Early in the next year, Carola visited her seriously ill mother at Morawetz, and she tragically died on 19 July – aged just 43. Over the coming year, the Crown Princely couple travelled a lot, to Switzerland, Italy and Austria. In 1859, they moved into the royal villa in Strehlen (Dresden). Carola fell ill with measles in November 1860 but made a good recovery. She devoted her time to charitable works and liked to paint and play the piano. She also liked to ride horses, but she gave it up as her eyesight worsened. The marriage between Carola and her husband was known to be a love match, but they did not have any children together. She reportedly had several miscarriages.
During the Austro-Prussian war in 1866, Albert commanded the army while Carola took care of injured soldiers in Prague. When Prague itself was threatened, they were moved to Regensburg and then to Vienna, where Carola had grown up. Carola continued to visit hospitals and did not shy away, even when entire wards came down with typhus and cholera. On the invitation of Empress Elisabeth, she visited Saxon soldiers in Hungary. When the peace was signed in October, they were able to return to Dresden, but Carola returned to her hospital work during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870/1871, and they even housed 20 soldiers, including prisoners of war, at their home in Strehlen. One of these prisoners of war grew a special rose after his return home, which he named “Reine de Saxe” or Queen of Saxony, in her honour.
Carola and Albert had a hunting lodge built at Rehefeld, and they were very much loved in the village. Carola often went for walks in the village without any kind of security or even a lady-in-waiting. During these walks, Carola learned that the village did not have a chapel or a cemetery, forcing the locals to use a village cemetery an hour away. Carola donated a cemetery and chapel for their use so their loved ones could stay local. During the summer, Albert and Carola entertained the local children with games and handed out souvenir collection cups.
On 29 October 1873, Carola’s father-in-law died, and she and Albert succeeded as King and Queen of Saxony. Already well-known for her charitable work, she devoted most of her time to the Albert-Verein and to improving the living conditions in Saxony. She founded several women’s associations and support for the poor. She founded schools for girls and women and made sewing machines and sewing lessons available for them. As they grew older, they liked to travel to warmer climates for their health. In the autumn of 1881, Carola fell ill with typhoid, and she recovered in Mentone. Countess Marie Larisch von Moennich (a niece of Empress Elisabeth of Austria) met them there and wrote, “They were very kind to me, and insisted upon my driving with them every afternoon, and I always attended Mass with them on Sunday. I used to call the King ‘Uncle’ and the Queen ‘Tante’ Carola. They were dear souls, who might have been mistaken for a simple professor and his wife when they walked out, for they did not look in the least like reigning royalties.”1
With no heir to the throne forthcoming, it became clear that the throne would one day pass to Albert’s brother George and his son Frederick Augustus. In 1891, Frederick Augustus married Archduchess Louise of Austria. George’s wife Infanta Maria Anna of Portugal had died in 1884, and so Louise immediately became the second lady of the land. Louise wrote of Carola, “Queen Carola was an excellent and charitable woman, who occupied herself in good deeds.[…]She was remarkably handsome but somewhat shy and reserved.”2 When Louise gave birth to her eldest son in 1893 after a long and agonising labour, Carola repeated came to see her and kept on saying, “Poor dear! Poor dear!”3 Nevertheless, Albert and Carola soon clashed with Louise after she altered the setting of a set of emeralds. The scene played out in public at the opera, leading to quite the scandal. They were also disapproving of Louise’s cycling lessons, with Carola telling her, “You apparently ignore etiquette; please remember that I am the Queen, and that it is your duty to consult me in everything you do.”4
In May 1902, Albert and Carola travelled to Sibyllenort, but it soon became clear that Albert was seriously ill. Carola cared for her husband in his final weeks, and they celebrated their 49th wedding anniversary on 18 June. He gave her a large bouquet of roses and thanked her for the years they had together – Carola broke down in tears. The following day, around 8 in the evening, Albert died at the age of 74. Louise arrived the following morning and later wrote, “We were conducted to the late King’s bedroom, where his widow remained with her beloved dead. King Albert lay on the bed, beautiful and calm, and his hands were crossed above the fine linen sheets, strewn with red roses, which covered him. Queen Carola knelt on a prie-Dieu at the foot of the bed, where two candles were burning, and as I looked at the silent figures, a great wave of sadness came over me, and my heart overflowed with pity for the grief-stricken mourner. I did not say much to her, for I could see she desired to be left alone, so I just kissed her in token of my sympathy and left the room as quietly as I had entered it.”5
The funeral took place on 23 June in Dresden. Carola’s wreath had a card attached which read, “The only beloved man.” Carola would survive her husband for five years. She spent most of her time in seclusion at Strehlen in a modest household. She wore mostly woollen clothes and a simple bonnet. Her only jewellery was a brooch with her husband’s image. She remained devoted to her charities. In 1905, she travelled to England and visited Windsor Castle. Lionel Cust, a courtier, wrote of her, “She was a quiet, short but stately widow lady, very easy to talk to, and by a stroke of good fortune had brought with her, as Lady-in-waiting, Baroness von Oppell, a lady of Scottish birth, and great-niece of Sir Walter Scott.”6
Carola had begun to suffer from diabetes in her old age, and after a walk in the park on 11 December 1907, her health suddenly deteriorated quickly. She developed a high fever and had chills. The doctor diagnosed renal and blatter disease, and it soon became life-threatening. She received the last sacraments from her confessor. The family began to gather around her as she drifted in and out of consciousness. On 15 December 1907, at 3.37 AM, Carola fell asleep and never awoke again.
A newspaper wrote in praise of her, “Her tears were for human misery in all its forms. She had a real passion: to give, to comfort, to help to do good. She donated hundreds of thousands of marks every year.[…]Most importantly, she gave with her heart and with a wise, thoughtful understanding of the individual case.”7 Her body was laid out under the palm trees in the winter garden at her villa in Strehlen. Thousands travelled to pay their respects. On 17 December, she was moved to the Dresden Cathedral to be laid by her husband’s side.
Carola would turn out to be Saxony’s last Queen. She had witnessed the accession of George’s son Frederick Augustus in 1904, who by then had been scandalously divorced from the strong-willed Louise. On 13 November 1918, he abdicated the throne, and the monarchy was abolished.
- My Past by Countess Marie Larisch von Moennich p.133
- My own story by Archduchess Louise of Austria p.92-93
- My own story by Archduchess Louise of Austria p.118
- My own story by Archduchess Louise of Austria p.144-145
- My own story by Archduchess Louise of Austria p.153
- King Edward VII and his court: some reminiscences by Lionel Cust p.204
- Wahre geschichten um Sachsens letzte Königin by Dagmar Vogel p.70