Thursday, December 13, 2012

Monarch Profile: King Wilhelm I of Württemberg

Wilhelm I, the second King of Wurttemberg, was born on Lueben on September 27, 1781 to King Friedrich I and Queen Augusta von Brunswick-Wolfenbuettel. He was born into a family in a less than ideal situation. His father had been frustrated in his military career in the Prussian army and was later made Governor of Finland after his sister married Tsar Paul I of Russia. Marital discord continued and finally Catherine the Great dismissed Friedrich and he sent his sons, including Friedrich Wilhelm (known as Fritz throughout his life before coming to the throne) were sent to live with friends in Wurttemberg where their father wanted them raised and to be the country they most identified with. Little Fritz had a very strict upbringing and as he grew older he was often at odds with his father. Things became so bad that in 1799 Fritz planned to run away but was discovered and his father had him arrested. But, he was later released and attended university before war came to Wurttemberg with the arrival of the French in 1800.

Fritz volunteered for the Austrian army and over the course of his military career so distinguished himself that he rose to the rank of major general in the Austrian (Holy Roman Empire) army. He fought in the battle of Hohenlinden and was cited by numerous sources for his skill and courage. However, in the aftermath, along with sowing some wild oats, he championed the foreign policy views of the aristocracy which did not always coincide with those of his father and Fritz finally left the country, traveling around Europe. He went to Paris, Vienna and Saarburg before being employed in an official capacity to represent his father in France. He had an audience with Napoleon and helped to arrange a settlement between the French Empire and Wurttemberg, which eventually rose to the status of a kingdom with his father as the first King of Wurttemberg. In the process, his father was able to break Fritz away from his current love interest and in 1808 he married Princess Charlotte of Bavaria in Munich; the daughter of King Maximilian I.

With Britain gathering Russia and Austria as allies against Napoleon, Baden and Bavaria joined in a counter-alliance with France which Wurttemberg was finally compelled to join as well. If Friedrich were to prove uncooperative, the able Machiavellian Prince Talleyrand had planned a coup to topple the Elector and replace him with Fritz. However, despite their problems, Friedrich Wilhelm would have nothing to do with any scheme to remove his father from the throne and his cordiality toward France cooled considerably after this. Still, he was given little real responsibility in the government of Wurttemberg and instead took the time to broaden his knowledge, undertaking a study of agriculture. In fact, it was after a royal marriage was sought with the House of Wurttemberg to strengthen the French-created Kingdom of Westphalia that Fritz got his father to agree to his own marriage to the Princess of Bavaria. However, it was a political match and there was no real romance between the two at all and Princess Charlotte found herself to be quite a lonely figure as Crown Princess of Wurttemberg.

The Crown Prince lived mostly apart from his wife and when war broke out again he led the Wurttemberg contingent in the French campaign against Austria, securing the eastern frontiers of the new kingdom. Likewise, he commanded the Wurttemberg army in Napoleon’s massive campaign into Russia. The troops fought heroically but suffered terrible losses with only a few hundred surviving out of a corps that originally numbered nearly 16,000. Fritz might have been among them had not an attack of dysentery forced him to leave the front, a fact with aroused the suspicions of Napoleon. Still, in spite of these horrors, Wurttemberg rebuilt her battered army and continued on until after the decisive battle of Leipzig after which Wurttemberg broke the alliance with France and joined the coalition against Napoleon with Fritz taking command of the army again with Austrian reinforcements. He led his forces in the final campaign of 1814, alongside the King of Prussia and Tsar of Russia, that eventually saw Paris taken and Napoleon forced to abdicate and go into exile.

With the political situation changed, Fritz saw no reason to carry on with his “show” marriage to Princess Charlotte and sought a divorce on the grounds that the marriage had never been consummated. King Maximilian agreed and King Friedrich I made it official, though as Princess Charlotte was Catholic she had to await a ruling from the Pope on the matter. Happily, this came through and she went on to marry no less a figure than Emperor Francis I of Austria. Fritz had said from the very beginning that they were both “victims of politics”. This left the Prince free to marry Grand Duchess Catherine Pavlovna of Russia in St Petersburg in 1816 by whom he had two daughters (the younger of whom later married King Willem III of The Netherlands). He had fallen in love with the Grand Duchess while visiting family in England and it was at least a happier marriage than his first. Both attended the Congress of Vienna and when Napoleon returned to France for one last roll of the dice, Prince Friedrich Wilhelm took to the field again but was not present for the last climactic battle with Imperial France.

In 1816 things happened quickly for Fritz. He married Grand Duchess Catherine in January and his father died in October on the same day Catherine gave birth to their first daughter. Fritz became a father and a king on the same day, taking the name of King Wilhelm I. Upon taking the throne he worked quickly to simplify things and replace most high officials. That was also the bitterly cold “year without summer” and the famine and hunger this caused led King Wilhelm I to devote himself to agricultural improvements while Queen Catherine focused on charity for the poor. The economy of Wurttemberg rebounded, in no small part thanks to the new farming and educational initiatives pushed by the King and the work of the Queen to lift people out of poverty. From the brink of disaster the Kingdom of Wurttemberg became a highly successful country. Unfortunately, despite early promise, King Wilhelm was a less the faithful husband which was all the more sad in that Queen Catherine died in 1819 not long after the birth of their second daughter.

1820 saw the King married a third time, to the Duchess Pauline, his cousin, who gave him three more children; two daughters and (the middle child) a son and heir. During the same period, Wurttemberg became a constitutional monarchy, which King Wilhelm I was originally not happy about but he finally approved a document which reserved considerable powers for the monarch. After the 1830 July Revolution in France, liberalism began spreading across Europe and Wurttemberg no less felt the changes with liberals coming to dominate the government, which embittered relations with Prussia and Austria. The King worked to improve relations with Prussia and as the economy continued to improve was able to lower taxes and pay off national debts. However, a bad harvest caused an economy downturn that made Wurttemberg susceptible to the radical leaders of the Revolutions of 1848. King Wilhelm I played his hand carefully, holding back on shutting down the liberal assemblies until it was absolutely necessary and, in the end, Wurttemberg emerged from the crisis in better shape than many others. Once it was all over the King had become all but a confirmed reactionary, referring to elections as a “periodic fever” he did not wish his subjects to fall victim to. His final years saw increased development (such as the first railroad in the country) and a policy of neutrality as well as reestablishing relations with France, by then under Emperor Napoleon III. He died on June 25, 1864 at the age of 82. For all of his personal shortcomings he died a respected leader of considerable ability who accomplished a great deal for his country.


  1. Thanks for this profile. The "lesser" German sovereigns are often overlooked.

    I've noticed, too, that the smaller German states are often made fun of, by which I mean that they are called 'Ruritanian' or 'comic opera' kingdoms. If smallness is the joke, the jokesters should be reminded that some of the German kingdoms and grand duchies were larger than currently existing European states.

    1. Some of my ancestors came from the Kingdom of Württemberg so I have always had a soft spot for that particular patch of Germany. It is also true that, throughout the course of European history, those small states could be crucial in tipping the scales one way or another. They were small but not unimportant.

  2. Queria pedir que carregasse um vídeo sobre Maria da Prússia, Rainha da Baviera, que era uma mulher bela e boa.
    Mãe do famoso Rei Luís da Baviera.


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