Duchess Friederike was born 2 March 1778 in the Old Palace in the city of Hanover. She was the youngest surviving daughter of Duke Carl, heir presumptive to the throne of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, and his first wife Duchess Friederike, née Princess of Hesse-Darmstadt. She was christened on 15 March 1778 receiving the names Friederike Caroline Sophie Alexandrine.
Duchess of Mecklenburg
Friederike would spend her early years at the Old Palace, opposite Leine Castle, in Hanover where her father was serving as commander, and later governor, of the city for his brother in law King George III of Great Britain, who was also Elector of Hanover. On 22 May 1782, Friederike aged 4 lost her mother who died three days after giving birth to a daughter, Auguste Albertine, who would only live for one day. Following the death of her mother Friederike and her family moved out of the Old Palace and into Schloss Herrenhausen. Without a mother Friederike and her siblings were left largely under the care of their governesses Mrs von Wolzogen. In order to provide his children with a replacement mother figure Friederike’s father decided to remarry. His choice of wife was his late wife’s sister and his children’s favourite aunt, Princess Charlotte of Hesse-Darmstadt. Friederike and her siblings were all in Darmstadt to attend the ceremony which was held on 28 September 1784. At the time in Germany marrying the sister of a deceased wife was a common and popular practice and was done in order to provide children with the most natural step mother possible.
In September 1785 Friederike’s eldest sister Charlotte left the family home upon her marriage to the reigning duke of Saxe-Hildburghausen. The children’s governess Mrs von Wolzogen left with Charlotte taking up the position of mistress of her household. Having just lost her eldest sister and governess, a few months later on 12 December 1785, just a few weeks before Christmas, Friederike lost another female figure when a little over a year into the marriage her stepmother and aunt Charlotte died having given birth a couple of weeks beforehand to a son named Carl.
Having been widowed for a second time, Friederike’s father took the decision in 1786 to retire from his post in Hanover and move his young family to Darmstadt where his children were placed into the care of their grandmother Marie (Princess Georg of Hesse-Darmstadt), while he himself took up residence in a mansion near the Rhine gate. Friederike’s grandmother owned two residences in Darmstadt. The first was located in the centre of the town near to the Schloss, the second at the far end of the Landgrave’s Park. It was in these two residences that Friederike would spend her childhood alongside her siblings. Once under the care of their grandmother the children’s French-Swiss governess Mrs Aiger, who had replaced Mrs von Wolzogen, was dismissed by Friederike’s grandmother on the grounds that she was too strict with the children. In her place her grandmother recruited a Mrs Gelieur, who was also from Switzerland.
Friederike’s grandmother organised the children’s education having them brought up bilingual, making sure they learnt French, which, in addition to their native German, was the language of diplomacy and was spoken at the German courts. They received religious instruction from Johann Wilhelm Lichtamer, the chief Clergyman at Darmstadt. The Reverend George Andreas Frey from the local government school was also brought in to teach Friederike and her siblings. Outside of their studies Friederike and her sisters were taken to visit the European cities of Strasbourg, where their aunt the Duchess of Zweibrücken (born Princess Augusta Wilhelmine of Hesse-Darmstadt) lived, and the Dutch cities of Rotterdam and the Hague. Out of all of her siblings Friederike was especially close to her sister Luise, who was the sister closet in age to herself, there being a two year age gap between them. With the marriage of her second oldest sister Therese to the Hereditary Prince of Thurn and Taxis in May 1789, there were only four children left in Darmstadt: Luise, Friederike, Georg and their half brother Carl. Friederike, with Luise and Georg went to the Frankfurt coronations of Leopold II in 1790 and Franz II in 1792, the second of which would turn out to be the last ever coronation of a Holy Roman Emperor. Prior to attending the second coronation Friederike and Luise had their Lutheran confirmation on 15 June 1792.
Following the French revolution and the outbreak of war between France and the Holy Roman Empire, Friederike and Luise left Darmstadt in 1792 as it was felt to be too dangerous for them to remain due to its proximity to the advancing French army. The sisters and their grandmother then sought refuge with their eldest sister Charlotte, the Duchess of Saxe-Hildburghausen, which was where their other sister Therese had also gone, meaning all four Strelitz sisters were reunited.
