Thursday, December 13, 2012
Monarch Profile: King Wilhelm I of Württemberg
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.
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.
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.