Caroline of Baden was born on 13 July 1776 as the daughter of Charles Louis, Hereditary Prince of Baden, and his wife Amalie of Hesse-Darmstadt. She was one of a set of twins – her sister Amalie remained unmarried. Her parents would have a total of eight children, of which seven survived to adulthood.
Her mother was the driving force in the house of Baden, and she had the ambition to marry her children off well. Caroline enjoyed a thorough education, and she was also known to be an excellent horsewoman. Caroline and Amalie received painting lessons from Philipp Jakob Becker, and he made a painting of the 21-year-old Caroline shortly before her marriage.
Caroline’s mother instilled in her to always be conscious of her high birth, and she had an anti-French attitude. In 1791, Caroline was considered as a bride for the future King Frederick William III of Prussia, but he fell for Louise of Mecklenburg-Strelitz – much to her mother’s annoyance. Three years later, she was courted by Prince Frederick of Württemberg, but she did not like him at all. After seeing her in tears, her parents decided not to pursue the match.
Caroline met her future husband when he fled to Ansbach to escape the advancing French troops. His name was Maximilian, and he was just Duke of Zweibrücken at the time. He was twenty years older than her, had recently been widowed and was left with four children. He reportedly fell head over heels in love, and while his advisors tried to steer him towards a British Princess, he had already asked her mother for Caroline’s hand in marriage. He wrote, “I am well aware of the audacity of offering her my hand in my situation, but at the same time, I feel that her possession would make me the happiest of men.”1
Caroline’s mother thought he was very unreliable and only after a protestant wife to introduce religious tolerance in Bavaria. Caroline herself reportedly found him a little old but kind-hearted. Nevertheless, her mother championed the match and persuaded Caroline to say yes. Her younger sister Louise (known as Elizabeth Alexeievna after her marriage to the future Emperor Alexander I of Russia in 1793) wrote, “The Duke is the best man in the world, adored by all who surround him. I think he is a little weak, but that is no fault in a husband. He is in love like a man of twenty. […] He has often told her, as he has told me, that he would never be able to show his gratitude enough for the sacrifice she made in marrying a man of forty with four children.”2
After gaining the relevant permissions, the wedding date was set for 9 March 1797. Caroline would be married in a Catholic ceremony but would be allowed to practice her protestant religion in complete freedom. The wedding took place in the palace of Karlsruhe, and the ceremony was performed by Dr Joseph Metzer. Caroline and her new stepchildren had a difficult start – as she and the future King Ludwig I of Bavaria were only ten years apart in age. The younger two children had fewer memories of their mother and more readily accepted Caroline as their new stepmother.
On 16 February 1799, Charles Theodore, Elector of Bavaria, died without leaving surviving legitimate issue, and he was succeeded by Caroline’s husband. After arriving in Munich together with her twin sister Amalie, Caroline’s first pregnancy was a further cause of celebration. Caroline’s health had been fragile several times throughout her life, and public prayers were held as she gave birth for the first time. On 5 September 1799, Caroline gave birth to a stillborn son. She had gone past her due date, but doctors did not intervene. Caroline was devastated and would carry a locket with the boy’s hair for the rest of her life.
The following May, Caroline was pregnant again, but the family was forced to flee from the advancing French troops. However, the reports of the advance turned out to be false, and the Elector immediately returned to Munich. Caroline – fearing for her pregnancy – stayed behind in Landshut. She lived in constant fear of losing her child and rested a lot.
On 28 October 1800, Caroline gave birth to a son named Maximilian, and she was able to return home to Munich after the French retreat in March 1801. By that time, she was again pregnant. Little Mäxchen stole the hearts of the court. On 13 November, Caroline gave birth to twin girls – Elisabeth (later Queen of Prussia) and Amalie (later Queen of Saxony). Just over a year later, the happy family life was again struck by tragedy when little Max died suddenly – presumably of meningitis.
On 27 January 1805, Caroline again gave birth to twin girls – Sophie (later Archduchess of Austria) and Maria Anna (later Queen of Saxony). Then, on 30 August 1808, Ludovika was born. Her final child was a daughter too. Maximiliane Caroline was born on 21 July 1810 in Munich. She had “never suffered so much. The child is enormous.”3 Caroline had wanted a son but “has taken the matter better than I dared to hope.”4 Her husband declared “the team” complete.
Little Maximiliane Caroline – nicknamed Ni – tragically died on 4 February 1821 after a ten-day illness. Caroline did not leave her daughter’s bedside and held her all the time. Finally, she became so exhausted that she had to be carried away. She later threw herself on the ground next to the bed, crying and praying for the repose of her daughter’s soul. She later said, “She was the dearest child in my heart. I felt that she belonged to me even more than the others, and it was God who took her away from me.”5
Caroline commissioned Joseph Stieler to immortalise little Ni with two of her sisters in a painting.