Portrait of Christiane Wilhelmine Friederike, Countess von Würben. Scan: Landesmedienzentrum Baden-Württemberg

The duke's mistressWilhelmine von Grävenitz

For almost 25 years, Wilhelmine von Grävenitz (1686–1744) was Duke Eberhard Ludwig's official mistress. She held more than just the position of mistress at court. As supreme administrator and member of the secret cabinet, she attempted to gain influence.

Duchess Johanna Elisabetha, copper engraving by Ferdinand Stenglin, circa 1710

The unloved wife: Johanna Elisabetha.

Where did Grävenitz's career begin?

The young noblewoman from Mecklenburg came to Stuttgart in 1706. It is said that it was primarily her beautiful singing voice that drew the duke to her. Eberhard Ludwig fell deeply in love with Wilhelmine. He wanted to marry her, in order to provide social and legal protection in the event of his death; however, he was already married. In 1697, he had married Duchess Johann Elisabetha, Princess of Baden-Durlach, in a political marriage that he had initially rejected. A second marriage would be viewed as illegal and condemned accordingly.

Portrait of Duke Eberhard Ludwig

He secured her power and influence.

What was Wilhelmine von Grävenitz's role at court?

A clever plan: The duke married Wilhelmine off to a Mr. von Würben as a formality, and then named him supreme administrator. Mrs. von Würben returned to Württemberg's court as supreme administrator, holding the highest rank below the duchess. She was the only woman to belong to the "Secret Cabinet and Conference Department," founded in 1717. Many court favorites were jealous of her high status. Perhaps this is the origin of the bad reputation Wilhelmine von Grävenitz earned, and which has followed her to this day.

Portrait of Imperial Duchess Wilhelmine von Würben, nee Grävenitz. Scan: Landesmedienzentrum Baden-Württemberg

Portrait of a young Wilhelmine.

Why did the duke leave her?

In the late 1720s, it became clear that the heir to the throne was not long for this world; he finally died in November 1731. Without an heir to the throne, Protestant Württemberg would fall to the Catholic branch line and denominational conflicts would be a given. Thus, Duke Eberhard Ludwig separated from his mistress in an attempt to reconcile with his wife, a reconciliation that did not, however, produce a legitimate heir. Their separation occurred without prior discussion. Subsequently, there were supposedly emotional letters, scenes and rumors, and the duke suffered from psychosomatic issues.

Letter from Wilhelmine von Grävenitz to Duke Eberhard Ludwig from 1731. Scan: Landesmedienzentrum Baden-Württemberg

Personal letters from Wilhelmine to the duke.

Where did Wilhelmine go after the separation?

The situation escalated such that Duke Eberhard Ludwig had Wilhelmine seized from her estate in the imperial city and had her placed under house arrest in Urach. Because, as duke, he did not have the right to arrest her there, he was forced to release her shortly thereafter. The duke arranged for Wilhelmine to leave Württemberg as a very wealthy woman and travel to Berlin unimpeded. She died there in 1744. Her contemporaries and posterity generally view Wilhelmine's activities and life in a negative light. But she succeeded in one thing: she was never forgotten.

Also of interest

  • Figure: Duke Eberhard Ludwig von Württemberg

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