If it was not for the confusing personal fate of the extremely interesting 19th century Princess of the Netherlands, Lower Silesia would not have gained such a caring spirit. She left behind not only a beautiful memory, but many traces of her economic, social and cultural activities.
The heroine in this article is Frederica Louisa Charlotte Wilhelmina Marianne, Princess of Orange-Nassau, daughter of the Crown Prince of Orange, William Frederick (1772-1843), future King William I, and Wilhelmina of Prussia (1774-1837), a daughter of the Prussian King Frederic William II. She was born in Berlin on May 5, 1810 and died in Erbach, Germany, on May 5, 1883. At the time of her birth her parents lived in exile (1795-1813), banished from the Netherlands by Napoleon Bonaparte.
Her daily name comes from Marianne’s maternal aunt, Marianne Hesse-Homburg, fiercely anti-French and founder of the Patriotic Women’s Association of Prussia (Der Vaterländische Frauenverein = Society of Patriotic Women). That “Prussian connection” strongly influenced Marianne’s life. Marianne’s childhood was spent at Het Loo in Apeldoorn, where her father built her a mini-farm, and at the Old Court in The Hague. The 18 years old princess was engaged on June 25, 1828 to the Swedish prince Gustav Wasa (whom she was deeply in love with), but this commitment led to the first scandal of her life. Under political pressure from Stockholm and St. Petersburg (in that time the capital of imperial Russia) the engagement was terminated in November of that same year. The Swedish court acted against this marriage as Gustav was the son of the deposed King Gustav IV of Sweden and could threaten the illegitimate power of the King Charles XIV John (of the Bernadotte family). This way it appeared for the first time that love without complications was never her destiny.
Princess of Prussia
On September 14, 1830 Marianne married her cousin Albrecht of Prussia, the youngest son of the king of Prussia Frederick William III and Queen Louise. It was a triple combination of the already very close family relationship between Nassau and Hohenzollern houses, because her brother Prince Frederic married Louise of Prussia, sister of Albrecht. For the newlyweds the famous architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel built a palace in Berlin’s Wilhelmstrasse. As titular “Prinzessin von Preussen” Marianne was now part of the Prussian royal family. In most of her official portraits of the time she wears the black and white insignia of the Order of Louise, the counterpart of the Iron Cross given to the ‘patriotic’ women of Prussia.
But she was not happy at the Hohenzollern’s court. She surpassed the environment with knowledge and intelligence and often acted against the rigid ceremonial rituals of Prussian etiquette. Marianne did not find happiness also in her marriage with Albrecht although they had four children. The three which had survived the childhood strengthened the Prussian dynasty: her daughter Charlotte (1831-1855) married Prince George II reigning Duke of Saxe Meiningen, her son Albrecht (1837-1906) married Maria of Saxe-Altenburg and her daughter Alexandrine (1842-1906) was married with the second son of the reigning prince of Mecklenburg-Schwerin.
Besides sexual escapades the prince showed a violent behavior to male and female staff. A Dutch secret police report (now in the Royal Archives) speaks of ‘venereal diseases’. Those marital problems were the initial impetus for Marianne’s habit of traveling to Italy. It was at this time when Marianne firstly visited Kłodzko Land (Glatzer Land) in Lower Silesia, which had been bought by her father. She inherited this property after her mother’s death in 1837, along with Kamenz (Polish: Kamieniec Ząbkowicki) and bought additional lands around Lądek-Zdrój and Stronie Śląskie.
In January 1845 she finally left her husband and children and spent some time in the village of Voorburg, near the Hague, purchased in 1848. Here she began an affair with her coachman John van Rossum. He was in her service since 1844 and soon became her secretary and librarian. Marianne always shared her religion with her exalted lover.
