Amalia of Oldenburg was born in 1818 as the daughter of Augustus, Grand Duke of Oldenburg and Princess Adelheid of Anhalt-Bernburg-Schaumburg-Hoym. She never knew her mother as she died three months after giving birth to her sister at the age of 20. Her father remarried to her mother’s sister Princess Ida of Anhalt-Bernburg-Schaumburg-Hoym, but she too died after three years of marriage. In 1831 he married for a third time to Cecilia of Sweden.
On 22 December 1836, Amalia married King Otto of Greece, who was born as the second son of King Ludwig I of Bavaria and had been appointed King of the new Kingdom of Greece in 1833. Soon after Amalia’s arrival in Athens, rumours began to circulate of a pregnancy. The birth of an heir would greatly stabilise the new Kingdom, but unfortunately, all rumours would prove untrue. The couple’s effort to produce a child would last for 15 years.
Usually, the blame for infertility fell immediately to the woman. Otto was examined, usually at the same time as Amalia was being examined, to be as discreet as possible. A Dr Wibmer informed King Ludwig that Otto had a “small anatomical defect”, which leaked to the international press. Whether it was true or not, Otto did not undergo any therapy or treatment for any anatomical defect and a treatment for impotence was limited to a brief restriction in horse-riding and three hours rest before sexual intercourse.
Amalia underwent more exhausting examinations, which were meticulously described. One such examination detailed, “a pelvic anomaly and womb position prohibiting conception, as well as an irritability of the outer genitalia and narrowness of the womb.” The doctors initially prescribed only to try different positions during intercourse. When this too failed, they suggested other approaches.
One such approach was something called “sponge therapy”, which was aimed at decreasing the “unhealthy sensitivity” of the genitalia and required the insertion of a sponge into the vagina, followed by a bath and rest. It then had to remain in the vagina for 24 hours. This sponge therapy lasted almost until Amalia reached her 35th birthday. She also often visited spas and bathed at Athens’ most popular beach.
Their lack of children was probably a contributing factor in Amalia and Otto’s overthrow in 1862, although the constitution provided for the succession by Otto’s two younger brothers and their descendants.
When Amalia died of pneumonia on 20 May 1875, her body was subjected to an autopsy, which was surprising because of the manner of her death. An official report of the autopsy has never been found. Rumours began circulating that Amalia had been a virgin, but this was probably due to political pressure. Austrians and Bavarians tried to blame the Queen for the supposed infertility, while the Greeks were eager to prove a physical defect in the King. A propaganda war was inevitable. Since her death, many more researchers have attempted to explain their infertility, but the fact is that sometimes infertility cannot be explained and the contradicting sources will make such a late-stage medical diagnosis even more difficult.1
- Read more: The infertility of the first royal couple of Greece (1833–1862) (pdf)