Princess Elisabeth of Wied was born on 29 December 1843 as the first child and only daughter of Hermann, Prince of Wied, and his wife Princess Marie of Nassau. The Principality of Wied-Neuwied was mediatised in 1806, and so there was no actual land to rule anymore. Elisabeth was named after her godmothers Queen Elisabeth Ludovika of Prussia (born of Bavaria) and Grand Duchess Elizabeth Mikhailovna of Russia, the future bride of Adolphe, Duke of Nassau. She was joined in the nursery by two younger brothers named William on 22 August 1845 and Otto on 22 November 1850.
Elisabeth turned out to be a spirited child, and when she was four years, she was appointed a governess, and she received regular lessons. She remained an active child and found it difficult to sit still, even when posing for a portrait with her brother William. The only person who could apparently calm her was her mother’s old governess, a Fraulein Lavater, who told her fairytales.
The birth of her younger brother Otto was quite traumatic for her mother, and Elisabeth was devastated to be kept away from her. Marie was reportedly between life and death for several weeks and suffered from paralysis. Otto was born with some sort of bladder disorder, and he would only live to the age of 11. The family moved to Bonn in 1851 to be near a specialist doctor, and Marie slowly recovered and was able to move about again without the use of a wheelchair. After Marie’s improvement in her health, the family began to spend the winters at Neuwied, and the summers at Monrepos.
When Elisabeth was nine years old, she began to write verses, and at the age of twelve, she tried to write a novel. It would be the passion of a lifetime for her. She later said, “I could not be gentle, and was so passionately impulsive that I was heartily thankful to those who were patient with me. It became better, however, when a safety valve opened for me – that was writing poetry.”1 After the departure of her governess, a tutor was found to supervise her studies, and she annoyed him endlessly with her questions. He taught her in English, and she learned to speak excellent English. She also learned to speak French.
As she grew up, people were impressed by her grace and charm, and she eventually received the nickname, “The Princess of the Wild Rose.” In the summer of 1860, Elisabeth was confirmed after having received religious instruction for two months. The ceremony was performed at Monrepos where the gallery had been converted into a chapel. It was attended by many family members. Shortly before her confirmation, Elisabeth wrote:
“Praise ye the Lord who in mightiness wrought ye,
Praise Him who safely with blessings hath brought ye,
Praise Him, thou earth! and thou star of the sky!
Let what hath being the Lord glorify!
I will give thanks to Him, Father of Life,
I in His way will walk, faithful in strife;
I for His light will seek, guiding us all.
Him I will love, for without Him I fall.”2
The years to come were not happy for the family. Her brother remained critically ill, which absorbed all her mother’s attention and now her father became ill as well. Elisabeth spent many hours with him in his study, copying for him and reading to him. In 1861, Elisabeth travelled to Berlin where she first met her future husband Prince Karl of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, and he reportedly managed to break her fall when she slipped on the stairs. Her father wrote to her, “You are a recruit in aristocratic ranks, and not the slightest failing must be detected in you. At Court, you must learn the balancing step so that you may not lose your balance and fall downstairs, or morally stumble and upset. In youth, all this is learnt in play, whereas it is a martyrdom to elderly people. But where one is gifted, as you are, with an endless source of internal happiness, all disagreeable which one experiences are but as a fleeting shadow over the sunshine of life. Since you went away, joy has departed from this house! The gay little bird has flown and is now fluttering from flower to flower. Sometimes it pricks itself with their thorns, but it flies on, careless of what is behind it. Still, it avoids the thorns in future. Now, good-bye; may God bless you, you dear little- runaway.”3 One can only venture to guess that poetic verses ran in the family!
Elisabeth longed to go back home again, even if it was a house of suffering – she would be with her family. To her brother William – away at school in Basel, she wrote of being extremely lonely during those six weeks in Berlin, despite everyone being very friendly to her. Once back at Neuwied, the consulting doctor gave the most dreadful news. Both her young brother Otto and her father William could no longer be helped by medicine. Their deaths would only be a matter of time. Otto’s pain increased every month, and in November 1861 Elisabeth wrote, “This time of trial binds us closer to one another. It is remarkable that I love everyone more than I did before. I love God more, and this makes my love for other people deeper.”4 Every waking moment was spent with her father and Otto. From his sickbed, her father gave her lessons in painting.
The end came first for the young Otto. Word had been sent to his brother William, who could not come because he had the measles. Otto had cried out, “My William! My William, is he to be taken from me too?” He then kept repeating “Send him my blessing.”5 Otto died on 18 February 1862 with Marie repeating the words, “Thank God, and God be praised forever.”6 After his burial, Elisabeth often returned to Otto’s grave to lay flowers. It wasn’t until 14 years after his death that Elisabeth was able to write about her brother.
- The life of Carmen Sylva, Queen of Roumania by Natalie Stackelberg p.33
- The life of Carmen Sylva, Queen of Roumania by Natalie Stackelberg p.50
- The life of Carmen Sylva, Queen of Roumania by Natalie Stackelberg p.54
- The life of Carmen Sylva, Queen of Roumania by Natalie Stackelberg p.59
- The life of Carmen Sylva, Queen of Roumania by Natalie Stackelberg p.62
- The life of Carmen Sylva, Queen of Roumania by Natalie Stackelberg p.63