Augusta Marie Luise Katharina was born in Weimar on 30 September 1811 and was the daughter of Charles Frederick, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, and Maria Pavlovna of Russia.
At the age of fifteen, Augusta met her future husband, William of Prussia, who had originally wanted to marry her older sister, Marie, but she had married William’s younger brother, Charles. William was really in love with a Polish princess, Elisa Radziwill, but his father had forbidden the match after discovering Elisa’s ancestors had purchased their titles from Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor, and she was not deemed noble enough to marry the heir to the Prussian throne.
William’s older brother, Frederick William IV, and his wife, Elisabeth Ludovika of Bavaria, were still childless, which meant William was heir-presumptive and would have to marry well to produce further heirs to the throne. Ironically, Elisabeth Ludovika was a descendant of the Radziwill line herself but her other connections made her of suitable rank.
Knowing how his son felt about Elisa, Frederick William III approached Tsar Alexander I to adopt Elisa to improve her rank but his attempts failed, in addition the Prussian court declared adoption did not solve the problem of blood. The marriage was further opposed by the relations of William’s deceased mother, Louise of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, who were enemies of Elisa’s father. The Mecklenburg family had a great deal of influence on the Prussian and Russian courts so their views could not be ignored.
By June 1826, Frederick William was forced to concede the marriage between William and Elisa was doomed and he urged his son to marry Augusta instead. William and Augusta were engaged on 25 October 1828, and William saw Elisa for the last time in 1829 before her death from tuberculosis in 1834.
Augusta had grown to love William and she had high expectations for their married life but her illusions were soon shattered when she realised her husband would always be in love with another woman. While William had a great deal of respect for Augusta, he was not in love with her and the initial harmony soon waned. Augusta gave birth to their first child, Frederick William, on 18 October 1831, but it would be seven more years before their daughter, Louise, was born on 3 December 1838. After two further miscarriages, Augusta declared she had done her duty and no more children would be born.
The stress of her unhappy marriage and her subsequent boredom in the Prussian court began to take its toll on Augusta’s health and she began to experience manic depressive episodes in 1840. When her brother-in-law, Frederick William IV, ascended the throne, there were high expectations he would continue to have the same liberal approach as he had while a Crown Prince, but it was not to be. In March 1848, there was an uprising in Berlin for which William was blamed and he fled to London on the advice of his brother, while his wife and children went to Potsdam. There was talk of forcing Frederick William to abdicate in favour of Augusta’s son, but it never happened and any correspondence written by Augusta has been destroyed so her opinions on this are unknown.
In May 1848, William was appointed Governor-General of the Rhine Province in the new unified Germany and the family moved to Koblenz. Augusta enjoyed life in Koblenz, where she created a court similar to the one she had experienced as a child in Weimar, inviting many liberal minded professors and historians. Augusta was also tolerant of those practicing the Catholic faith in Koblenz which earned her a lot of criticism from the Prussian court but she refused to be intimidated.
In 1858, Augusta experienced her greatest triumph when her son, Frederick William, married Victoria of the United Kingdom, the daughter of Queen Victoria. Augusta hoped Vicky’s liberal upbringing would have a good influence on her son when it became time for him to rule.
That same year, William began to serve as regent when his brother had a series of strokes, so Augusta had to move to the court in Berlin. When William ascended the throne in 1861, he swept aside the old ministers, replacing them with those who were more liberally minded and the conservatives blamed Augusta, despite the fact she had barely any influence on her husband. A few months later, William dissolved the Parliament and appointed Otto von Bismarck as the new Prussian Minister President, a man Augusta thoroughly disliked.
Augusta did not agree with many of Bismarck’s policies and she began to feel even more estranged from her husband, particularly since Bismarck was doing his best to malign Augusta in Parliament and often made negative comments about her to William. The relationship between Augusta and her daughter-in-law, Vicky, also began to suffer as Vicky disappointed her by agreeing with many of Bismarck’s policies and becoming very Prussian in her outlook. Suffering from the stress, Augusta began to experience manic depressive episodes and began to take frequent trips to the spas at Baden-Baden. Augusta also took delight in her grandson, William, with whom she became very close.
Augusta hated war and she held Bismarck personally responsible for the Austro-Prussian War in 1866 and the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Augusta founded the National Women’s Association in 1864 to look after wounded soldiers and she continued to form medical organisations throughout both wars, often collaborating with Florence Nightingale for ideas on how best to help the wounded. After the war ended, Augusta was made empress but she took no joy in an Imperial crown won through bloodshed and she consoled herself by founding an educational establishment in Potsdam for the destitute daughters of men who had lost their lives as a result of the Franco-Prussian War.
In June 1881, Augusta suffered a fall which left her dependent on a wheelchair but she continued to fulfil her public duties. Augusta was widowed in 1887, but her son, Frederick William, was only emperor for ninety-nine days before succumbing to cancer. Augusta died on 7 January 1890 and was buried in the mausoleum of Charlottenburg beside her husband.
House (birth): House of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach
House (marriage): House of Hohenzollern
Father: Charles Frederick, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach
Mother: Maria Pavlovna of Russia
Born: 30 Sep 1811
Died: 07 Jan 1890
Spouse: William I, German Emperor
HSH Princess Augusta of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach
30 Sep 1811 – 11 Jun 1829
HRH Princess William of Prussia
11 Jun 1829 – 02 Jan 1861
HM The Queen of Prussia
02 Jan 1861 – 18 Jan 1871
HIRM The German Empress, Queen of Prussia
18 Jan 1871 – 09 Mar 1888
HIRM The Dowager German Empress, Dowager Queen of Prussia
09 Mar 1888 – 07 Jan 1890
Name: Frederick III
Born: 18 Oct 1831
Died: 15 Jun 1888
Spouse: Victoria of the United Kingdom
Born: 03 Dec 1838
Died: 23 Apr 1923
Spouse: Frederick I, Grand Duke of Baden
30 Sep 1811
Augusta is born in Weimar, Germany
25 Oct 1828
Augusta becomes engaged to William of Prussia
11 Jun 1829
Augusta and Wilhelm are married in the chapel of Schloss Charlottenburg
18 Oct 1831
Augusta gives birth to a son, Frederick
03 Dec 1838
Augusta gives birth to a daughter, Louise
20 Sep 1856
Louise marries Frederick I, Grand Duke of Baden, at Neues Palais in Potsdam
25 Jan 1858
Fredrick marries Victoria, Princess Royal, in the Chapel Royal of St. James’s Palace, London
Augusta’s husband, Wilhelm, becomes regent for Frederik William IV after he suffers a stroke
27 Jan 1859
Frederick and Victoria’s first son, Wilhelm II, is born
02 Jan 1861
Frederick William IV dies in Potsdam, aged 65 years
02 Jan 1861
Augusta becomes Queen Consort of Prussia
14 Jun 1866
The Austro-Prussian War breaks out
23 Aug 1866
The Austro-Prussian War ends
19 Jul 1870
The Franco-Prussian War breaks out
18 Jan 1871
Augusta becomes Empress Consort of Germany
10 May 1871
The Franco-Prussian War ends
27 Feb 1881
Augusta’s grandson, Wilhelm II, marries Augusta Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein
06 May 1882
Wilhelm II and Augusta’s first child, Crown Prince Wilhelm, is born
09 Mar 1888
Augusta’s husband, Wilhelm I, dies in Berlin, aged 90 years
15 Jun 1888
Augusta’s son, Frederick III dies of cancer, aged 56 years
07 Jan 1890
Augusta dies in Berlin, aged 78 years