Caroline Augusta of Bavaria was born on 8 February 1792 as the third but second surviving daughter of the future King Maximilian I Joseph of Bavaria by his first wife, Augusta Wilhelmine of Hesse-Darmstadt. She was baptised the following day with the names Charlotte Augusta, and she really only became known as Caroline after her second marriage. In 1794, Caroline Augusta and her mother had to flee the French who were attacking Mannheim, and they were miraculously unharmed. Unfortunately, little Caroline Augusta came down with smallpox that very same year, and it left visible scars.
She was just four years old when her mother died – just eight months after the birth of Caroline Augusta’s younger brother Karl Theodor. She had had delicate lungs all her life and eventually succumbed to lung disease – she was still only 30 years old. Since her father had not yet become King of Bavaria, her mother was not known as Queen. Although she was still quite young when her mother died, Caroline Augusta kept her memory alive with a necklace of her mother’s portrait and a lock of her hair. Barely a year later, her father remarried Caroline of Baden. This second marriage gave Caroline Augusta eight half-siblings, though only five half-sisters would survive to adulthood, including two sets of twins.
Young Caroline Augusta was appointed a tutor by the name of Camilla von Andlau-Homburg, who soon became a second mother to her. She learned foreign languages such as French and Italian and received music, dance and painting lessons.
Her religious education was entrusted to Joseph Anton Sambuga. Caroline Augusta’s first communion took place in 1803. She was still very young when the first talks of marriage appeared; the first suitor was the future King Ferdinand VII of Spain. However, Bavaria was backed by Napoleon, and he did not approve of the match. However, her elder sister Augusta did make a Napoleon-approved match – she was married to his stepson Eugène de Beauharnais in 1806.
This had been precipitated by the elevation of Bavaria to a Kingdown by the Treaty of Pressburg, and from 1 January 1806, her father was King Maximilian I Joseph of Bavaria. Around this time, Caroline Auguste was described as “still a child, rather short and not at all pretty, her face disfigured by smallpox, but with a sweet expression; she was modest, distinguished, and very likeable.”1 William, Crown Prince of Württemberg feared that Napoleon would force him into a French match, and so he wished to become engaged as quickly as possible. His eye had fallen upon Caroline Auguste, and Napoleon made no objection to the match. The wedding was set for 8 June 1808.
It was definitely not a love match, and William treated her with coldness and indifference. After the wedding ceremony, he told her, “we are the victims of politics.”2 However, the whole match had been his idea. The newlyweds left Munich in separate carriages. Caroline Augusta’s elder brother Ludwig (the future King Ludwig I) was sad to see his favourite sister go. He wrote to her, “Everything that concerns you is of the greatest interest to me.”3 Her stepmother wrote, “Charlotte’s husband is freezing cold. I understand that he cannot be in love. But why did he marry her if he doesn’t even want to approach her? It is literally true. He hasn’t even shaken her hand, let alone a hug. It was completely unnecessary that I sweated blood and tears on Wednesday because Andlau absolutely did not want to tell her what was necessary and forced me to teach her. It was impossible to speak clearly because Andlau was there. We scared her so much with our explanations that she is delighted that the prince has not yet slept with her. . . Since she has no affection for the prince, she will want nothing other than attention for a long time. I advised her to be gentle and kind to him. It will be necessary for him to change his behaviour. I highly recommended it to him when I said goodbye. . . ”4
It was soon apparent that the marriage was not a success. Ludwig, who was visiting his sister, wrote home, “The Crown Prince is very civil to Charlotte.”5 Not exactly what you might hope for from your husband. Caroline Augusta was now trapped in an unhappy marriage. Nevertheless, she made an effort to charm the court and the people. She was housed as far as possible from her husband, and the marriage remained unconsummated. Luckily she also had some support from her lady-in-waiting Countess Sophie Podron and her former tutor, Camilla. She also tried to return home as often as she could.
In 1810, when Ludwig married Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen, Caroline Augusta wrote to him, “A heart that surrenders itself requires a loving heart in exchange, and nothing else can satisfy it. What are greatness and splendour? They can intoxicate us for the moment, but it is the joys of the heart which brings us lasting happiness: those of passion soon leave an empty void. Only those who know me as you do can understand how I long to see you happy through Therese and Therese happy through you…”6
With the fall of Napoleon in 1814, William saw no reason to remain married to Caroline Augusta any longer and began divorce proceedings. By then, Caroline Augusta had already left Stuttgart and was staying at Schloss Neuburg on the Danube. William had the marriage dissolved by the Protestant Consistory Court in Stuttgart on 31 August 1814, and Caroline Augusta later applied to the Pope for an annulment of the marriage. The annulment was finally granted on 12 January 1816.
After the annulment, Caroline Augusta lived in Würzburg, and Ludwig was trying to help to make a fresh start in life. She was generously compensated by the Württemberg court with a yearly stipend that would last until her remarriage. The humiliation of the divorce loomed over her but would soon be over. On 13 September 1816, the thrice widowed Emperor Francis I of Austria asked for her hand in marriage. Although the prospect of becoming an Empress was honourable indeed, one cannot help but wonder how she felt about marrying a man twice her age. Initially, she had not been informed of the proposal, and Francis’s brother, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, also asked for her hand in marriage.