Augusta of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach was born on 30 September 1811 as the daughter of Charles Frederick, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach and Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna of Russia. The disappointment in her gender was great as she was not the hoped-for heir. Her younger brother, the future Grand Duke, would not arrive until seven years later. Augusta also had an elder sister named Marie, who would marry Prince Charles of Prussia.
Young Augusta was nearly forgotten as she “lay as placid and calm in her cradle as if conscious of her future crown.” She would have a rigid upbringing, with her mother supervising the lessons and stating, “A Princess is not permitted to be tired.” In 1824, Augusta would visit the court of Russia with her mother, finally breaking the monotony of her daily life in Weimar. However, Augusta found the splendour of the court distasteful and was praised for her humility. In 1827, Marie married Prince Charles of Prussia, and the sisters were separated. Her father succeeded his father as Grand Duke in 1828.
Prince Charles had first come courting with his elder brother William, and William had made a favourable impression on Augusta. He had been in love with Princess Elisa Radziwill, but he had not been allowed to marry her. Augusta was thus his second choice. Their betrothal was celebrated on 25 October 1828, and they were married on 11 June 1829 in the chapel of Schloss Charlottenburg. Augusta wore a gown of interwoven silk and silver. Her train was covered with sprigs of myrtle. If she hoped for a happy marriage, she would be disappointed. Her father-in-law informed her, “If you expect a model of virtue in your husband, you should not have married a Hohenzollern.” William wrote to his sister Charlotte that he thought Augusta was, “nice and clever, but she leaves me cold.”
Augusta was initially received well in Berlin, but she soon found herself bored with the military atmosphere. William was soon in the arms of other women. Augusta was also not friendly with her father-in-law’s morganatic wife Auguste von Harrach and her sister-in-law the Crown Princess (born Elisabeth Ludovika of Bavaria). Augusta could not put a brave face and remained proud and haughty, signing her name with “née (born) Princesse of Saxe-Weimar” until she became Queen. Despite the early difficulties, Augusta performed her foremost duty quickly. A son named Frederick William was born on 18 October 1831 at the Neue Palais in Potsdam. She had outdone her sister-in-law, the Crown Princess, who was still childless after eight years of marriage. She had several miscarriages before giving birth to a daughter named Louise seven years later. On 7 June 1840, Augusta’s father-in-law died, and he was succeeded by her brother-in-law, now King Frederick William IV of Prussia. Meanwhile, Augusta surrounded herself with intellectuals and her political views were no secret in Berlin.
In 1850, Augusta’s husband was sent to Koblenz as Governor and General of the 8th Regiment, and despite their differences, Augusta went with him. People with liberal ideas continued to visit Augusta, even in Koblenz. She sent her son to the university in Berlin in addition to the military training he received. In 1851, the family was invited to England to attend the opening of the Great Exhibition where her son would have his first meeting with his future wife, Victoria, Princess Royal. Queen Victoria then began a regular correspondence with Augusta. From her early 40s, Augusta began to suffer from rheumatism, and she paid a first visit to Baden-Baden to alleviate her pains in 1850. She became acquainted with the House of Baden, into which her only daughter would marry. On 30 September 1855, Augusta celebrated her 44th birthday and also announced the betrothals of her son to Victoria, Princess Royal and her daughter to Frederick I, Grand Duke of Baden. Her daughter was the first to marry – on 20 September 1856 – and Augusta’s first grandchild was born on 9 July 1857; he would be the last Grand Duke of Baden.
In October 1857, Augusta’s husband became regent for his ailing brother, and they were forced to move back to Berlin. The following year, they travelled to England to see their son marry Victoria. In January 1859, Victoria gave birth to her first son – the future Emperor William II. However, the delivery had been difficult, leaving the child with a limp arm. Augusta’s husband cruelly told his son he did not think it was right to congratulate him on the birth of a “defective child.” Although Augusta initially praised Victoria, the two women were very different. Victoria was more reserved, while Augusta had come to depend on gossip and parties to counter her boredom.1