Königin Luise von Preußen: The Symbol of a Struggle against Tyranny

Napoleon would soon come head to head with the most beloved German queen in history. Luise Augusta Wilhelmina Amelia, the embodiment of Germania, was born at Herrenhausen Palace in Hannover on March 10, 1776, the sixth child of Prince Karl Louis Friedrich of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and Princess Frederika Caroline Luise.

She was a pretty and vivacious young woman, and people were attracted to her gentle, charming nature. In 1793, the year that the French royal family was executed, Luise, her sister Frederika and their grandmother attended the French Theater in Frankfurt, and it was there she first saw the young Crown Prince of Prussia, who would later be King Friedrich Wilhelm III. They met formally at a luncheon the next day and it was love at first sight. On the following day, the Crown Prince proposed to Luise and, remarkably, his brother Louis proposed to her sister Frederika. The double wedding was set for December 1793 and the German world was ablaze with excitement.

An immense crowd gathered and lined the roads in Berlin and Potsdam the day before the Crown Prince’s fairy tale wedding, and the celebration was so festive that there were candles in all of the windows while singing children lined the route and scattered flowers everywhere as Frederika and Luise rode through the streets in their glass coach. The wedding of Friedrich Wilhelm and Luise was followed in two days by that of their siblings, Frederika and Louis.

The Crown Prince took Luise to Potsdam on April 1. She was relieved to leave Berlin, which seemed cold to her. By then, she was expecting her first child and six weeks later the Crown Prince had to leave for war. When he returned in September, the Crown Prince had only been home a few days when Luise fell down a flight of stairs and their first daughter was born dead. A year later, however, they were living in a home of their own near Potsdam and Luise gave birth to a boy.

Meanwhile, resistance to France from European nations strengthened after the French king and queen were murdered. In the winter of 1796-97, Luise gave birth to her son Wilhelm on March 22. Two royal deaths then occurred: the Crown Prince’s brother Louis took ill and died, leaving a widow and three children behind. Then, the Prussian King suddenly took ill and died at the age of 53. On November 16, 1797, Friedrich Wilhelm III was proclaimed King of Prussia.

After Napoleon came to power, the new Prussian King was determined to remain neutral, but once the Allies became more successful against French positions, Prussia’s neutrality began to weaken. The Duke of Braunschweig-Bevern persuaded the new King to join the coalition against Napoleon and Russia’s new czar Alexander I ended Russia’s war with England in 1802.

In June of 1802, Friedrich Wilhelm and Luise travelled east to Memel to meet with Alexander. A warm bond between the Royal families developed and Luise was completely enchanted by the “good, just and kind Czar.” They agreed to forge a mutual understanding and keep a watchful eye on France. Napoleon crowned himself Emperor of France on December 2, 1804, and in 1805 Russia broke relations with France and signed defense pacts with Austria and England.

Before autumn, the political climate of Berlin, Potsdam and of all Europe would be in turmoil. As Napoleon’s troops began to move east toward the Rhine, Friedrich Wilhelm and his ministers tried in vain to reason with the French envoy. 200,000 men were being mobilized in Russia, and Prussia was asked to put up an equal share. In 1805, the Prussian King agreed to a partial, but neutral and merely defensive, mobilization.

On October 25, amid cheering crowds, the Russian Czar rode through the Brandenburg Gate and down “Unter den Linden” on the way to the Palace where he met with the Austrian Ambassador Metternich. A treaty was signed in Potsdam on November 3, 1805. Before the Czar left for home, he stopped at the Garrison Church where he kissed the coffin of Friedrich the Great. But cheering would not be heard too much longer. Napoleon won a victory at Austerlitz on December 2 and the news reached Potsdam days later. The Prussian King was not a war maker and did not want a fight. He wrote the Czar asking that he leave his armies at the frontier since Napoleon would regard any southward advance of Prussia’s army an act of aggression and not a single French unit would be withdrawn from Germany until there was peace with Russia and Prussia had laid down her arms. However, Berlin and Potsdam regiments had already crossed the border into Prussia’s ally, Saxony.

