It’s time for an essay – it will be a terribly romantic story with a 19th century princess from the Netherlands as main heroine. The story, mind you, is true so expect it to be also a bit strange, cruel and sad. It is one more proof that romance novels, historical or otherwise, get it wrong 99.9% of cases. In other words, a real anti-St Valentine’s Day material – enjoy!
Cast of characters:
- Marianne of the Netherlands, Princess of Orange-Nassau (full name:Wilhelmina
Frederika Louise Charlotte Marianne; born 9 May 1810 – died 29 May 1883). She was a member of the House of Orange-Nassau, by birth Princess of the Kingdom of the United Netherlands and by marriage Princess of the Kingdom of Prussia.
- Albrecht of Prussia, her husband, the youngest son of the king of Prussia Frederick William III and Queen Louise.
- Johannes van Rossum, valet, coachman, librarian, secretary and finally the lover of the Princess. Also, possibly, the love of her life.
- Johannes Wilhelm van Reinhartshausen, the only illegitimate son of Marianne and van Rossum.
Act I – Marriage.
On September 14, 1830 young and pretty Marianne married her cousin Albrecht of Prussia. It was a marriage of convenience and, despite family bonds, the young bride was
not happy at the Hohenzollern’s court. She surpassed the environment with knowledge and intelligence and often acted against the rigid ceremonial rituals of Prussian etiquette. What’s worse, her husband, even if a prince, wasn’t exactly charming – soon he got a fully-deserved reputation of a boor and a brute. He was cheating on his wife and, besides sexual escapades, he showed a violent behavior to male and female staff. A Dutch secret police report speaks also of venereal diseases. Despite marital problems Marianne bore him five children, three of them surviving to adulthood; however, after some time, she had enough. Albert’s behaviour was the initial impetus for her habit of traveling: first to Italy, then to Lower Silesia where her father had bought some lands.
Act II – Mutiny
In 1845 the Princess patience ran out. She didn’t want to suffer more humiliations, court
drills and ‘secret’ lovers of Albrecht which weren’t all that secret. Marianne left the household of her unfaithful husband and moved to her villa in Voorburg, Netherlands. She began to live openly with Johannes van Rossum, her former servant. It must have been pure love because the man was neither especially handsome (look to the right) nor well-connected nor rich. Anyway the pair wasn’t even bothering with appearances.
On 28 March 1849, Marianne and Albrecht of Prussia got an official divorce. While Albrecht married again, choosing one of his mistresses as a second spouse and more or less getting away with it, Marianne was treated far harsher. Why? Firstly, how dared she flaunt her affair with a complete nobody? A coachman? A librarian? For those aristocrats it was worse than animal. She was mad, that indecent Dutch woman, completely mad! Secondly, seven months after the divorce (30 October) in Cefalù, Sicily, she gave birth to her only child with van Rossum, a son called Johannes Willem van Reinhartshausen, not leaving even a shred of doubt who the father was. She showed she was dead serious about her new relationship. The birth of an illegitimate son was a major offence in the eyes of the Prussian court. They never forgave Marianne, never hesitated to punish her and show their deepest disapproval.
Act III – Punishment. Or rather revenge.
After the birth of Johannes Willem the courts of The Hague and Berlin broke all contact with the Princess. What’s more, Frederick Willhelm IV, the king of Prussia and elder brother of her ex-husband, ordered that Marianne couldn’t stay on the territories of his kingdom for longer than 24 hours even though she legally owned property there. Every time she wanted to visit her lands the arrivals and departures had to be registered at a police station as if she was a dangerous criminal carrying many contagious diseases. She couldn’t visit her and Albrecht’s children, not even during important events in their lives like confirmations or weddings. That cruel and unjust treatment lasted till her death, showing petty-mindedness of her Prussian cousins and their double standards.
Act IV – New life
It must be clearly stated: the harsh persecutions and the ostracism she suffered didn’t break Marianne’s spirit. In 1855 she decided to start anew. She bought Schloss Reinhartshausen in Erbach, Rheingau, close to the Prussian border, and
made her new home a cultural center of the Rhine. Marianne reconstructed one part of the Schloss as a museum to house her collection of paintings. Her home was always vibrant with many guests and Marianne encouraged young artists providing them accommodation and support. Of her treasures, 180 paintings, 110 drawings, watercolors and gouaches as well as various sculptures can still be found in the Schloss, now turned into a luxury hotel. Also the subjects she had in Lower Silesia praised her to the skies for charity works and efforts to develop infrastructure of the region and make their lives a bit easier. Roads and buildings constructed and paid for from Marianne’s private pockets serve the local communities even today and show the Princess was a modern woman with great managerial skill and superior understanding.
Act V – Fate
Sad but true – some bad events cannot be prevented even if you try to be a good person and want to lead a meaningful life. On Christmas Day of 1861, Marianne’s youngest son, Johannes Wilhelm, aged just twelve, died of pneumonia. To honor him she donated 60.000 Gulden to the Erbacher locals for a piece of land on which a church was to be constructed. After the completion of the church she buried Johannes under its altar. Twelve years later, on 10 May 1873, Johannes van Rossum, Marianne’s partner for almost thirty years and the love of her life, died aged sixty-four. He was buried next to his son. Marianne survived him by ten years and died in the Schloss Reinhartshausen in Erbach twenty days after her seventy-third birthday. She was buried near Johannes van Rossum and their son.