Louise - Queen of Prussia - George Upton

Louise's Youth

"The memory of the just is blessed."

The mother of Emperor William the Victorious, Queen Louise of Prussia, a woman of noble instincts, rich talents, and a character purified in the crucible of adversity, the guiding-star of her family and her country in dark and troubled times, was born March 10, 1776, in Hanover. Her father was Prince Karl of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, who later became Duke, and still later, the first Grand Duke, of that principality. He served under his brother-in-law, the Elector of Hanover (who occupied the throne of England as George III), as field-marshal, and governor-general. Her mother, Frederika Caroline Louise, was a daughter of Landgrave George of Hesse-Darmstadt. Louise was her sixth child, and lost her mother May 22, 1782, when barely six years of age. In 1784 the Prince married Princess Charlotte, the sister of the deceased; but she died also in December of the following year. This double loss deeply pained the sensitive heart of the child, young as she was. The sense of her loss and the longing for mother-love accompanied her all through life and caused her to give to her children all the tenderness that she had so sadly missed in her own life, and tirelessly to do for them as only a mother can. The twice-bereaved husband took leave of Hanover in 1786 and removed to Darmstadt, where he placed the princesses in the care of their wise and loving grand-mother, Landgravine Marie, whose darling the gay and talented little Louise had already become.

A French Swiss, Mademoiselle de Gelieu, was engaged as governess, and proved an excellent guardian for the lively and sometimes passionate, then again very tender-hearted, little Princess. In the education of the German Princess under French influence — which unfortunately has been customary at German courts and among the German nobility since the days of Louis the Fourteenth — but one thing was lacking, namely, instruction in her mother-tongue and in the German literature, which at that time was so rich in promise. This was a loss which later she could not sufficiently deplore, and which she strove with all her energy to repair. But, on the other hand, her governess instructed her from the beginning in the Word of God, guided her in prayer toward faith, purity of heart, and singleness of character, as well as toward the royal road of charity and good works, from the palace to the cottage of the poor and the bedside of the suffering. Thus she had early training in the practice of that graciousness and benevolence which so endeared her to the hearts of her subjects.

Not only did Louise always retain a grateful devotion to her preceptress, but the King, her husband, also, was warmly attached to her and recognized her as his own benefactress, for the services she had rendered to his consort. When he returned in triumph from Paris in July, 1814, four years after the death of Louise, he took his way through Switzerland and with his second son (afterwards Emperor William the First), drove to Colombier, on the Lake of Neuenburg, in the Prussian principality of that name, to visit Mademoiselle de Gelieu, who lived there with her brother. What a surprise it was for the venerable matron when she saw an elegant equipage draw up before her door and three officers alight from it, in one of whom she recognized the King of Prussia! The King remained long in conversation with the noble woman who had known his Louise as a child and had watched her grow to maturity. Many were the reminiscences they exchanged about the dear departed one, who had been his most precious earthly possession. He took an affectionate leave of her, and among the rich gifts which he left behind, the most precious was a shawl which the Queen had worn shortly before her death, the sight of which moved the old lady to tears. The King had carried with him in the campaign, like holy relics, several objects which had belonged to the Queen and which he particularly prized; among them, this shawl, from which he parted only as a mark of peculiar favor to one who had been the teacher and motherly friend of his Louise.

The following story shows that the governess moulded the will of the Princess, not so much by command or compulsion, as through the reason, and appeals to her tender and sympathetic heart. After several quiet years in Darmstadt, Louise was allowed to go with her grandmother to the old imperial city of Strasburg on a visit to her aunt, Countess of the Palatinate of Zweibrucken, wife of Maximilian, who became the first King of Bavaria. We may imagine what an impression the splendid cathedral made on the lively young girl. Of course there was no peace until she was allowed to visit the tower. As the ascent of the three hundred and twenty-five steps was too arduous for her grand-mother, she was put in charge of the governess. Delighted with the magnificent views of the Rhine Valley and its surrounding mountains which the platform afforded, she would have been only too happy to climb the remaining four hundred steps to the top of the tower. Now Mademoiselle de Gelieu was loath to oppose her, but felt sure that her grandmother would not approve of her ascent of this difficult and dizzy height. As the Princess kept urging her to consent, she said: "The climb will be very difficult for me; but as my duty demands that I shall not leave you, go, and I will follow."

