Princess Sophie of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach (1888–1913)
|Princess of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach|
25 July 1888|
18 September 1913 25) (aged|
|Burial||Weimar Royal Vault, Weimar, Germany|
|House||House of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach|
|Father||Prince William of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach|
|Mother||Princess Gerta of Ysenburg and Büdingen in Wächtersbach|
Princess Sophie of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach (25 July 1888 - 18 September 1913) was a great-granddaughter of Prince Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, who was a younger brother of Charles Frederick, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach.
Her life ended in scandal after she committed suicide in apparent reaction to her family's refusal to allow her to marry Hans von Bleichröder, the son of a local banker. Reports speculating about their relationship and her later death were widespread in German and foreign newspapers. Sophie is believed to be the first European royal woman cremated.
Family and early life
Sophie was born in Düsseldorf as the only daughter of Prince William of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach and his wife Princess Gerta of Ysenburg and Büdingen in Wächtersbach. She was a great great granddaughter of Charles Augustus, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, as well as a great granddaughter of William I of Württemberg. On her mother's side, Sophie was a great granddaughter of Frederick William, Elector of Hesse's morganatic marriage to Gertrude Falkenstein, Princess of Hanau.
Due to her parents' lack of wealth, Sophie was brought up at Heidelberg, where they had settled for economy's sake; their family was mainly supported by gifts from the Weimar court. There she led the existence of a private lady of rank, and was able to travel with much more freedom than would have been possible at the Weimar court. Sophie was very popular in the city, especially among aristocratic students from the local university. She used to frequent the houses of notable people in the town; it was there that she met Hans von Bleichroeder, a rising lawyer and the son of a powerful banker. In addition, she and her parents were much beloved in Heidelberg for the interest they took in the poor and the general public welfare, in spite of their lack of wealth.
Her home life was said to be unhappy, as her elder brother Prince Hermann's affairs weighed heavily on her spirits. Just a few years previously, Hermann had lost his title and style, becoming known as Count Ostheim, after a long period of angering his family through extensive spending and later entering into a morganatic marriage with an actress.
Sophie was described as "a great beauty, and much admired in Court society for her charming ways". She was said to be an excellent musician, with the ability to play several instruments. She was also an accomplished and enthusiastic sportswoman, and was said to be an excellent shot.
In early 1913, rumors emerged that Sophie wished to marry Hans von Bleichröder. Several other sources, such as Catherine Radziwill, tell a different account, stating that he was just an "intermediary", and that Sophie actually wished to marry someone else in the town. Most other reports list von Bleichröder as the man she wished to marry however. Though they were not equal in birth, newspapers reported that they were engaged regardless. In June 1913, Sophie applied to Emperor Wilhelm II's court for permission to wed. As it was assumed that Wilhelm, a great opponent of morganatic marriages, would most likely refuse, she openly declared that while she would prefer to marry with the Emperor's consent, she would eventually marry even without it.
Another explanation, widely reported in newspapers as fact, is that her parents were agreeable to the marriage but the presiding head of the family, William Ernest, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, a third cousin to the Princess, was not -- not publicly mentioning von Bleichröder's Judaism as the reason, but that he was "inferior" - in the sense of being a mere Baron in a family only recently ennobled to that low rank, and a working man - as a banking executive. The Grand Duke would approve the marriage only if Sophie would first relinquish the title of Princess of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, essentially ceasing to use the family name and any royal honors. This Sophie refused to do, and since her father was utterly dependent on the allowance (appanage) paid him by the Grand Duke, the family was in a quandary although it was very possible that the von Bleichröder wealth would more than replace the Grand Duke's appanage.
Other possible causes
In addition to the family's refusal to consent to the marriage, there was another event that may have led to her suicide. A month earlier, Sophie traveled to France with her mother, Princess Gerda, and von Bleichröder, and the Princess's chauffeur, Walter Palmer. Enjoying taking long drives in the Fontainbleu Forest, on one night while driving at high speed, their vehicle hit a little gypsy girl and mortally injured her. The following day, von Bleichröder visited the girl's house and paid them the equivalent of $3000 in compensation. At the time of the accident, Walter Palmer, her chauffeur, claimed to be driving. But at the trial of Palmer and the Baron a month later - Palmer was charged with homicide and von Bleichröder with civil responsibility, as the owner of the car - sworn statements by the occupants of the car established that at the time, the Princess, "a keen motorist and expert driver", was at the wheel, Palmer was sitting beside her, and her mother and the Baron were in the back seats. Palmer admitted he had falsely claimed responsibility at the time of the accident to spare the Princess, and had done so without any promise or expectation. At the time, the Princess and her mother were registered at the hotel incognito as Madame and Mlle Deroda, and identified themselves similarly to police at the time of the accident. The court was satisfied that the deceased Princess had been the driver, and dismissed the charges against Palmer and von Bleichröder. Some newspapers hinted that the stress or guilt of this tragedy may have instrumental in her suicide a month later, saying "Every effort was made to hush up the affair, owing to fear that the Princess's movements would become known to her father."