By the following September, both Friedrich Wilhelm and Luise said goodbye to their children and left Berlin to meet up with their army. When the Napoleon left for the front, he was heard to say “So... Mademoiselle of Mecklenburg wants to make war on me, does she? Let her come! I am not afraid of women!” The Prussian army, the King’s cabinet and many diplomats quartered at Naumburg on the river Saale. Everywhere Luise went a crowd assembled, amazed to see a Queen in the mist of an army. On October 13, the Prussian army headed for the Battle of Auerstedt, west of Erfurt. Luise rode in a small carriage at the end of the column. Upon the insistence of the Duke of Braunschweig, she was surrounded by a guard and driven back to Weimar for her safety. She soon heard the bad news that Napoleon’s army had won a decisive victory at Jena and Auerstedt. Luise turned to her companions and said, “We must pull ourselves together and we must not spread panic in Berlin,” but by the time Luise got there, many people had already fled in fear of the French.

Berlin could not be defended. Her children, the archives and the treasury had been taken to Stettin for safety earlier. Luise sent word to the King to tell him their whereabouts, pleading with him not to make a shameful peace. In October, the family briefly reunited in Danzig, but had to leave in haste for Königsberg. Luise and her family arrived at Königsberg castle ill from stress and bad water, but by the time the French were only miles away, she and the children were sent on to Memel.

On October 27, 1806, Napolean paraded his army through the Brandenburg Gate in victory. He strutted around Schloss Charlottenburg, personally plundering private family belongings and making disparaging comments about Luise. He even had tasteless cartoons made of her and published in the papers. After ensuring that all Prussian resistance had been eliminated, he decreed that trade would be totally blocked to Britain, and proceeded east to join his army in Poland. Even the Russians could not stem Napoleon’s advances. Czar Alexander asked for a truce, and he and the King met with Napoleon at Tilsit to make the agreement.

Napoleon had no mercy for the Prussian King and demanded the surrender of all Prussian territory west of the river Elbe, the Grand Duchy of Berg and the kingdom of Westphalia. Almost all of Prussian Poland went to the Grand Duchy of Warsaw, except Danzig, which was made a free city under French protection. He also demanded that Prussia would have to join France in war against England if requested.

Czar Alexander had requested that Napoleon meet with Luise, and Napoleon reluctantly consented. The Queen wanted to save at least part of the kingdom of Prussia, but her impassioned pleas had no influence on the Little Emperor. At first she tried to maintain the Prussian kingdom, at least in name, and when that failed, she attempted to hold onto a province or two. Still refused, Louise begged: “Well, at least let us have Magdeburg!” That, too, he flatly refused. Napoleon forced the Prussian royalty to reduce the size of their army by half and to pay unreasonable indemnities of 100 million francs to France.

Luise, with her regal bearing and great beauty, was completely rebuffed when she begged for mercy on behalf of the Prussian people. Talleyrand, Napoleon’s chief diplomat, was said to be so disgusted by Napoleon’s shabby treatment of the Prussian royalty that his relationship with Napoleon suffered irreparably, leading to his later resignation as foreign minister.

Luise and Friedrich visited St.Petersburg, and upon their return she had another baby boy but her recovery was slow. In December, 1809, they returned to Berlin to find Charlottenburg Palace terribly plundered by Napoleon with much of its art stolen, including her portrait! The gardens were trampled and the grounds destroyed. In the spring, they moved back to Potsdam. Napoleon continued to demand unjust reparations. He wanted money, land, and all of the citizens to pay a tax.. or all three.

The Queen bravely tried to keep her family together and encourage the people, but the stress, constant moving and less than adequate living conditions had weakened her considerably. She became homesick for her native home in Mecklenburg and she decided to visit her family and relax. On June 25, 1810 she left Potsdam, to be joined by her husband on the 28th. She was delighted being home and being able to relax.

“Dear father” she wrote on a note, “today I am very happy as your daughter and as the wife of the best of men.” These would be the last words she would ever write. The next day she stayed in bed with a fever. Her husband left for home after three days, unaware that anything serious was wrong, but on July 18th, he was finally sent for. Luise had been asking for him, and by the time he arrived. the doctors asked the bereaved King to see if his beloved wife had any last wishes. As he sobbed by her side, she kissed and reassured him. But within minutes her breath became labored and the lovely and gentle 34-year-old Queen quietly died.

