Franziska von Hohenheim

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Portrait by Jakob Friedrich Weckherlin, in 1790

Franziska Theresia Reichsgräfin von Hohenheim (10 January 1748, Adelmannsfelden – 1 January 1811, Kirchheim unter Teck) was a German noblewoman. From 1774 she was known as Freiin von Bernerdin and from 1765 onwards as Freifrau Leutrum von Ertingen. She was the official mistress of Charles Eugene, Duke of Württemberg from 1772 to 1785, when she became his second wife. The marriage was morganatic until 1790, when she was granted the title Duchess of Württemberg.

Life[edit]

Franziska and Charles Eugene, engraving by Johann Friedrich Knisel, 1787
Bust by Daniel Mack, 1804

She was the daughter of Freiherr Ludwig Wilhelm von Bernerdin and his wife Johanna (née Freiin von Vohenstein in Adelmannsfelden) - of this couple's 15 children, only Franziska and four of her sisters reached adulthood. Her family lived on the Sindlingen bei Herrenberg estate. At her parents' request, in 1765 Franziska married Freiherr Wilhelm Leutrum von Ertingen. Once her husband had been appointed a chamberlain at the Württemberg court, they had to appear at court more often. In 1769, during a stay in Bad Wildbad, Franziska got to know the duke Charles Eugene better and after he had separated from his beloved long-term mistress Catharina Bonafini she became his maitresse en titre in 1772. On 21 January 1774, at Charles' instigation, Franziska was made Reichsgräfin of Hohenheim – she was then promoted to Reichsfürstin by Joseph II - and from then on bore the coat of arms of the extinct Bombaste von Hohenheim family. The Duke gave her the Garbenhof at Hohenheim on 10 January 1772 and she expanded it in the following decades into the Schloss Hohenheim, taking a particular interest in the creation of its 'Dörfle' or English-style landscape garden from 1776 onwards.

Franziska's worldview was shaped by Protestant Pietistic ideas and so she felt guilty of the immoral nature of her relationship with the Duke. She divorced her husband in 1772 but the Catholic Charles Eugene could not separate from his wife Elisabeth Fredericka Sophie. In autumn 1756 Elisabeth went to visit her mother in Bayreuth and refused to return. Charles agreed she would remain his duchess, which she did until her death in April 1780. After Elisabeth's death Charles redeemed marriage vows to Franziska prepared for that instance, which he repeated on 10 July 1780. However, the Catholic Church did not recognise Franziska's divorce and would not allow Charles to marry a Protestant. Also Franziska was not Charles' equal under Württemberg house law so any marriage would be morganatic.

Charles thus not only had to make Franziska his lawful wife but also get her recognised as his duchess, both of which goals he pursued with long-term strategies. First, the Ehegericht (marriage court) lifted the ban on their marriage, with Franziska as the guilty party in her divorce. In drawing up the agreement for the morganatic marriage on 15 May 1784, Charles Eugene made his younger brother Frederick Eugene (and ultimately Frederick's son Frederick William) his successor. On 11 January 1785 the ducal chaplain secretly married Franziska and Charles Eugene, though it was only proclaimed publicly on 2 February 1786. In 1790 Charles Eugene finally reached an agreement with Frederick Eugene and Frederick William - Franziska would be recognised as duchess and Kirchheim unter Teck as a wittum, with any potential descendents barred from the succession, and Frederick Eugene's wife Sophia Dorothea (whose origins required she be addressed as her highness) retaining precedence over Franziska. The pope only recognised the marriage in 1791, after the Vatican had gained theological and expert opinions as to the invalidity of Franziska's first marriage. This eventually also led to Charles Eugene's middle brother Louis Eugene (himself in a morganatic marriage) recognising Franziska.

Grave memorial with portrait bust, 1906

Franziska had a reputation in Württemberg as a kind and caring woman due to her charity work - thanks to her donations and her moderating influence on the Duke (he was initially unpredictable and pompous, but she re-educated him into a caring father of his country), she was known in her lifetime as the "Good Angel of Württemberg". After the Duke's death (on which Frederick Eugene, then Louis Eugene then Frederick William succeeded to the duchy), she gave safe haven to the Pietist and Theosophist Johann Michael Hahn in Sindlingen after he was persecuted for his views by the church in Württemberg. On Charles Eugene's death in 1793 Franziska had to leave the Schloss Hohenheim and in January 1795 she moved into the Schloss Kirchheim, spending the summer months on her estates in Sindlingen and Bächingen an der Brenz, the latter of which she had paid off and yet she tried to sell it off after Charles' death, being in financial dire straits. She rarely came to the Stuttgart court, since her relations with Charles Eugene's family, especially his nephew Frederick William, were tense after Charles Eugene's death.

On New Year's Day 1811 she died in the Schloss Kirchheim after a long period of endometrial cancer. Five days later she was buried in the choir of the Martinskirche in Kirchheim, contrary to her desire to be buried beside Charles Eugene in Ludwigsburg. Her tomb was later lost, only being rediscovered in 1885. In 1906 the württembergischen Geschichts- und Altertumsverein placed a marble relief of her on the south wall of the choir and in 1962 her remains were reburied in a new oak coffin.

References[edit]

  • (German) Tagbuch der Gräfin Franziska von Hohenheim späteren Herzogin von Württemberg. Hrsg. v. A. Osterberg. ISBN 3-87421-096-0
  • Utta Keppler: Franziska von Hohenheim. Die tapfere Frau an der Seite Carl Eugens. Ein biographischer Roman. ISBN 3-7987-0219-5
  • (German) Ottilie Wildermuth: Franziska von Hohenheim, Herzogin zu Württemberg und Teck. In: Württembergischer Bildersaal, Erster Band. Schaber, Stuttgart 1859, S. 36–64(Digitised version)
  • (German) Thomas Kuster, Franziska von Bernerdin, Reichsgräfin Hohenheim. In: Der Aufstieg und Fall der Mätresse im Europa des 18. Jahrhunderts. Eine Darstellung anhand ausgewählter Persönlichkeiten. phil.Dipl. Innsbruck 2001

External links[edit]

German royalty
Vacant
Title last held by
Margravine Elisabeth Fredericka Sophie of Brandenburg-Bayreuth
Duchess consort of Württemberg
1790–1793
Succeeded by
Margravine Sophia Dorothea of Brandenburg-Schwedt