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The Prince and Princess of Hesse-Homburg

British Isles Genealogy | Chapters From the Family Chest

     Among the various royal and semi-royal houses which figure year by year in the pages of the 'Almanac de Gotha' are those of Anhalt-Dessau
of Hesse-Homburg, though they have both of them been lately swallowed up, thanks to Prince Bismarck, in the new German Empire. The latter formed in other days a part of the Landgraviate of Hesse-Darmstadt; and its reigning sovereign, or prince, though driven out of his domains by the Rhenish Confederation in 1806, was reinstated in his principality of Hesse-Homburg by the Congress of Vienna, and in 1817 was recognized as a member of the German Confederation.
     It will be remembered by my readers that the Landgravine Louise of Anhalt-Dessau, widow of the Landgrave Gustav, some time reigning Prince of Hesse-Homburg, and sister-in-law of his successor, the Landgrave Ferdinand, died in the summer of 1858, at the age of nearly sixty years, at the Schloss of Homburg, near Frankfort-on-the-Maine. And, as some of the details of her early career are so romantic that they would seem to belong to the realms of  fiction rather than to those of reality, I will give here a short sketch of her life, presuming only that the facts advanced are not imaginary, but literally and strictly happened as they are told in these pages.
     The Princess Louise Frederica, daughter of the Hereditary Prince of Anhalg-Dessau, was born on March 1st, 1798, and was little more than a child, certainly not 'out of her teens,' when the Prince Ferdinand above mentioned, happening to pay a visit to her father's Court, was struck with her extreme beauty, and fell violently in love with her.  Unfortunately, however, he was not an elder son; and the young lady had even before this; though unknown to himself-been promised in marriage to Ferdinands elder brother, Prince Gustav; but, although the ardent lover tried every possible means of changing this prior engagement to an arrangement in his own favour, he was not able to persuade the young lady's parents, or to
gain his end. A lingering illness, during which Prince Ferdinand's reason was for some- time despaired of, was the immediate consequence
of the marriage of the princess, which was solemnized on the 12th of February, 1813. At last he recovered from the shock, and, reason
having returned, he entered the army of his fatherland, and, both on other battle-fields and also at Waterloo, threw himself into the thickest of the fray, as if he wished to rid himself of the burden of life. But death--as often happens in such cases-did not come at the moment when he was wanted. At all events, he did not take a fancy to his voluntary, or rather his would-be, victim; and so the prince returned home from his campaigns unhurt in body, and probably better in mind also. In order to while away the time, which hung heavy on his hands, he now set out on a long course of travels,
during which he visited almost all the Courts of Europe, and not a few of Asia also, and did not return to Homburg until the death of his brother had already called him to the throne.
     This happened at the end of 1848. Prince Ferdinand was now sixty-five; the Princess Louise, his brother's widow, had seen her fiftieth birthday, and was the mother of married daughters, who, of course, were his own nieces. Nevertheless, though so many years had passed by since he had first sought her youthful affections, she was still the beloved of his heart; though it was, of course, impossible for him to obtain the consent of the Church, or perhaps of the State either, to a marriage within the prohibited degrees. Accordingly, he resolved to lay down a most extraordinary line of conduct for himself. He was naturally reluctant, for her sake and for the avoidance of scandal, to live under the same roof with the object of his early love; but, as there was only one royal residence within his small dominions, he saw himself obliged, very soon after his accession, to install himself as an inmate of the palace of Homburg on the Mountains. There he lived thenceforth in the strictest possible retirement, inhabiting only a few rooms in one wing of the building, and leaving the rest of
the palace to his widowed sister-in-law.
     Long ranges of apartments separated their respective suites of rooms, and during the week the two royal personages never set eyes on each other; but every succeeding Sunday was a fete day to Prince Ferdinand, for upon that day he would regularly traverse, along with his courtiers, the empty saloons which separated him from his beloved princess, and would enter most soberly and solemnly, yet with glowing eyes and a beating heart, the boudoir of his old love, and respectfully kiss her hand.  After conversing with her for about an hour-seldom much more or less-he would take up his hat and solemnly, and with almost gloom on his countenance, retrace his steps towards his own lonely apartments. The faithful subjects of the Landgrave so well knew the mood of their prince, and so thoroughly respected his feelings, that they seldom handed to him any petitions except on the morning of Sunday, when his face was always radiant with joy, and he would have a smile, and almost a welcome, even for a beggar.
     The princess died, as already stated, in the year 1858 ; and from that time down to the day of his death the poor Landgrave remained inconsolable. At all events, he became thenceforth a complete hermit, and lived in the strictest seclusion, wandering by day and night through the chambers of his lonely palace. An English traveler who visited the neighborhood of Hesse-Homburg in 1859 or 1860 writes thus concerning him: 'His subjects as well as the numerous tourists, chiefly Englishmen, who every year visit the baths of Homburg, never get sight of him who formerly was so amiable; and he is supposed to be determine to end his 'days in a small private chapel, before, a statue of Princess Louise, his old, never-forgotten  lady-love.' It only remains to add that the Landgrave Ferdinand died on the eve of our Lady-day, in 1866, and that he was the last of
his royal race. His small territory was in the same year incorporated with Prussia, and now forms a portion of the Empire of Germany. But for the Franco-German war, it would have fallen to Hesse-Darmstadt.
    According to the 'Statesman's Year Book'
of the late Mr. F. Martin, the Landgrave enjoyed an annual income of 150,000 florins, or about 12,000, which was in a great part derived from the sale of mineral waters and from the rents of the gaming-tables at Homburg. The royal line which he represented was  founded in 1596 by Prince George I. Of Hesse-Darmstadt, who separated the territory from the other possessions of his family in favor of a  younger son, to whom he wished to secure a position among the smaller potentates of Europe. On the establishment of the Rheinbund of Napoleon in 1806, the small country of Hesse-Homburg was annexed to, or rather placed under, the sovereignty of Hesse-Darmstadt; but the Congress of Vienna reinstated the Landgrave among the reigning sovereigns of the Continent, though under the protest of the leading German princes; and, indeed it was only in the year 1817 that the then Landgrave, Frederick Louis, was formally recognised by the Germanic Diet. The little kingdom, therefore, can hardly be said to have lived quite half-a-century.

Chapters From the Family Chests, 1887

Chapters From the Family Chest

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