Authors: Jean Plaidy
Caroline looked out of the window over the lawns to the terraces and statues and thought how much more pleasant it was here than at Ansbach. Secretly she thought how much more beautiful, how much more stately, how much more exciting was the Electress Sophia Charlotte than her own mother – although she would admit this to no one.
Poor Mamma was so often in tears. It was a sad life when you were resented and unwanted. She knew that well enough for she shared in the resentment. William Frederick did too, but he, poor child, being two years younger than herself was too young to understand. At six one understood very little, whereas at eight…
Well, at eight one understood that Mamma was very unhappy at Ansbach, that her stepbrother George Frederick, who had been Margrave since their father’s death – although, being a minor, in name only – did not want them; and that was not a
very pleasant way of living. How much better to be Electress Sophia Charlotte who was so beautiful and clever and adored by everyone. There was no question of
And this goddess had time to take notice of a little eight-year-old girl, to ask her about Ansbach. Caroline was uneasy remembering that conversation. Had she said too much? Would Mamma scold in her tearful way which was almost worse than bullying? Sophia Charlotte asked about lessons, not as a governess would, but as though she were interested because learning was so exciting. Was it? Caroline had not thought so until the Electress had made her feel it was, and now she was eager to find out, for surely the Electress could not be wrong? Electress Sophia Charlotte had selected Caroline for particular notice, had talked to her as she had never been talked to before. She had made her feel that she was
; and to be made to feel important by the most important person one had ever met could only mean that one
What an exciting discovery!
Caroline could scarcely wait to be once more in the presence of this goddess and yet she feared it. Suppose by some little stupidity she forfeited her regard?
‘I hope,’ she said aloud, ‘that we stay at Berlin for ever and ever.’
From the window she saw a man walking with other men in the gardens. She knew who he was – someone very important because he had been pointed out to her, John George, Elector of Saxony. The most important guest in the castle – far more than the widow of Ansbach and her young daughter.
John George was gesticulating. How angry he appeared to be! thought Caroline, and wondered what those men were saying to him to make him so.
‘I don’t think I like him much,’ she said aloud.
John George of Saxony was arguing with his ministers – two of whom had accompanied him on this visit to Berlin. They had even followed him out of doors to continue the discussion and would not leave him alone so that he felt as though he were going mad. Surely an Elector should not have to obey his own ministers.
‘My lord Elector, this marriage is a necessity. It is for the purpose of making it that we are here. Alliance with Brandenburg is essential to us, and this marriage is their condition.’
‘I have no wish to marry this woman.’
‘She is meek.’
‘All the better. She will give you no trouble.’
‘She had better not try to.’
‘She will know her place. She needs the security you can give her, and she’ll be grateful for it.’
‘I have no desire to give her anything.’
‘Your Highness, Brandenburg wants this marriage, and we want Brandenburg.’
John George scowled. He knew what they wanted. They wanted to separate him from Magdalen. Well, they were not going to. He missed her now. There was no one like her. They could offer him other women but they couldn’t satisfy him for more than an hour. He went back and back again to Magdalen. He thought of her constantly. Other women were only proxy for Magdalen. He even thought of her when making love to others. And they were offering him this dessicated widow for a wife!
State reasons! There was certainly no other reason why he would take such a creature to his bed.
The argument went on. He knew they would wear him down in the end. Ministers had great power over their rulers; and according to them Saxony needed the friendship of Brandenburg. He was prepared to let them apply themselves to matters of state if they left him in peace to apply himself to Magdalen. He smiled, remembering her. She was insatiable, that woman – and so was he. That was why they were so well matched.
The argument continued.
Nervously, Eleanor, the widowed Margravine of Ansbach, awaited her suitor. Her large blue eyes showed clearly her apprehension and now and then she would lift a hand to smooth her plentiful auburn hair. She had been considered beautiful in her youth and she was not old now; she had the buxom looks so admired in Germany and her first husband had appreciated her
charms. But that was some years ago; and since then she had borne two children.
She was very fearful of the future. When her husband, the Margrave, had died the peaceful life was ended; it had not been an exciting existence, but she had never been one to look for adventure; she had been well satisfied with her marriage and would have been contented to spend the rest of her days in the grand old palace which had delighted her from the moment she saw it.
As the daughter of the Duke of Saxe-Eisenach, marriage with the Margrave of Ansbach had been considered a worthy one, even though Ansbach was a very small principality when compared with those like Hanover and Celle. But the palace was as grand as anything to be found in either of those territories and Eleanor had loved it from the moment she first saw it. She liked the Bavarian countryside and the little town of Ansbach, nestling cosily close to the castle and the Hofgarten with its parterres and plantations. She had thought of it as home as soon as she had stepped into the great hall and glanced up at that magnificent ceiling, on which was depicted the glorification of the Margrave Karl the Wild, and seen the enormous statue in the centre of the hall of the Margrave embracing Venus. And later she had grown accustomed to the flamboyant designs in the rooms, the gilded minstrels’ gallery in the dining hall, the marble statues and the crystal chandeliers.
She had enjoyed riding through the streets of Ansbach, the capital city of her husband’s little domain. She had received the loyal cheers of the citizens for the Margrave was deeply loved and respected, largely because he, a Hohenzollern, and connected with the Brandenburgs, had not scorned to concern himself with trade, and as a result he had made a thriving community. He had brought skilled weavers from abroad; nor had that been all. He had set up metal workers in his town; and all his officials and servants were commanded to buy articles which had been produced locally. This foresight had brought prosperity to Ansbach; and the citizens made their approval of his methods known when he rode through their streets with his family.
‘Long live the Margrave! Long live the Margravine!’ She had basked contentedly in his popularity.
