Princess Charlotte of Prussia

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Princess Charlotte of Prussia (Viktoria Elisabeth Auguste Charlotte; 24 July 1860 – 1 October 1919) was Duchess of Saxe-Meiningen as the wife of Bernhard III, the duchy's last ruler. Born in the Neues Palais in Potsdam, she was the second child and eldest daughter of Prince Frederick of Prussia, a member of the House of Hohenzollern who became Crown Prince of Prussia in 1861. Through her mother Victoria, Princess Royal, Charlotte was the eldest granddaughter of Queen Victoria and Albert, Prince Consort.

Victoria was an intellectually demanding mother who had strong ambitions for her children. Charlotte proved to be a difficult child and indifferent student, throwing violent tantrums and displaying a nervous disposition, and a troubled relationship developed between mother and daughter. As she grew older, Charlotte developed a penchant for spreading gossip and causing trouble, traits that her mother hoped would be alleviated with marriage. The sixteen-year-old Charlotte married Prince Bernhard of Saxe-Meiningen in 1878, but his weak-willed personality had little effect on his wife. The couple enjoyed themselves in Berlin society while frequently leaving their only child, Princess Feodora, in the care of family members. Charlotte and Feodora, in turn, also had a difficult relationship, with each imagining the worst of the other.

Charlotte's father ascended the German throne in 1888 as Emperor Frederick III, but died later that year. Charlotte's brother succeeded him as Wilhelm II, increasing Charlotte's social influence. She became Duchess of Saxe-Meiningen in 1914, only for her husband to lose his title with the end of World War I in 1918. Charlotte died the following year of a heart attack in Baden-Baden. She had suffered from a lifetime of ill health; her frequently severe symptoms included various aches, insomnia, abdominal pains, partial paralysis, and discoloured urine. Based on these symptoms, as detailed in Charlotte's letters with her doctor and family members, most historians now believe she had porphyria, a genetic disease that afflicted other members of the British Royal Family.

Early life[edit]

Charlotte with her parents and elder brother

Birth and family[edit]

Princess Victoria Elizabeth Augusta Charlotte was born on 24 July 1860 in the Neues Palais in Potsdam, the eldest daughter and second child of Prince Frederick of Prussia and his wife Victoria, Princess Royal, known as Vicky in the family.[1][2] The product of an easy labour, she was a healthy baby who arrived nineteen months after the difficult birth of her elder brother, Prince Wilhelm.[1][3][4] The new princess was referred to as Charlotte in honour of her great-aunt Princess Charlotte of Prussia, called Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia through marriage.[3]

Charlotte's paternal family belonged to the House of Hohenzollern, a royal house that had ruled the German state of Prussia since the seventeenth century.[5] By the end of her first year, her father had become Crown Prince as the heir to his father, who ascended the Prussian throne as King Wilhelm I in 1861 and as German Emperor in 1870. Charlotte's mother was the eldest daughter of the British monarch Queen Victoria and her consort Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.[3] Charlotte and her brother, Wilhelm, were the only grandchildren born in Albert's lifetime.[6] He and Queen Victoria visited their daughter and two grandchildren when Charlotte was two months old;[7][8] Vicky and Frederick in turn brought Wilhelm and Charlotte on a visit to England in June 1861,[9] six months before Albert's death.[10]

Upbringing and education[edit]

The growing royal family, which came to include eight children,[11] spent its winters in Berlin and summers in Potsdam; the year also usually included a stay in the country, to the delight of the children. In 1863 Vicky and Frederick purchased a run-down property and refurbished it into a farm, allowing the family to periodically experience a simple country life.[12] Frederick was a loving husband, but as an officer in the Prussian army, his duties increasingly pulled him away from the home. Vicky was an intellectually demanding mother who expected her children to exhibit moral and political leadership, and in her husband's absence she carefully supervised their education and upbringing.[13]

