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A German Princess’ visit to Windsor Castle

I first encountered Princess Louise Henriette Wilhelmine of Anhalt-Dessau (1750-1811) in Wörlitz, on an excursion from Berlin as part of a cultural travel programme in 2009. The English landscape gardens were the main reason for the Englandreise, or journey to England undertaken by the young Princess Louise and her husband, the reigning Prince Leopold III Friedrich Franz of Anhalt-Dessau (1740-1817) in the summer and autumn of 1775. The garden at Whitton near Twickenham features as a wall painting in the Garderobe Room at Schloss Wörlitz as do views of the landscape garden at West Wycombe, an extraordinary sight to find in Saxony-Anhalt. The great landscape garden kingdom that surrounds the palace of Wörlitz was one of the first and largest English landscape gardens to be created in Germany and the importance of this is immediately apparent to any English visitor.

I was particularly interested to read whether Louise visited any of the British royal palaces, as her journey to England, of course, took place during the reign of King George III. I wondered whether there might be any material similar to the travel letters of Leopold Mozart, who recorded his experiences of the Mozart family’s trip to London in fascinating detail, such as the visits paid to the Queen’s House [later Buckingham Palace] shortly after their arrival in April 1764 and then a week later, of walking in St James’s Park when ‘the King [George III] came driving past with the Queen [Queen Charlotte]: and although we were wearing different clothes, they still recognised us… the King opened the window, leant out and, laughing, greeted us and especially our Master Wolfgang as he was driving past…’ (cit., ed. Cliff Eisen, Mozart: A Life in Letters, 36).

The unique journal written by Princess Louise – the sole account written down on the journey – documents the experiences and feelings of a cultured and extremely well-read (royal) woman at the time of the Enlightenment and enables us to encounter a Europe on the road, which we glimpse through her travels, rendered all the more fresh by the fact that her observations were recorded on a journey that was undertaken incognito. The unquestionable socio-political content of such a record, aside from its rich historical value should also be considered alongside the very real importance that the journal represents, as a private journal written down by a woman of Louise’s rank and emotional complexion, who clearly responded both intellectually and behaviourally to the century in which she lived.

Her journal records her curiosity about her environment and the places she visited and the same enquiry seems – perhaps unconsciously – to be also directed at herself, again, typical of the age in which she lived. Fittingly, this same journal describes a meeting with the great philosopher Rousseau in Paris, en route back to Germany. She enjoyed and found fulfilment in the friendships of her female contemporaries and admired in particular, the work of the celebrated artist, Angelica Kauffmann, who painted her in 1796, some twenty one years after the English journey. Later journeys took Louise to Switzerland (1802) and to Italy.

Princess Louise’s diary of her England journey has never been translated into English as a volume; it was skillfully transcribed in 2007 and its publication made possible by the Bernhard F. Rohe Fonds of the Society of the Friends of the Dessau-Wörlitz Garden Kingdom e.V . I translated passages for Stowe School from entries made whilst Princess Louise and her husband were staying at Stowe as guests of Richard Grenville, 2nd Earl Temple; these shed unexpected light on the character of Earl Temple, showing him more sympathetically that hitherto held perceptions of him. Similarly, the Dessau-Wörlitz Cultural Foundation kindly permitted me to translate passages from the diary which the Princess wrote in Bath when I was writing an article about Princess Louise in the city, A German Princess in Bath. Subsequently, extracts from her original journals between 1795 and 1811 have been transcribed into German and published in 2010. I continue to return to the diary, with an aim to translate passages and apply them to themed articles as part of ongoing research.

The Englandreise journal can currently be read only in German transcription. The discovery of this journal in 2007 was for me, a remarkable one. Contained within it are many fascinating observations of socio-historical importance, all the more interesting because they are written down by an author who encounters the England of George III through fresh eyes as a newcomer and records their impressions without indigenous knowledge. These extraordinary observations were documented as they were encountered, thereby bringing new life to an experience written down so long ago.

The journal of Princess Louise is also exceptional in the way that not only is it that of a royal female’s private observations of her experiences and emotions during her travels, it also reveals a sort of one-sided dialogue within a wider didactic. One senses that Louise is teaching herself about herself, perhaps an unconscious exercise, whilst simply recording her thoughts. This conversation with herself acts therefore as a written mirror and was entirely keeping with the philosophical examination as well as the sensibility of the age.

