Supplementary Appendix 417g.1

Weimar, Charlotte Schiller , and Goethe
following the battle of Jena [*]

I. Weimar [1]


The officers brusquely demanded quarters, and on that same evening and on into the night more than 40,000 soldiers had to be quartered in Weimar.

[Hippolyte Bellangé, Le Billet de Logement [Paris 1823]; Rijksmuseum:]


Soon thereafter, at about 6:00 in the evening, the masses of French troops began pouring into the tiny, narrow town, and a catastrophe of such horror and magnitude began the likes of which the chronicle of Weimar cannot otherwise equal. The hungry French soldiers demanded food, the Hussars and dragoons demanded accommodations and food and seized them by force.

But more yet: The French began to plunder the town itself, which they viewed as hostile, and soon the entire town was being pillaged. Like thousands of robbers, they brutally fell upon the poor citizens and their property, waving their weapons in their faces, abusing them without consideration of either age or sex, and robbed them of their property.

(Jacques Nicolas Tardieu, David Teniers, Les misères de la guerre [ca. 1736–91]; Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum; Museums./Signatur Museumsnr. JNTardieu AB 2.12):


The sounds of doors being battered down and the cries of residents could be heard in every street. Only very few houses were spared. The property and life of every single resident were in the hands of an unrestrained horde, and many people lost almost everything they possessed. And what is more, the house of registrar Taubert not far from the castle, set afire by the plunderers, quickly spread to the nearby houses in the Vorwerksgasse, since the town’s residents, concerned with their own lives and property, could not hasten by to extinguish it; soon the entire town was at risk.

Once the houses across from the castle went up in flames, the reflection was so luminous that even at 7:00 in the evening one could read written missives in the castle courtyard and on the marketplace. It seemed the French genuinely were going to carry out their threats to destroy Weimar completely and were intending to reduce the entire town to ashes.

Every family was terrified and in anxious fear and distress. Solely the circulating reports that Duchess Louise was still in the castle and was persevering in the midst of her oppressed citizens provided a certain measure of consolation, for it was through her mediation that residents were hoping for deliverance from the unspeakable disaster.

At the same time, however, a torrential tide of troops continued to stream into the town and, bivouacking in the town’s squares, were breaking open shops and cellars, violently entering into houses, plundering, and committing all sorts of heinous violations. And thus did this horrific devastation continue throughout the night. . . .

(Gottlieb Böttger der Ältere, Einfall von Soldaten in ein Zimmer [1799]; Herzog August Bibliothek; Museums./Signatur Graph. A1: 237):


[15 October 1806]

[Napoleon arrives in Weimar; departs on 17 October 1806.] The brutal plundering continued in the houses of the residents. Crude soldiers smashed doors, windows, and cabinets, and stole everything of value that they could lay their hands on. In the streets, they tore the clothing off of men and assaulted the women.

[“French troops enter a German village,” Poultney Bigelow, History of the German Struggle for Liberty, 2 vols. (New York 1896), plate following 1:40:]


While the residents of Weimar wailed and wrung their hands, French soldiers carried off plundered livestock and wares, and doors, shops, and windows were completely shattered. Houses resembled the caves of robbers, many were also desolate and empty. The obscene, wild cries of the plunderers and the cracking of shattered doors and shops continued unabated. . . . Goethe’s house was spared this wild noise and wailing from the moment it stood under imperial protection. . . .

[16 October 1806]

The plundering continued during the night of 15–16 October, and even on 16 October the devastation of the poor town continued.

II. Charlotte Schiller [2]

On the afternoon of October 14th, 1806, the dice had fallen at Jena. After a fearful battle, the Prussian army had been thrown into flight, and Napoleon, riding over the bloody scene of the combat, had called out to the wounded and dying that Prussia was no more. It was a beautiful day; but in Weimar, which is three hours’ march from Jena, doors and windows were fast closed, sorrow and terror reigned supreme in the houses, and silence in the streets.

