Louise - Queen of Prussia - George Upton




Louise as Queen

The new King took the throne of Frederick the Great, not as his successor, "Frederick the Third," as he was acclaimed, but more modestly, with the title of Frederick William the Third. His wife assured the delegation of citizens who waited upon her to offer the congratulations of Berlin, that she was most grateful for every proof of their love, and that she and the King would both endeavor to deserve it; for, said she: The love of his subjects is the softest pillow for a royal head." The residence and mode of life of the royal pair remained unchanged. The King still refrained, as before, from all stiff formalities and vain and ostentatious display. His father, who had had extravagant tastes, left him nothing but debts, and now they were obliged to retrench. But even had it been otherwise, Frederick William the Third and his Louise were happiest in living a simple life. On a serving-man's opening both the folding doors for His Majesty to pass through, he asked: "Have I grown suddenly so stout that one door is not wide enough for me?" And when the chef put two more courses on the King's bill-of-fare than he had served to the Crown-prince, the King struck them off, with the words: "Does he think my stomach has grown larger since yesterday?"

It was an old court custom that two generals should serve standing during meals, and that the chamberlain should be obliged to attend the ruler until he had tasted his first glass of wine. At his first state dinner, when Frederick William the Third saw the Master of Ceremonies standing behind his chair, he said to him: "You may sit down."

"I am not allowed to," was the answer, "until Your Majesty has taken the first drink."

"Is any particular beverage mentioned?" asked the King.

"Not so far as I know," replied the Master of Ceremonies.

"Wait," said the King. He reached for the nearest glass of water, drank, and said: "Now I have had my drink, and you may be seated!"

Queen Louise in the same manner retained her simple habits. She appeared in robes of state only when the dignity of her station demanded it. Her usual dress at balls and festivals was a dainty muslin gown, her beautiful hair decked only with a diadem, and about her neck a long string of pearls. In the course of time, by setting a new example, she also brought about the disappearance of trains yards in length, of the great hooped skirts, and towers of artificial hair. With her fine tact she knew how to banish all stiff formality from social life, and to secure natural and unaffected intercourse.

The royal pair were often seen, as of old, walking arm in arm "under the Lindens "and in the zoological gardens, without any attendants and mingling with citizens in the market-place. In the Winter of 1797, Louise went with her royal consort to the Christmas street-fair in Berlin. They had made purchases at several booths and approached another, where a woman was bargaining for some wares. She broke off immediately and was going to step aside as she saw the royal pair approaching. "Do not go, my dear woman," said the Queen. "What will the merchants say if we drive away their customers?" Then she inquired about her family and on learning that the woman had a son about the same age as the Crown-prince, she bought several toys and gave them to her with the words: "Take these trifles, my dear, and give them to your crown-prince from mine." When out walking she often took up children who were playing by the roadside, and embraced them in motherly fashion. Even the old dame cowering by the wayside was not unnoticed, and if she did not need an alms, received at least a friendly word. One day a little boy playing horse in the castle garden ran into the Queen. Her lady-in-waiting was about to scold him roundly, but Louise interfered with: "A boy must be wild." Tapping the little fellow on his red cheek, she said in sweetest tones: "Run and play, my son, but take care not to fall; and you may give your parents greetings from me."

A great many little episodes of this kind made her day by day more beloved among the people. Once while she was Crown-princess, when a Count and a court shoemaker were announced at the same moment, she caused the craftsman, whose time no doubt was the more valuable, to be admitted first, with the words: "Let the shoemaker come; the Count can wait." To an elderly man, who was invited for an evening, she wrote on the invitation card sent out by the Mistress of Ceremonies the words: "I beg that you will come in boots. Silk stockings are dangerous for your health, and as I am fond of my friends, I must take care of them." Old General Kockeritz, who was a daily guest at table during their country sojourn, had a habit of disappearing after the meal, no one knew whither. When Louise learned that he hurried away to his room to smoke his indispensable pipe, she appeared beside him the next day as soon as dinner was over, with a filled pipe, a lighted taper, and a spill in her hand, and said to him: "To-day, my dear Kockeritz, you shall not desert us; you shall smoke your customary pipe in our company."

After she became Queen, she and the King were once invited by one of their ministers to a ball. On their arrival there were several carriages already before the door yard. The gate was about to be opened that the royal carriage might pass through, when the King forbade it and waited until his turn came to alight. The Queen remarked to the minister's wife who was waiting to receive them: "You must forgive us for being late, but my husband was detained by business." At this same ball, when she noticed that a pretty woman had not been asked to dance by the titled gentlemen, because she was a "commoner," she begged the King, who was nothing loath, to dance with her himself.