At this Louise immediately relented and replied: "No, indeed, I cannot, and I am sorry that I have already made you climb so high!" Thus, by an appeal to her sympathies she was easily induced to yield.

Louise particularly enjoyed two visits to Frankfort-on-the-Main, during the coronation ceremonies of the last two emperors of the "Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation"; one of them was that of the Emperor Leopold the Second (1790), and the other that of the Emperor Francis (1792). Her sister, married to the Hereditary Prince of Thurn and Taxis, lived in Frankfort, and as her guest Louise was enabled to see the last vestiges of glory of the old empire. Wonderful pageants they were! She beheld the imperial treasure brought from Nurnberg and Aix-la-Chapelle with great ceremony, in a state coach drawn by six horses, to the cathedral; also the crown, sceptre, globe, and sword of the Holy Mauritius, carried to the King; then His Majesty, who had just been chosen by the seven Electors, riding from his apartments in solemn procession to the cathedral; before him, the seven Electors in their official robes, over him a silk-embroidered baldachin, borne by ten councillors of the city of Frankfort; surrounding him, the imperial court, and behind him the splendid procession of the bodyguard and troops of the city with music and waving banners; and lastly, a countless multitude of followers, on foot, on horseback, and in carriages. In the cathedral, kneeling on the altar steps during high mass, the King took the oath on the Sacred Book of Aix-la-Chapelle, was then anointed by the Elector of Mayence, gorgeous in his archiepiscopal robes, and thereby made worthy to bear the sword of Charlemagne. After taking the sacrament, he ascended the throne with the crown upon his head; then, amid the chanting of "Lord God we praise Thee," the tolling of the bells, and the thunder of a hundred cannon, he was acclaimed Emperor. The great coronation procession streaming at last out of the cathedral proceeded to "the Romer," over the bridge laid with cloth of the imperial colors, which, as soon as it had passed, was appropriated by the crowd. The hereditary marshal of the empire, filling a vessel of silver from a great heap of oats in the market-place, presented it to the Emperor in token that the royal stables were provisioned; the royal chamberlain offered the silver ewer, basin, and towel; the dapifer brought a glass from the fountain flowing with red and white wine, and the royal treasurer, in the name of the Emperor, scattered gold and silver coins from great purses among the scrambling crowds. All these scenes Louise had an opportunity of witnessing as a privileged onlooker. With what childish delight, but how modestly she regarded them! As member of a family rich only in children, she made with her own hands the satin shoes which were then in fashion, and which she wore.

This natural and unassuming young girl was an admirable companion for simple, domestic Frau Goethe, mother of the celebrated poet, whom she and her brothers and sisters were often allowed to visit. On one occasion Louise and her brother found the old lady enjoying a delicious German salad with an omelet. It looked so appetizing that they begged for a portion and never stopped until they had eaten the last leaf. Another time, the fourteen-year-old Louise and her sister Frederika strayed into the paved courtyard, where they discovered the well and began to pump with might and main, until their governess espied them and tried to put a stop to the prank. Their good-natured old friend, Mistress Goethe, tried first to pacify the irate governess, and when that failed, locked her into a room until the sisters had pumped to their hearts' content. She said afterwards, that she would have taken almost anything upon herself rather than have interfered with their innocent fun. When they bade her good-bye, the merry girls declared they should never forget her and the good times they had had in her house. When Louise became Queen, she sent her old friend, among other things, a piece of jewelry which Madame Goethe wore only upon grand occasions, in her honor.