Although the story of a frustrated passion for Baron von Bleichröder has gained traction in newspapers and history books, at least one book described an entirely different story. In Secrets of Dethroned Royalty by Princess Catherine Radziwill (1920), it is explained that Sophie, required by her family's financial circumstances to live in the university town of Heidelberg instead of the metropolis of Weimar, had fallen deeply in love with a young man (identified only as "Count T.") of excellent but poor family. The two young people planned to elope and to conceal their plans, the princess pretended to carry on a romance instead with one of her sweetheart's friends, Baron von Bleichröder, "who consented with alacrity to play the part ... for he was flattered by the request to appear before the world as a suitor for the hand of a Princess of Weimar." However, Prince William and Princess Gerta intended on another match (presumably more prosperous) for their daughter, and they persuaded Count T to leave Heidelberg. Count T secretly arranged to continue to exchange love letters with Sophie using Bleichröder as intermediary. However after the passage of time the Count, living in another city, found an heiress to his liking, and married her. Apparently he had not bothered to notify Sophie of these changes in his feelings and she discovered these developments only by reading of his marriage in a newspaper; she was so distraught that she killed herself that night. It was widely but erroneously believed that she was driven to suicide by the presumed opposition of her parents to Bleichröder, who, for his part, did not attempt to correct that impression "with evident satisfaction [of] the prestige he derived from his position as the man for whose sake a Royal Princess had shot herself. This awful catastrophe ... was for the Hebrew banker's son, merely a triumph of vanity, and he was glad to allow the world to think she had died for him." This version has not received any currency, although a different story, to the effect that the Princess had previously been carrying on a doomed romance with a Lt. Edler Herr von Putlitz, has circulated. The romance was doomed because although von Putlitz came from a family as aristocratic as that of the Princess, he was just as poor as her father. However, Lt. von Putlitz had died (possibly by suicide) in 1908.
Event and newspaper reports
At her father's house in Heidelberg on 18 September 1913, Sophie retired to her room "apparently in her usual spirits". A gunshot was heard shortly after midnight, and a servant found her with a gunshot through her forehead. Her death was at first announced to be the result of "paralysis of the heart". In reality, Sophie committed suicide, a fact that was eagerly picked up in German and foreign newspapers once new details emerged. The suicide was generally attributed to the opposition she had encountered at home to her desire to marry von Bleichröder.
Several days after her death, her father released a statement:
"Baron Hans von Bleichröder, like all acquaintances of the House of Saxe-Weimar, had a farewell view of the departed, but he was expressly forbidden to take part in the funeral or to attend the cremation. As for the stories set in circulation in regards to a marriage between Princess Sophie and Baron von Bleichröder, there needs to be repeated the oft-spoken statement of her father, that all the money in the world would never have sufficed to bridge the gulf between a Princess of Saxe-Weimar and Baron von Bleichroeder."
Remains and funeral
Sophie's body was cremated in 1913 in Heidelberg, and her remains were interred in the royal family's vault in Weimar. Sophie is believed to be the first European royal woman to be cremated; another relative of hers was the first European royal man to have his body thus disposed of. Her funeral was attended by only a small number of persons, most of whom were representatives of princely houses. As stated in her father's statement, von Bleichröder was not allowed to attend the funeral.
|Ancestors of Princess Sophie of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach (1888–1913)|
- Lundy, Darryl. "The Peerage: Sophie Augustine Prinzessin von Sachsen-Weimar-Eisenach". Retrieved 17 August 2010.
- Radziwill, Catherine (1920). Secrets of Dethroned Royalty. New York: John Lane Company. p. 217. ISBN 1-112-55968-X.
- "Princess To Be Cremated", The New York Times, Berlin, 20 September 1913
- "Has A Will Of Her Own", The Washington Post, Berlin, 14 June 1913
- "Princess A Suicide", The Washington Post, Heidelberg, Germany, 19 September 1913
- Eilers Koenig, Marlene. "Princess Sophie of Saxe-Weimar". Royal Musings. Retrieved 28 August 2010.