At a function in Magdeburg the Queen greatly embarrassed a young officer's wife by asking from what family she came. As the young woman was the daughter of a rich merchant of Magdeburg she did not know what to reply, and stammered: "I am of no family, Your Majesty." The bystanders giggled, but the Queen rebuked their levity with a severe glance, and, turning graciously to the young woman, she said in a loud voice so that all might hear: "Ah, I see that you have answered in jest and I must admit that I used a false expression. Certainly all men are born equal, though indeed it is very gratifying and inspiring to be of a good family. Who would not rejoice to come of distinguished parents and ancestors? But thank God, they are to be found in all classes! Indeed, the greatest benefactors of the human race often spring from the humblest homes. One may inherit high station and its privileges, but inner personal worth everybody must cultivate for himself. I thank you, my dear lady, that you have given me an opportunity to express these thoughts, which are worth while pondering, and I wish you in your married life that happiness which springs only from the heart." She had emphasized these significant words with her little fan and with a significant gesture she dismissed the distinguished ladies who had been presented to her. How consoled and elated she, who felt that she was "of no family," must have been!

The following is a similar incident: At Potsdam, at a church service for the soldiers, a woman strayed by mistake into the place that had been reserved for the Queen, and was taken very harshly to task by the Master of Ceremonies. When Louise heard of this, she was very much distressed, sent for the preacher at once, and as he entered the door, met him with the words: "In Heaven's name, what has happened in your church? I have just learned with great displeasure that a worthy lady of your congregation has been humiliated by Mr. von N. And right in the church, too! I am inconsolable, although it was not my fault. I beg of you to apologize for me and to bring me at dinner the assurance that she accepts the apology. And to-morrow you may bring her with you I shall take pleasure in making her acquaintance."

Louise accompanied her husband to Koenigsberg, where the Prussians did homage to their new King on the fifth of June. On the way thither, at Stargard, nineteen little girls in white dresses, with baskets of flowers, were drawn up before the house where the Queen was lodged. Louise talked with them like a mother and they became very confidential and told her that there had been twenty of them, but that one of their number had been sent home because she was so homely. "Poor child!" cried the Queen, "no doubt she had been anticipating my coming with delight and is now at home crying bitterly." Immediately she had her fetched and distinguished the homely little one beyond all the others, with her attentions.

The next day there was a review, and the populace crowded close round the royal pair. The Queen, noticing an old country-man trying in vain to get nearer, sent a servant to bring him to her. At a village near Koslin the burgomaster begged her to alight, as the peasants as well as the citizens were anxious to entertain her. She gladly consented and entered a peasant house which had been decorated for the reception, and enjoyed the omelets which were served her as much as, in the old days, she had enjoyed the one in Madame Goethe's house. It was regarded at that time as an unprecedented condescension, at a banquet at Oliva, that on the Queen's invitation a number of Danzig women were allowed to sit down with the guests of honor. In Koenigsberg and also in Breslau and along the route of her travels, the amiable and gracious lady won all hearts, and it was not a Prussian, nor a flatterer, who wrote after her death: "Few Queens have been beloved as she was during her lifetime, and very few have been thus mourned after their death."

On July 6, 1798, the deputies of Brandenburg paid their homage to the King in Berlin. Eight days after this, Louise's first daughter was born she who became the wife of Czar Nicholas of Russia.

During the gala days of the accession Louise wrote to her grandmother: "I am Queen; and what pleases me most about it, is that now I shall not have to limit my charities so carefully." But indeed, for the nonce the King was obliged "to live on the Crown-prince's income" and to contrive means to pay his father's debts. Therefore the Queen had no larger income than the Crown-princess, or about one thousand thalers a month. How could this suffice for one who had calls and solicitations from every side? Indeed, after a few years, she was involved in three times as much debt as her income amounted to, so that the cabinet councillor was obliged to represent to the King that she could not possibly make two ends meet on this income.

The King paid her debts, but ordered that in future she must keep an account of her expenses and that they should be paid out of his purse and the bills be laid before him.

But it was not enough, and Louise was obliged to ask a loan from the treasurer. He applied to the King, but the loan was refused, and he returned to the Queen with the words: "Really, Your Majesty, this can go on no longer; you will pauperize yourself with your charities."

Louise answered: "I love my children; to be the mother of my subjects is as sweet to me as to know that my best of husbands is their father. I must help wherever there is need."

"Very well, then, I will speak to the King," answered the official.

"But in such a manner that he will not be angry!" begged the Queen.

Soon afterwards she found the empty drawer of her writing-desk newly filled, and she asked the King: "What angel has done this?"

Smiling, the King answered: "His name is legion; at least I know no other name, and I know but one angel at which his eye rested on her. But you know the beautiful saying 'to his friends he gives even in his sleep.'"

Thus loving and beloved throughout the broad expanse of her country and among its people, as well as in her home circle, she was the happiest of wives, mothers, and princesses. But all too soon the sun of her happiness began to decline.