prussia the so-called Pariser Traktat, forcing the country to join the Continental System, an economic embargo against Britain. Frederick William reluctantly signed, though Louise had tried to sway him not to, and Britain—already furious over the loss of Hanover—declared war on Prussia on June 11. Prussia's foreign policy had become deeply divided, for the francophobe minister, Karl August von Hardenberg, secretly began approaching Russia, while Haugwitz, again the dominant minister in Berlin, continued a pro-French policy.

On April 1, Prussia commenced with the annexation of Hanover. But Napoleon reversed himself on August 9, promising Hanover to England, and Hardenberg's policy thus gained the upper hand. Louise fully supported the resulting Prussian mobilization, becoming the symbol of national fortitude and resistance against Napoleonic aggression, especially given the weakness and vacillation of her husband. An imprudent Prussian ultimatum, delivered on September 26, insisted that France withdraw behind the Rhine in two weeks. Napoleon, hardly to be deterred by such a rash demand, and well aware of the disarray of the Prussian army, struck with lightning speed. In less than a week, the conflict was virtually decided at the battle of Jena-Auerstädt (October 14, 1806), in which 123,000 French inflicted 38,000 casualties on 116,500 Prussians, themselves only losing 12,000. Louise received news of the defeat on the 17th, in a famous dispatch written by the adjutant-general of the king, Colonel Joachim von Kleist: "The king lives—the battle is lost!" Frederick William offered peace, but Napoleon refused, wishing to march on Berlin, whereupon Frederick William decided to side with Russia and continue the struggle. But to no avail: on October 27, Napoleon entered Berlin, and by November 7, the last significant Prussian army had surrendered.

At the Convention of Charlottenburg (November 16, 1806), Napoleon proposed a harsh armistice: French forces would occupy Prussia between the Oder and the Vistula rivers, the Vistula fortresses would surrender and the remaining Prussian troops be disbanded. Frederick William refused ratification and decided to fight on, prompting Napoleon to continue his advance. The royal family was forced to flee ever eastward so as not to fall into French hands. By mid-December, Louise had been sick with typhus or typhoid for almost three weeks. Still weak and convalescing, she was forced to make the brutal winter trip from Königsberg to Memel—a small town of 6,000 in the northeast extremity of the realm—along the Nehrung, a narrow strip of land bordered by the sea and a large lake. And yet the playwright and author Heinrich von Kleist could write his half-sister Ulrike von Kleist from Königsberg, shortly before the royal family's flight:

I cannot think of our Queen without being deeply moved. In this war … she has gained more than she could from a lifetime of peace and happiness. She has developed a truly royal character. She has grasped all the implications of this hour. She, who a short time ago had nothing better to do than to amuse herself with dancing or riding horseback, has gathered about her all the able men whom the King neglects and from whom our salvation must come. Yes, it is she who holds us together.

At Preussisch-Eylau on February 7–8, 1807, under savage winter conditions, Russo-Prussian forces finally demonstrated that the French could be stopped, though all participants incurred heavy losses. After the battle, Louise was approached by French General Bertrand, who hoped she might persuade Frederick William to make peace. Louise instead urged Hardenberg—the new chief minister since April, to her great joy—to stand fast against Napoleon. Frederick William decided he would have to consult with Tsar Alexander first. Meanwhile, the Russian army commanded by General Bennigsen—whose dismissal Louise had already recommended after Preussisch-Eylau—was decisively defeated at the Battle of Friedland (near Königsberg, on June 14, 1807), and Memel was soon flooded with refugees and wounded Russian soldiers, whom Louise characteristically made it her duty to help care for. Alexander subsequently broke the Bartenstein Convention—a recent renewal of the Treaty of Potsdam—by signing a separate peace with France on June 21. This was clearly a betrayal of Prussia, which was now forced to beg for an armistice. Louise was directly involved in the negotiations that followed at Tilsit.

On June 25, 1807, Napoleon met Alexander alone for discussions on a raft in the Memel River, laying out his plan for the dismantling of Prussia and the division of the Continent into

French and Russian spheres of influence. All three monarchs met on June 26, and agreed to a Franco-Prussian cease-fire. Frederick William had written Louise of his first meeting with Napoleon, noting the emperor's disapproval of Prussian policy, specifically that of Hardenberg. On June 30, he sent a letter requesting her presence at Tilsit, with the hope she might have a moderating effect on Napoleon's demands.

