Carola of Vasa was born on 5 August 1833 as the daughter of the former Crown Prince of Sweden, Gustav, Prince of Vasa, and his wife Princess Louise Amelie of Baden. Her grandfather, King Gustav IV Adolf of Sweden, had been deposed in 1809. As such, Carola was born in exile at Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, Austria, where her father served in the army. She would be her parents’ only surviving child – her elder brother Louis had been born the previous year, but he lived for just a few days. Carola was actually named Caroline but her nickname Carola stuck, and it’s the name she is known by today.
The family owned a country house in Hacking near Vienna, where they lived during the summer months. The rest of the time was divided between their city palace in Vienna, Stöckl and Carola’s favourite Schloss Eichhorn in Moravia. At Eichhorn, Carola had her own living quarters, which were next to her mother’s. From her small balcony, she overlooked the valley. Carola loved nature and spent long hours hiking with her mother and her English teacher. She also often visited the home of Baron von Vittinghoff-Schell, who had two daughters with whom she became fast friends.
In 1844, her parents were divorced, which not only meant the breakup of the family, but it also meant that Carola had to leave Eichhorn.1 Her mother had tried to buy it but was unsuccessful. Eventually, Louise Amelia bought Schloss Morawetz from Countess Fünfkirchen, which came with lots of property but was still being renovated after nearly burning down. Carola quickly mastered the Czech language, and she became very interested in the welfare of the local people. She also loved to make up theatre performances with her friends. When she was not with her mother, she was with her father in Vienna or with her grandmother in Baden-Baden or Mannheim. In 1849, Louise Amelia and Carola had to travel to a warmer climate on account of Louise Amelie’s health. She had long suffered from asthma and a heart condition, and she had suddenly deteriorated quickly.
Mother and daughter travelled to South Tyrol, where Carola discovered her love of painting. She spent the winter of 1849/1850 with her mother in Venice. In the early months of 1852, Carola was with her grandmother, the Grand Duchess of Baden (born Stéphanie de Beauharnais). She managed to shock her family when she declared that she did not want to be confirmed in the Lutheran faith but instead wanted to convert to Catholicism. Her father was very much against her conversion, and Carola became deeply conflicted. Upon her father’s insistence, she was to receive Protestant instructions from her aunt Sophie, Grand Duchess of Baden (born of Sweden), and if she still wanted to convert after this, he would not stand in her way. This also meant that she would not see her mother and grandmother for a time, so it was a difficult decision to make, especially considering her mother’s health.
In the end, Carola agreed to her father’s terms, and she travelled to the court at Karlsruhe, where she became deeply unhappy with the forced lessons. After her father saw what the lessons were doing to his daughter’s wellbeing, he agreed to stop them. On 4 November 1852, Carola converted to the Catholic faith in the parish church of Morawetz, with the Bishop of Brno giving her the first Holy Communion. Just a short while later, she met the man who would become her husband, the future King Albert of Saxony.
Albert and his brother George were hunting in the area of Morawetz as guests of Archduke Albrecht of Austria, and it would have been rude not to pay a visit to Louise Amelie and Carola. In fact, it took quite a bit of effort as the weather descended into fog and snow. It took them seven hours just to reach the castle. Both parties were probably aware that it wasn’t just a courtesy visit – Albert, second in line to the Saxon throne, was 24 years old, and Carola was of just the right age for him at 19. Carola was shy at first, but as the evening went on, she opened up. It was love at first sight. Upon Albert’s return to Saxony, he asked his father to open marriage negotiations for him. Carola’s parents gladly gave their consent, and they met again on 2 December 1852. They were allowed to spend some time alone, and at the end of the day, they were officially engaged.
The happy days of the engagement were briefly interrupted by an assassination attempt on Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria, and Albert had to rush back to Vienna to see him. Albert kept the Emperor company as he spent three weeks recuperating in bed. Upon his return to Dresden, preparations for the wedding began in their earnest. The wedding date was set for 18 June 1853. Shortly before leaving home, Carola wrote to a friend, “I will be at home here for the last time. My heart aches when I think of the border with Austria. I love this dear country more than I know. The difficult separation from my good mother, all the new duties that lie ahead of me, entering a completely different family, considering them as my own, and the fact that I am actually a very spoiled person, spoiled by love and the infinite indulgence from the people I know.”2
While on the way to Dresden, Louise Amelie suffered an attack from her heart condition and was thus in dreadful shape when they finally arrived in Bodenbach. In Bodenbach, they were greeted by Albert, who would travel with them on a specially decorated wedding train to Dresden. Louise Amelie pulled through and was with her daughter during the grand reception she received in the city. On 18 June, she also joined her daughter in the open gala carriage that would take them to the church. The couple exchanged rings as church bells rang out and guns fired salutes. The wedding celebrations went on until 2 July. Carola charmed the people wherever she went, and she made an excellent first impression. The newlyweds moved into the Taschenbergpalais in Dresden.