Even in the castle all was hushed in deathly stillness. The Duke Charles Augustus, whose army had remained faithful to the king of Prussia, was in command of it at Arnstadt; the dowager duchess Anna Amalia, the heir-apparent, Prince Charles Frederick, and his wife, Maria Pavlowa, had fled; Louise, the reigning Duchess, alone remained to stand by her subjects to the last.

After sunset, Goethe, who had been on a visit to the palace, left the duchess, and returned to his house in the Frauenplan. He had hardly reached it, when shells began to be fired into the city from the surrounding heights. All at once cannons rumbled through the streets, bayonets glittered, and bullets buried themselves in the walls of the houses. Two houses in the market place already burned fiercely, bells pealed, the streets re-echoed with screams, doors were stormed and everywhere one heard voices demanding beer and spirits.

The French had arrived to plunder and appropriate all they might be able to lay hold of. The fire spread, and every succeeding hour increased the brutality of the conquerors. Defenceless old men, women, and children, were murdered wholesale, every valuable stolen, every wine-cellar broken into and sacked, and woe to him who ventured the slightest interference. Four bayonets pierced the heart of the old servant belonging to the ducal drawing-school, as he attempted to save some of the statues and drawings.

Everything in the palace, where the duchess and her only remaining maid of honour, the lady Julia von Egloffstein, sat in a bare dismantled room, was destroyed. Thousands of drunken soldiers whirled heedlessly over the shining parquet-floors, singing ribald songs. The stately “Esplanade,” the thoroughfare in which the highest nobility dwelt, presented a not less frightful spectacle. Here, soldiers lay round huge fires, and gorged and drank whilst, from the houses, comrades rained a continuous shower of plunder into the street below.

Suddenly one of the largest houses lighted up with one sheet of lurid flame, and cries of help pierced the air, but the soldiers heeded them not, and merrily continued their repast on the flagstones. Opposite to the blazing building was a small yellow-painted house — the door of which still remained fastened, and the green shutters of which were still fast closed. The soldiers had until now overlooked it, or had presumed that there was no booty of any value inside.


But now, illumined by the glare of the flames, it was perceived by three of them, who instantly commenced hammering the door down. Before they could do so, it was timidly opened by a servant, and the soldiers rushed through the hall and up the narrow staircase. The rooms they entered were small and low. Nothing of any value was to be seen in any of the cupboards and drawers they hurriedly overhauled.

Enraged at their disappointment, two of them commenced cursing their ill-luck and were about to leave the building when their comrade, pointing to the ceiling, reminded them that there was still a chance of booty in the rooms upstairs. To mount the second staircase, narrower and steeper than the first, was the work of a moment. Hearing the cries of children in one of the rooms they directed their steps thither and stormed in. It was a small alcove chamber lighted by the glare opposite. The panes of both the windows were cracked by the heat of the fire opposite, and the candle on the large writing-table flickered in the draught. A modest chamber — barely furnished. Next to the writing table, a cupboard against the wall; over here a spinning-wheel and a guitar; yonder a chair covered with undyed leather. Coloured copper-plates, pencil drawings and various medallions covered the walls. Near the empty bed was a little table with a wash-hand basin, a tobacco-box and a cup.

In the centre of the room stood a slight female figure, clothed in deep mourning, holding in her arms a two-year-old child. Two delicate boys and a little girl, barely seven years old, crowded round their mother as the soldiers entered. “What do you want from me?” said the lady in French. “Your money and valuables, quick!” cried the three ruffians. “There’s nothing here either,” added one of them after a short pause, during which he had keenly scrutinized the room. “Let’s go,” he shouted, “we only waste time here; besides, they will leave nothing for us outside.”

One of his comrades, however, drew his sabre and screamed, with a curse, “Your money, your jewels, quick!” The lady drew back, and the children hid yet deeper in the drapery of her skirts, sobbing as if their hearts would break. Just then the servant appeared in the doorway crying out, without giving a second thought to the enemy standing there, “O noble lady! what a terrible sight outside! Everything ruined and plundered! O the villains, O the robbers!”

