Baroness Wilhelmine of Dörnberg was born on 6 March 1804 in Ansbach as the daughter of Baron Heinrich Ernst Konrad Friedrich of Dörnberg and his wife Baroness Sophie Wilhelmine of Glauburg. She was one of eight children, and she received an education. She was praised with the words, “Nature had given her a graceful, splendid figure, and soulful blue eyes animated her lovely features, which bore the expression of childlike vitality and a true good soul.” She was known by the nickname “Mimi.”
Her future husband, Maximilian Karl, 6th Prince of Thurn and Taxis, first became friends with Wilhelmine’s brothers and she probably knew him through them. They fell in love and wanted to marry. However, Wilhelmina’s rank was not considered to be equal to Maximilian Karl’s, and his family was against the match. Maximilian Karl wrote to Wilhelmine from his military service in Augsburg, “All is not lost since we love each other faithfully and faithful love has the strength to put down the obstacles. I remain faithful to you, Mimi, faithful until death.” Even King Ludwig I of Bavaria and Maximilian Karl’s aunt Frederica, later Queen of Hanover spoke out against the match with Frederica warning him to honour his parents.
Maximilian Karl’s father died on 15 July 1828, and he succeeded his father as the 6th Prince of Thurn und Taxis. He was sent to Italy where it was hoped he would change his mind and find another woman to marry. Meanwhile, Wilhelmina wrote to Maximilian Karl’s mother Therese begging her to reconsider. Against all the odds, Wilhelmine and Maximilian Karl married on 24 August 1828 in Saint Emmeram’s Abbey. They went on to have five children together: Karl Wilhelm (born 1829 – died young), Therese Mathilde (born 1830), Maximilian Anton (born 1831), Egon Maximilian (born 1832) and Theodor Georg (born 1834).
Their court soon became known for its extravagance, though the couple were personally modest and were considered humble. In 1830, they had an exhibition of wax figures of well-known people in sumptuous costumes. Maximilian Karl enjoyed horse riding and hunting, and he had large stables built which employed a great number of people.
Unfortunately, their fairytale romance was to be shortlived. After the birth of their last son in 1834, Wilhelmine became seriously ill. She underwent (homoeopathic) treatments with Dr Reuter in Nuremberg. While there, her mother Sophie – who had accompanied her – died suddenly, which was a huge blow to Wilhelmine. Just one week after her mother’s death, Wilhelmine suffered a stroke and died in her husband’s arms. She was still only 32 years old.
Maximilian Karl was devastated by his wife’s death, and he had a mental and physical collapse. To keep her memory alive, he had her heart taken from her body and buried it separately in a new mausoleum. The inscription of the bronze box reads, “Here rests my happiness, here her heart sleeps, here love endures eternal pain.” He kept her rooms the way she had left them. He believed he would never be happy again. He appointed his brother-in-law Ernst Friedrich as administrator of his estates, and he ran them well for over 40 years.
Four years later, he remarried to Princess Mathilde Sophie of Oettingen-Oettingen and Oettingen-Spielberg with whom he had a further 11 children.1