In March 1793 with the French Army being pushed back it was now safe for Friederike and Luise to leave Hildburghausen and return to Darmstadt. Prior to their departure the Landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt issued an invitation to his aunt to visit him in Frankfurt on her way back to Darmstadt so he could introduce her granddaughters Friederike and Luise to King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia and his sons Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm and Prince Ludwig. The families were related through the Queen of Prussia, born Princess Friederike of Hesse-Darmstadt, thus making the Prussian princes Friederike’s second cousins. Accepting the Landgrave’s invitation Friederike, Luise and their grandmother stopped over in Frankfurt where they attended a performance at the theatre. At the performance the sisters were presented to the Prussian king, upon whom they made a great impression. The next day at a ball the 17 year old Luise and 15 year old Friederike, who had both just celebrated their birthdays, were introduced to the 22 year old Prussian Crown Prince, Friedrich Wilhelm and his 19 year old younger brother Prince Ludwig. The Prussian king did his best to ensure his sons could spend as much time as possible with the sisters. As a result of the time spent together Luise and Friederike soon agreed to marry Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm and Prince Ludwig respectively. With proposals for the double marriage accepted the official betrothals took place at the Schloss Darmstadt one month later on 24 April 1793.
Friederike and Luise, having been close their whole lives and seemingly destined to remain so after their marriage to two brothers, spent the last few months prior to their marriages at their grandmother’s residence in the centre of Darmstadt while also making the occasional trip to see their fiancés at their army camp. Friederike who had already suffered the loss of two mothers in her short life, almost experienced more tragedy as her fiancé Prince Ludwig almost died before they could marry after an overheated stove in his tent started a fire, his life only being saved by the quick actions of a sentinel who pulled the unconscious prince from his tent. Friederike and Luise, accompanied by their father and grandmother left Darmstadt on 15 December 1793 beginning the journey to Potsdam for their wedding. The journey took one week to make with group making the trip via Wurtzburg, Hildburghausen, Weimar, Leipzig, and Wittenberg. They reached Potsdam on 21 December where their fiancé’s were waiting to receive them. Two days later they made a grand state entrance into the capital Berlin where the wedding was to be held. Luise was the first to walk down the aisle marrying Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm on Christmas Eve at the Royal Palace. Friederike, wearing an embroidered silver dress, was married to Prince Ludwig at the Royal Palace on the 26th.
Princess Ludwig of Prussia
Friederike, now styled Her Royal Highness Princess Ludwig of Prussia, and her husband set up home in a town palace on Oberwall street in Berlin where over the next three years the couple welcomed three children: Prince Friedrich (1794-1863), Prince Karl (1795-1798) and Princess Friederike (1796-1850). Opposite to Friederike’s house was the Crown Prince’s Palace where her sister Luise and her husband lived. The sisters remained close and in 1795 the sculptor Johann Gottfried Schadow started work on a famous statue of the two sisters, initially making portrait busts of them, before going on to construct a life sized sculpture of the two sisters which was known as the “Prinzessinengruppe”.
Friederike’s marriage was not as successful as that of her sisters. Both partners’ were reported to have engaged in affairs. The Countess von Voss, Luise’s lady in waiting, hints at a relationship between Friederike and her husband’s cousin Prince Ludwig Ferdinand of Prussia, who she describes as having a “passionate nature” and who on having unsuccessfully attempted to “gain an influence” over Luise, then turned his attention to the 15 year old Friederike who was more “susceptible to flattery”. She also hints at affairs for Friederike’s husband saying he was “perhaps too young himself to be a good guide” for her. The marriage of Friederike would be cut short by the untimely death of Prince Ludwig on 28 December 1796, a couple of days after the couple’s third wedding anniversary, leaving Friederike a widow at the age of 18, and with three young children including a two month old daughter to care for.
Princess Friedrich Wilhelm of Solms-Braunfels
At the end of the mourning period for her husband, the Countess von Voss recorded in her diary that Friederike “knows only to well how to console herself “. The Countess von Voss also said that everyone that sees Friederike falls in love with her. During her widowhood Friederike’s reported admirers and possible lovers was said to include her first cousin, the British prince Adolphus, Prince Klemens von Metternich and various members of the theatrical profession. In 1798 she accepted a marriage proposal from Prince Adolphus (who was later made Duke of Cambridge), however his father King George III refused to consent to the marriage until the end of the war with the French revolutionaries. Friederike and Prince Adolphus maintained a correspondence where she expressed her hope that the issue could be settled in time and they would be able to marry. However around August 1798 she began to write less and less. Having fallen pregnant Friederike jilted Prince Adolphus secretly marrying on 10 December 1798 the child’s father, Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Solms-Braunfels, earning the fury of the Prince Adolphus’ mother and her aunt, Queen Charlotte, and causing an estrangement with her sister Luise. Due to the controversy the newlyweds left the Berlin court, setting up home in Ansbach, with a second home in nearby Treisdorf where they owned an old hunting lodge. For Friederike this would be the first time in her life that she had been separated from her sister Luise.
