The family was hit hard by the death of little Ni. Caroline wrote to her mother, “The King is still deeply depressed. He keeps himself together in front of people, but in front of me and the children, he often weeps bitterly. He did not think it was possible that God could make him so unhappy in his old age.[…] Our pain is still increasing instead of decreasing.”1 Caroline’s twin sister Amalie wrote to their brother-in-law Louis II, Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine (husband of their youngest sister Wilhelmine), “Our constant conversation is about the angel we mourn. They remember her every word, her every action. […] Our course of life is only filled with pain and sorrow.”2
However, Caroline still had five daughters to care for. Her stepchildren were by then grown up and married off. Ludwig married Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen in 1810, Augusta married Eugène de Beauharnais in 1806, Caroline Augusta married firstly William, Crown Prince of Württemberg in 1808 and following their divorce in 1814, she married Emperor Francis I of Austria in 1816. The protestant philologist Friedrich Wilhelm Thiersch was hired to teach the Princesses literature, geography and history. They grew up speaking both French and German and also learned English.
In 1806, Caroline and her husband had become King and Queen of Bavaria by the terms of the Treaty of Pressburg as one of Napoleon’s allies. They remained allies until 1813 when Bavaria formally declared war against the French empire. Napoleon was eventually defeated, and the Kingdom of Bavaria remained standing.
As they celebrated their silver wedding anniversary, the couple had become almost inseparable. Whenever her husband was away, Caroline felt terribly abandoned and lonely. In 1825, the family was celebrating Maximilian’s name day. After the festivities, he bid Caroline and her sister Frederica (the exiled Queen of Sweden) goodnight and returned to Nymphenburg to rest. The next morning, he was found dead in his bed – he was 69 years old.
Caroline was devastated by her husband’s death but found some comfort with her sister and her daughters. Caroline had wanted to remain in Munich, but her stepson, the new King Ludwig I, feared her influence and popularity. Caroline was asked to move to Würzburg, and rumours of her supposed ill-treatment soon appeared. She duly went to Würzburg and found it not as bad as she had expected. When King Ludwig then tried to keep her preacher, Dr Schmidt, in Munich, Caroline indignantly told him, “Schmidt is mine and mine he shall remain!”3
Caroline spent Easter of 1826 in Vienna with her stepdaughter Caroline Augusta and daughter Sophie. Sophie had recently married Archduke Franz Karl of Austria. She returned to Munich shortly afterwards and seemed depressed at the thought of returning to Würzburg. She decided to have her own villa built in Munich – somewhat solving the issue of her not staying in the royal residence. Then she received the news that her sister Louise had died on 4 May, and not much later, her sister Frederica became seriously ill. Caroline hurriedly left to be with her but wrote, “I felt as if I were leaving your father for the second time.”4 From Baden, Caroline accompanied Frederica to Lausanne where she died on 25 September. She had now lost two sisters in a single year.
Caroline returned to Munich only to dine with the King and to visit the building site of her new home. She wanted to spend the anniversary of her husband’s death in Tegernsee, which had been left to her by her husband. Everything reminded her of her husband there, and she delayed going to Würzburg until she could no longer postpone it in December. Nevertheless, it was a brief stop, and she spent the rest of the winter in Berlin and Dresden. Slowly, her travels pulled her out of her melancholy. She took up the entertaining of guests again and became known as a great hostess. Her villa was ready for her in January 1829.
In 1833, Caroline attended the wedding of her step-granddaughter Mathilde to the future Louis III, Grand Duke of Hesse. The Grand Duke was a protestant, so the wedding could not take place in the court chapel. Caroline and Mathilde’s mother, Therese, brought the bride to her marriage bed and attended the court ball the following day. King Ludwig even opened the ball with his stepmother. By then, all of her daughters had been married as well. Elisabeth had married the future King Frederick William IV of Prussia in 1823, Amalie had married the future King John of Saxony in 1822, Maria Anna had married the future King Frederick Augustus II of Saxony in 1833, Sophie had married Archduke Franz Karl of Austria in 1823 (and became the mother of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria) and Ludovika had married Duke Maximilian Joseph in Bavaria in 1828 (and became the mother of Empress Elisabeth). Three of her daughters would go on to have children of their own.
In November 1841, her daughter Elisabeth came with her husband to Munich to celebrate her 40th birthday. Caroline had been feeling ill for quite some time at that point. She suffered from dropsy but did not wish to miss the celebrations. During the party, however, Caroline was suddenly gasping for air. The preacher was called but not the doctor. Later that evening, around 10 p.m., Caroline passed away as members of her family stood around her bed. A report later said, “The whole royal family was present. […] Duchess Ludovika fainted and had to be taken home. […] The King withdrew soon after the catastrophe. Queen Therese and the Crown Prince went to the Prussian Majesties, who sent a convoy to Dresden. The Duchess of Leuchtenberg (her stepdaughter Augusta), who is so isolated anyway, clung to her mother with full tenderness and Queen Therese was also deeply affected. Everyone wept and ran in the greatest confusion among themselves.”5
Caroline was dressed in a black velvet dress with a train, richly trimmed with ermine and was laid in state in the chapel of the Maxburg. Over the next few days, thousands of mourners came to pay their respects. On 18 November 1841, her coffin was closed. The burial itself was controversial as she was a protestant, and the burial was to take place in the Catholic Theatine church. Upon arrival there, they were forced to wait on the steps for 15 minutes before a blessing was performed, and the coffin was handed over to the priests, who appeared in ordinary clothes. The church was entirely without decorations, and the coffin was carried to the crypt and placed there without a prayer or blessing. No candles were lit, and no hymns were sung. The Bishop of Munich and Freising had expressly forbidden it. The actual service was held the following day in a still wholly undecorated church. There was still no singing and no indication of Caroline’s importance. King Ludwig was reportedly deeply shocked at the unworthy treatment of his stepmother.
Caroline’s heart was taken from her body and placed in a golden urn. She had not lived to see her grandchildren, Franz Joseph and Elisabeth, marry, and they probably had little memory of her.