Louise arrived on July 4. She was three months pregnant, still convalescing from another bout of typhoid, and worried about the health of an ill child she had left at home. Her only hope was that her beauty and personal charm might somehow sway the little Frenchman. According to Hartmann, the sole notion that the queen might be able to influence Napoleon favorably indicated the political bankruptcy of Frederick William's advisers. Indeed, most recent historians agree that Napoleon never intended any serious diplomatic discussion with Louise at Tilsit. The meeting on July 6 was in fact a stage-managed show of public gallantry designed to give the lie to the slanderous comments of the French bulletins that had been issued after Jena, in which Napoleon portrayed Louise as a meddlesome, war-mongering queen, whom he admonished to return to her proper sphere of home, family, and female toiletries. Napoleon said as much to Count Goltz, Prussian ambassador in St. Petersburg, on the morning of July 7.

I just made polite small-talk with the queen, obliging me to nothing, for I am firmly decided to give the King of Prussia the Elbe as his western border. There will be no further negotiations, for I have already arranged everything with the Emperor Alexander. … The [Prussian] King owes his position exclusively to the chivalric devotion of that monarch, without whose intercession my brother Jérôme would be King of Prussia, and the current dynasty turned out.

Though Louise's impact on the actual conditions were nil, she came away impressed with Napoleon's personality—as he did of hers. After Tilsit, she no longer heaped him with epithets of hate, and he stopped his personal attacks on her.

The terms of the Treaty of Tilsit, signed on July 9, 1807, devastated Prussia. The nation lost over half its territory—everything west of the Elbe and virtually all of Prussian Poland—and some five million inhabitants; it was occupied, saddled with an indemnity and forced to adhere to the Continental System against Britain; its army was capped at 42,000. The Treaty of Königsberg, signed three days later, stipulated that France would withdraw its occupation force from Prussia once the war contribution (subsequently set at 120 million francs) was paid in full. Prussia had left the ranks of the great powers.

On July 10, Frederick William and Louise returned to Memel. Rumors were already going around Berlin that the king had abdicated. At this juncture, Freiherr Karl vom und zum Stein succeeded Hardenberg as chief minister. Stein's historical mandate was to be a thorough overhaul of the Prussian state (completed by Hardenberg), but his immediate attention was devoted to the task of dealing with the punitive French demands. James Sheehan contends that the appointment, on Louise's advice, of a man as difficult as Stein, provided strong evidence of Prussia's predicament. Yet another measure of Prussian desperation was Louise's suggestion, in November, that she seek an interview with Napoleon in Paris, in another attempt at obtaining a reduction of the stupendous indemnity. Frederick William rejected the idea, sending other emissaries on the fruitless mission.

By January 15, 1808, the royal family could finally return to Königsberg, the French troops having evacuated western and eastern Prussia to the Vistula, following the partial Prussian fulfillment of the peace terms. Louise somehow managed to resume her program of self-education, devoting particular attention to historical studies. In Memel, she had already begun reading manuscript copies of the patriotic historian Johann Wilhelm Süvern's lectures on Greek and Roman history, held at the University of Königsberg. Through him, she also heard of the pedagogue Johann Pestalozzi and later helped found a Pestalozzi school in Königsberg.

The remaining two and a half years of Louise's life were overshadowed by heroic Prussian efforts to meet the exorbitant French pecuniary demands; the beginnings of a second round of domestic reforms designed, ultimately, to enable Prussia to return to the fold of the major powers; and intermittent attempts at organizing resistance against France. Thus, she supported chief minister Stein in his policy—against the opposition of Frederick William—of covertly preparing an insurgency against France while outwardly trying to meet Napoleon's demands. But Stein's plans were revealed to Napoleon in a captured letter, and by November 24, the emperor had forced Frederick William to dismiss the minister.

So Louise repeatedly pinned her hopes on Alexander, who had stayed in Königsberg for a few days while en route to a French-sponsored congress of European powers. The tsar promised to intercede with Napoleon on behalf of Prussia. Yet at the Congress of Erfurt (September 27–October 14, 1808), he only succeeded at inducing Napoleon to reduce the Prussian contribution by a paltry 20 million francs—with a slightly extended payment deadline—while French troops were to evacuate Prussian territory by December 3. On his way home, Alexander again stayed with the Prussian royal family, explaining his tactic of lulling Napoleon into the belief that he, Alexander, desired a rapprochement with France, thus buying time to strengthen Russian forces. Finally, he extended to Louise and Frederick William a gracious invitation to St. Petersburg.

