23 January 2015

Today's Princess: Benedicta Henrietta of the Palatinate

By Attributed to German School, Brunswick, 17th century
via Wikimedia Commons
The late 17th century was a heady time for Europe's interconnected royal families. With the Catholic v. Protestant tensions simmering down to less virulence, the flowering (and rapid spread) of French culture, and the equally transcendent evolution of the philosophical movements of the day, it is no wonder that we find a princess like the French-born Benedicta Henrietta of the Palatinate. A female-line great-granddaughter of England's headless Charles I, she was the daughter of a landless German prince and a sophisticated French-Italian political hostess.

Benedicta Henrietta grew up amidst the splendor of King Louis XIV's court, and took that glamour with her to Germany when she married John Frederick the Duke of Brunswick-Luneberg. She was 16. He was 43 but had never married. He had traveled widely and fallen in love with Italy and with the Catholic Church, and so he had converted from Protestantism before their marriage. Two years before their marriage, he had also built Herrenhausen near Hanover, as his own version of Versailles, and it was here that he brought his teenage bride. Benedicta Henrietta quickly set about extending the already growing obsession for all things French, bringing musicians and fashion to her adopted German home. She was also one of many ladies in the family to support the famous philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Liebniz, who was the Continent's version of Sir Isaac Newton.

Benedicta Henrietta also shared her husband's admiration for Italian opera and all things Italian. In fact, the two decided to leave their Protestant dukedom and retire in Italy. Unfortunately, John Frederick was taken ill on the journey and died at Augsburg in 1679. His wife was only 27. Instead of keeping her plans to live in Italy, she returned home to Paris, where she lived on the charity of female relatives because her husband had not made very good financial provisions for her. Nevertheless, she was able to arrange very lofty marriages for two of her daughters: Charlotte married the Duke of Modena and Wilhelmine Amalia married no less than the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph I (who gave his wife syphilis, but that's a story for another day).

Benedicta Henrietta outlived her husband by more than five decades, dying in 1730 at her sister the Princess of Conde's house in Paris. The couple had had four daughters, but with no sons, his territories passed to his younger brother, Ernest Augustus Elector of Hanover, who was the father of
King George I of the United Kingdom.

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