Louise - Queen of Prussia - George Upton




Louise's Death

Although life in Koenigsberg and its environs was peaceful and pleasant, yet Louise often felt oppressed "in this banishment, this climate of raging storms more than a hundred miles from her home." A fit of homesickness for Berlin and her Charlottenburg seized her. When at last the time of return grew near, she wept many tears at the thought of finding all as it had been, and yet so changed. "Dark forebodings trouble me," she admitted, while everywhere the most gratifying and touching reception was being prepared for them.

The King, the Queen, the Princes and Princesses left Koenigsberg December 15, 1809, and during the journey, which lasted eight days, were the recipients of countless proofs of sincere affection from the populace. In Stargard they met old Nettelbeck of Kolberg, who had assisted the commandant Gneisenau so valiantly and successfully in the defence of this fortress, while other Prussian strongholds were shamefully capitulating. He was invited to dinner, and afterward had a long conversation in the adjoining room with the King and Queen. He was so affected at the sight of the long-suffering pair that he cried out: "Ah! as I look upon Your Majesty and my good Queen and think of the misfortunes which still weigh so heavily upon you, it seems as though my heart would break." They all wept, and Nettelbeck, turning to the Queen, said: "May God long preserve you, my good Queen, to comfort my good King, for without you he could not have borne his misfortunes."

On December 23, 1809, the same day on which, sixteen years before, she had made her first triumphal entry into Berlin, she now returned after an absence of two years and two months. In the meanwhile Berlin had been treated as the capital of a French province, and Louise found that her apartments had been occupied by insolent French generals. The rejoicings of the inhabitants over the return of their King and Queen were exuberant. The Queen with the younger children drove in a magnificent carriage which the citizens of Berlin had given her. The King was on horseback; the Princes Frederick and William followed as officers of the guard with their regiments. The City Council hoped that Their Majesties would give the citizens the pleasure of attending the gala performance at the theatre in the evening. "No," said the King, "the first place I visit in Berlin shall be the church." Not until the following Monday did he appear with his family at the opera house, where they were greeted with great enthusiasm, and many eyes filled with tears at the sight of the beloved King and "the partner of his sorrows." Many Prussians vowed, as they saw their Queen again, that they would not rest until they had caused those angelic eyes, which had so often filled with tears over Bonaparte's insults and injuries, to shine with joy over Prussian victories.

During the occupation of Berlin by the French, all mention of the Queen and any celebration in her honor had been strictly forbidden by the commandant. Nevertheless, on her birthday, the famous actor Iffland appeared on the stage at the evening performance wearing a rose and induced the other actors to do likewise. The audience immediately guessed what the roses meant, and cheered the Queen. Iffland suffered the penalty of a few days' arrest for this. The Queen summoned him to her presence at the theatre to express her gratitude and appreciation. Later the King bestowed on him the order of the Red Eagle.

Immediately after her return, Louise remembered another worthy man, who had stood for the truth when nearly all were bowing before the conquerors and allowing the most shameful scandals against the Queen to be circulated. Upon a certain occasion the local authorities of Berlin were being presented to the French Emperor, and he broke out in abusive complaints against the Queen. The reverend Dr. Ermann interrupted him abruptly with the words: "Sire, that is not true." The despot hastily turned to the miscreant who had dared to tax him with the lie, but when he saw the tall, venerable figure of the old clergyman and looked into his earnest face, he remained silent and confused and said not another word about the Queen. The King also honored Ermann with an order; but Louise arose from the dinner-table at which the excellent man was a guest and went to him, glass in hand, to greet him, saying: "I cannot deny myself the pleasure of drinking to the knight, who, when all kept silence, had the courage to break a lance for the honor of his Queen. Do you still remember how, on your jubilee, we wished you happiness and long life? God has heard our prayer and preserved you, so that there should be at least one courageous enough to tell Napoleon the truth."

Their terrible enemy continually devised methods for making life uncomfortable for Louise and her family, even in Berlin. He insisted upon the payment of the outstanding war debts more vehemently than ever, and threatened to occupy the country once more with an army to collect them. But all means of help had been exhausted, and it was impossible to make any new loans. Then Napoleon intimated to the King that he could wipe out the debt by ceding the country and its people. Indeed, Minister Altenstein could see in the relinquishment of Silesia the only possible way out of their difficulties. But the King and Queen rejected this idea with indignation, and the new Minister, Hardenberg, succeeded in conciliating Napoleon for the time being, until Prussia had recuperated and liberation was at hand.