On December 27, the party departed from Königsberg, arriving at their destination on January 7, 1809. At St. Petersburg, they were lavishly fêted, as pageants succeeded balls in a seemingly never-ending series, and the ladies were presented with elegant new Russian costumes. At the betrothal ceremony of Alexander's sister Catherine of Russia , a vast ice palace was even constructed on the Narva River. But amid all this pomp and splendor, Louise failed to get the aid she desperately wanted from Alexander, finally realizing that no real help was to be expected from that quarter. By January 20, Louise and her family were back in Königsberg.

Prussia was becoming increasingly hard-pressed to make the payments demanded by France. The national debt had virtually doubled since before Jena, rising from 55 million to 100 million talers. The cession of Silesia was even being considered, but Louise sided with Finance Minister Hardenberg against this option. Meanwhile, Napoleon let it be known that further negotiations with the Prussian king could only be considered if he returned to the capital, where he belonged. Thus, after three years of internal exile, in December 1809, Frederick William took his court back to Berlin. The festive entry took place on the 23rd, in the midst of throngs of subjects joyfully greeting the royal couple at the approaches to the town.

The years of crisis had clearly sapped Louise's physical and psychological strength, and she was not destined to enjoy the surroundings of the early years of her reign for long. In late 1809, she should have gone to Bad Pyrmont for a cure, yet the budget would not permit it. Events had long prevented her from even visiting her beloved father, but on June 25, 1810, she finally accepted his invitation and left Charlottenburg for Neustrelitz. On the 30th, a planned family excursion was called off because Louise felt ill. During the next days, she was plagued by headaches, fever, an unremitting cough, and chest pains that would not subside. At first, her doctors were not overly concerned, for she had been bled and the fever had come down somewhat. Not until July 16 was the illness really taken seriously, for severe chest cramps had set in, and Frederick William was sent for on the 18th. He immediately dashed off from Sans Souci palace, accompanied by his sons Fritz and Wilhelm. Louise died around nine o'clock on the morning of the 19th, surrounded by most of her family and a few intimate friends. While the autopsy appears to have indicated pneumonia, legend soon had it that Louise had died of a broken heart at the fate of her beloved Prussia. She was interred in a mausoleum at Charlottenburg on December 23, 1810, the anniversary of her arrival in Berlin as a bride and her return there from exile. The tomb is decorated with an elegant recumbent statue by Christian Daniel Rauch, a protégé whom she had sent to the Berlin Art Academy.

As a central figure in Prussian and German national historical tradition, Louise of Prussia was very much idealized by both contemporaries and historians until as late as 1945, and popular or conservative-nationalist biographies continue in that vein. When she appeared in public during the preparations for the disastrous campaign of 1806, Fischer-Fabian writes, her subjects "perceived that this woman was the only man within the upper echelons of Prussian government." The same author titled a chapter introducing Frederick William III, "The Husband of Queen Louise." Hartmut Boockmann tells us that many German children grew up with an image of Louise, with her sons Frederick William IV and Wilhelm I, hung up in the family home. In 1943, when Griewank published an otherwise professionally edited collection of her letters, he attempted to draw a historical parallel between Prussia under the Napoleonic threat and the beleaguered Third Reich, introducing Louise as the quintessentially German woman and evoking her fortitude in misfortune.

Much of the patriotic myth surrounding Louise in historical writing can be attributed to the uncritical reception of an ostensible letter to her father, supposedly dated Königsberg, April 1808, containing her so-called "political manifesto." Serious recent scholars such as Hartmann—whose work must rank as the standard biography of Louise—and Countess Malve Rothkirch , have demonstrated the spurious nature of this most famous letter. Thus, while Louise was largely forgotten after the defeat of Germany in 1945, recent scholarly biographers have all aimed at penetrating the myth to get to the real woman, to demystify while continuing to honor where honor is due, and to deepen the human dimension of a fascinating figure whose charm still reaches out over the centuries.


Backs, Silvia. "Luise, Königin von Preussen." Historische Kommission bei der bayrischen Akademie der Wissenschaften (Hg.) Neue Deutsche Biographie. Vol. 15. Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1987.

Emsley, Clive. The Longman Companion to Napoleonic Europe. London: Longman, 1993.

Fischer-Fabian, S. Preussens Krieg und Frieden. Der Weg ins Deutsche Reich. München: Droemer Knaur, 1981.

Friedrich Wilhelm III. Vom Leben und Sterben der Königin Luise. Eigenhändige Aufzeichnungen ihres Gemahls König Friedrich Wilhelms III. ed. Heinrich Otto Meisner. Berlin and Leipzig: K.F. Koehler, 1926.

