Thursday, 18 April 2013

Among Tigers and Panthers...

Part Two
Anti-heroine or victim?

Terracotta bust, 1794, by Schadow. Nationalgalerie, Berlin. Image source: Web Gallery of Art
The younger sister of Queen Louise had a tarnished career compared to the Prussian Madonna, in a much longer life circumscribed by unlucky marriages of convenience and necessity. Aged 15, she drew the short straw in the double marriage of the princesses of Mecklenburg Strelitz to two Prussian princes, the virtuous, strictly monogamous heir to the throne, Frederick William, and his more brilliant but dissolute younger brother, Louis Charles, who died three years later.

Amid the usual double standards about male and female adultery, there were salacious rumours that during her marriage, Friderika, instead of meekly suffering her unfaithful husband's neglect, retaliated by having an affair with one of his uncles, Louis Ferdinand, who was only a year older than him, and six years her senior.......

Their brief relationship, if it existed beyond an unconsummated attraction, has never been proven; of all the men with whom she was associated, he was the most appealing. He was later killed, heroically, after a disastrous decision to engage the enemy at Saarfeld in 1806. He was an admired figure at court. Like his uncle Frederick the Great, he was musical, and accomplished enough as a dilettante pianist and composer for Beethoven to dedicate his Third Piano Concerto (1803) to him, and, thirty-six years after his death, for Liszt to compose his Élégie sur des motifs du Prince Louis Ferdinand de Prusse.

Widowed in 1796 aged eighteen, with three children, Friderika became pregnant two years later by another far less distinguished German prince, Solms-Braunfels. She subsequently married him, again unhappily, as he turned out to be a depressive alcoholic, until she was courted by her cousin Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, the fifth and reputedly most competent son of George III of England and Queen Charlotte. He was a blunt cavalry officer of reactionary Tory sympathies infamous for having been accused by his political opponents in England of murdering his valet. 

Friderika was saved from the scandal of divorce and freed to marry again by the convenient death of her second husband in 1814, but, typical of her luck, at the price of malicious gossip that she had poisoned him. The rackety coupling of Cumberland and Friderika outlived scandal and opprobrium to achieve respectability in middle age as king and queen of Hanover. She died in 1841, aged 63. 

Her final domestic misfortune was her son, George's, blindness, caused by childhood illness and the cruel coincidence of an accident in his youth. He withdrew into his own deluded world of autocratic power, endemic among the closely related 19th century German princes, for which he was deposed as king of Hanover in 1866.