by Scott Mehl
Karl Friedrich was the first Grand Duke of Baden, reigning from 1806 until 1811. He was born in Karlsruhe on November 22, 1728, the son of Hereditary Prince Friedrich of Baden-Durlach and Princess Amalia of Nassau-Dietz. Karl Friedrich had one younger brother – Wilhelm Ludwig (1732).
In 1738, at just ten years old, Karl Friedrich succeeded as Margrave of Baden-Durlach upon his grandfather’s death. Baden-Durlach was one of the branches of the ancient Margraviate of Baden, which had been divided several times over the previous 500 years. When the last Margrave of Baden-Baden, August Georg, died in 1771 without heirs, Karl Friedrich inherited the territory. This brought all of the Baden territory together once again, and Karl Friedrich became Margrave of Baden.
Baden’s domains were widespread, and Karl Friedrich made it his mission to try and gain some of the territory in-between. When he joined forces with Austria in the war with France in 1792, Baden ended up have to give up his territories on the left bank of the Rhine to France. But a few years later, fighting along with the Russians against Napoleon, he was able to expand Baden, and the margraviate was elevated to an Electorate within the Holy Roman Emperor.
Karl Friedrich further expanded Baden when, in 1805, he fought on the side of the French, gaining territories from the Austrian Empire. In 1806, he joined the Confederation of the Rhine, and upon the end of the Holy Roman Empire, Karl Friedrich declared himself sovereign, as Grand Duke of the newly created Grand Duchy of Baden. He continue to support the French, and in the Peace of Vienna in 1809, gained more territory from the Kingdom of Württemberg. Through his efforts, Karl Friedrich had quadrupled the size of Baden by the end of his reign.
Karl Friedrich was married twice. His first wife was Karoline Luise of Hesse-Darmstadt, who he married on January 28, 1751. She was the daughter of Ludwig VIII, Landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt and Charlotte of Hanau-Lichtenberg. Karl Friedrich and Karoline Luise had five children:
- Karl Ludwig, Hereditary Prince of Baden (1755) – married Amalie of Hesse-Darmstadt, had issue
- Prince Friedrich (1756) – married Luise of Nassau-Usingen, no issue
- Ludwig I, Grand Duke of Baden (1763) – unmarried
- stillborn son (1764)
- Princess Louise Auguste (1767) – died in infancy
Following Karoline Luise’s death in 1783, Karl Friedrich married again – morganatically – on November 24, 1787. His bride was Luise Karoline, Baroness Geyer von Geyersberg. She was created Baroness of Hochberg – and later Countess of Hochberg – a title which would pass to their five children: (years later, in 1817, the children from this marriage were given succession rights and were elevated to Prince/Princess of Baden.)
- Leopold, Grand Duke of Baden (1790) – married Sofia of Sweden, had issue
- Prince Wilhelm (1792) – married Alexandrine of Württemberg, had issue
- Prince Friedrich Alexander (1793) – died in infancy
- Princess Amalie (1795) – married Karl Egon II, Prince of Fürstenberg, had issue
- Prince Maximilian (1796) – unmarried
At the age of 82, Grand Duke Karl Friedrich I died in Karlsruhe on June 10, 1811. He is buried in St. Michael’s Church in Pforzheim.