|Duchess of Sagan|
|Born||8 February 1781|
Mitau, Duchy of Courland and Semigallia
|Died||29 November 1839 58) (aged|
Vienna, Austrian Empire
Prince Louis de Rohan-Guémenée
(m. 1800;div. 1805)
Prince Vasily Troubetzkoy
(m. 1805;div. 1806)
Count Karl Rudolf von der Schulenburg
(m. 1819;div. 1828)
|Issue||Adelaide Gustava Aspasie Armfelt (illegitimate)|
|Father||Peter von Biron|
|Mother||Dorothea von Medem|
|Religion|| Roman Catholic, |
Katharina Friederike Wilhelmine Benigna, Princess of Courland, Duchess of Sagan (born 8 February 1781 in Mitau, Duchy of Courland and Semigallia); died 29 November 1839 in Vienna, Austrian Empire) was a German noble from the ruling family of Courland and Semigallia (today part of Latvia) and a Duchess of Sagan. Wilhelmine is mainly known for her relationship with Klemens Metternich, a statesman of the Austrian Empire.
French transcription of her name is Wilhelmine Catherine Frédérique Biron, Czech Kateřina Frederika Vilhelmína princezna Kuronská. Among the Czechs she is known as kněžna Kateřina Zaháňská (Zaháň is Czech name for Żagań).
Wilhelmine was born to Peter von Biron, the last Duke of Courland, and his third wife Anna Charlotte Dorothea von Medem (1761–1821). She had three conjugal sisters: Maria Luise Pauline (1782–1845), Johanna Katharina (1783–1876), wife of Fürst Don Francesco, Duke of Acerenza (brother of the 8th Prince of Belmonte), and Dorothea (1793–1862), later wife of Edmond de Talleyrand-Périgord (1787–1872), nephew of the French statesman Talleyrand.
Wilhelmine spent her earliest childhood in Mitau. In 1795 the Duke was forced to cede his Duchy to the Russian Empire, and the family moved to the Duchy of Sagan (Żagań) in Silesia, which had been acquired in 1786. Among other properties bought by her father during the 1780s was County Náchod in Bohemia, which included Ratibořice Castle. Wilhelmine, who inherited both Sagan and Náchod, selected this castle as her summer residence.
The young duchess was very beautiful, intelligent, eloquent and educated in philosophy and history. She fell in love with Finnish-Swedish general Gustav Armfelt, her mother's lover and her tutor. The secret relationship with a much older and married Armfelt resulted in the birth of an illegitimate daughter named Adelaide Gustava Aspasia (nicknamed Vava), who was born in secrecy in Hamburg on 13 January 1801. The delivery was traumatic, and, due to an incompetent midwife, she lost the ability to have further children. Wilhelmine gave up her child to one of Armfelt's relatives in Finland and never saw her again.  Wilhelmine greatly regretted this decision as time went on. To protect her reputation, Armfelt organized a marriage for her with an émigré French nobleman, Prince Louis de Rohan-Guémenée (1768–1836), the son of the Princesse de Guéméné, the original governess of the children of King Louis XVI of France. The marriage did not last and ended in divorce in 1805.
Wilhelmine spent the rest of her life moving between Vienna, Prague, Ratibořice and Sagan (Żagań). She also undertook journeys to Italy, England and France. Her second marriage with prince Vasily Troubetzkoy (1776–1841), which lasted from 1805 to 1806, also ended in divorce. In Vienna, she set up a salon attended by the highest nobility. An attractive woman, she attracted many aristocratic lovers. She had a short-lived and turbulent relationship during the spring of 1810 with Alfred I, Prince of Windisch-Grätz, an Austrian army commander.
Although Wilhelmine first met Prince Klemens Wenzel von Metternich (1773–1859) in 1801, their love affair did not start until the spring of 1813. The passion between the two is documented by over 600 letters written by Metternich that were discovered in 1949 by Marie Ulrichová in Plasy Cloister. These letters also describe the minute details of the political situation of the day and the corresponding decisions made by Metternich as a diplomat and government official.
Modern historians speculate that Wilhelmine, who hated Napoleon, was the one who pushed Metternich away from a cautious pro-French position. The negotiations in 1813 that resulted in an anti-Napoleonic coalition between Prussia, Austria and Russia were held in one of Wilhelmine's homes, Ratibořice Castle.
During the Congress of Vienna (1814–15), the relationship ended, as Wilhelmine didn't like playing the role of an unacknowledged mistress, a role forced onto her as Metternich was married, and also because Alfred Windischgraetz (alternative spelling) appeared in Vienna, and she could not resist resuming her affair with him, writing "with friends one counts the days, with you I count the nights, and I would not wish to miss a single one of them".  This distracted Metternich at a critical stage in the negotiations.
Because of the impossibility of having any more children, she became a foster parent to many young girls. From 1819 until 1828, Wihelmine was married to Prince Karl Rudolf von der Schulenburg (1788–1856). This marriage also ended in divorce. What she feared the most - being alone - eventually became reality toward the end of her life.
Famous Czech author Božena Němcová (1820?–1862) was one of the poor family girls supported by Wilhelmine. Němcová portrayed Wilhelmine in her 1855 novel Babička (The Grandmother) as an ideal woman. The portrait is so touching that Czech collocation "paní kněžna" (meaning "the princess") became a synonym for Wilhelmine.
All four Courland sisters are known to have had illegitimate children, Johanna at age sixteen. Because of her unknown origin (even the date of her birth is disputed) and the favour shown her by the duchess, several historians believe that Němcová could have been an illegitimate daughter of Wilhelmine and either Metternich, Count Karel Clam-Martinic or Windischgrätz.