But this self-dialogue was also perhaps for a practical purpose; it was also a form of stimulation and company. Princess Louise knew next to no English at the time of the England visit, and we glimpse, therefore, social loneliness and exclusion in the journal alongside a growing sense of alienation, particularly in Bath, where she stayed for several months with Prince Leopold III Friedrich Franz, who was also taking the waters in the city. Not only was most of fashionable Bath society not then in season, but there were few women with whom she was able to converse, as the Prince was surrounded by exclusively male company and the Prince knew English, whilst she did not. Seldom was she able to find a female from among Bath society who could converse with her in French. Princess Louise’s frustration over the inability to communicate was also compounded by the fact that a teacher in Bath was engaged to instruct her, who himself, knew no German. Princess Louise wrote the journal of her England journey in a German Gothic script whose language is largely colloquial; this further contributes to the impression when reading it, that the Princess is talking not to herself, but rather, with herself.

The chief aim of the England journey of 1775 was to visit the many celebrated English landscape gardens in their original form, the further influence of which would be taken back to Dessau-Wörlitz, where their effects can still clearly be seen today. The relaxation of the strictly formal baroque garden which sought to shape and impose power on the landscape gradually shifted in favour of natural design, in which the landscape ‘gardened’ itself. This found a direct echo in Neo-Classicism, where Palladian architecture laid down the principles for perfection in the simplicity of its lines and proportions. We might add to this the important fact that with the call for social reforms and the century’s notion of ‘liberty’, landscape design became more naturalised – a different type of political gardening to say, the gardening of Empire at Kew.

Whilst in England, Princess Louise visited various important landscape gardens, such as those at Oatlands, Stowe, Stourhead and Rousham, whilst also visiting parks and ornamental farms such as Wooburn. Princess Louise and her husband also stayed in London, where they rented living quarters in Old Bond Street. Her journal paints a vibrant paper portrait of London cultural life in the mid-1770s, with a visit to the British Museum and the popular pleasure gardens of Vauxhall and Ranelagh, where the boy Mozart had visited whilst in London, just under ten years previously.

George III was the first of the Hanoverian monarchs to live at Windsor with his family, and the remaining royal residences otherwise associated with George III and Queen Charlotte are, of course, the Queen’s House, Frogmore and Kew. The Queen’s House was the London residence of George III and the Royal Family and had been where Queen Charlotte gave birth to all but one of their fifteen children.

I sifted the journal of Princess Louise for references to any of the British royal palaces. There is always special anticipation in doing this with an account (relatively) recently transcribed because its content has probably not been read by an English-speaking audience. The English journal has up to now, been of great interest to German readers as a cultural travel diary of the period. Reading it in German as an Englishwoman is, therefore, a somewhat unique experience.

Although Princess Louise does not personally meet King George III, there is a brief, intriguing entry in her diary for 28 July 1775, where she records a drive with her husband to St James’s Park: ‘As it was Court Day, the King [George III] had to be transported from his house [Queen’s House?] to the Castle [Windsor]. I stayed therefore with Erdmannsdorff and Raumer, walking up and down. The Prince [typically, this is how Louise always refers to her husband] distanced himself with Morgan. The King soon came – or rather, the post-chaise, in which he sat. He had, however, leant back so far that I couldn’t glimpse him. From there we went to [see] the elephants of the Queen…’ (cit., ed. Johanna Geyer-Kordesh, Die Englandreise der Fürstin Louise von Anhalt-Dessau im Jahr 1775, 94).

These elephants were presumably exotic gifts presented to Queen Charlotte for reasons of political diplomacy; I wonder whether they may have been kept somewhere near St James’s, possibly at the Queen’s House. The Princess cannot mean the menagerie at Windsor Great Park at Sandpit Gate, because a visit to Windsor Castle is dealt with separately and the menagerie at Windsor was not established for George III but was where more famously, George IV kept the exotic animals that were given to him by various pashas and sultans. The Windsor menagerie was, however, already in existence in 1775, as it was established for George II’s son, William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland (Elizabeth Jane Timms, The Lost Royal Zoo at Windsor, Royal Central, 2018). Similarly, although Charles II fed ducks at St James’s Park, there is no mention of elephants that I can find at St James’s. The birds presented to the Park were not given until 1837, the year of William IV’s death and Queen Victoria’s accession. London Zoo did not open until 1828, whither the animals remaining in the Tower of London’s menagerie were transferred. An elephant was among the political gifts given to an English – not British – monarch, once at the Tower of London, but this elephant was to anticipate the reign of George III by over five hundred years.

