When Adolph Wilhelm Carl August Friedrich of Nassau-Weilburg was born at Biebrich Castle in the Duchy of Nassau on 24th July 1817 to Duke Wilhelm (1792 - 1839) and Duchess Luise (neé Princess of Saxe-Hildburghausen, 1794 - 1825), no one could have imagined that he would become the founder of a new European dynasty.
He was named in honour of his ancestor Adolph of Nassau, German king between 1292 and 1298, and had nine godparents; among them King Wilhelm of the Netherlands, his predecessor on the Luxembourgish throne.
From the age of five Adolph was privately educated by Georg Lorberg and Christoph Resius together with his elder sister Therese (1815-1871). Little is known about this time but he was educated according to the curriculum of the public grammar school of Weilburg (Öffentliches Gymnasium Weilburg) as well as in court-etiquette, military sciences and French. His teachers described him as a wild child who had difficulties meeting their demands. He was also described as smart with a wide variety of interests. When Adolph was twelve, Philipp Leyendecker began educating him in math and swimming.
Adolph's mother, Duchess Luise, died in 1825 and his father, Duke Wilhelm, married Princess Pauline of Württemberg in 1828. Unfortunately, there are no documents known that describe Adolph's feelings concerning his mother’s death or his father’s remarriage. We can speculate that the death was a terrible shock for the whole family as the ducal family was always described as very close with Luise as a beloved mother who personally cared for her children.
Between 1837 and 1839 Adolph and his younger brother Moritz (1820 - 1850) lived in Vienna to study law, politics, war sciences, languages, physics and chemistry. They didn’t attend public lectures at Vienna University but rented a house instead and the professors held their lectures in a private atmosphere.
Shortly after Adolph’s return to Nassau his father died because of a stroke and at the age of 22 he became the Duke of Nassau, a job for which he had not yet been fully trained. During the next four years, Adolph enjoyed his bachelor years while travelling throughout Europe and hunting in Nassau and Austria. This shows how little Adolph was interested in his office in the beginning and as a result his work experience was quite low. Due to his frequent absence as well as the influence of his stepmother, a few problems arose.
|Grand Duchess Elizabeth|
In September 1843 Adolph got engaged to Grand Duchess Elisabeth Mikhailovna of Russia, a niece of Czar Nikolai I. It can be assumed that the couple knew each other before through Adolph’s stepmother Pauline of Württemberg who was the maternal aunt of Elisabeth. The couple married in St. Petersburg on January 31, 1844. The 17 year old bride was the second of Michail and Helen of Russia's three daughters.
It is important to mention the marriage contract, which ensured that Elisabeth would retain her customary standard of living. One million silver-roubles (more than 10,000,000 US dollars today) was paid as it was custom for daughters and granddaughters of Russian Czars.
The first half was paid in the Duchy of Nassau, 250,000 at the time of the wedding and another 250,000 six months after it. Adolph was to pay 4% interest to his wife per year. The duchess-to-be could use this interest for her personal use. The other 500,000 silver-roubles was to stay in Russia. Another part of the marriage contract became a sad reality not long after the marriage. Article 14 of the contract handled the possibility of Elisabeth’s death without having children. If Elisabeth died before Adolph and the marriage was childless 750,000 silver-roubles of the dowry would return to Russia but the interest and 250,000 silver-roubles should stay in Nassau. The dowry also included jewellery, fine furniture, china and porcelain.
|Duke Adolph in 1835|
The ducal couple was described as very happy and in love throughout their short marriage. Elisabeth was very popular in Nassau and she travelled around with her husband to get to know her new home country. Her first pregnancy was announced in June 1844.
Unfortunately the Duchess became very ill and on January 27th 1845, almost a year after their marriage, she gave birth to a daughter who died shortly after that. Elisabeth died a day later. The autopsy showed that she had suffered from an aggressive type of tuberculosis. None of her doctors had diagnosed this before, even though Elisabeth had complained about difficulties while breathing during her whole pregnancy. They thought that her health issues were ‘normal’ pregnancy difficulties but nothing serious.