While Vicky was close with her eldest daughter, this changed as the girl grew older; by the time she was two years old, Charlotte had become known as "sweet naughty little Ditta"[14] and would prove to be the most difficult of the family's eight children.[14][15] As a young girl, she acted nervously and made frequent displays of agitation, such as pulling at her clothes. An early habit of biting her nails led to preventative measures like the forced wearing of gloves, but any methods only provided temporary relief.[15][16] Queen Victoria wrote to her daughter, "tell Charlotte I was appalled to hear of her biting her things. Grandmamma does not like naughty little girls".[15] In 1863 the Crown Princess recorded in her diary that Charlotte's "little mind seems almost too active for her body – she is so nervous & sensitive and so quick. Her sleep is not so sound as it should be – and she is so very thin".[14] Charlotte developed violent tantrums, to her mother's displeasure; Vicky described them as "such outbreaks of rage & stubbornness that she screams blue murder".[17]

The princess was also an indifferent student, to the dismay of her mother, who placed a high value on education. Charlotte's governess declared she had never seen "more difficulties" than with Charlotte, while Vicky once wrote of Charlotte in a letter to her mother, "Stupidity is not a sin, but it renders education a hard and difficult task".[15] The Crown Princess rarely withheld her true thoughts of those who displeased her,[18] and bluntly admonished her children to encourage their efforts and help them avoid vanity.[8] Queen Victoria urged her daughter to act encouraging rather than reproachful towards Charlotte, believing that she could not expect the young princess to share Vicky's same tastes.[16] The biographer Jerrold M. Packard thinks it likely that the "pretty but nervous and sullen girl sensed [her mother's] disappointment from an early age," exacerbating the gulf between them.[18]

Over time, a rift also developed between the three eldest and three youngest children.[19][20] The deaths of Charlotte's brothers Sigismund and Waldemar in 1866 and 1879, respectively, devastated the Crown Princess. In the historian John C. G. Röhl's view, to Vicky her eldest three children "could never live up to the idealised memory of the two dead princes".[21] The strict upbringing Vicky gave to Wilhelm, Charlotte, and Henry was not replicated in her relationship with her three youngest surviving children, Viktoria, Sophia, and Margaret.[20][22] The eldest children, sensing their mother's disappointment, in turn became resentful of Vicky's indulgence towards their youngest siblings.[8] The historian John Van der Kiste speculates that had Vicky shown the same level of acceptance with Charlotte as with her younger children, "the relationship between them might have been a happier one".[20]

Charlotte was a favourite of her paternal grandparents,[15] whom she frequently saw.[23] King Wilhelm and Queen Augusta spoiled their granddaughter and encouraged her to rebel against the Crown Prince and Princess.[24] Charlotte and Wilhelm frequently took their side in disputes between them and her parents.[25] This rebellion was also encouraged by the German chancellor Otto von Bismarck, who held political disagreements with the liberal Crown Prince and Princess.[11] Charlotte also enjoyed a close relationship with Wilhelm,[3] though they grew apart after his marriage in 1881 to Augusta Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein, a princess described by Charlotte as plain, slow-witted, and shy.[3][26] Charlotte's relationship with Wilhelm would remain troubled as a result.[24]

Engagement and marriage[edit]

For the majority of her adult life, Charlotte suffered from "a constant state of manic frenzy" and "acute health problems that baffled her doctors".[26] She suffered from rheumatism, joint pains, headaches and insomnia.[27] Most historians now believe that her health issues and unstable personality were caused by the genetic disease porphyria.[26][28] As Charlotte grew older she developed a tendency to spread malicious gossip and cause trouble, for instance commenting that Wilhelm's wife was "disgusting, old and ugly as if she were 50".[24] Vicky characterised her as a "wheedling little kitten [who] can be so loving whenever she wants something".[17] She believed that Charlotte's "pretty exterior" hid "dangerous character traits", and blamed nature for producing such qualities in her daughter.[29][17]

Charlotte's husband Bernhard, 1899

In April 1877, the sixteen-year-old Charlotte became engaged to her second cousin Prince Bernhard of Saxe-Meiningen, heir to the German duchy of Saxe-Meiningen.[30] According to a story related by Vicky's biographer Hannah Pakula, Charlotte fell in love with the prince while they were driving with her eldest brother; Wilhelm sped up during the drive, alarming Charlotte and causing her to cling to Bernhard's arm. Pakula adds that this sudden but temporary passion likely fits Charlotte's "changeable" personality.[31] John Van der Kiste believes Charlotte's decision to marry Bernhard also stemmed from a desire to become independent from her parents, and especially from her mother's criticism.[29]

