Princess Caroline Augusta of Bavaria was the fourth child and youngest daughter of King Maximilian I Joseph of Bavaria and his first wife, Princess Augusta Wilhelmine of Hesse-Darmstadt. She was born on February 8, 1792 in the city of Mannheim, located in the Electoral Palatinate. At the time of her birth, the Kingdom of Bavaria did not yet exist so her father was simply the Duke of Zweibrücken. Seven years after her birth, he would become the Elector of Bavaria and then, in 1806, he was crowned as the King of Bavaria, which had been raised in status from an electorate to a kingdom. When Caroline Augusta was just four years old, her mother, who had suffered all her life from lung problems, died from tuberculosis. She left behind four surviving children out of the five she had with her husband, including: the future Ludwig I of Bavaria and Princess Augusta of Bavaria, Duchess of Leuchtenberg.
In 1797, a year after her mother’s death, Caroline Augusta’s father remarried to Caroline of Baden, the daughter of the Hereditary Prince of Baden. Because she was so young at the time of her father’s second marriage, Caroline Augusta warmed to her new stepmother right away. Caroline of Baden had eight children with Caroline Augusta’s father, five of whom survived to adulthood. Caroline Augusta’s half-siblings were: Elisabeth Ludovika, Queen of Prussia, Amalie Auguste, Queen of Saxony, Sophie, Archduchess of Austria, Maria Anna, Queen of Saxony, and Ludovika, Duchess in Bavaria (she was also the mother of the five famous Duchesses in Bavaria).
|Crown Prince William of Württemberg|
(future King William I of Württemberg)
Caroline was not as beautiful as the rest of her sisters because when she was two years old, she contracted smallpox, which left her face scarred. In 1806, her father had allied with Napoleon once the French Emperor made Maximilian Joseph a king. He also elevated another German Elector, Frederick Wilhelm Karl, Elector of Württemberg to the status of King. Just as Maximillian Joseph had to marry his eldest daughter, Augusta, to Napoleon’s stepson, Eugène de Beauharnais, to cement their alliance (luckily for both parties in the match, Augusta and Eugène fell deeply in love), King Frederick I had to marry his daughter, Catharina, to Napoleon’s youngest brother, Jérôme Bonaparte, the newly created King of Westphalia. King Frederick wanted to avoid having Napoleon marry off his son and heir, Crown Prince William, to suit his own needs, so the King of Württemberg decided to marry William to Caroline Augusta in a purely political match. Caroline Augusta was sixteen when she married the twenty-six year old William, whose feelings about the arrangement were displayed when he told his bride on their wedding day: “We are victims to politics”. (on a side note, through both his parents, William was descended from George I of Great Britain). The couple was married in Lutheran and Catholic ceremonies in Munich on June 8, 1808, upon which Caroline Augusta became the Crown Princess of Württemberg.
|Caroline Augusta of Bavaria|
The marriage was a disaster from the start. William showed no interest in his young wife and saw their union for exactly what it was – a marriage of convenience. They lived in separate wings of the Royal Palace in Stuttgart and William went out of his way to avoid her as much as possible. They never even consummated their marriage. Because Caroline Augusta was ignored by her husband, she was quite lonely during her time in Württemberg and spent most of her days writing to her favorite sibling, her older brother Ludwig, and indulging in her hobbies of painting, reading, and walking. She also took the opportunity to learn Italian and English during her endless amounts of free time. Fortunately for the unhappy couple, once Napoleon was overthrown in 1814, there was no longer any need for them to be married. Since they never had sexual relations with each other, the Catholic Church annulled their marriage on January 12, 1816, which allowed Caroline Augusta to remarry again, if she so pleased, in the Church. Caroline Augusta happily separated from her cold husband after eight miserable years together and went off to live with an aunt in Neuburg an der Bonau in Bavaria. She got the better part of the deal, as her husband gave her a rather large financial settlement after their annulment.
While Caroline Augusta was living quietly with her aunt back home, her brother, Crown Prince Ludwig took the matter of his sister’s personal life into his own hands. Without talking to his father about marrying Caroline Augusta off a second time, he proposed his sister as a possible bride for the widowed Ferdinand II, Grand Duke of Tuscany. But when Ferdinand’s older brother, Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor, caught wind of the news, he decided that he wanted to marry the Bavarian princess for himself. Through Francis was much older than Caroline Augusta, he was an extremely powerful man with a slew of titles. In 1792, he had become not just the Holy Roman Emperor and the King of Germany but also the King of Hungary and Croatia, the King of Bohemia, and the King of Lombardy-Venetia. Then, in 1804, he became the first Emperor of Austria as Francis I.