But Louise was not destined to see this time of resurrection. She could not rid herself of the thought that fresh misfortunes awaited her family and country, and that the King might be taken from her by some Napoleonic act of violence. On her birthday she said: "I think this is the last time that I shall celebrate my birthday here." Her condition became rapidly worse. She suffered from oppressed breathing and heart attacks, and had several spells of fever. The anxious physicians advised her to beware of strong emotions and excitement. But how in such times could the heart of a woman so sensitive remain calm and cheerful? She passed the month of May in Potsdam and was so much improved by the country sojourn that she ventured to carry out a long-cherished plan.

She had long wished to visit her beloved father in Strelitz. She started cheerfully from Charlottenburg, June 25, 1810, but soon became very serious, and scarcely knew why she was so downhearted when she reached the frontiers of Mecklenburg. Did she have a presentiment of her early death? Certainly she had said at her last birthday celebration "I feel that this will be the last time that I shall have a birthday." But this fit of sadness passed and she was filled with joy at the meeting with her dear father. She found her eighty-year-old grandmother, the Landgravine of Darmstadt, also at Strelitz. While there she wished to live only for her own people, and she attended but one court function, at which all those present noted an indescribable nobility and sweetness in her bearing. Her beautiful features bore the stamp of suffering, and when she raised her lovely blue eyes toward heaven, her look unconsciously expressed a longing for the home above. After the meal, Louise joined the circle of more intimate friends, and they admired the pearls which were her only ornaments. She answered: "I am very fond of them and withheld them when I gave up my jewels. They suit me best for they symbolize tears, and I have wept so many." When the King punctually joined her as he had promised, she cried: "Now at last I am perfectly happy." She immediately seated herself at her father's desk and wrote in French the words:

My dear father, to-day I am very happy as your daughter and as wife of the best of all husbands.

NEW STRELITZ, June 28, 1810

"LOUISE"

These were the last words she ever wrote.

Late in the evening she drove with the King and her family out to the country seat of High-Zieritz. On alighting she felt ill and was seized with a severe catarrhal fever. The next day she forced herself to appear at table and in the garden for tea with the family. But the next morning the doctor, whom she had not called, as she was anxious to accompany her husband to Rhinesberg, found her condition serious. After being bled, she fainted. Nevertheless she grew so much better that on July 3 the King, who was obliged to go to Berlin on important business of state, left her, hoping to return in a few days to find her well enough to be taken home. The illness seemed to lessen during the week. Louise bore the sleepless nights patiently; she seemed tranquil. The King, who had himself fallen ill, sent the Queen's own physician, who found that the greatest danger was over. But the disease took another bad turn, though there were times of improvement when the cough abated and the patient was able to talk with her old-time strength and clearness. A letter from the King affected her so much that she kept it on her heart, where she could read it again and again. "How happy is she who receives such letters!" she exclaimed several times. She was also interested in political news and thought continually of her children.

On July 13, the birthday of her daughter Charlotte, she received a letter from her full of tenderness and longing. Her sister Frederika read it to the Queen, but was obliged to pause several times and could not finish it, for the patient was too much agitated by it. After a few comfortable days, on July i6 severe heart paroxysms set in, which continued fully five hours. It was the first struggle with death. The Duke's physician, Dr. Hieronymi, found an incurable affection of the heart and prepared the Queen's father for the worst. Messengers were sent post-haste to the King in Charlottenburg. Instead of Dr. Hufeland, who had been called to Holland, Dr. Heim of Berlin with three other physicians came. The fever and weakness grew worse. Louise could scarcely await the coming of the King, and she was happy when she heard that he would arrive July 19. She was patient during her terrible pain and thanked God for every moment of relief, but the feeling of her infirmity overwhelmed her. "I am a Queen," she said once, "but I cannot so much as move my arm."

The coughing spells and oppression of breathing grew worse during the night, and Dr. Heim remained at her bedside. About midnight the patient had a burning thirst, drank several times, and often exclaimed: "Air! air!" A cold perspiration stood in great drops on her forehead. At two o'clock, in one of her painful moments, she said to the physician: "Think of it! if I should have to die and leave the King and my children!"

At the break of day, about four o'clock, the King arrived with the two eldest sons. The sky was overcast. Having been advised of the certainty of her death the King was completely crushed with grief. When her grandmother said that with God nothing is impossible, the bitter words escaped him: "Ah! if she were not mine she would live; but as she is my wife, she is sure to die."

When he entered her room she said with a feeble voice: "My dear friend, how happy I am to see you!" Though the King made the greatest effort he could not completely control his grief. "Am I then so dangerously ill?" she asked him. After he had somewhat reassured her, she asked again: "Who came with you?"

"Fritz and William," answered the King.

"Oh, how happy I am!" she said, while her hand trembled in his.