Prince Bernhard, an army officer serving in a Potsdam regiment,[31] was nine years her senior and a veteran of the recent Franco-Prussian War. Though regarded as weak-willed[29] he had many intellectual interests, particularly in archaeology.[24] Charlotte did not share these interests,[31] but Vicky hoped that time as well as marriage would guide Charlotte, so that "at least her wicked qualities will not be able to cause any harm".[17] The engagement lasted nearly a year, with Vicky preparing her daughter's trousseau[disambiguation needed].[32] They were married in Berlin on 18 February 1878, in a double ceremony that also included Princess Elisabeth Anna of Prussia's marriage to Frederick Augustus of Oldenburg.[33] Charlotte's maternal uncles, the Prince of Wales and Duke of Connaught and Strathearn, attended the wedding, as did King Leopold II and Queen Marie Henriette of Belgium.[34][35]

The new couple established their household near the Neues Palais, in a small villa previously inhabited by Auguste von Harrach, the morganatic wife of Frederick William III of Prussia.[36] They also purchased a villa in Cannes, a decision that angered Wilhelm, who viewed France as an enemy country; Charlotte eventually spent most of her winters in the French city, as she hoped that its warm climate would help alleviate her lifetime of ill health.[37][38]

Birth of Princess Feodora[edit]

Two years into their marriage, Charlotte gave birth to a daughter, Feodora, on 12 May 1879. The new princess was the first grandchild of the Crown Prince and Princess, as well as the first great-grandchild of Queen Victoria.[39][40] Charlotte had hated the limitations placed on her while pregnant, and decided this would be her only child, to the dismay of her mother. Following Feodora's birth, Charlotte devoted her time to enjoying society life in Berlin[41][40] and embarking on long holiday trips. During these trips, Charlotte would often leave her daughter to stay with Vicky, whom she viewed as the source of a convenient nursery.[42] Feodora frequently made long visits to her maternal grandmother's estate Friedrichshof near Frankfurt;[43] on one occasion Vicky observed that Feodora "is really a good little child, & far easier to manage than her mother".[44]

Among the era's royal families, it was unusual to be an only child; Feodora likely endured a lonely childhood.[43] She suffered from sickness and various physical pains, as well as severe migraines. Historians have detected symptoms of porphyria in these descriptions, and believe she suffered from the same disease as her mother.[45] Feodora also lacked an interest in her studies, a deficit blamed by Vicky on a lack of parental guidance, as Charlotte and Bernhard were frequently away. Vicky commented, "The atmosphere of her home is not the best for a child of her age... With Charlotte for an example, what else can one expect".[44]


Charlotte in the 1890s

Wilhelm I granted Charlotte and Bernhard a villa near Tiergarten in Berlin and transferred Bernhard to a regiment in the city. Charlotte spent much of her time socialising with other ladies, where it was common to pursue activities such as skating, gossiping, and holding dinner parties. She was admired for her fashion sense, having imported all of her clothing from Paris. Charlotte also smoked and drank, and was liked by many for hosting entertaining parties. She also earned a reputation as a gossip, and many found her acid-tongued; she was known for befriending someone and earning their confidence, only to spread their secrets to others.[46]

Charlotte's father ascended the German throne as Emperor Frederick III in 1888, only to succumb to throat cancer later that year. Charlotte stayed with her ailing father near the end, alongside most of her siblings.[47] With her brother's ascension later that year, Charlotte's social influence increased despite the two never having reconciled after his marriage. In the mid-1890s, Charlotte lost her diary which contained family secrets and her critical thoughts of various members of her family; the diary was eventually given to Wilhelm, who never forgave her for its contents. Bernhard was transferred to a regiment in the quiet town of Breslau, effectively exiling he and his wife. As controller of Charlotte's allowance, Wilhelm also limited their ability to travel outside of the country unless they were willing to go without royal honours.[48]

Relations with Feodora[edit]