Adolph was shocked and depressed about his losses and left Nassau to rehab in Ischl. In October 1845 he returned to Biebrich Castle and decided to build a ‘Russian Chapel’ in Wiesbaden to honour is wife and daughter. (More on that in one of our future editions of Luxarazzi 101.) In the following years Adolph wasn't interested in remarriage.
Even though Adolph was considered conservative and reactionary, he was the first sovereign to address his subjects during the 1848 revolutions in the German states. On 4 March, about 30,000 men, one third of the Duchy's male population, gathered in front of the Stadtschloss in Wiesbaden and demanded to see Duke Adolph who subsequently granted them civil rights. In the following years, a few progressive laws were introduced though later taken back.
In 1850, Adolph met Princess Adelheid-Marie of Anhalt-Dessau (1833 – 1916) for the first time and the couple was married on April 23, 1851 in Dessau. The new Duchess was very interested in the Fine Arts and many of her paintings are still in the ownership of the Grand Ducal Family, hanging in the Château de Berg but also in some of the former Ducal Castles in Hesse.
On April 22nd 1852 the couple welcomed their first son, Wilhelm Alexander. In 1854, 1857, 1859 and 1864 four more children were born two of whom died as infants.
The next decade was characterized by peace and happiness in the Duchy and Adolph celebrated his silver jubilee in 1864. At the time he and his wife were quite popular among their citizens but two years later the Prussian-Austrian war changed the political landscape in Germany. Adolph had sided with the Austrian rulers but Prussia won the war and thus the Duchy of Nassau became a dependent part of it. As a result Adolph had to abdicate.
The family left Nassau to move to Rumpenheim Castle (Kassel, Hesse) before leaving to Austria. A contract between the state of Prussia and Adolph saved his estates in Nassau as private property but, apart from occasional stints at Königstein, he never returned to Nassau to live there again. In addition, he was granted 15 million guilder in Prussian securities. In 1870 the family bought Schloss Hohenburg in Bavaria which became the permanent residence of the former Ducal Family for the next 20 years.
After 24 years of ‘unemployment’ and amusement the family’s life changed again. After the death of King Willem III of the Netherlands, who was also Grand-Duke of Luxembourg, the Ottonian-line of the Nassau family had no male heirs. Willem’s only surviving child was from his second marriage to Emma of Waldeck-Pyrmont, a niece of Adolph. Their surviving child later became Queen Wilhelmina. While the succession rights in the Netherlands allowed females to become Queen, the laws in Luxembourg were different: only males could inherit the throne. As a result the Luxembourgish throne fell to the older Walramian-line of the House of Nassau and thus Adolph became Grand Duke of Luxembourg on November 23, 1890.
Upon his arrival to Luxembourg, his new citizens were shocked.What had happened? The new Grand Duke Adolph had chosen to wear his old Nassau uniform including a spiked helmet which heavily resembled the Prussian attire. Apart from this little mishap, his arrival was met with a overwhelmingly positive reponse from both the press as well as the public and the always considerate Adolph never wore his Nassau uniform again.
Although the people of Luxembourg were happy about the total independence from the Netherlands, Adolph did not fulfill all their wishes as he never lived permanently in Luxembourg. During most of his reign he lived at Schloss Hohenburg and just spent the summer months in Luxembourg. Only in 1895 did Hereditary Grand Duke Wilhelm (Guillaume) and his growing family move to the renovated and expanded Palais grand-ducal in Luxembourg City.
In contrast to his early years when reigning in the Duchy of Nassau, Adolph decided not to involve himself in politics and left the decisions largely to prime minister Paul Eyschen. In 1902, he appointed his son and heir as his regent.
During the last years of his life, Adolph was partly confined to a wheelchair. In early November 1905, he suffered a qualm yet recovered a little in the following days and was able to smoke his beloved Havana cigars again but on November 17, 1905 Grand Duke Adolph died at Schloss Hohenburg at the age of 88. He was buried in the Castle Chapel of Schloss Weilburg like all protestant members of the house of Nassau-Weilburg.