- "Princess A Suicide; Loved A Commoner", The New York Times, Berlin, 19 September 1913
- "La Marquise de Fontenoy", Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 3, 1913; "Only last week Prince and Princess William of Saxe-Weimar were indignantly denying the reported engagement of their only daughter, Princess Sophia, to young Hans von Bleichroeder, a member of the great Berlin Hebrew banking house of that name...." (This early report, six months before the suicide, tends to refute suspicions that the romance was a fiction conjured up to conceal a different motivation, such as the automobile accident.)
- Radziwill, p. 218.
- "Princess Loved Officer", The New York Times, Berlin, 25 September 1913
- "Princess's lover killed in battle", Boston Globe, Aug. 13, 1915; "Young Baron killed in Warsaw fight", Hartford Courant, Aug. 13, 1915; "Princess dies by own hand", Louisville Courier-Journal, Sept. 19, 1913; "Princess a suicide", Washington Post, Sept. 19, 1913; "Her lover banned, German Princess commits suicide", Atlanta Constitution, Sept. 19, 1913; "Princess kills self", Baltimore Sun, Sept. 19, 1913; "Beautiful German Princess, a suicide from broken heart", Nashville Tennessean & American, Sept. 19, 1913; "Royal Princess suicide for love", Chicago Tribune, Sept. 19, 1913 (one of the very few reports attributing the Grand Duke's disapproval to an explicit mention of the man's religion); "A German Princess's suicide", Manchester Guardian, Sept. 19, 1913 (another report attributing to the Grand Duke a mention of the Baron's religion). "The Princess who died of a broken heart", St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Oct. 26, 1913 (this article suggests that the Grand Duke's objection was that the Baron was too rich - the Grand Duke suspected him of using his wealth to marry into impecunious royalty).
- "Princess Feared Scandal?", The New York Times, Paris, 5 October 1913
- "Princess was a suicide after escapade", San Jose [Cal.] Evening News, Oct. 9, 1913.
- "A Princess's romance, sequel to motor tragedy", [Adelaide, NZ] Evening Post, Nov. 18, 1913.
- "A Princess's romance, sequel to motor tragedy", [Adelaide, NZ] Evening Post, Nov. 18, 1913; "Tragedy follows motor drive", Irish Times, Oct. 9, 1913; "Princess was a suicide after escapade", San Jose [Cal.] Evening News, Oct. 9, 1913; "Princess feared scandal?" New York Times, Oct. 5, 1913; "Tragic Princess at the wheel", [London] Daily Mail, Oct. 9, 1913.
- "Princess ended life because of escapade", San Francisco Chronicle, Oct. 9, 1913; "Princess's auto killed gypsy girl in France", New York Tribune, Oct. 9, 1913; Princess was a suicide after escapade", San Jose [Calif.] Evening News, Oct. 9, 1913; "Princess feared scandal?" New York Times, Oct. 5, 1913; "Princess's chauffeur freed", Washington Post, Oct. 10, 1913. It appeared that her father had been told the two ladies were going to France "on a shopping trip" and was unaware this was a chaperoned prolonged date with the Baron. It is not clear if the Princess was more worried that her father would find out that she was with the Baron or that she was responsible for the death of a child. "The Princess who died of a broken heart", St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Oct. 26, 1913.
- Radziwill, Catherine, Princess, Secrets of Dethroned Royalty (1920, NY & London, John Lane Co.) pages 217-220 https://archive.org/details/secretsdethrone00radzgoog .
- "Princess loved officer", New York Times, Sept. 25, 1913; "The Princess who died of a broken heart", St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Oct. 26, 1913; "Princess who ended life was to marry for money, not love", St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sept. 28, 1913.
- Radziwill, p. 219.
- "Lover kept from Princess's funeral", New York Times, Sept. 23, 1913. It is possible that her father deliberately chose this phrasing to take the blame upon himself rather than allow it deservedly to fall upon the Grand Duke, on whom he was dependent.
- Fontenoy, Marquise de (24 September 1913), "Royal Tomb Holds Strange Device", The Washington Post
- "Grief At Princess's Bier", The New York Times, Heidelberg, 21 September 1913
- "Bleichroeder's son slain in battle; Princess engaged to to young Baron killed herself when marriage was forbidden," New York Times, Aug. 13, 1915; "Romantic story recalled: Lover of Princess falls in battle", American Israelite, Oct. 7, 1915; "Baron, Princess died for, slain", New York Tribune, Aug. 13, 1915; "Young Baron killed in Warsaw fight", Hartford Courant, Aug. 13, 1915; "German banker killed: Baron von Bleichroeder dies in fighting before Warsaw", Washington Post, Aug. 13, 1915.