Princess Amalia of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach was born on 20 March 1830 as the daughter of Prince Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach (the youngest son of Karl August, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach) and Princess Ida of Saxe-Meiningen (a sister of Queen Adelaide). Amalia was born in Ghent where her father was stationed, which was part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands (in a personal union) at the time. She was just four months old when her mother was forced to flee from the revolution that would lead to separation of Belgium and the Netherlands. The family lived in England for a while before returning to the Netherlands. Amalia’s eldest sister Louise stayed with their aunt Adelaide and died at Windsor Castle at the age of 15. The death of her elder brother William Charles at Nijmegen at the age of 20 in 1839 hit Amalia quite hard.
In 1840, Amalia’s father retired from active service and took his family to Mannheim, to the glittering court of Stéphanie, Grand Duchess of Baden.
Amalia first met her future husband in 1847 on the island of Madeira where the family was travelling with Queen Adelaide. Prince Henry of the Netherlands was the third son of King William II of the Netherlands and his wife, Grand Duchess Anna Pavlovna of Russia. He accompanied his brother Prince Alexander to Funchal because Alexander was often in ill-health. The two Dutch princes are matched with Amalia and her elder sister Anna and accompanied them often. Alexander fell under the care of the Queen’s physician.
Prince Henry was an officer in the navy, but now he could spend hours with Amalia, telling her all about his travels and their conversations were soon noticed by Queen Adelaide and Ida. Henry himself was preoccupied with the care for his brother, and they would soon return to the Netherlands. At the end of November, he left Funchal, leaving his brother in the care of Amalia and Anna. Alexander would tragically die four months later.
For now, there was hardly any talk of marriage. On 19 March 1849, Prince Henry’s father King William II of the Netherlands died suddenly, and his elder brother became King William III. The following year, Henry was appointed as Governor of Luxembourg, which was still part of the Netherlands at that time. Prince Henry threw himself into his new role, visiting schools and meeting the people. He laid the groundwork for his later popularity. Meanwhile, Amalia suffered the loss of her mother in 1852 just as Prince Henry tried to win his mother’s permission to marry Amalia. Nevertheless, it looked like the wedding was going ahead despite the sounds of discontent.
The official engagement took place on 7 July 1852 and Henry officially announced it to the Luxembourg government in October 1852. Even there, the reception to the news was lukewarm. They hardly knew this new Governor, and now he was bringing a bride. The wedding date was set for 19 May 1853 at Schloss Weimar, and the royal families of the Netherlands and Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach came out to celebrate. His mother Anna Pavlovna was glad to see her youngest son married and was looking forward to the day he would become a father himself. Amalia’s wedding gown included a long train that was carried by two ladies-in-waiting as she made her way to the chapel. The day ended with a grand dinner and the following day a gala was held, followed by a concert. “Madam Princess Henry of the Netherlands received many valuable wedding presents, including a portière embroidered by the ladies of the court and from the young ladies of Weimar she received an album with wonderful images of Weimar and its surroundings by the paint Hummel.”
Amalia and Henry spent several weeks at Weimar and Schloss Liebenstein. On 20 June, the couple travelled towards Düsseldorf where they boarded a ship towards the Netherlands. In Nijmegen, they were first greeted from Dutch soil, and the people welcomed them warmly before they travelled on towards The Hague where more celebrations awaited them. Of the Dutch royal family, Amalia also became close to her sister-in-law Princess Sophie who also happened to be married to Charles Alexander, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach – Amalia’s first cousin.
Then it was finally time for them to go to Luxembourg. They arrived in the evening of 15 August at Schloss Walferdange where they were welcomed with a ball and a banquet. Amalia was described as “charming, not only beautiful but also elegant and fun, that one forgets one is dealing with a Royal Highness.” The ladies of the court were also excited at the prospect of any possible children. “The joy is great at having the governor and his wife with us. But when princely children are born on Luxembourg soil, the country will truly feel joy.” The Luxembourgers were already beginning the accept the new couple.
They stayed in Luxembourg until February, dividing their time between Schloss Walferdange and Schloss Berg. They then travelled to Schloss Liebenstein, where Amalia’s family was, onto the Netherlands. They often travelled like this; they were still a Prince and Princess of the Netherlands. King William III did not visit Luxembourg until six years into his reign where he was received by his brother Prince Henry. It appears that both the King and the prince were without their respective wives. Despite not being present for this visit, both Henry and Amalia enjoyed being in Luxembourg and among its people. She was interested in improving the lives of children and their education. She was also interested in improving the infrastructure between Luxembourg and the Netherlands. She often accompanied her husband during official functions. Prince Henry became known as the defender of the Luxembourgers “as if it were his homeland” and Amalia was his constant support.
Despite having a harmonious marriage, after ten years of marriage, Amalia and Henry did not dare to hope for a child. According to Henry’s sister Sophie, this was a cause of great sadness for Amalia.
Amalia’s was still young and full of life when she suddenly fell ill. At the end of April, there were rumours that she had caught a cold during a trip to Grünewald. This appears to have developed into full-blown pneumonia. A first medical bulletin read, “Her Royal Highness Princess Henry has a heavy case of double pneumonia and a severe fever, but there is no immediate danger.” On 29 April, it was reported that “all the art of medicine can not help anymore.” Amalia died on 1 May 1872, still only 42 years old. The Luxembourgers were devastated at the death of their “mother.” Dutch newspapers reported the death of Amalia with the words. “It has pleased the Almighty, this morning, after brief but heavy suffering, to take to himself Her Royal Highness Princess Henry of the Netherlands, born Duchess of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach. The Royal House, but above all His Royal Highness Prince Henry, is very much affected by this unrepairable loss.”
Amalia’s body was taken by train to Delft where she was interred in the New Church in the royal family’s crypt on 17 May.
When Amalia’s sister-in-law Sophie found out that a statue of Amalia was being unveiled in Luxembourg, she made sure she was there on that 31st of October 1876 by her brother’s side. She noted the considerable public interest and realised all too well what Amalia had meant for the citizens of Luxembourg. She was missed, and people were sad that she had not left descendants. Prince Henry did not feel at home without his Amalia, but the situation in the Netherlands was already forcing him to consider a new marriage. He would eventually remarry to Marie of Prussia but he would die five months into the marriage.1