Marianne in 1846 Johannes van Rossum
This relationship caused a great social scandal but it enabled divorce with Albrecht (previously denied), especially when it appeared that Marianne was pregnant with van Rossum’s baby. In 1849 the princess gave birth to her last child, her much beloved son Johannes Willem (1849-1861) and decided to keep him by her side. (She is the only female member of Orange whom an illegitimate child is known. She is also one of the few noble ladies in history which an illegitimate child after birth was not ceded.) This decision turned the Prussian court into a big fury and contributed significantly to her personal situation. The “Prussian connection” of the Orange house was seriously damaged by this. The scandals surrounding Princess Marianne were not hidden from the public. The Dutch tabloids regularly wrote about her extraordinary life.
Restrictions against Marianne were hard: she was banished from Prussia and separated from her children. She could stay in Prussia for no longer than 24 hours. She didn’t give up however as she was a very proud and independent woman. When her cousin William (future emperor), from 1858 a regent to Frederick William, pursued reconciliation with her, Marianne replied on December 30, 1859 rather tactless, that they did not wish to offer her back to the Prussian royal family. After all the humiliations she didn’t want to go back under the Hohenzollern family rules to be treated as a stranger while for ten years she was used to act as independent Dutch woman. On picture: Johannes Wilhelm van Reinhartshausen, Marianne’s beloved son.
For in subsequent years Marianne led very intensive life, divided between Italy, Germany and Lower Silesia. Thanks to her family fortune the princess could continue her lifestyle. For a long time she stayed with her partner and son in the Villa Celimontana in Rome, where she started collecting art. They also bought a villa on Lake Como, later named Villa Carlotta after her daughter Charlotte (1831-1855).
Another important place of Marianne’s exile was Erbach, where in 1855 she bought the old Reinhartshausen castle (photo below) and converted its left wing into a museum for her huge art collection. It was not a top collection however. Later appeared that many from the six hundred paintings were copies (the copies of her Orange ancestor’s portraits were among them). Part of the collection is still on display in the castle which has been converted into a luxurious hotel. Erbach benefited much from the presence of the king’s daughter and ex-Prussian princess. The Protestant church in Erbach was founded by her and in this church she built a tomb for John William, who died of scarlet fever at the age of eleven. Marianne loved him very much. With three living children from her previous marriage, which stayed in the hands of her husband’s family, she had a very rare contact. In her letters she calls John William “a child of my old age”. He was destined to hold a public profession (eg lawyer or pastor). He was very intelligent for his age, achieving 11th place in the final exam. Unfortunately, he died in his first Christmas holidays with his parents. Once John told his mother how he was irritated because of the dilapidated condition of the church built in Upper Rheingau. On the evening of his death the dying boy gave his mother over tens of thousands of guldens for its reconstruction.
The good spirit of the Lower Silesia
Since half of the 19th century Marianne also focused on her Lower Silesian properties and continued constructing a beautiful palace in Kamenz (first works had begun in 1837). She could easily control the construction as her properties were close to the Austrian border. She bought a palace in Bila Voda on Austrian side, a few kilometers from Kamenz, and therefore she could oversee the construction on a daily basis. (remember that at this time she was forbidden to stay longer than 24 hours on Preussian soil!)
This building is worth spending a few words on. It was designed by Schinkel according to precise instructions of Marianna. In terms of architecture it is a crossbreathing between a Scottish castle and a Gothic castle in the style of the Teutonic Knights castle. The largest room clearly alludes to the refectory of the Malbork Castle.
Photo above and below: Kamenz palace on archival photos
The building was encircled by beautiful terraces and gardens with fountains, caves and statues. There were a hundred rooms inside and for the decoration a local marble was used and furniture alluding to the Gothic style. The equipment came from the rich collection of the Hohenzollern family. The construction of the palace in Kamenz lasted about twenty years (1838-1857), with additional ten for establishing and decorating its gardens. Marianne never lived there however, and during her visits she stayed in the guest rooms only. In 1873 she gave the palace to her son Albrecht and Kamenz remained in his family hands until 1940. During the war the castle acted as a repository for the art collections looted by the Nazis in Poland (including those from the royal Wawel Castle). Some of them were taken back to Germany, part (16 carriages in 1945) was sent by the Russians to Moscow. To cover the traces of the thieving by Russian soldiers the building was set alight and the local people were not allowed to extinguish the flames. (The memory of those events is still alive there!) Over the next years the fairytale palace was totally ruined and Polish authorities even planned to blow it up! In the 90-ties some recovery was undertaken, but after the death of the tenant the palace it had been suspended. Currently the palace is owned by local authorities in Kamez. (Read also: Lower Silesia 2.)