Scarcely had the man uttered the words when, to the indescribable horror of the miserable family, the soldier who had last spoken turned fiercely on their faithful retainer, seized him by the throat and, waving his weapon, cried out in broken German, “What does he say, the canaille? We robbers are — non, soldiers we are of his Majesty the Emperor of the French! I come from Alsace, by Strassburg was I born. I German understand and speak quite well! He us has insulted — vengeance. Dead must he be, the canaille!”

His weapon flashed. With a loud cry the lady threw herself between the two — the other soldiers merely stood staring, German being as little comprehensible as Hebrew to them, and the servant, who had turned deadly pale, stammered, “Help! How could I know he would understand? O Frau von Schiller, my wife, my children!”

Why was it that the ruffian suddenly relaxed his grasp upon the servant’s arm, and why did he drop his weapon? He gazed long and earnestly at the lady, and then, saluting in military fashion, hurriedly asked, “Pardon, madame, your name is — Schiller?” The lady bowed her head, and immediately he cried out to his comrades, “Helmets off for a great name!” “Pardon, madame, he continued, “do you belong to Frédéric Schiller, the renowned poet?” “These are his children; I was his wife,” she murmured, with glistening eyes.

Son épouse — his consort?” he cried in astonishment, and his face gleamed with pleasure. “What detains you here any longer?” he said to his comrades — “Go, or nothing will be left for you outside.” Hardly had they disappeared, incredulously shaking their heads, when he stretched out his hand and begged the honour of kissing the hand of the renowned Schiller’s wife.

Deeply moved, she held out her right hand. He pressed it to his heart and lips, and asked, “Where is the great poète dramatique? O madame, I beg you that he comes. Not a hair of his head shall be injured. O how I love his tragedies!” A deep silence ensued. Then she spoke with trembling lips, “Schiller is dead.” “Dead! — Frédéric Schiller dead? O!” He dropped his head and glanced at her pale face and dress of mourning — again clasping her hand. “Pardon, madame — how my heart is grieved at this. I love him so, because I love ses tragédies. From the ‘Brigands’ — the ‘Robbers,’ I have played already with my little comrades as a child, and a year ago at Austerlitz there I sang, with the camarades from Bavaria and Baden, ‘Ein freies Leben führen wir, ein Leben voller Wonne‘! In Türkheim and Strassburg was there also a German théatre, where they gave poor ‘Louise et Ferdinand!’ with Mademoiselle Miller as heroine. We all cried, even we men, at the touching tragedy; and the conspiration — the ‘Conspiracy of the Fieschi’ they performed in the German théatregrand spectacle, so great that it went deep into my heart! O pauvre Madame, how am I grieved over the death of le poéte dramatique! And at this very table here he wrote his tragedies? And did he play on this instrument, and drink out of this cup?”

He went to the writing-table, to the guitar and the cup, laid his hand on each and bestowed on them a long and affectionate regard. A sudden explosion from the street brought him back to the present. “Nothing to be afraid of, Madame and little children, the camarades are full up with wine and beer. They shall not harm you, and not even your meubles. I pray you be quite at ease. I will lake care, I will keep guard of the house and of the wife and children of the great Frédéric Schiller. Oui, oui, I keep guard and whoever will cross the threshold, his head will I crack! — Ah! the little ones are tired, they must go to rest. Adieu, Madame, I am delighted and very proud that I have held the hand of the wife of the great Schiller. Good-night, Madame, and little children, I keep guard.”

Once more he took her hand and pressed it fervently to his heart, and stroked the cheeks of the smallest child, bowed low before the lady, and then went quickly downstairs, not covering his head, however, until quite at the bottom. There he drew up his rifle and laid himself down on the cold bare paving stones, a faithful guardian of the little house and its inhabitants. Upstairs in the little room stood Charlotte von Schiller with her children before the poet’s portrait in long and wondering reverie.