There had been minor irritations. It was often difficult for a stepmother to win the love of her predecessor’s children; and George Frederick, the elder of her stepchildren, his father’s heir, actively disliked and resented her. This had seemed unfortunate but not disastrous when her husband had been alive; but when on his death George Frederick had become the Margrave of Ansbach, it was a different matter.
He did not exactly tell her to go, but when he took over the apartments with their brilliant frescoes and porcelain galleries which she had inhabited with her husband he made it clear that she was not welcome in his palace.
She was a proud woman and had no wish to remain where she was not wanted, so she decided that she would leave Ansbach with her children – Caroline who was then only three years old and William Frederick who was two years younger. Her old home was in Eisenach on the border of the Thuringian Forest and here she went with the children, although she knew it would only be a temporary refuge.
Often she thought of her kindly, plump husband prematurely killed by the smallpox, and longed for the old days. There was little pleasure in spending one’s life visiting other people who, kind as they were, would not wish her to stay forever.
Sometimes she asked herself if she had been headstrong in leaving Ansbach. George Frederick was a minor, and not allowed to govern; and until he married and had a son, the heir presumptive to Ansbach was her own son William Frederick.
Her greatest friends in her misfortune were the Brandenburgs and at their suggestion she had sent William Frederick back to Ansbach – for after all it was his home – and had travelled to Berlin with young Caroline.
Here she had made the acquaintance of the Elector John George of Saxony, and both the Elector and Electress of Brandenburg had persuaded her that it was her duty to accept the proposal of marriage he would make to her.
It was for this reason that she was waiting for him now.
He was coming towards her – a young man with wild eyes, full, sensuous lips, and an ungraciousness about his manner which was disturbing.
He bowed stiffly and, she fancied, avoided meeting her eyes.
He was thinking angrily: She’s older than I thought. Already a matron and a mother of two!
‘Madam,’ he said, ‘I believe you have some notion why I have asked for this… er… pleasure.’
His voice was cold; he scarcely bothered to hide his dislike.
She looked alarmed and that angered him still further. There was no need for her to play the coy maiden. She knew very well what his purpose was; and she doubtless knew how vehemently he had had to be persuaded. He was not going to pretend to her now or at any other time. He would make no secret to her or to anyone that if he was forced into this marriage it was under protest.
She inclined her head slightly, conveying that she was aware of the reason for his visit.
‘I understand you are prepared to marry me.’
Eleanor wanted to cry out: No! I must have time to think. I have allowed them to persuade me. I have been carried away by their arguments. She thought of herself growing older, Caroline becoming marriageable. What hope would she have of finding a suitable husband for her daughter if she were a wandering exile? But if Caroline’s stepfather was the Elector of Saxony…
She said quietly: ‘Your Highness does me much honour.’
Much honour indeed! He wondered what Magdalen would say when he returned to Dresden. Her mother would be furious because he knew that Madam von Röohlitz dearly desired her daughter to be his wife. An exciting project! He would be willing to marry Magdalen but his ministers would never agree of course, and he had to take this poor creature instead.
He looked at her with fresh distaste but reassured himself that a wife and a mistress need not interfere with each other.
‘Then you will take me as your husband?’
‘I… I will, Your Highness.’
‘Then that matter is settled.’
He bowed, turned on his heel and went to the door. The natural sequence to such a question and answer should have been an embrace, a confessing of admiration, a promise of enduring affection. But he had no intention of letting her think he cared sufficiently for her to pretend to hold her in any regard. She would have to understand that this was an arranged
marriage. He might have to attempt to get an heir; she had two children already so was no doubt fertile, and once she was pregnant he need not see her unless it was necessary to get another child.
Left alone Eleanor stood staring at the door. She was trembling. He had seemed so strange. He was younger than she was – in his twenties and not without good looks. Uneasily she remembered having heard a rumour that he behaved oddly at times since he had had a blow on the head. She had heard too that he was dissolute, extravagant – in fact a libertine.
What will this marriage be like? she asked herself.
It will be like many other marriages of state, she told herself. Arranged. The surprising aspect was that she should have something to offer. If he had not been infatuated with a woman who was reputed to be a spy for the Austrians would the Brandenburgs have arranged this marriage? It was scarcely likely. Her duty was to influence him when she was married; she had to keep him aware that alliance with Brandenburg was preferable to that with Austria. How could
persuade him when he seemed to regard her with such distaste?
She could have wept with humiliation and frustration. With the passing of the years tears had come with increasing ease.
It was a bitter choice – to wander from one friend’s hospitality to that of another, becoming more and more of an encumbrance as the years passed; or marriage with a man of wealth and some power who could, if he were so inclined, make a good match for her daughter.
There can be no choice, she thought. Besides, it is the wish of the Brandenburgs. But how I wish it need not be, how I wish my dear John Frederick had lived. Never had the palace of the Margraves of Ansbach seemed so inviting; never before had she longed so fervently to be back in those baroque rooms with their porcelain galleries.
Trying to hold back her tears she went to find her daughter.
Caroline curtsied before the Electress Sophia Charlotte.
‘Well, my dear,’ said the Electress. ‘We have some good news for you. Have you told her yet?’
‘Not yet,’ answered Eleanor. ‘I thought I would consult you first.’
‘Come here, my child.’
Sophia Charlotte stroked the auburn hair and smiled into the pink rather plump little face with the bright blue, very intelligent eyes.
‘You will soon be going to a new home, my dear. I think that will please you.’
‘Are we coming here?’ asked Caroline eagerly.
Sophia Charlotte shook her head but she looked pleased because Caroline had betrayed her desire to stay in Berlin.
‘No, my dear. You are to have a father.’
Caroline looked bewildered; then she saw that her mother, although pretending to smile, was really very frightened; but as the Electress was pleased she supposed it was a good thing.