Juliane of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld was born on 23 September 1781 in Bern to Franz Frederick Anton, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld and Augusta Caroline Reuss of Ebersdorf. If that name rings a bell, Juliane was the aunt of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and she was thus also the sister of the future Leopold I of Belgium.
In 1795 she was chosen as a suitable bride for Catherine II’s second grandson Grand Duke Konstantin. She travelled to St. Petersburg with her mother and her sisters, Sophie and Antoinette, where the trio was presented to the Grand Duke, and he was forced to make a choice. Supposedly he didn’t want to marry at all, and it took him three weeks to decide. Juliane was baptised in the Russian Orthodox church and chose the name Anna Feodorovna. They married on 26 February 1796. Catherine II would die just nine months later.
Their marriage was a great mésalliance. Konstantin was violent, and a true military man and Juliane was truly miserable. Despite this Juliane was the rising star of the Russian court, though Konstantin tried to sabotage her. By 1799 the situation had become dire. Juliane left Russia for medical treatment and intended not to return. However, her family was unsupportive, and she was finally forced to return to Russia, and by October she was back in Russia. In 1801 another chance to escape presented itself. Emperor Paul I was assassinated in March, and Juliane ‘became ill’. Her mother was informed and came to Russia. She took Juliane with her back to Coburg for a better treatment, and she had the consent of the new Emperor, Alexander I and Juliane’s husband. She arrived back in Coburg in one piece and refused to return, and she never did. Instead, she began divorce proceedings against her husband. The divorce was denied, also due to fears that Konstantin might contract a morganatic marriage.
Even without her divorce, Juliane tried to live her life. On 28 October 1808, she gave birth to her first child, who was named Eduard Edgar Schmidt-Löwe. Eduard’s father is unknown, but he might have been an officer in the Prussian army. He was later ennobled by his uncle, the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and carried the last name von Löwenfels. She had a second child in 1812. This time it was a daughter who was named Louise Hilda Agnes d’Aubert. This time paternity was a bit more certain, it was probably Rodolpe Abraham de Schiferli, who was the chamberlain of her household. The child was adopted.
In 1814 an attempt was made by Emperor Alexander I to reconcile the couple. However, Juliane refused to even consider it. That same year she bought a property on the banks of the Aare river and named it Elfenau. She would spend the rest of her life there. In 1820 Juliane was finally free. On 20 March her marriage was officially annulled. Konstantin remarried just two months later to his mistress Joanna. He died in 1831.
Juliane’s son Eduard married his first cousin Bertha von Schauenstein in 1835. She was an illegitimate daughter of Ernst I, the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Eduard and Bertha had five children of whom descendants still live today. Their children were Moritz (died young), Sophie (1836-1920, Emma (1838-1905), Ernst (1843-1921) and Albert (1848-1870).
Her daughter Louise married Jean Samuel Edouard Dapples, with whom she had at least three children. It is unknown if her children had any issue. She was still only 25 when she died in 1837.
Juliane died on 15 August 1860 at her Elfenau Estate. Her grave simply reads ‘Julia-Anna’, and it makes no reference to her origins. She seems like quite a strong woman who made up her own mind and held strong despite Imperial Russia breathing down her neck!