Upon her second marriage Friederike lost her Prussian titles, her household and her children, who had to remain behind at the Prussian court for their education. Only her young daughter Friederike was allowed to remain with her for a time before she too had to be sent to Berlin to receive an education. Friederike, now styled Her Serene Highness Princess Friedrich Wilhelm of Solms-Braunfels, gave birth in Ansbach to a daughter just two months after the wedding; however the child would only survive for eight months. At their home in Treisdorf, the couple welcomed a further three children over the next few years: Prince Friedrich Wilhelm (1800-1800), Prince Wilhelm (1801-1868) and Princess Auguste (1804-1865).
Once the controversy over her marriage had settled down a reconciliation between Friederike and Luise took place in 1799 during a family gathering at Hildburghausen. With the Napoleonic invasions of Germany, to escape the French army Friederike set up home in Konigsberg, East Prussia where she would be joined by her sister Luise and brother in law King Friedrich Wilhelm III following the Prussian army’s defeats. During this period Friederike gave birth to another son, Prince Alexander (1807-1867). Her stay in Konigsberg also presented Friederike with the opportunity to enjoy the company of her sister Luise for an extended amount of time, the first such opportunity since they had lived opposite each other in Berlin.
With Prussia’s defeat Friederike left Konigsberg sometime in 1807 for her father’s court in Neustrelitz where her grandmother Marie (Princess Georg of Hesse-Darmstadt) was also living. It would be in Mecklenburg-Strelitz where the final separation of Luise and Friederike would take place. During a family gathering at their father’s summer residence Schloss Hohenziertz, Luise fell ill succumbing on 19 July 1810 surrounded by her family, including Friederike who had helped nurse her through this fatal illness. Two years later Friederike gave birth in Neustrelitz to Prince Carl (1812-1875), her final child with Prince Friedrich Wilhelm.
In 1813 the British prince, Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, who was leading British forces against Napoleon, paid a visit to the court of his uncle in Neustrelitz. Here the prince met and grew to know Friederike, his first cousin, and eventually the two fell in love and desired to marry one another. To clear the path a divorce between Friederike and Prince Friedrich Wilhelm was talked about but never came to fruition as on 13 April 1814 her husband died during a visit to the Prince of Hohenhole-Oehringen.
Duchess of Cumberland and Queen of Hanover
When in the spring of 1814 the Duke of Cumberland proposed marriage to Friederike, she accepted on condition that the British Royal Family, and in particular her aunt Queen Charlotte, gave their consent to the marriage. 17 years before hand Friederike had jilted the brother of the Duke of Cumberland, Prince Adolphus. In a letter, dated 10 October 1814, Queen Charlotte gave her consent writing to her brother Duke Carl that she would “endeavour to render the residence of the Princess of Solms amongst us as pleasant and agreeable as circumstances will permit” and that Friederike would “be always a welcome guest when she comes, and we shall endeavour, my daughters and myself, to do our best to entertain her.” She also wrote, no doubt with Friederike’s past reputation in mind, issuing instructions on how her niece should behave upon arrival in Britain, writing:
“I confide to you that it is not the fashion here to receive morning visits from Gentleman to which she will be exposed by the circumstance of the Duke being Colonel of a regiment, unless he himself introduces them to her; she should also be very circumspect in the choice of Ladies with whom she shall associate, which will be so much more necessary, as the Duke has acquaintance amongst our sex, who, although not actually of bad conduct, might however become injurious to her in point of policy.”
The marriage of Friederike and the Duke of Cumberland took place in Neustrelitz on 29 May 1815, upon which date she became styled Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cumberland. She also became a Royal Princess of Great Britain and Ireland, a Princess of Hanover and a Duchess of Brunswick and Luneburg. Following the wedding the Duke returned to Britain to seek from Parliament an increase in his allowance on account of his marriage. The Duke being unpopular in his home country saw the bill run into opposition and eventually it was defeated by a single vote, 125 to 126. He then returned to Friederike in Germany to bring her to Britain where she and the Duke were to be remarried, it having been deemed necessary to have a wedding ceremony according to the rites and ceremonies of the Church of England in case of the duke’s succession to the British throne. For the wedding Friederike wore a white satin robe embroidered with gold, while for her headdress she wore a tiara and ducal coronet. Present at the wedding was Friederike’s brother Hereditary Grand Duke Georg, who had accompanied her to Britain, and her husband’s brother’s the Prince Regent (later George IV) and the Duke’s of York, Clarence (later William IV) and Kent. One notable absentee however was the Duke’s mother Queen Charlotte who was now opposed to the marriage and was refusing to receive her niece/daughter in law. With the Queen’s letter from October giving consent to the marriage in the public domain a statement from the Queen was issued to explain why she would not receive her niece. The statement said the Queen had received “information from many respectable quarters which induced her to accept the painful resolution upon which she has since acted” for why she was not receiving her niece; and that her feelings towards the marriage had been “conveyed to her son the Prince Regent, not only long before the marriage of the Duke of Cumberland was solemnised in Germany, but also before the formal sanction of the Crown was given”. It is unclear what the information was that made the Queen change her mind or who was responsible for relaying the information.
