Princess Louise of Prussia was born on 3 December 1838 as the second child of the future Wilhelm I, German Emperor and Augusta of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach. She would be the only sibling of the future Emperor Frederick III, and he was seven years her senior. Her first name was chosen in honour of her grandmother Louise of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. Her parents had a marriage of convenience, and her mother promptly declared that there would be no more children.
On 7 June 1840, Louise’s grandfather died, and her childless uncle succeeded as King Frederick William IV of Prussia. Louise’s father now became the heir to the throne. Her father was relatively cold towards his son and heir, while Louise appeared to have stolen his heart. He could often be found sitting on the floor, playing with her. Louise herself was also not particularly close to her elder brother in their youth, probably due to the large age difference but they would become closer as they grew older. Her mother made sure that Louise received an excellent education, though she was known to censor the more inconvenient truths from Louise.
At the age of 12, Louise accompanied her parents and brother on a trip to London where they visited the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace and were shown around by Victoria, Princess Royal, who was two years younger than Louise and who would in due time become her sister-in-law. Queen Victoria later wrote, “Vicky has formed an amazing friendship for that charming Child Vivi (Louise) & also for the young Prince; might this, one day, lead to a union!”1 Louise also became fond of the eight-year-old Princess Alice.
At the age of 15, Louise was betrothed to Frederick, then Regent of Baden. He was regent for his brother, Louis II, Grand Duke of Baden, who was mentally ill, and he was 12 years older than his young bride. They were married on 20 September 1856 at the chapel of the New Palace in Potsdam with Louise’s aunt Elisabeth placing the wedding crown on the bride’s head. He had officially taken over his brother’s title of Grand Duke earlier in the year, despite him still being alive, and so upon marriage, Louise immediately became the new Grand Duchess of Baden. The newlyweds divided their time between a home in Karlsruhe and Mainau Castle on Lake Constance – which Louise much preferred.
Just a few weeks after their wedding, Louise realised she was pregnant. On 9 July 1857, not even a year after the wedding, Louise gave birth to a son – the future Frederick II, Grand Duke of Baden. The following year, Louise’s brother married Queen Victoria’s daughter the Princess Royal, but Louise and her husband were not present as the former Grand Duke Louis was seriously ill. He died just three days before the wedding at the age of 33. They were instead represented by Frederick’s younger brother William.
Louise and Victoria developed a bit of rivalry, especially after Victoria’s eldest son was born with a damaged left arm. According to Victoria, Louise apparently boasted that “hers was bigger the day he was born than mine is now after eight weeks wh. I take very ill & wh. surely is hardly possible.”2 However, the sisters-in-law had a common enemy, Louise and Frederick’s mother Augusta, who was equally cold to them and their husbands.
On 2 January 1861, King Frederick William IV – Louise’s uncle – died, making her father and mother the new King and Queen and her brother Frederick with Victoria the new Crown Prince and Crown Princess. The following year, Louise gave birth to a daughter named Victoria – the future Queen of Sweden. The infant Victoria had suffered a broken right arm during the delivery, but it healed just fine. On 12 June 1865, Louise gave birth to her third and final child – a son named Louis.
With a new Imperial Constitution in 1871, Baden became an integral part of the new German Empire, under the leadership of Louise’s father, who became Wilhelm I, German Emperor. Otto von Bismarck, the chancellor of the German Empire, distrusted Louise because of the Catholic influence coming from Baden. This only deepened when she interceded with her father on behalf of the oppressed Catholics of Alsace. Louise spent plenty of time at the court in Berlin and, although she had once mocked her young nephew, she knew he was the future Emperor and became an indulgent aunt to him. He would later recall her fondly. He also got along with her cousin Frederick, Louise’s eldest son, who was two years older than him.