Thursday, August 22, 2013

Luxarazzi 101: Grand Duke Wilhelm IV

When Hereditary Prince Wilhelm Alexander (*) of Nassau was born on 22 April 1852 at Schloss Biebrich in the German state of Nassau, nobody expected him to one day be the ruler of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Born as the first child of Duke Adolph of Nassau and his second wife, née Princess Adelheid-Marie of Anhalt-Dessau, he had four younger siblings of whom only one, Princess Hilda, lived to adulthood.

[We'll conveniently only use the German version of his name because that is the name he was christened with. Of course, you can also refer to him as William (in English), Guillaume (in French), Wëllem (in Luxembourgish), or any other version of the name in any language you know. The same applies for the names of all other family members; so his father is Adolph and not Adolphe, his mother is Adelheid-Marie and not Adélaïde-Marie, and his wife Maria-Ana and not Marie-Anne.]

Not too much is known about Prince Wilhelm's early education. While the family still ruled the Duchy of Nassau, he was educated according to the curricula of the Weilburger Gymnasium, the local secondary school, much like his father had been. When Nassau was annexed by Prussia in 1866, Duke Adolph and Duchess Adelheid-Marie and their three surviving children, Wilhelm, Franz and Hilda, had to leave the Duchy. After moving around a lot during the first few years, they eventually settled in Bavaria.

After finishing his school education, Prince Wilhelm enrolled in the cadet school in Dresden in the Kingdom of Saxony where he received his officers' training. (A step followed by his younger brother, Prince Franz, a few years later. The younger prince died of scarlet fever during his time in Dresden while visiting his family in Vienna.) 

In 1871, Prince Wilhelm became part of the Austro-Hungarian army by joining the prestigious K.u.k. Husaren-Regiment „Kaiser“ Nr. 1. The military would have probably been the prince's career if it hadn't been for a few untimely deaths in the the House of Orange-Nassau, a junior branch of the House of Nassau, reigning in the Kingdom of the Netherlands as well as the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.

When Alexander, Prince of Orange, the third and only surviving son of King-Grand Duke Willem III, died in 1884, there was no male heir left in the House of Orange-Nassau. While this wasn't so much of a problem in the Netherlands as females were allowed to inherit the throne, it posed a problem in Luxembourg. Based upon the Nassauischer Erbverein, the family pact of the Nassaus, the senior Weilburg branch of the House of Nassau was to inherit the Grand Duchy. And so, in 1888 when it became obvious that Duke Adolph would become the Grand Duke of Luxembourg, Prince Wilhelm quit the service in the Austrian army.

Wilhelm and Maria-Ana
in 1893
Some time during the early 1880's, Prince Wilhelm had been introduced to Infanta Maria-Ana of Portugal, daughter of the deposed king Miguel I of Portugal and his consort Princess Adelaide of Löwenstein-Wertheim-Rosenberg. It is believed that they couple first met at Schloss Tegernsee in Bavaria through Duke Karl-Theodor in Bavaria, brother of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, who was married to Infanta Maria-José of Portugal, an older sister of Infanta Maria-Ana.

While in today's day and age every noble family would probably be delirious with joy about such a union, there were black clouds over the couple's bliss. Already in 1884, Prince Wilhelm had asked his father for consent to marry the Catholic infanta but Duke Adolph had refused due to religious differences; the Nassau family were fervent Lutherans after all. It took many years until the lovers were finally allowed to tie the knot.

Even though other possible wives were suggested to Prince Wilhelm, he refused to marry any of them and only when Duke Adolph became the Grand Duke of Luxembourg, he warmed up about his son's choice. The Grand Duchy had been and remains to this day a mostly Catholic country, so the prospect of a Catholic wife for the heir wasn't as unthinkable anymore.

On 21 June 1893, Prince Wilhelm and Infanta Maria-Ana were finally allowed to marry after Duke Adolph gave his consent and Pope Leo XIII granted the necessary dispensation for a Catholic to marry a Protestant. The couple tied the knot at Schloss Fischhorn near Zell am See in Austria, at the time owned by the Princely Family of Liechtenstein. They were married by the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg and afterwards were blessed by a Lutheran priest.

