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Wilhelmina of Baireuth
WILHELMINA (SOPHIA FRIDERIKA WILHELMINA) (1709-1758), margravine of Baireuth, was born in Berlin on the 3rd of July 1709, the daughter of Frederick William I., crown prince, afterwards king of Prussia, and of Sophia Dorothea, daughter of the elector of Hanover (George I. of England).
Xxviii. 21 Wilhelmina shared the unhappy childhood of her brother, Frederick the Great, whose friend and confidante she remained, with the exception of one short interval, all her life. Sophia Dorothea wished to marry her daughter to Frederick, prince of Wales, but on the English side there was no disposition to make the offer except in exchange for substantial concessions, to which the king of Prussia was not prepared to assent. The fruitless intrigues carried on by Sophia Dorothea to bring about this match played a large part in Wilhelmina's early life. After much talk of other matches, which came to nothing, she was eventually married in 1731 to Frederick, hereditary prince of Baireuth. The marriage, only accepted by Wilhelmina under threats from her father and with a view to lightening her brother's disgrace, proved at the outset a happy one, though it was clouded at first by narrow means, and afterwards by the infidelities of the future margrave with Dorothea von Marwitz, whose ascendancy at the court of Baireuth was bitterly resented by Frederick the Great, and caused an estrangement of some three years between Wilhelmina and the brother she so devotedly loved. When Wilhelmina's husband came into his inheritance in 1 735 the pair set about making Baireuth a miniature Versailles. Their building operations included the rebuilding of their summer residence, the Ermitage, the great Baireuth opera-house, the building of a theatre and the reconstruction of the Baireuth palace and of the new opera house. They also founded the university of Erlangen, the undertakings bringing the court to the verge of bankruptcy.
The margravine made Baireuth one of the intellectual centres of Germany, surrounding herself with a little court of wits and artists which gained added prestige from the occasional visits of Voltaire and Frederick the Great. With the outbreak of the Seven Years' War, Wilhelmina's interests shifted from dilettantism to diplomacy. She acted as eyes and ears for her brother in southern Germany until her death on the 14th of October 1758, the day of Frederick's defeat by the Austrians at Hochkirch. Her only daughter Frederica had contracted in 1748 an unhappy marriage with Charles Eugene, duke of Wurttemberg.
The margravine's memoirs, Me'moires de ma vie, written or revised between 1748 and her death, are preserved in the Royal Library of Berlin. They were first printed in two forms in 1810 - a German translation down to the year 1733 from the firm of Cotta of Tubingen; and in French published by Vieweg of Brunswick, and coming down to 1742. There have been several subsequent editions, including a German one published at Leipzig in 1908. An English translation was published in Berlin in 1904. For the discussion on the authenticity of these entertaining, though not very trustworthy, memoirs, see G. H. Pertz, Ober die Merkwiirdigkeiten der Mark rdfin (1851). See also Arvede Barine, Princesses et grandes dames (Paris, 1890); E. E. Cuttell, Wilhelmine, Margravine of Baireuth (London, 2 vols., 1905); and R. Fester, Die Bayreuther Schwester Friedrichs des Grossen (Berlin, 1902).
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