It has been nearly two years since I first saw the portrait of a young Princess with blue eyes in a beautiful blue dress. Since then I’ve visited archives, held her letters to her brother in my hand and visited the places where she lived and died.
Carolina of Orange-Nassau was born on 28 February 1743 as the daughter of William IV, Prince of Orange and Anne, Princess Royal, the daughter of King George II and Caroline of Ansbach, after whom she would be named on the King’s request. Anne had suffered several miscarriages and stillbirths, and so the relief at the birth of a healthy child was great, even if she was just a girl. In 1748, her only surviving sibling was born, the future William V, Prince of Orange. She would be devoted to him for the rest of her life. Before the birth of her brother, Carolina had been made a possible heiress in case she had no brothers, and while her brother had no heirs, she remained his heiress. Her father died in 1751 at the age of 40, making her younger brother Prince of Orange. Her mother died on 12 January 1759 and had arranged Carolina’s marriage with her dying breath.
On 5 March 1760, Carolina married Charles Christian, Prince of Nassau-Weilburg and Carolina would go on to be pregnant 16 times. She suffered at least one miscarriage, and only 7 of her children would survive to adulthood. The death of the 8-year-old William Louis hit her especially hard, and she visited her aunt Mary, Landgravine of Hesse-Kassel, born “of Great Britain”, in Philippsruhe to grieve.
Carolina had inherited a taste for music from her mother and grandmother. She played several instruments and sang. At one point she had around 300 musicians in her service. She twice played host to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, whose life she would save when she sent her own physician to the typhoid-stricken boy and his sister. He still remembered her many years later and even wrote sonnets for her. She often played “her” sonnets.
While Carolina was nearing the end of her childbearing years, her own children were getting married. Her eldest surviving son married the heiress Isabella of Kirchberg, and her daughter Louise married Henry XIII, Prince Reuss of Greiz. She may have lived to see the birth of her first grandchild, but Louise’s first son was stillborn.
Carolina died suddenly after an illness of just two days on 6 May 1787. Her most lasting legacy is perhaps that all the eight Kings and Queens of the current reigning dynasties are descended from her, making her truly a grandmother of Europe. Queen Elizabeth II is a descendant of Carolina’s through her daughter Henriette of Nassau-Weilburg, who married Duke Louis of Württemberg. Their son Alexander married Claudine Rhédey von Kis Rhéde. Their son was Francis of Teck, later Duke of Teck, who married Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge. Mary Adelaide was, of course, the mother of Mary of Teck, who married King George V, the current Queen’s grandfather.