Schloss Fasanerie began its life as Schloss Adolphseck around 1710 under Prince-Abbot Adalbert of Schleifras. It was expanded in 1730 and again in 1757. From 1878 Landgrave Frederick William of Hesse used it as his private residence. His wife was Princess Anna of Prussia, and she lived in the palace until her death in 1918. The palace suffered damage during the Second World War and was renovated immediately after. The first rooms were opened to the public in 1951. The museum was finished in 1971.
The palace now belongs to the Hessian House Foundation and a large portion of the princely family’s art collection is on display there.
Schloss Fasanerie currently has an exhibition about their perhaps most famous inhabitant. However, most will only know her from her fabulous Winterhalter portrait. Anna of Prussia was born on 17 May 1836 at 8 o’clock in the morning as the daughter of Prince Charles of Prussia, a younger son of Frederick William III of Prussia, and Princess Marie of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach. She was baptized Marie Anna Friederike. Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands was one of her godparents. Her education consisted of literature and music. The family had a dog named Dandy. She was very close to her father, which showed in her letters to him when her parents and elder sister were on a long trip to Italy. Anna was quite the patriot, and she even wrote musical marches.
At the age of 15, Anna attracted the attention of Prince Adelbert of Bavaria, the younger brother of the Greek King Otto, but the Prussian King was adamant that Anna would not be married before her 16th birthday and even then, she would probably say no. Eventually, the question of conversion to the Greek Orthodox faith ended any possible marriage to the Prince. Her future husband was the 32-year-old widowed Prince Frederick William of Hesse-Kassel. His first wife had been Alexandra Nikolaevna of Russia, who had died in childbirth at the age of 19. Alexandra was Anna’s first cousin, her mother having been a Prussian Princess. While already promised to the Hessian Prince, the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I also showed an interest in Anna. However, this was overruled by her uncle, the Prussian King. Anna sent her husband a New Year’s wish, in which she showed she was all too aware that she could not replace his first love. “I return dearest Fritz, Your wishes that you wrote me, God grant you a happy year! It is my sincere wish. You will never find a complete substitute for the heavy losses that hit you, but maybe there could be some power in someone’s mind to at least make you a little happy. […] Do not forget to bring me the letters from Adini, I’m looking forward to it.” Adini was the nickname for Alexandra Nikolaevna.
Anna and Frederick William married on 26 May 1853 in Berlin, and Schloss Fasanarie has their wedding china on display. Shortly after their wedding, the couple travelled to Copenhagen, where their first son was born. This was followed by a daughter named Elisabeth in 1861 and a son named Alexander Frederick in 1863. Frederick Charles followed in 1868, Marie-Polyxene in 1872 and Sybille Marguerite in 1877. Prussia annexed the Electorate of Hesse-Kassel in 1866, but the palace was returned to Frederick William after negotiations in 1878. Tragedy struck in 1882 when Marie-Polyxene died at the age of 10 of osteomyelitis. Anna would never overcome the death of her daughter. Two years later, Anna was widowed, followed by the death of her elder son in 1888. Anna, now a widow, received a villa in Frankfurt as a winter residence and the palaces of Adolphseck (Fasanerie) and Panker as summer residences.
These tragedies let to perhaps the greatest change in Anna’s life. She converted to Catholicism. “If you knew what difficulties I had struggled with for years, how happy and content I now feel in the thought of finally following my conviction, I was already 35 years old to convert, so you would understand me. I beg you to make my decision, which, after careful preparation, I shall bring to a serious study to be dealt with and judged courteously, from the viewpoint that no one shall be harmed by him and suffer under him what I am doing to old, lonely woman I have no influence on others and who loves me and takes some interest in me, will be happy with me, that I get satisfaction of my early desire after having been longed for so many years, since my youth.” Not everyone in the family was amused, and the Emperor threatened to exclude her from the family association but Anna retorted by saying that it was purely personal business and she wrote of the Emperor, “He is a bit despotic, loves to terrorize and considers himself the supreme Lord of the whole protestant Christian church.” Despite the Emperor’s feelings, Anna went on a pilgrimage to Rome in April 1902 where she had a private audience with the Pope. In 1903, she entered the Order of St Francis as a novice under the name Elisabeth, for the Saint Elisabeth of Hungary, whom she long admired. She began to spend more time at Fasanerie and a chapel was set up for her there.
She was much affected by the death of two of her grandsons in the First World War, though her health did not permit her to attend a service for them. Anna died on 12 June 1918 in her villa in Frankfurt. Her funeral took place in St. Anthony’s Church next door, which was attended by 800 people. She was interred in the Fulda Dom in front of the Altar of St. Anne. 1
Schloss Fasanerie is a great place to visit, and if you don’t get a chance to visit the exhibition on Anna now, it will also be in Schloss Philippsruhe from January 2020. There are tours on every full hour during the day from April until October. The website does not mention specific tours in English, though on my tour an English leaflet was handed out to those who did not speak German. The tour is quite reasonably priced at € 6.00, but I was surprised to see the exhibition costs an extra €4.50.
All in all, Schloss Fasanerie has a lot of history, and they have managed to put together an excellent tour that shows you most of it. The exhibition also comes with a great publication, though it is only offered in German.