IN 1817, the plan to draw the small principalities of Germany into the Prussian net was only a dream. Prince Bismarck was a baby, two years old. The peaceful states still kept their identity and were independent of the ambitious, efficient power in the north. Coburg was a quiet, almost sublime little duchy, like the neighbouring duchy of Gotha. Their ruling princes were neither royal nor grand and they lived in castles set on high hills.
The Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld was an amiable old libertine. His neighbour, the Duke of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg, was a kindly but foolish man, who had tried to ingratiate himself with Napoleon by building him a carriage in the shape of an egg, painted green and gold. Napoleon had been so indignant when he saw the ridiculous vehicle that he turned from it and made his way into Gotha on foot.
The Duke of Saxe-Coburg's eldest son, Ernst, was married to the Duke of Saxe-Gotha's only daughter, Luise, in August, 1817, when the parched summer fields were gay with blue chicory flowers. Princess Luise was then a girl of sixteen, "radiating gracefulness and bewitching her surroundings."1
Little more than a year before her betrothal, Princess Luise had been confirmed; she was still so young that after the ceremony she threw herself about her stepmother's neck and burst into tears. But the signs of shyness passed and she was almost happy when she drove over the border of her father's duchy, to live in Coburg.
On the day of his daughter's betrothal, the Duke gave one thousand loaves of bread to the poor and, at the feast after the wedding, his orange garden shone with "the good-mannered of all ranks." As the bride and bridegroom were exchanging rings before the altar, thirty-six cannon shots announced the glorious moment to the countryside.
When Luise was alone with her husband she cried once more. There was one friend in Gotha she was to miss with all her heart, Auguste von Studnitz