"I will fetch them," he cried, hardly able to master his feelings. He immediately returned leading both sons to their mother's bedside.

"Ah, dear Fritz, dear William, are you here?" she said to them. They wept aloud, went out, and returned when the paroxysm of her pain had subsided.

In the meantime it had come to be nearly nine o'clock. A new paroxysm came on. "Air! air!" gasped the Queen. The doctor came in and tried to raise her arms, but she was not able to keep them there, and as they sank she said: "Ah, nothing can help me but death!" The King sat beside her and held her right hand. Her sister, the Princess Solms, kneeling in front of her, had grasped her left hand. Her weary head rested on the bosom of her friend Madame von Berg. At ten minutes before nine, July 19, 1810, came the last seizure of pain. Louise bent her head gently back, closed her eyes, and cried: "Lord Jesus, take me quickly!"

Five minutes later she had breathed her life away in a last deep sigh.

The King had sunk back, but now drew himself quickly together and, amid kisses and tears, closed the eyes of his Louise, "his life's star, which had guided him so faithfully our life's dark journey," as the poet sang. Then he hurried out and brought his two sons, who, weeping bitterly, kissed the hands of their departed mother.

The beautiful features of the Queen were not in the least distorted. Death seemed to glorify her countenance. Her mouth bore an expression of victory and peace. The features of "the most beautiful woman in the King's lands" have been preserved by Rauch's master hand in the marble monument which he was later commissioned to chisel for her tomb in Charlottenburg.

On July 20 the King left High-Zieritz with his children, and a week later the Queen's remains were brought to Berlin. The whole city was in mourning, not a heart remained untouched; tears flowed, and even men wept as the funeral procession passed by. The body lay in state in the castle until the thirtieth. Then the casket was sealed and laid away for a time in the cathedral. On December 23 it was taken to Charlottenburg and placed in the mausoleum which the King had had built after plans by the famous architect Schinkel. Over the vault rises a building in the form of a Greek temple. The roof of the antechamber is supported by four granite columns. The light falls from above through blue glass, which casts a magical light over its interior. On the memorial tablet the King caused the simple words to be engraved: "According to God's Will." In the year 1815 the marble figure of the Queen was placed in the mausoleum. The transfigured Queen lies on a couch as though in peaceful slumber. Her head, with its flowing hair crowned with a diadem, is slightly inclined toward the right. The beautiful arms, clad in short sleeves, are lightly crossed below the breast, which the right hand touches expressively. One foot is crossed over the other, and the whole beautiful figure is half revealed by a simple, flowing garment.

Louise was lovely in life and her monument shows her lovely in death. She rests in the chamber, where trials can no longer touch her, until on the day of resurrection her decayed body shall be awakened from the tomb to a more beautiful life. More enduring even than marble is the memory which she has left behind in our hearts. She gave to her people and the whole German fatherland an example of piety, purity, singleness of heart, and true, womanly virtues; a model of humility in fortune, courageous faith in misfortune, of devoted patriotism, of faithfulness in small things as well as in great things. Therefore her influence has been felt, even after the night came, in which no man can work.

The rise of the Prussian people in the great war for liberation from Italian oppression and craftiness, was principally inspired by the memory of the never-to-be-forgotten Queen, "who always carried the banner of hope before us," as the poet Heinrich von Kleist sung on her last birthday. Her memory and example inspired a great multitude of women and girls to sacrifice their gold rings for iron ones, which bore the inscription: "I gave gold for iron."

In the year 1813, on the birthday anniversary of the departed, King Frederick William the Third instituted the highest order of the soldiers of liberty, "the Iron Cross." After the battle of Leipzig (October 18, 1813) he hurried from the battlefield to the thanksgiving service in the Berlin cathedral and then to the mausoleum in Charlottenburg to place a wreath on the casket of the perfect one. He founded the Order of Louise, August 3, 1814, as a decoration for the most zealous among the army nurses. Since 1840 he has rested beside her.

Her oldest son, King Frederick William the Fourth, said, in the year 1848: "The unity of Germany is dear to my heart; this idea is an inheritance from my mother." But her second son, William, when the nephew of his mother's old arch-enemy declared war against Germany on the anniversary of Louise's death, July 19, 1870, knelt at his mother's coffin in the tomb at Charlottenburg before he went to meet the enemy, and prayed for a blessing from above. It accompanied him through many battles and victories, until he arrived before the palace at Versailles. He returned to Berlin March 17, 1871, as Emperor of the united German fatherland, crowned with laurels, but giving the honor to God alone, and stood once more at his mother's grave in Charlottenburg. How wonderfully through the grace of God had all her hopes been realized!