Wilhelm and Maria-Ana with
their four eldest daughters
In their marriage contract it was agreed that sons would be raised in their father's Lutheran faith, while daughters would become Catholics like their mother. Nobody probably expected that the couple would not have any male offspring - instead they had six daughters, Marie-Adélaïde (1894-1924), Charlotte (1896-1985), Hilda (1897-1979), Antonia (1899-1954), Elisabeth (1901-50), Sophie (1902-41) - and that the Grand Ducal Family was bound to become a Catholic family in the next generation.

Already in 1890 when his father had ascended to the Luxembourgish throne, Prince Wilhelm of Nassau had become the Hereditary Grand Duke of Luxembourg. Between 25 December 1897 and 2 April 1902, he was a member of the Council of State. Two days later, the Hereditary Grand Duke became lieutenant-representative for his father. After Grand Duke Adolph's death in 1905, Wilhelm succeeded him on the throne as Grand Duke Wilhelm IV, or Grand Duke Guillaume IV, or Grand Duke Wëllem IV, or Grand Duke William IV - you get what we said about the names earlier on...

Grand Duke Wilhelm IV and Grand Duchess Maria-Ana had moved into the Château de Berg shortly after their wedding and five of their six daughters were born in Luxembourg. They, however, spent most of the summer and early fall months at Schloss Hohenberg in Bavaria. When the castle in Colmar-Berg was demolised to be rebuilt according to suggestions of Grand Duke Wilhelm IV in 1906, the family moved to Bavaria fulltime.

Even though the early childhood of their daughters is described as happy and carefree, their happiness, however, wasn't unalloyed. Already in 1898, Grand Duke Wilhelm IV had suffered from a brain haemorrhage and he never fully recovered. Over the years, it developed into cerebral embolism including strong signs of paralysis. For this reason, the move to Bavaria had also been encouraged by the government in the hope that a change of air would strengthen the Grand Duke.

Wilhelm as Grand Duke
Having fathered six daughters but no son, Grand Duke William IV declared his cousin Count Georg Nikolaus of Merenberg, the only other living legitimate male in the House of Nassau though product of a morganatic marriage, to be non-dynastic and named his oldest daughter, Princess Marie-Adélaïde as his heiress-presumptive. (We'll have a closer look at the matter in one of our upcoming posts about Luxembourg's first female ruler.)

By the beginning of 1908, the medical condition of the Grand Duke had deteriorated so much that he appointed his wife, Grand Duchess Maria-Ana, as his lieutenant-representative on 19 March. In November that same year, his health had worsened even more and representatives of the Luxembourgish government made their way to Bavaria to determine his inability to rule and to make Grand Duchess Maria-Ana his regent after his mother, Grand Duchess Adelheid-Marie, had renounced her rights as, according to the laws, she would have needed to conduct any regency for him. On 19 November, Grand Duchess Maria-Ana took an oath on the constitution in front of the Luxembourgish delegation, her daughters and her mother-in-law. All acts that required a male person were carried out by Grand Duke Friedrich II of Baden, husband of Wilhelm's sister Hilda.

Grand Duchess Maria-Ana tenderly cared for her sick husband, for whom she had needed to wait for nine years before finally tying the knot, daily. All of their daughters were incorporated into the care for their father, though it was especially the oldest, Princess Marie-Adélaïde, who helped her mother a lot.

Wilhelm's coffin at the
castle church in Weilburg
(Photo: Luxarazzi)
In September 1911, the family moved back to Luxembourg and only a few months later, in the morning hours of 25 February 1912, the condition of the Grand Duke deteriorated once again and he now also suffered from heart trouble. His family gathered around his bed and Grand Duke Wilhelm IV passed away that night at 6:35pm. He was the last Luxembourgish Grand Duke to die in office. He was succeeded by his oldest daughter, now Grand Duchess Marie-Adélaïde, who wasn't yet of age so that her mother served as regent until 18 June, her 18th birthday.

After his death, Grand Duke Wilhelm IV laid in state at the palais grand-ducal and some 15,000 people paid their last respects. On 1 March, the Grand Duke's body was brought to Weilburg in the former state of Nassau where he was laid to rest in the church of Schloss Weilburg.

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