In November 1816 Friederike received news of the passing of her father Grand Duke Carl in Neustrelitz. Not long after the Court Circular began to contain regular updates on Friederike who was suffering from an undisclosed condition, which was in fact a difficult pregnancy. Unfortunately she gave birth to a stillborn daughter at her residence in St James Palace on 27 January 1817. In addition to the St James residence Friederike also had a home in Kew where she and her husband regularly entertained various notable guests. In April 1818 another attempt was made to increase the allowance of Friederike’s husband, but once again Parliament rejected the bill, this time by seven votes, 136-143.
Having failed twice to increase his allowance in July 1818 the Duke and Friederike left Britain for her native Germany where the cost of living was cheaper than in Britain. In Germany the couple predominantly resided in Berlin but being based there also gave Friederike the chance to visit relatives in Neustrelitz, Hanover and Dessau, where her daughter and namesake, Princess Friederike of Prussia, resided being married to the ruling duke of Anhalt-Dessau. While in Berlin on 27 May 1819 Friederike gave birth in her hotel room to a son, Prince George (1819-1878). In June 1825 parliament finally approved the bill to increase the allowance of the Duke of Cumberland, but the increase was solely for the purpose of paying for the education of the couple’s son Prince George. After 1825 although her husband would return to Britain on occasion Friederike and her son remained in Germany for a few more years which gave her the chance to see her daughter Princess Auguste of Solms-Braunfels married in Berlin on 26 July 1827 to Prince Albert of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt, heir presumptive to that principality and later ruling prince. In total Friederike would spend over ten years living in Germany, only returning to Britain in August 1829.
With her mother in law and aunt Queen Charlotte having died in 1818, and with the former Prince Regent having succeeded to the throne as King George IV in 1820, upon Friederike’s return to Britain she was now fully accepted and welcomed as a full member of the Royal Family, being presented at court for the first time. She also held the Royal Family Order of King George IV. After ten years abroad Friederike soon settled back into her home in Kings Palace St James and Kew, resuming an active social life attending parties and the opera, hosting dinners and meeting with various notable persons such as visiting foreign diplomats, royalty, nobles and also with members of the British Royal Family, government, Church of England and aristocracy.
In 1830, a year after Friederike’s return to Britain, the death of her brother in law George IV meant that her husband was now heir to the new king, William IV, in Hanover, and second in line to the British throne behind Princess Victoria of Kent. Her full acceptance as a member of the Royal Family was also shown by her attendance at Westminster Abbey for the coronation on 8 September 1831 of King William IV. In the year of his coronation William IV assigned the Herbarium buildings (later Hanover House), located on the north side of Kew Green, to Friederike and her husband. The following year Friederike’s son Prince George had an accident while playing at their Kew home, and subsequently lost his sight. As such in October 1833 Friederike and her husband left Britain for Germany to visit the eye specialist Baron Graefe as they desperately sought treatment to restore his sight. While her husband returned to Britain, Friederike stayed with her son in Germany while he underwent treatment on his eyes, but unfortunately he would remain blind for the rest of his life. Friederike was still in Germany when on 20 June 1837, King William IV died. He was succeeded on the British throne by his niece Victoria and the Hanoverian throne by his brother the Duke of Cumberland. Friederike was now Queen of Hanover and the third member of the House of Mecklenburg-Strelitz to become a Queen, following in the footsteps of her aunt Queen Charlotte and sister Queen Luise.
Back in the place of her birth Queen Friederike of Hanover was after many years once again living in her childhood homes. In 1840 the King and Queen celebrated their silver wedding anniversary. In April the following year Friederike fell ill and after being confined to her bed for three months passed away in her childhood home on 29 June 1841. She was 63 at the time of her death and was survived by her husband, seven of her children and numerous grandchildren. Her funeral took place in Hanover on 7 July with her body being interned in the vault of the Royal Chapel. Following the death of her husband King Ernest Augustus on 18 November 1851, a service was held during the night of 25-26 November, where Friederike’s sarcophagus was taken alongside that of her husband’s, and together they were interned in the mausoleum of Schloss Herrenhausen.
- Dame of the Order of Luise, Prussia
- Royal Family Order of King George IV of Great Britain