Hartmann, Heinrich. Luise, Königin von Preussen. Moers: Steiger, 1981.

——. Luise, Preussen's grosse Königin. 2nd ed. Berg: Türmer Verlag, 1985.

Koch, Hansjoachim W. A History of Prussia. NY: Longman, 1978.

Luise, Königin von Preussen. Briefe und Aufzeichnungen 1786–1810. Mit einer Einleitung von Hartmut Boockmann. Edited by Malve Gräfin Rothkirch. München: Deutscher Kunstverlag, 1985.

Schoeps, Hans-Joachim. Preussen. Geschichte eines Staates. 8th ed. Berlin: Propyläen Verlag, 1968.

Sheehan, James J. German History, 1770–1866. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989.

Taack, Merete van. Königin Luise. Eine Biographie. 2nd ed. Tübingen: Rainer Wunderlich Verlag, 1978.

Taddey, Gerhard, ed. Lexikon der deutschen Geschichte. 2nd ed. Stuttgart: Alfred Kröner Verlag, 1983.

Wright, Constance. Louise, Queen of Prussia: A Biography. London: Frederick Muller, 1969.

suggested reading:

Adami, Friedrich. Luise, Königin von Preussen. Berlin: Dümmler, 1876.

Aretz, Gertrude Kuntze-Dolton. Queen Louise of Prussia, 1776–1810. Translated from the German of Gertrude Aretz by Ruth Putman. New York, London: Putnam, 1929.

Bailleu, Paul. Königin Luise: ein Lebensbild. Berlin-Leipzig: Giesecke & Devrient, 1908.

Federmann, Hertha. Königin Luise im Spiegel ihrer Briefe. Berlin: Schlieffen-Verlag, 1939.

Flocken, Jan von. Luise: Eine Königin in Preussen. Berlin: Neues Leben, 1989.

Hartig, Paul (Hrg.). Prinzessin Luise von Mecklenburg-Strelitz: Die Reise an den Niederrhein und nach Holland 1791. München: Deutscher Kunstverlag, n.d.

Horn, Georg. Das Buch von der Königin Luise. Berlin: G. Grote, 1913.

Ladiges, Therese Monika von. Königin Luise. Lübeck: Coleman, 1934.

Luise, Königin von Preussen. Briefwechsel der Königin Luise mit ihrem Gemahl Friedrich Wilhelm III: 1793–1810. Leipzig: Koehler, 1929.

——. Briefwechsel König Friedrich Wilhelm III und der Königin Luise mit Kaiser Alexander I. nebst ergänzenden fürstlichen Korrespondenzen. Leipzig: Hirzel, 1900.

Ohff, Heinz. Ein Stern in Wetterwolken. Königin Luise von Preussen. Piper: München, Zürich, 1989.

Rautenberg, Carl Ludwig. Das Leben der Königin von Preussen, Luise Auguste Wilhelmine Amalie. Leer: Gerhard Rautenberg, 1977.

Scherer, Stephan P. "Alexander I, the Prussian Royal Couple, and European Politics: 1801–1807," in letter to his sister Ulrike, Heinrich [von] Kleist writes in Michigan Academician. Vol. 13, no. 1, 1980, pp. 37–44.

Schroeder, Paul. The Transformation of European Politics, 1763–1848. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994.

Seidel, Ina. Luise, Königin von Preussen: ein Bericht über ihr Leben. Königstein: Langewiese, 1934.

Stamm-Kuhlmann, Thomas. König in Preussens grosser Zeit, Friedrich Wilhelm III, der Melancholiker auf dem Thron. Berlin: Siedler, 1992.

Treue, Wilhelm. "Preussen im Spiegel neuer Biographien. Nachlese zum 'Preussen-Jahr' 1981," in Jahrbuch für die Geschichte Mittel und Ostdeutschlands, 1984. Vol. 33, pp. 139–157.


Main archival collections, in Germany, of papers relative to Louise of Prussia: Geheimes Staatsarchiv Berlin-Dahlem; Geheimes Staatsarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Abteilung Merseburg (previously Zentrales Staatsarchiv der DDR in Merseburg); Bundesarchiv in Koblenz; Hessisches Staatsarchiv in Darmstadt; Fürst Thurn und Taxis Zentralarchiv in Regensburg.

William L. Chew III , Professor of History, Vesalius College, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussels, Belgium

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Louise of Prussia (1776–1810)

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Louise of Prussia (1776–1810)