All of Berlin grieved and all of the church bells in the city were set tolling. Crowds stood in silent prayer and soft weeping. At every spot where her coffin had touched the earth on its journey to Berlin, a monument to Luise rose up. A mausoleum was built in the park of Charlottenburg Palace by Christian Daniel Rauch, a talented artist Luise had once discovered and provided an education for. Now a successful sculptor, he returned and created a magnificent statue for her, abelow right

Other Women of the Wars

Napoleon is History

In 1811, Napoleon’s fortunes were at their zenith. His empire included the Illyrian Provinces, Etruria (Tuscany), some of the Papal States, Holland, and German states bordering the North Sea. The empire was surrounded by vassal states ruled over by the little Emperor’s relatives. Soon after Czar Alexander I withdrew Russia from the Continental System, Napoleon’s Grand Army entered Russia in 1812 and were greatly weakened by the deadly Russian winter. Napoleon rushed back to Paris to raise a new army, only to be defeated in 1814 by a coalition of European forces at Leipzig.

Napoleon was then exiled to the isle of Elba, where he plotted his return. With Europe pondered over how to redivide the continent, Napoleon escaped, sneaked into France and raised a new army in the period known as the ‘Hundred Days.’ In June, 1815, the armies of Wellington with help from 30,000 Prussians under Friedrich Wilhelm Von Bülow (and with the brilliant strategy of his great quarter master general von Gneisenau) defeated Napoleon at Waterloo.

Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm III was still mourning the loss of his wife Luise, the most beloved queen in German history and the woman who bravely stood up to Napoleon and begged mercy for her people. He then personally travelled with the main army of Prince Schwarzenberg, along with Alexander of Russia and Franz of Austria to stop Napoleon once and for all. Some say the victory was due in great part to the bravery of the Prussians * who raged into the battle against the French screaming, “for Queen Luise!!” Napoleon was again exiled, this time to distant Saint Helena in the South Atlantic. On October 15, 1815, Napoleon disembarked in Saint Helena with those followers who voluntarily accompanied him. He died there on May 5th at age 51.

* The English King’s German Legion

After Napoleon disbanded the Kurfürstentum Hannover (Electorate of Hanover) in 1803 and dissolved its army, many former Hanoverian officers and soldiers fled from the French occupation to serve King George III of Britain, who was also Elector of Hanover. Once in Britain, Major Colin Halkett and Colonel Johann Friedrich von der Decken were instructed to raise corps of light infantry named ‘The King’s German Regiment,’ and on December 19, 1803, Halkett and von der Decken formed the King’s German Legion, a force that expanded to around 14,000. About 28,000 men served in the Legion which was part of the British Army from 1805 until 1816. The King’s German Legion fought in battles in Hanover, Pomerania, Walcheren, Copenhagen and the Peninsula under General Sir John Moore and the Peninsula again under the Duke of Wellington.

Its members were present at the Battle of Waterloo when the 2nd Light Battalion along with members of the 1st Light Battalion and the 5th Line Battalion defended ‘La Haye Sainte’ until they ran out of ammunition. In fact, there were more German-speaking troops in Wellington’s Army than English. In the Waterloo Campaign, German soldiers suffered almost 75% of all fatalities, whereas British soldiers suffered around 15%. An excellent fighting unit with a legendary cavalry reputed to be one of the best in the British army, some officers and men were integrated into the new Hanoverian army when, after the victory at Waterloo, the Legion was dissolved in 1816 as the Electorate of Hanover was re-founded as Kingdom of Hanover. Some claim that had it not been for the Legion and the Prussians, who went into battle so fiercly, that Waterloo would have been lost.

Beethoven played for the Prussian King in 1796, and when he composed his Symphony No. 9 in d minor, opus 125, commonly known as the Ode to Joy (the present EU Anthem), he dedicated it “to King Friedrich Wilhelm III.” Friedrich Wilhelm died on June 7, 1840. His eldest son, Friedrich Wilhelm IV succeeded him.

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