The streets were hushed — the drunken victors had fallen asleep. But with the morning they awoke to new deeds of horror and brutality. Everything that had escaped them the previous day was searched and robbed on that dreadful morning. Three houses in the market place burned fiercely for some time, and in the church even the vaults were broken through and the peace of the dead disturbed by the destruction and ransacking of many of the coffins.

(Gottlieb Böttger the Elder,, Entehrung und Plünderung der Todten in Steinitz, im August 1813 [1814]):


In the midst of the tumult, Napoleon, surrounded by his generals, bore into the town and alighted in the palace courtyard. Self-possessed and dignified, the Duchess met him on the grand staircase.

(Steube [artist] and A. Zschokke [engraver], Napoleon in Weimar [1840], Stadtgeschichtliches Museum Leipzig, Inventarnummer VS 1720 GOS-Nr. gr017377):


“Where is the Duke, your husband?” demanded the emperor. “At his post of duty,” returned the Duchess. “What a wonderful woman,” said Napoleon, turning to his adjutant, Rapp, “our two hundred cannons have not succeeded in imparting fear to her!” Accompanied by his whole suite he immediately paid her a visit and overwhelmed her with reproaches on account of the Prussian-Weimar alliance.

But the dignity with which she received his strictures inspired the Emperor with so much reverence that he gave strict orders to the soldiers to cease their plundering. General Augereau at once commanded a general march. The troops flocked to the park and the market-place. At length the brave defender of the little yellow house and its inmates rose from his place of sentry on the stones. Not an eye had he closed since undertaking what to him was a sacred mission. The slightest sound had caused him to clasp his weapon tighter, ready for a struggle. And now he left, turning to take a farewell glance at the window of the little room he loved. He marched quickly down the Esplanade, proud and glad to have been the means of preserving the widow and children of Frédéric Schiller. “I have been the guardian of the great Schiller’s wife and children” was henceforth his proudest boast.

III. Goethe [3]


But these profound and delicate [scientific] investigations were in the following year interrupted by the roar of cannon. On the 14th of October, at seven o’clock in the morning, the thunder of distant artillery alarmed the inhabitants of Weimar. The battle of Jena had begun. Goethe heard the cannon with terrible distinctness; but as it slackened towards noon, he sat down to dinner as usual. Scarcely had he sat down, when the cannon burst over their heads. Immediately the table was cleared. Riemer found him walking up and down the garden. The balls whirled over the house; the bayonets of the Prussians in flight gleamed over the garden wall. The French had planted a few guns on the heights above Weimar, from which they could fire on the town. It was a calm bright day. In the streets everything appeared dead. Everyone had retreated under cover. Now and then the boom of a cannon broke silence; the balls, hissing through the air, occasionally struck a house. The birds were singing sweetly on the esplanade; and the deep repose of nature formed an awful contrast to the violence of war.

In the midst of this awful stillness a few French hussars rode into the city, to ascertain if the enemy were there. Presently a whole troop galloped in. A young officer came to Goethe to assure him that his house would be secure from pillage; it had been selected as the quarters of Marshal Augereau. The young hussar who brought this message was Lili’s son [Wilhelm von Türkheim]! He accompanied Goethe to the palace. Meanwhile several of the troopers had made themselves at home in Goethe’s house. Many houses were in flames. Cellars were broken open. The pillage began.

Goethe returned from the palace, but without the Marshal [Augereau], who had not yet arrived. They waited for him till deep in the night. The doors were bolted, and the family retired to rest. About midnight two tirailleurs [infantrymen] knocked at the door, and insisted on admittance. In vain they were told the house was full, and the Marshal expected. They threatened to break in the windows, if the door were not opened. They were admitted. Wine was set before them, which they drank like troopers, and then they insisted on seeing their host. They were told he was in bed. “No matter; he must get up ,” they had a fancy to see him.