Helena Sobková, a writer of popular-history books about Němcová, believes that Němcová may actually have been the niece of Wilhelmine. In 1816 an illegitimate daughter was born to Wilhelmine's younger sister, Dorothea, and Karel Clam-Martinic (1792–1840). The child's fate is unknown, and it is possible that Wilhelmine gave the child to Němcová's parents to raise as their own. This suggestion, however, has not been definitely proven.
Klemens Wenzel Nepomuk Lothar, Prince of Metternich-Winneburg zu Beilstein, known as Klemens von Metternich or Prince Metternich, was a conservative Austrian statesman and diplomat who was at the center of the European balance of power known as the Concert of Europe for three decades as the Austrian Empire's foreign minister from 1809 and Chancellor from 1821 until the liberal Revolutions of 1848 forced his resignation.
Count Gustaf Mauritz Armfelt was a Finnish-Swedish-Russian courtier and diplomat. In Finland, he is considered one of the greatest Finnish statesmen. His advice to Russia's Tsar Alexander I was of utmost importance for securing the autonomy of the Grand Duchy of Finland.
Żagań(listen) is a town in western Poland, on the Bóbr river, with 25,731 inhabitants (2019). The town is the capital of Żagań County in the historic region of Silesia. Previously in the Zielona Góra Voivodeship (1975–1998), Żagań has been in the Lubusz Voivodeship since 1999.
Pauline Clémentine Marie Walburga, Princess of Metternich-Winneburg zu Beilstein was a famous Austrian socialite, mainly active in Vienna and Paris. Known for her great charm and elegance as well as for her social commitment, she was an important promoter of the work of the German composer Richard Wagner and the Czech composer Bedřich Smetana. She was also instrumental to the creation of the haute couture industry.
Božena Němcová was a Czech writer of the final phase of the Czech National Revival movement.
Peter von Biron was the last Duke of Courland and Semigallia, from 1769 to 1795.
Dorothea von Biron, Princess of Courland, Duchess of Dino, Duchess of Talleyrand and Duchess of Sagan, known as Dorothée de Courlande or Dorothée de Dino, was a Baltic German noblewoman, and the ruling Duchess of Sagan between 1845 and 1862. Her mother was Dorothea von Medem, Duchess of Courland, and although her mother's husband, Duke Peter von Biron, acknowledged her as his own, her true father may have been the Polish statesman Count Aleksander Batowski. For a long time, she accompanied the French statesman Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord; she was the separated wife of his nephew, Edmond de Talleyrand-Périgord.
Countess Anna Charlotte Dorothea von Medem was born a Gräfin (Countess) of the noble German Baltic Medem family and later became Duchess of Courland. Popularly known as Dorothea of Courland after her marriage to Peter von Biron, the last Duke of Courland, she hosted an aristocratic salon in Berlin and performed various diplomatic duties on behalf of her estranged husband.
Charles Guillaume Frédéric Boson de Talleyrand-Périgord, prince of Sagan, duke of Sagan and duke of Talleyrand was a famous French dandy, and the grandson of Dorothea von Biron.
Luise Pauline Maria Biron, Princess of Courland, Duchess of Sagan was the Duchess Regnant of Sagan between 1838 and 1845. She was Princess consort of Hohenzollern-Hechingen by marriage to Friedrich Hermann Otto, Prince of Hohenzollern-Hechingen.
Duchess Therese Mathilde Amalie of Mecklenburg-Strelitz was a member of the House of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and a Duchess of Mecklenburg. Through her marriage to Karl Alexander, 5th Prince of Thurn and Taxis, Therese was also a member of the House of Thurn and Taxis.
The Duchy of Żagań or Duchy of Sagan was one of the duchies of Silesia ruled by the Silesian Piasts. Its capital was Żagań in Lower Silesia, the territory stretched to the town of Nowogród Bobrzański in the north and reached the Lusatian Neisse at Przewóz in the west, including two villages beyond the river.
Henri Louis de Rohan, Prince of Guéméné, was a French courtier and the penultimate Grand Chamberlain of France.
Ratibořice Château is a chateau in Ratibořice village in the Hradec Králové Region of the Czech Republic. It stands on an elevated plain below which valley in the bend of the Úpa river widens. Together with Babiččino údolí, situated between Česká Skalice and Havlovice, it offers the Baroque architecture and Bohemian landscape, ranking among the best-known and most-frequented places in East Bohemia. They have become well known to the general public thanks to Babička , the most famous work of the writer Božena Němcová.
Louise Charlotte of Brandenburg, was a Duchess consort of Courland by marriage to Duke Jacob Kettler of Courland.
Princess Sophie Amalie of Nassau-Siegen, German: Sophia Amalia Prinzessin von Nassau-Siegen, official titles: Prinzessin von Nassau, Gräfin zu Katzenelnbogen, Vianden, Diez, Limburg und Bronkhorst, Frau zu Beilstein, Stirum, Wisch, Borculo, Lichtenvoorde und Wildenborch, Erbbannerfrau des Herzogtums Geldern und der Grafschaft Zutphen, was a countess from the House of Nassau-Siegen, a cadet branch of the Ottonian Line of the House of Nassau. In 1664, she was elevated to the rank and title of princess. By marriage she became Duchess Consort of Courland.
Yevdokiya Borisovna Yusupova, was a Duchess consort of Courland. She married the Duke of Courland, Peter von Biron, on March 6, 1774 in Mitava (Mittau). She had no issue.
Anna of Sagan was the last surviving member of the Głogów-Żagań branch of the Silesian Piasts family, and by marriage duchess of Münsterberg and Oels.
The House of Biron was a szlachta family in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, a German noble family in the Russian Empire and was the ruling family of the Duchy of Courland and Semigallia.
Albertine, Princess of Anhalt-Bernburg was the second wife and consort of Victor Frederick, Prince of Anhalt-Bernburg.