It was in Frankfort also where, not long afterwards, she found the great happiness of her life. The French Revolution, which had broken out in 1789, had grown constantly to greater and more dangerous proportions. In order to assist the threatened kingdom and its allies, who had taken refuge in multitudes along the Rhine, King Frederick William the Second of Prussia entered into an alliance with Austria. The French National Assembly quickly declared war, in April, 1792. Under command of the venerable Duke of Brunswick the campaign in France was so mismanaged that the Allies were obliged to retreat, and the French got possession of Mayence and on October 23, 1792, took Frankfort and burned it. The city was recovered December 2, but Mayence had to be besieged. The King of Prussia established his headquarters in Frankfort.

On the outbreak of hostilities the Landgravine of Hesse-Darmstadt and her two granddaughters took refuge with their older sister, the Princess of Hildburghausen. From there the Landgrave, who was in the suite of the King, sent for them in order to present them to His Majesty, whose consort was also a native of Darmstadt. When the presentation had taken place, the grandmother intended to proceed with her charges that same evening to Darmstadt, but was detained by an invitation to the royal table. Here the twenty-three-year-old Crown-prince, Frederick William, saw the seventeen-year-old Louise. The charm and graciousness of her bearing, her delicate and youthful figure, and the sweetness of her voice affected him; and when she looked at him with an almost frightened expression in her large blue eyes, an inner voice seemed to say to him, as years afterwards he used to relate, "It must be she, or no one else on earth." Louise had the same feeling; and a clear realization of their destiny (so the King declared in his reminiscences of that exalted moment) brought tears of joy to the eyes of both.

The same evening, Prince Frederick Louis Karl, three years younger than his brother, fell in love with the fifteen-year-old Frederika. The brothers had been close comrades from childhood, and now, through their devotion to the two blooming sisters, they were drawn closer together than ever before.

The Crown-prince, who had borne himself gallantly in the French campaign, was given command of a regiment during the siege of Mayence; but the impression made upon him by Louise was not to be dimmed by the turmoil of war. During several visits to Darmstadt he became more intimately acquainted with the beloved, grew to appreciate her lovely nature, and being sure of himself, he sought and obtained the consent of his father to their union. A month after the first meeting, April 2, 1793, the double betrothal was celebrated in the palace at Darmstadt in the presence of the King of Prussia and the sisters of the two fiancées. Two days later both Princes returned to the field with their father, and six days afterwards the Crown-prince, at the head of his battalion, took the village of Kostheim by storm. His brother, betrothed of Princess Frederika, came very near losing his life one evening from an overheated stove, as he was resting in his tent after an arduous day. Everything about the sleeping Prince was already in flames, when a sentinel who had smelt the smoke rushed in and rescued the unconscious Prince from certain death. The tent was consumed, and the Prince saved nothing but the clothes on his back. The next day the serious and somewhat practical Crown-prince conceived the humorous idea of going to the King and among his suite, and soliciting contributions in aid of the "poor burned-out man."

The Princesses ventured into the camp several times to visit their betrothed. During one of these visits at Bodenbach, near Mayence, May 29, 1793, young Goethe, who was staying there, had an opportunity of seeing them from his tent near by and was so entranced with both sisters that they seemed to him like "heavenly visions" which he could never forget. There is but one voice concerning the gracious charm of Louise, as Princess and as Queen. She appeared to those who knew her almost like a supernatural being. Her intimates called her an angel. The poet Fouque, who saw both lovely sisters on their entry into Berlin, spoke of the "angelically beautiful brides." The King called his gracious daughter-in-law "the Princess of Princesses." Even a man of intellect like the court physician, Hufeland, tells us in after years of that "indescribably blissful feeling "which one always had when in her presence, "as if in the presence of a heavenly being." Old Blucher, on hearing of her death, cried: "Our saint is now in Heaven!" May we not also look up with deepest reverence to her who was glorified while still upon earth?

The Crown-prince, who was now burning to distinguish himself and to prove worthy of his beloved, was particularly valiant in the siege of Landau, at which he had command of the royal guard. However, two months later, November 27, 1793, he and his brother were recalled from the field by the King, who had grown tired of the war in consequence of disagreements among the Allies. In the meantime the Crown-prince's palace, in which Frederick William, as Crown-prince and as King, lived and died, was being newly furnished and made ready to receive the young pair.