Charlotte with her daughter, mother, and maternal grandmother

As Feodora grew older, various suitors were considered for marriage. The exiled Prince Peter Karađorđević, thirty-six years her senior, unsuccessfully requested her hand in marriage. Another potential candidate was her cousin Alfred, Hereditary Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.[49] In late 1897, Feodora became engaged to Prince Henry XXX of Reuss, and they married the following year, on 24 September 1898 in a Lutheran ceremony at Breslau. The groom was fifteen years older than his bride and a captain in a Brunswick regiment, but not wealthy or particularly high-ranked. Many in the family were shocked at the marriage, but the Dowager Empress was at least pleased that her granddaughter seemed happy with the match.[50]

As her husband acquired military assignments, Feodora travelled throughout Germany.[51] The marriage, however, did not improve relations between mother and daughter. After a visit by the couple in 1899, Charlotte wrote that Feodora was "incomprehensible" and "shrinks away, whenever I try to influence her, concerning her person & health".[52] Charlotte also disliked her son-in-law, criticizing his appearance and inability to control his strong-willed wife. Unlike her mother, Feodora wanted children; her failure to do so left Feodora disappointed, though it pleased Charlotte, who had no desire for grandchildren.[53]

Van der Kiste writes that Charlotte and Feodora had very similar personalities, "both strong-willed creatures who loved gossip and were too ready to believe the worst of each other".[54] Eventually, their relationship deteriorated enough for Charlotte to bar Feodora and Henry from her house. Charlotte refused to accept Feodora's claim to have malaria, believing instead that her daughter had contracted a venereal disease from Henry; this opinion outraged Feodora.[54] Over the years members of the family tried to repair the mother-daughter relationship, without success. Charlotte did not write to Feodora for nearly a decade, finally doing so after Feodora underwent a dangerous operation to help her conceive. Charlotte expressed outrage that such an operation had been approved, but eventually visited her in the sanatorium at Feodora's request.[55]

Duchess of Saxe-Meiningen and death[edit]

In June 1911, Charlotte attended her cousin George V's coronation in England, but the country's summer heat left her bed-ridden with a swollen face and pain in her limbs.[38] On 25 June 1914, her husband inherited his father's dukedom and became Bernhard III, Duke of Saxe-Meiningen. World War I broke out on 28 July; Bernhard left for the front while Charlotte remained behind to oversee the duchy, serving mainly as a figurehead. During the war, Charlotte increasingly experienced various pains including chronic aches, swollen legs, and kidney problems.[56] The degree of the pain became so severe that she took opium as her only comfortable treatment.[51]

The end of the war in 1918 led to the political demise of the German Empire, as well as all of its many duchies; consequently, Bernhard was forced to abdicate his rule over Saxe-Meiningen. The following year, Charlotte travelled to Baden-Baden to seek medical treatment for her heart, ultimately dying there of a heart attack on 1 October 1919 at the age of 59. Bernhard died nine years later and was buried with her at Schloss Altenstein in Thuringia.[57]

Medical analysis[edit]

The majority of historians hold that Charlotte and Feodora were afflicted with porphyria, a genetic disease that is believed to have affected some members of the British Royal Family, most notably King George III.[26][58] The theory that this disease was responsible for Charlotte and Feodora's lifetimes of ill-health was first proposed by John C. G. Röhl. For evidence, Röhl reviewed letters between Charlotte and her doctor, as well as correspondence with her parents, that had been sent over a 25-year period; he found that even as a little girl, Charlotte had suffered from hyperactivity and indigestion.[59] As a young woman, Charlotte became gravely ill with what her mother called "malaria poisoning and anaemia" followed by "neuralgia, fainting and nausea", all described by Röhl as a "textbook list of the symptoms of porphyria, and this several decades before the disorder was clinically identified".[60]

Röhl also notes further symptoms described in letters between Charlotte and her physician Ernst Schweninger, who treated her for over two decades; in them, Charlotte variously complains of "toothache, backache, insomnia, dizzy spells, nausea, constipation, excruciating 'wandering' abdominal pains, skin oedema and itching, partial paralysis of the legs and dark red or orange urine," the last of which Röhl calls the "decisive diagnostic symptom".[60] In the 1990s, a team led by Röhl inspected Feodora's body, taking samples for testing.[24]

Titles, styles, honours and arms[edit]

Titles and styles[edit]

