Sophie of Württemberg was born in Stuttgart on 17 June 1818 as the daughter of William I of Württemburg and his second wife Catherine Pavlovna of Russia. Her mother died just 7 months after her birth and she never grew close to her father’s third wife Pauline of Württemberg. She was very fond of her father, though. She was also close to her sister Marie as they had an age difference of just two years. They were raised together, first by Russian governesses and later by Swiss governesses. She was very well-educated with several languages among other things.
Sophie herself was quite fond of the Duke of Brunswick but before anything could happen she was engaged to her first cousin, the future William III. She describes it as a sacrifice she brought for her father.
She married William in Stuttgart on 18 June 1839. She considered herself to be more intelligent and believed she could dominate him. She became Princess of Orange upon the abdication of William I of the Netherlands in 1840 and was then known as Her Royal Highness The Princess of Orange, Princess of the Netherlands, Princess of Orange-Nassau, Princess of Württemberg. She received a cold reception in The Hague. Her new mother-in-law had fought against the marriage, though it’s not entirely clear why. The Russian Orthodox Church forbade the marriage between first cousins and perhaps Anna feared that her grandfather’s madness would be passed on. Sophie did get on very well with William I and his son Frederick, who was her uncle by marriage. She wrote him 424 letters between 1833 and 1877.
Sophie and her husband never got along and not even the births of their sons changed anything. They had three sons, William in 1840, Maurice in 1843 and Alexander in 1851. William had several affairs during their marriage and he probably fathered at least a dozen illegitimate children. Sophie became Queen consort in 1849 when William II died suddenly, but by then they were on the brink of a separation. Their second son Maurice suffered from meningitis and they quarreled around his sickbed. Sophie wished to consult another physician and William refused. The child ultimately died of the illness. In 1855 they separated for good but a divorce was not a possibility. William was granted custody of their eldest son and Sophie was allowed to keep Alexander until he was nine years old. Sophie would also have to continue to fulfill her duties as Queen.
From 1855 she lived mostly in Huis ten Bosch and she went to visit her father almost every year. She also visited France, where she was a regular visitor to Napoleon III and his wife Eugénie. She corresponded with intellectual minds, who praised her for her own intelligence. Historian John Lothrop Motley wrote, ‘The best compliment I can pay her is, that one quite forgets that she is a queen, and only feels the presence of an intelligent and very attractive woman’. She also met with Florence Nightingale. Surprisingly she also held several seances with a British psychic, probably in order to connect with her son Maurice. She was a patron of the women’s movement in the Netherlands.
Sophie died rather suddenly on 3 June 1877 of a heart condition at Huis ten Bosch. She left her personal property to her son William and Alexander, but William died just two later. Sophie wore her wedding veil on her deathbed. She believed that her life had ended on the day of her marriage. She never lived to see the deaths of both her sons and the end of her line. William III remarried just two years later in order to prevent a succession crisis. With his second wife, Emma of Waldeck and Pyrmont, he had a daughter named Wilhelmina who would succeed him in the Netherlands as Queen.