Louise Henriette of Nassau was born in The Hague on 7 December 1627 as the eldest daughter of Frederick Henry, Prince of Orange, and Amalia of Solms-Braunfels. She spent her youth at the court in The Hague, where she grew up with her siblings. She also spent a lot of time with the daughters of Elizabeth Stuart, the Winter Queen of Bohemia, who were in exile at the court of The Hague. She developed a life-long friendship with their eldest daughter, Elisabeth of the Palatinate. Louise Henriette’s elder brother, William II, Prince of Orange, would become the father of King William III of England, Ireland and Scotland.
When her brother William married Mary, Princess Royal, the daughter of King Charles I of England and Henrietta Maria of France, prospects were raised for Louise Henriette as well. A match with Henry Casimir I of Nassau-Dietz was vetoed by her mother who had set her sights higher. A match was found in the form of the Great Elector – Frederick William, Elector of Brandenburg. However, Louise Henriette was in love with someone else – her cousin Henri Charles de La Trémoille, Prince of Talmant. They wrote letters to each other which were found by her mother, who had broken into Louise Henriette’s desk. She read the letters to her husband to convince him of the unsuitability of the match with Henri Charles. Louise Henriette could protest all she liked, but her wedding to Frederick William was being planned with or without her. She wrote, “It is to my regret that I, for money’s sake and so little land, am to be so unhappy and to be sold. Oh, I wish I was dead, or I wish I were a peasant so that I could take someone to my liking.”1
On 7 December 1646, Louise Henriette married Frederick William in Noordeinde Palace – it was also her 19th birthday. By then, her father was seriously ill, and he would die just four months later. According to the Henri Charles’ memoirs, her father told her on his deathbed that he regretted forcing her to marry the Elector.2 The newlyweds spent their first years as husband and wife in Cleves, which was part of the Electorate of Brandenburg. During those two years in Cleves, Louise Henriette got to know her husband and a mutual appreciation began to grow between them. Her first child, a son named William Henry, was born to them in Cleves but he died during their move to Berlin in 1648. In her grief, Louise Henriette could travel no further, and she stayed behind in Tanggermünde until her husband came to fetch her personally. The arrival in war-torn Berlin gave Louise Henriette the inspiration she needed, and she threw herself into improvements for the city. She even hired a Dutch builder to renovate the Electoral Palace. She also received a hunting lodge from her husband which she turned into Oranienburg Palace. She introduced the first potatoes as cheap food for the people and founded schools for farming and schools for women and girls.
It began to look like Louise Henriette would have no more children, and she vowed to found an orphanage if she would only have a child. In her despair, she even offered her husband a divorce so he could marry again and father an heir. He adamantly refused and told her, “As for me, I shall maintain the oath of faithfulness, that I have sworn before God and if pleases the Lord to punish me and the country, then we must submit to it.”3 Seven years after the birth of her first son, Louise Henriette gave birth to a second son named Charles Emil. True to her word, Louise Henriette laid the foundations for the very first orphanage in Germany. Four more children would follow over the years, of which two survived to adulthood. Twins Amalia and Henry died in infancy.
Louise Henriette and her husband spent a lot of time away from Berlin – and their children – as the war continued to rage around them. She often accompanied him on his campaigns as he valued her advice, but it was difficult for her to leave her young children behind.
She was still only 39 years old when she fell ill shortly after attending the wedding of her youngest sister Maria to Louis Henry, Count Palatine of Simmern-Kaiserslautern in Cleves. She did not feel well enough to travel back to Berlin, and her doctors advised her to spend the season with her mother in The Hague. She remained there for six months before deciding that she needed to return to Berlin. She was accompanied by her sister Henriette Catherine, Princess of Anhalt-Dessau, who would care for her until the end. However, it soon became apparent that she would not make it back to Berlin and her husband hurriedly travelled to see her in Halberstadt. He arranged for another carriage to gently carry her back to Berlin, where she was able to see her children for the last time. She reportedly said on her deathbed, “The Lord treated me like Elijah, to whom he passed a storm, an earthquake and a fire. I hope and trust that it will now come to the soft breeze to announce his proximity.”4 She also wrote, “I have no reason to desire death. I love the Elector, my lord, with all my heart, and so also my dear children, but I would like to be obedient to God.”5
On 18 June 1667, Louise Henriette died in the arms of her husband. She was buried in the Berliner Dom, where her sarcophagus can still be seen.
- Gloria Parendi. Dagboeken van Willem Frederik, stadhouder van Friesland, Groningen en Drenthe, 1643-1649, 1651-1654 p.293
- Prinsessen van Oranje in Duitsland by J.W.A. Naber p. 85
- Prinsessen van Oranje in Duitsland by J.W.A. Naber p. 99
- Prinsessen van Oranje in Duitsland by J.W.A. Naber p. 108
- De jeugd van Louise Henriette d’Orange by Robert Fruin p.532