Sophie of Württemberg was born in Stuttgart on 17 June 1818 as the daughter of King William I of Württemburg and his second wife Catherine Pavlovna of Russia. Her mother died just seven months after her birth. She never grew close to her father’s third wife and new stepmother Pauline of Württemberg. She was very fond of her father, though. She was also close to her sister Marie because they were just two years apart in age. They were raised together by Russian and Swiss governesses. She was very well-educated and spoke several languages.
She married her first cousin William, future Prince of Orange and future King William III of the Netherlands in Stuttgart on 18 June 1839. She considered herself to be more intelligent than him and thought she could dominate him. She became Princess of Orange upon the abdication of King William I of the Netherlands in 1840. Her reception in The Hague was cold. Her new mother-in-law Anna Pavlovna had been against the marriage, though it’s not entirely clear why. The Russian Orthodox Church forbade marriages between first cousins. Perhaps Anna Pavlovna feared that her grandfather’s madness would be passed on with Sophie. Sophie did get on very well with King William I and his son Frederick.
Sophie and her husband William never got along. The births of their sons changed nothing. They had three sons, William in 1840, Maurice in 1843 and Alexander in 1851. William also had several affairs during their marriage, and he probably fathered at least a dozen illegitimate children. Sophie became Queen consort in 1849 when King William II died suddenly. By then, William and Sophie were on the brink of a separation. Their second son Maurice suffered from meningitis, and they quarrelled by his sickbed. Sophie wanted to consult another doctor but William refused. Maurice ultimately died of the illness. In 1855, they separated for good, but divorcing was not an option. William was given custody of their eldest son and Sophie was allowed to keep their youngest son Alexander until he was nine years old. Sophie would also have to continue to fulfil her duties as Queen.
From 1855, she lived mostly in Huis ten Bosch, and she went to visit her father almost every year. She was also a regular visitor to Emperor Napoleon III and his wife, Eugénie. She corresponded with intellectuals, who praised her. Historian John Lothrop Motley wrote, “The best compliment I can pay her is, that one quite forgets that she is a queen, and only feels the presence of an intelligent and very attractive woman.” She also held several seances with a psychic, probably to connect with her son Maurice. She was a patron of the women’s movement in the Netherlands.
Sophie died suddenly on 3 June 1877 of a heart condition at Huis ten Bosch. She left her personal property to her sons William and Alexander, but William died just two years later before becoming King. Sophie wore her wedding veil on her deathbed ass he believed that her life had ended on the day of her wedding. Perhaps mercifully, she never lived to see the deaths of both her other sons. Her husband King William III remarried just two years after her death in order to prevent a succession crisis. With his second wife, Emma of Waldeck and Pyrmont, he had a daughter named Wilhelmina who would succeed him in the Netherlands as Queen Regnant.