Wednesday 30 October 2013

Cynicism and Success: Frederick I of Württemberg

Frederick I William Charles of Württemberg (Friedrich I Wilhelm Karl von Württemberg; Treptow an der Rega, Poland, 6th November 1754 – Stuttgart, Germany, 30th October 1816)

Frederick I of Württemberg by Johann Baptist Seele
Frederick I of Württemberg by Johann Baptist Seele
Not so long ago we met Charlotte, Princess Royal, and briefly encountered her husband, Frederick I of Württemberg. A few salon visitors sent me a missive to ask about Frederick so I thought now was the time to reinforce the chaise longue and meet the last Duke of Württemberg, the man whom Napoleon elevated to king. Noted for his enormous bulk, Frederick stood at 6'11" with a weight of approximately 440lbs, so he was certainly not an easy man to miss!

Long before he became the giant of his portraits, Frederick was born the son of Frederick II Eugene, Duke of Württemberg, and Sophia Dorothea of Brandenburg-Schwedt. He was nephew to the ruler of Württemberg, Charles Eugene, and since Charles had no heir, Frederick was prepared from childhood to rule the Duchy. The marriage of Frederick's sister, Sophie Dorothea, and Tsesarevich Paul of Russia strengthened ties between Württemberg and Russia and Empress Catherine II appointed Frederick as Governor-General of Eastern Finland, a valuable grounding for his future role.

Frederick I of Württemberg by Georg Friedrich Erhardt
Frederick I of Württemberg by Georg Friedrich Erhardt 

At the age of 25, Frederick married Duchess Augusta of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel. Though the couple had four children their marriage was deeply troubled and during a visit to Russia in 1786, Augusta fled from her husband, requesting sanctuary from the Empress. Amid allegations of domestic abuse and rumours that her husband indulged in affairs with young gentlemen at court, Augusta's request for protection was granted by the Empress and Frederick was told to leave Russia. Within two years Augusta would be dead and it was almost a decade before Frederick remarried, taking as his second wife Charlotte, Princess Royal.

In 1797 Frederick became Duke of Württemberg, a role he enjoyed until 1800 when the French army marched in the Duchy and Frederick and Charlotte escaped to Vienna, where they began territorial negotiation with the Duke eventually awarded the title of Elector of Württemberg. Although he and Napoleon were far from fond of one another, Frederick recognised that the Emperor would be a valuable ally and supplied him with troops in return for territory and the title of King of Württemberg, his coronation taking place on 1 January 1806. To further ensure the commitment of both sides, Frederik's daughter married Napoleon's son and the newly-crowned king became a valuable asset to the French, able to broker negotiations with his father-in-law, George III, and an assortment of European leaders.

Frederick I of Württemberg

Mindful of the way the wind was blowing as the years rolled on, in 1813 Frederick abandoned his alliance with Napoleon and joined the allies. At the Congress of Vienna he was confirmed as king and allowed to keep the territories he had gained throughout his years as Napoleon's ally despite the fact that he was far from a popular ruler in many of these lands. His position secure, he remained on the throne until his death the following year, a cynical and successful leader to the end.

Life in the Georgian Court, true tales of 18th century royalty, is available at the links below.

Pen and Sword
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Book Depository (free worldwide shipping)

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