Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel-Bevern – Wife of Frederick the Great




(public domain)

Caesar desired that his wife should afford no occasion to be spoken of, and Queen Elisabeth Christine fulfilled these conditions entirely1

Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel-Bevern was born on 8 November 1715 as the daughter of Duke Ferdinand Albert II of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel and Duchess Antoinette of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel.

In 1733, Crown Prince Frederick of Prussia was ordered by his father to marry Elisabeth Christine, who also happened to be the niece of Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI’s wife Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel. The Viennese court hoped to influence Prussia for another generation. As a result, Frederick resented the marriage from the beginning. He wrote to his sister, “They are about to force me to marry a Princess whom I do not know. They have extorted a promise from me which has cost me much pain.”2Elisabeth Christine had only the support from her father-in-law, the King of Prussia, to rely on. He liked the fact that she was very pious. Frederick himself only used his wife’s favour with the King for his own gain.3

(public domain)

At the beginning of their marriage, Frederick was garrisoned in Ruppin while Elisabeth Christina lived in Berlin at court. The couple moved to Rheinsberg in 1736, which Elisabeth Christina would recall as the happiest of her life.4 When her father-in-law died in 1740, and she and Frederick became King and Queen of Prussia, he no longer needed her influence and they effectively separated. They never officially divorced but lived separate lives and only met at official functions. She was never invited to Potsdam, nor did she accompany him on his travels.5 The Berlin court was without its King, it was left to Elisabeth Christina, the Queen Dowager, Sophia Dorothea of Hanover, and Frederick’s siblings. Frederick despised the court routine, which Elisabeth Christine now had to uphold. At first, she shared these duties with Sophia Dorothea, but after her death, she did them alone. She was given Schloss Schönhausen as a summer residence, and it soon became an important site in Berlin society.6

During the Seven Years War, Elisabeth Christina became something of a symbol for Prussian resilience as Frederick was absent from Berlin for six of those years. Frederick had left her only vague instructions for what to do in case of an invasion, and she ultimately decided that the court should be evacuated from Berlin. She held up the court routine as well as she could during these years. 7 These separate courts did have the added problem of increased tensions and the lack of authority that Elisabeth Christine could exert. Frederick himself undermined her authority by deliberately acting cool towards her. Elisabeth Christine never criticised or opposed him.8

Elisabeth Christine and Frederick did not have any children together but she did become the foster mother of Princess Frederica Charlotte of Prussia, and they kept in touch for the rest of their lives, even after Frederica became Duchess of York.

As in life, Elisabeth Christine and Frederick were separated when he died on 17 August 1786. She had last seen him in January.9 He was succeeded as King of Prussia by his nephew, now King Frederick William II. Elisabeth Christine survived him for 11 years. After the death of Prince Louis Charles of Prussia in 1796, she wept, “I have lived long enough. I have much to be thankful for; but now my longer life would be but of little service to myself and others. It will be better with me above.”10 She had been ill for just a few days when death came on 13 January 1797. On the day of her death, she bestowed her blessing upon her attendants, saying affectionately, “I know you will not forget me.”11

The following words were spoken during her funeral sermon, “The voice of impartial truth renders the deepest and most affectionate tribute of veneration to the long course of truly majestic and noble deeds which her life displayed. I have been an observant witness of her conduct for fifty years, and, from year to year, my reverence for her has increased, and I thankfully praise God when I see how much good has been affected by Her Majesty’s example and active exertions, both for the religion, education, hearts, manners and happiness of all classes.”

She was “not only a Queen, a great Queen, our Queen, but a Queen after God’s own heart.”12

 

  1. Atkinson, Emma Willsher: Memoirs of the queens of Prussia p.211
  2. Atkinson, Emma Willsher: Memoirs of the queens of Prussia p.215
  3. Clarissa Campbell Orr: Queenship in Europe 1660-1815: The Role of the Consort p.304
  4. Clarissa Campbell Orr: Queenship in Europe 1660-1815: The Role of the Consort p.304-305
  5. Clarissa Campbell Orr: Queenship in Europe 1660-1815: The Role of the Consort p.305
  6. Clarissa Campbell Orr: Queenship in Europe 1660-1815: The Role of the Consort p.307
  7. Clarissa Campbell Orr: Queenship in Europe 1660-1815: The Role of the Consort p.311-312
  8. Clarissa Campbell Orr: Queenship in Europe 1660-1815: The Role of the Consort p.315
  9. Atkinson, Emma Willsher: Memoirs of the queens of Prussia p.294
  10. Atkinson, Emma Willsher: Memoirs of the queens of Prussia p.297
  11. Atkinson, Emma Willsher: Memoirs of the queens of Prussia p.297
  12. Atkinson, Emma Willsher: Memoirs of the queens of Prussia p.298






About Moniek 1269 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

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