by Susan Flantzer
Caroline Augusta of Bavaria was born on February 8, 1792 in Mannheim, then in the Electorate of the Palatinate. She was the third daughter and the fourth of the five children of Maximilian IV Joseph, Prince-Elector of Bavaria and his first wife Augusta Wilhelmine of Hesse-Darmstadt. At the age of two, Caroline Augusta contracted smallpox and her face was left scarred. When Caroline Augusta was four years old, her mother died of tuberculosis.
Caroline Augusta had four siblings:
- King Ludwig I of Bavaria (1786 – 1868), married Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen, had issue
- Augusta (1788 – 1851), married Eugène de Beauharnais, Duke of Leuchtenberg, son of Josephine de Beauharnais (Napoleon’s first wife) and her first husband Alexandre, Vicomte de Beauharnais, had issue including Josephine of Leuchtenberg, wife of King Oscar I of Sweden
- Amalie Marie Auguste (1790 – 1794), died in childhood
- Karl Theodor (1795 – 1875), married, both morganatically (1) Marie Anna Sophie de Pétin, had issue (2) Henriette Schöller
In 1797, Caroline Augusta’s father married his second wife Caroline of Baden, and Caroline Augusta had seven half-siblings, including two sets of identical twin sisters:
- Maximilian (1800 – 1803), died in childhood
- Elisabeth Ludovika (1801 – 1873), married King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia, no issue
- Amalie Auguste (1801 – 1877), married King Johann I of Saxony, had issue
- Sophie (1805 – 1872), married Archduke Franz Karl of Austria, had issue including Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria and Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico
- Maria Anna (1805 – 1877), married King Friedrich Augustus II of Saxony, no issue
- Ludovika (1808 – 1892), married Duke Maximilian Joseph in Bavaria, had issue including Elisabeth of Bavaria who married her first cousin Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria
- Maximiliana (1810 – 1821), died in childhood of typhus
Caroline Augusta’s father was an ally of Napoleon and as a consequence of a treaty signed in December 1805 by Napoleon and Caroline of Augusta’s future husband Emperor Franz I of Austria, certain Austrian holdings in Germany were passed to her father and he became King Maximilian I Joseph of Bavaria. Napoleon had also elevated another ally Friedrich Wilhelm Karl, Elector of Württemberg to the status of King. As a symbol of this alliance with Napoleon, Friedrich’s daughter Catharina was married to Napoleon’s youngest brother Jérôme Bonaparte, the king of the newly created Kingdom of Westphalia. In order to prevent Napoleon from arranging a marriage for his heir Crown Prince Wilhelm, King Friedrich I of Württemberg arranged for a marriage of convenience between his son Wilhelm and Caroline Augusta of Bavaria. The couple was married in Lutheran and Catholic ceremonies in Munich, Bavaria on June 8, 1808. After the marriage ceremony, Wilhelm told Caroline Augusta, “We are victims of politics.”
Wilhelm and Caroline Augusta’s marriage was never consummated and the couple lived apart in separate wings in the Royal Palace in Stuttgart, the capital of Württemberg. Wilhelm, who was nine years older, paid no attention to the 16-year-old Caroline Augusta, who was often lonely. She spent her time writing letters to her favorite brother Crown Prince Ludwig, learning Italian and English, walking, reading, and painting. After Napoleon’s fall in 1814, Wilhelm and Caroline Augusta’s marriage was dissolved by a Lutheran consistory set up by King Friedrich I of Württemberg. Caroline Augusta received a generous financial settlement and went to live with an aunt in Neuburg an der Donau, Bavaria. Pope Pius VII dissolved her first marriage on January 12, 1816, so she could be married again in the Catholic Church.
Caroline Augusta’s brother Crown Prince Ludwig held some marriage negotiations for his sister without the knowledge of their father. Ludwig had communicated with the widowed Ferdinand III, Grand Duke of Tuscany, the brother of Franz I, Emperor of Austria. However, when Emperor Franz heard of his brother’s possible marriage plans with Caroline Augusta, he became interested in her for himself. Franz had been widowed for a third time in April of 1816. Ferdinand withdrew his marriage proposal for Caroline Augusta in favor of his brother. On October 29, 1816, Caroline Augusta and Franz were married by proxy in Munich, Bavaria. The groom was represented by the bride’s brother Crown Prince Ludwig. On November 10, 1816, Caroline Augusta and Franz were married in person at the Augustinerkirche near the Hofburg Palace in Vienna.
The couple had no children and Caroline Augusta played no role in politics, instead devoting herself to charitable activities. Through her efforts, child-care institutions, hospitals, and homes for workers were built. After her husband, Emperor Franz I of Austria died in 1835, Caroline Augusta lived in Salzburg to stay out of the way of her older, half-sister Sophie who had married Franz’s son Archduke Franz Karl in 1824. Emperor Franz I had been succeeded by his son Ferdinand who abdicated in 1848. At that time, Archduke Franz Karl was persuaded to renounce his succession rights in favor of his eldest son Franz Joseph, who reigned from 1847 – 1916. Caroline Augusta was on good terms with Franz Joseph, who was her nephew and his wife Elisabeth of Bavaria (Sissi) who was her niece.
The Dowager Empress Caroline Augusta died on February 9, 1873, a day after her 81st birthday. She was buried in the Imperial Crypt in the Franzensgruft (Franz’s Vault) where her husband and his three other wives are also buried.
Unofficial Royalty: A Visit to the Kaisergruft (Imperial Crypt) in Vienna