The current state (2015) / photo Renata Drygiel
The Kamenz palace was only one of the many activities of Princess Marianne in Lower Silesia. Namely, building roads, including 55 km of the road connecting Ząbkowice Śląskie with the Płoszczyna Pass in the Bialskie Mountains (the route passes through Kamieniec Ząbkowicki, Złoty Stok, Lądek Zdrój, Stronie Śląskie, Bolesławów and New Moravia), developing forest management.
Marianna’s road, Bialskie mountains
Initiated the fish ponds, built a blast furnace, financially supporting the construction of the ssworks in Silesia Stronie (formerly known as Oranienhutte), founding the marble quarries that exist to this day (to commemorate her the marble is known as White, Green and Pink Marianna). On her lands at the foot of the Śnieżnik mountain she established a specialized mountain farm for cows managed by a Swiss man, which was later turned into a tourist hostel and it exists to the present day.
tourist hostel Śnieżnik / photo: Marcin Szala
She was also well known for her social interests. She founded the Kamenz Cashier for widows and founded a facility for small children and a hospital (called the House of Marianna). She supported Protestant churches, but also some Catholic ones. When she died the grief for the “Good Lady” was felt by many and the memory of her remained among the population of Silesia and Kłodzko until 1945.
Princess Marianne died in Erbach in 1883. She lived alone for her last ten years as Van Rossum died in 1874. In those ten years Marianne’s relations with her Dutch family were recovered. Her funeral took place on June 4, 1883 and a special report in the “Mittelrheinische Zeitung” from Erbach punctuated its high obscurity, so unusual for a burial of a royal princess. The lack of regal splendor during her funeral was offset by abundant use of Christian choirs outside the actual service, on their way to the grave site so to match the intense faith of Marianne, which was not interred with van Rossum or her son in the crypt within the church. (The later Queen Wilhelmina considered moving Marianne’s grave to the royal tombs in Delft.)
Princess Marianne (1880) and her grave
Back to fame
The 20th century created new interest in the particular life of Princess Marianne. In history the emphasis was increasingly placed on her behavior as a liberated woman. It was dominated by – somewhat anachronistic – criticism of the state code of her time and a romanticizing of her position as a social outcast: “Her inner freedom and independence were untimely”, “She was an intelligent, handsome, confident and emancipated woman”. There was also more attention paid to her role as an artist and patron of a local benefactor, such as the establishment of the Hague Benevolent Fund in Support of the Poor (1829). Regional and local appreciation of contemporaries echoed in the recent literature.
In Voorburg, where she was committed to supporting the poor, the construction of the rectory and the hall were funded and she also donated an organ to the Reformed Church and was a local cult hero still in her lifetime. In today’s City Museum of Leidschendam-Voorburg much attention is paid to her lifetime. In 1998 there was an exhibition dedicated to her: “A king’s daughter in a village. Princess Marianne in Voorburg”. The Herenstraat has a statue of Marianne made by C. Gobius.
In the field of art her collection in Erbach cannot be called exceptional but her most notable achievement remains the construction of the palace in Kamenz in Silesia. She is also well remembered in Polish Lower Silesia of course. The year 2010, the 200th anniversary of her birthday was celebrated as the Year of Marianne of Orange. On this occasion a commemorative coin was minted. Marianne is also a patron of one of the schools in Stronie Śląskie and in the Kłodzko area an association of her followers has been created.
school with Marianne’s name, Stronie Śl.
Renata Głuszek / Han Tiggelaar
Photo: Wikipedia, Renata Drygiel, viki.toenleidschendam-voorburg.nl, fotopolska.eu