|Francis I, Emperor of Austria|
(Johann Baptist Lampi the Younger, 1800-35)
Francis was the eldest son of Leopold II, Holy Roman Emperor (a brother of Marie Antoinette) and Infanta Maria Luisa of Spain, the daughter of King Charles III of Spain (she was the paternal aunt of María Isabella of Spain, Queen of theTwo Sicilies). Before he married Caroline Augusta, Francis had already been married three times before. His first marriage was to Elisabeth of Württemberg, the paternal aunt of Caroline Augusta’s first husband. Their marriage lasted for a brief two years because Elisabeth died in childbirth in 1790. The daughter that she died bringing into the world also passed after just a year of life. Francis remarried in 1792 to his double first cousin, Maria Theresa of Naples and Sicily, the daughter of King Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies. They had twelve children together but only seven survived childhood. Their surviving children included: Marie Louise, Duchess of Parma, the second wife of Napoleon I, Emperor Ferdinand I of Austria, Empress Maria Leopoldina of Brazil and Queen of Portugal, and Archuke Franz Karl, who married Caroline Augusta’s half-sister, Sophie of Bavaria, and became the father of Franz Joseph I of Austria and Maximilian I of Mexico. Just like Francis’s first wife, Maria Theresa died in childbirth in 1807 along with her infant daughter. Francis married for a third time a year later to his first cousin, Maria Ludovika of Austria-Este, the daughter of the Archduke of Austria-Este. They had no children and Maria Ludovika died of tuberculosis in 1816.
|Caroline Augusta of Bavaria, Empress of Austria|
Francis had grown up in a large, happy family and had been groomed for his future role as Holy Roman Emperor all his life. He went through a strict education regime under his uncle, Emperor Joseph II, who said that his nephew was “stunted in growth…backward in bodily dexterity and deportment...neither more nor less than a spoiled mother’s child” and cared only for his own well-being. Despite whatever personal flaws he might have had, there was no doubt that Francis was arguably the most influential man in Europe. So, it was no surprise when Caroline Augusta’s brother eagerly agreed to the Emperor’s wish to marry his sister. So, on October 29, 1816, just six months after his third wife’s death, the forty-eight year old Francis married the twenty-four year old Caroline Augusta, who was literally half his age, by proxy. The couple officially wed on November 10, 1816 at the Augustinerkirche near the Hofburg Palace in Vienna, upon which Caroline Augusta became the Empress of Austria, the Queen of Hungary and Bohemia, and the Queen of Lombardy-Venetia (Francis had abdicated as Holy Roman Empeor and King of Germany in 1806 because he dissolved the Empire that year when the Napoleonic Wars erupted).
The British ambassador to Austria described the new Empress as follows: “The Empress is only twenty four years of age, although her appearance denotes her at least past thirty. Every one gives her the highest character for her amiable temper, and manners, and innumerable good qualities; but her Imperial Majesty’s appearance is certainly not prepossessing, after her predecessor, whose peculiar grace and affability were so very striking.” Another English diplomat added to the picture by saying Caroline Augusta was “ugly, clever and amiable, and as the Emperor expresses it: ‘She can stand a push, the other was nothing but air.’”
Caroline Augusta had a very modest married life with her second husband because Francis was rather strict with his money. Though they had a cordial relationship during their twenty years together, they never had children. Caroline Augusta was well-loved by the Austrian people and devoted much of her time to improving the country by focusing on charitable activities, especially sponsoring the construction of child-care institutions, hospitals, and homes for workers. Although she had no children of her own, she was a stepmother to Francis’s seven surviving children. Her eldest stepchild, Marie Louise (the second wife of Napoleon), was actually two months older than her. Caroline Augusta became very close to Marie Louise’s son and her step-grandson, Napoleon II, who lived with his mother at the Viennese court. She was like a second mother to him and adored him immensely. She even took a strong interest in his education and often sat in during his lessons and exams. During her time as Empress, Caroline Augusta also stayed in touch with her Bavarian family. She had always been close to her relatives, especially her half-sister, the Archduchess Sophie, who married Caroline Augusta’s stepson, Archduke Franz Karl. She was also on good terms with her half-niece, Empress Elisabeth of Austria, who was also Sophie’s niece and her daughter-in-law.
|Caroline Augusta of Bavaria, Empress Dowager of Austria|
(Franz Schrotzberg, 1864)
On March 2, 1835, the sixty-seven year old Francis died of a sudden fever. He was succeeded as Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary and Croatia, Bohemia, and Lombardy-Venetia by his eldest son, Ferdinand I and V. However, Ferdinand abdicated in 1848 and was succeeded by his nephew, Franz Joseph I (the son of Archduke Franz Karl and Sophie of Bavaria). After her husband’s death, the forty-three year old Caroline Augusta, now the Empress Dowager, moved to Salzburg to make way for the new royal family. A contemporary described the newly widowed Empress Dowager just a month after the loss of her husband: “She was pale and haggard. She spoke to me in touching terms of our adored Emperor… She told me that she almost died the night he was carried to his room in the chapel where he was to be exposed. She talked much about the Emperor’s last moments. … The courage she displayed gives strength.”
Although Caroline Augusta did live away from Vienna after her husband’s death, she stayed close to the imperial household for the rest of her life. On February 9, 1873, Caroline Augusta died in Vienna just one day after her eighty-first birthday. She was buried in the Imperial Crypt in Vienna beside her husband and his first three wives.