  • 24 July 1860 – 18 February 1878: Her Royal Highness Princess Charlotte of Prussia
  • 18 February 1878 – 25 June 1914: Her Royal Highness The Hereditary Princess of Saxe-Meiningen, Princess of Prussia
  • 25 June 1914 – 1 October 1919: Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Saxe-Meiningen




  1. ^ a b Pakula 1997, p. 138.
  2. ^ Van der Kiste 2012, 33.
  3. ^ a b c d e Van der Kiste 1999.
  4. ^ Packard 1998, p. 106.
  5. ^ Pakula 1997, pp. 94–101.
  6. ^ Van der Kiste 2012, 47.
  7. ^ Hibbert 2001, p. 261.
  8. ^ a b c Van der Kiste 2001.
  9. ^ Röhl 1998, p. 73.
  10. ^ Pakula 1997, pp. 153–59.
  11. ^ a b Ramm 2004.
  12. ^ Pakula 1997, p. 323.
  13. ^ Pakula 1997, pp. 321–24.
  14. ^ a b c Röhl 1998, p. 106.
  15. ^ a b c d e Pakula 1997, p. 335.
  16. ^ a b Van der Kiste 2012, 87.
  17. ^ a b c d Röhl 1998, p. 107.
  18. ^ a b Packard 1998, p. 135.
  19. ^ Röhl 1998, p. 101.
  20. ^ a b c Van der Kiste 2012, 60.
  21. ^ Röhl 2014, p. 13.
  22. ^ MacDonogh 2000, p. 36.
  23. ^ King 2007, p. 50.
  24. ^ a b c d e Van der Kiste 2012.
  25. ^ Packard 1998, p. 173.
  26. ^ a b c d Vovk 2012, p. 41.
  27. ^ Van der Kiste 2012, 601.
  28. ^ King 2007, pp. 50–51.
  29. ^ a b c Van der Kiste 2012, 126.
  30. ^ Van der Kiste 2012, 113.
  31. ^ a b c Pakula 1997, p. 371.
  32. ^ Van der Kiste 2012, 138.
  33. ^ Van der Kiste 2012, 141.
  34. ^ Van der Kiste 2012, 141–154.
  35. ^ MacDonogh 2000, p. 60.
  36. ^ Van der Kiste 2012, 180.
  37. ^ Van der Kiste 2012, 559.
  38. ^ a b Rushton 2008, p. 117.
  39. ^ Van der Kiste 2012, 192.
  40. ^ a b Pakula 1997, p. 374.
  41. ^ Van der Kiste 2012, 207.
  42. ^ Packard 1998, p. 292.
  43. ^ a b Van der Kiste 2012, 458.
  44. ^ a b Pakula 1997, p. 561.
  45. ^ Van der Kiste 2012, 601–614.
  46. ^ Van der Kiste 2012, 207–220.
  47. ^ Packard 1998, p. 258.
  48. ^ Van der Kiste 2012, 259–404.
  49. ^ Van der Kiste 2012, 486–499.
  50. ^ Van der Kiste 2012, 499.
  51. ^ a b Rushton 2008, p. 118.
  52. ^ Van der Kiste 2012, 585.
  53. ^ Van der Kiste 2012, 571, 654.
  54. ^ a b Van der Kiste 2012, 654.
  55. ^ Van der Kiste 2012, 654–669, 699–740.
  56. ^ Van der Kiste 2012, 785–838.
  57. ^ Van der Kiste 2012, 851–864.
  58. ^ Röhl 2014, p. 9.
  59. ^ Röhl 1998, pp. 105–08.
  60. ^ a b Röhl 1998, p. 109.
  61. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 28505. p. 4587. 19 June 1911. Retrieved 8 August 2010.

Works cited

Further reading[edit]

Princess Charlotte of Prussia
Born: 24 July 1860 Died: 1 October 1919
German royalty
Title last held by
Feodora of Hohenlohe-Langenburg
Duchess consort of Saxe-Meiningen
25 June 1914 – 10 November 1918
Monarchy abolished
Titles in pretence
None — TITULAR —
Duchess consort of Saxe-Meiningen
10 November 1918 – 1 October 1919
Reason for succession failure:
Duchy abolished in 1918
Title next held by
Klara-Maria of Korff genannt Schmising-Kerssenbrock