Of particular interest is Princess Louise’s visit to Windsor Castle on 24 September 1775 – her twenty-fifth birthday. This record is of especial value I believe, given the fact that Windsor Castle is so closely associated with George III and his family, with the internal royal residences beyond the Terrace, known as the Queen’s Lodge and Lower Lodge respectively. Louise visits Windsor Castle before the thorough remodelling of the Castle made in the 1820s under George IV with his architect, Sir Jeffry Wyatville but after Charles II’s transformation of the Castle’s interiors. She describes the approach: ‘We drove on to Windsor. The closer one approaches this place, the more the region resembles ours. At midday, around 2 o’clock probably, we arrived there, climbed out at the Castle and then went on the Terrace, from which one has a quite excellent view. The Thames weaves itself through the green landscape in little curves. We also climbed up the Castle Tower [Round Tower], where one can see astonishingly far round about, most of which is all flat plain’ (cit., Ibid, pp. 190-191).

Louise continues: ‘After this, we viewed the Royal Apartments, the Chapel and Gallery where the Knights of the Garter gather and eat after the ceremony [installation] which is performed in the great Church [St George’s Chapel]. There are some very good paintings by Rubens and various Italian painters. The Apartments are all large, appropriately arranged for courtly festivities, as they were probably used at the time of Charles II. Also, there is a cabinet of portraits of many beautiful women who he had at his court [the Windsor Beauties] – but all of this has a miserable effect, as the King seldom comes here…’ (cit., Ibid, 191).

The Windsor Beauties hung at the Palace of Whitehall after the death of Anne Hyde; they were later moved to Windsor, where they hung in the Queen’s Bedchamber during the reign of Queen Anne. The Beauties were recorded at Hampton Court Palace by the reign of William IV (Elizabeth Jane Timms, Looking at the Women behind the Windsor Beauties, Royal Central, 2017).

The chatelaine, who guided us around had probably shown so many what she showed us and thereby learnt her script so entirely by heart – which she with monotone tone up to 3 or 4 times repeated to us and so miserably relayed – that one could get quite dizzy and sleep because of the effect. Afterwards, we went to the Church [St George’s Chapel] where Charles I is said to lie buried…’ (cit., Ibid, 191).

Charles II had ordered designs to be made in 1678 for a mausoleum for Charles I, but the project was never realised. The coffin of Charles I remained in its original place of burial since 1649 – the vault of King Henry VIII and Queen Jane Seymour, in the Quire at St George’s Chapel – until its discovery in 1813, whilst preparations were been made for the burial of Augusta, Duchess of Brunswick (Sophia Dicks, The King’s Blood, 7). Princess Louise visited St George’s Chapel, therefore, at a time when the location of the King’s burial site was as yet still undiscovered.

Princess Louise’s visit to Windsor ends with the following few lines: ‘Afterwards we drove through the Park [Great Park] – which was known to me already through Pope – beautiful it is and vast – but our woods, our forests are far more beautiful. After five we came to Staines, where we ate, my health was drunk, I wrote in this book and drank tea and went to bed…’ (cit., Ibid, 191). The reference to Pope alludes to his poem Windsor Forest; it would have been contained within the volumes of Pope’s complete works, which were kept in the Palace library at Wörlitz and therefore accessible to Princess Louise as reading material (Ibid, 265).

These brief passages open a window to us, however small, on British cultural history, politics and society, as encountered by a traveller whose words have hitherto remained, hidden in transcription.

©Elizabeth Jane Timms, 2019

About author

Elizabeth Jane Timms is a royal historian, writer, poet and researcher. Her subject area is royal studies, specializing in Queen Victoria's family and Russian royalty. She is an authority on Russia's last Tsarina, Alexandra Feodorovna and also researches and writes about Queen Victoria. She has studied historic royalty as an independent scholar for over fifteen years and has spoken on the subject for TV and radio, including the BBC.