In such cases, resistance is futile. Riemer went up and told Goethe, who, putting on his dressing-gown, came majestically down stairs, and by his presence considerably awed his drunken guests, who were as polite as French soldiers can be when they please. They talked to him; made him drink with them, with friendly clink of glasses; and suffered him to retire once more to his room. In a little while, however, heated with wine, they insisted on a bed. The other troopers were glad of the floor; but these two would have nothing less than a bed.

They stumbled up stairs; broke into Goethe’s room, and there a struggle ensued, which had a very serious aspect. Christiane, who throughout displayed great courage and presence of mind, procured a rescue, and the intruders were finally dragged from the room. They then threw themselves on the bed kept for the Marshal; and no threats would move them. In the morning the Marshal arrived, and sentinels protected the house. But even under this protection, the disquiet may be imagined when we read that twelve casks of wine were drunk in three days; that eight-and-twenty beds were made up for officers and soldiers, and that the other costs of this billeting amounted to more than 2,000 dollars.

The sun shining with continuous autumnal splendour in these days looked down on terrible scenes in Weimar. The pillage was prolonged, so that even the palace was almost stripped of the necessaries of life. In this extremity, while houses were in flames close to the palace, the Duchess Luise manifested that dauntless courage which produced a profound impression on Napoleon, as he entered Weimar, surrounded by all the terrors of conquest, and was received at the top of the palace stairs by her, — calm, dignified, unmoved. Voilà une femme à laquelle même nos deux cent canons n’ont pu faire peur! he said to Rapp. She pleaded for her people; vindicated her husband; and by her constancy and courage prevailed over the conqueror, who was deeply incensed with the Duke, and repeatedly taunted him with the fact that he spared him solely out of respect for the Duchess. [4]


[*] Although Schiller had died the previous year, both his wife, Charlotte, and Goethe were present during the French entry into Weimar after the battles of Jena and Auerstedt and were witness to the plundering and violent, largely uncontrolled actions of the French troops. Although the following anecdote about Charlotte Schiller is stylized, it does provide a sense for the kind of pillaging that went on. That about Goethe is based in part on an account by his friend Friedrich Wilhelm Riemer and has become a familiar part of Goethe’s biography. Back.

[1] The account of the arrival of French troops in Weimar is from Richard and Robert Keil, Goethe, Weimar und Jena im Jahre 1806: nach Goethes Privatacten: am fünfzigjährigen Todestage Goethes herausgegeben (Leipzig 1882), 22–32, here 29–30, 35, 42. Map from Karte des deutschen Reichs, ed. C. Vogel (Gotha 1907), no. 19. Back.

[2] This vignette of Charlotte Schiller’s experience is from E. H. A. K., “The Power of a Great Man’s Name: An Episode From The Wars Of Napoleon,” The Durham University Journal 13 (1898) 2 (Saturday, 5 March 1898), 40–41.

Concerning Schiller’s residences in Weimar, see Caroline’s letter to Johann Diederich Gries on 27 December 1799 (letter 258), note 9. The 1883 drawing of Schiller’s house on the Esplanade in Weimar from Oliver M. Wavertree, “Weimar and its Heroes,” part 2, Good Words for 1883, ed. Donald Macleod (London 1883), 779–84, here 780. Back.

[3] The account of Goethe’s experience is from George Henry Lewes, The Life of Goethe, 2nd ed. (London 1864), 485–89; it essentially accords with the lengthier account in chap. 3, “Der 14. Oktober 1806,” in Richard and Robert Keil, Goethe, Weimar und Jena im Jahre 1806: nach Goethes Privatacten: am fünfzigjährigen Todestage Goethes herausgegeben, 22–32; indeed, the author of the former may well be drawing from the Keils’ account.

Illustration of Goethe’s house in Weimar from Goethe: Eine Biographie in Bildnissen, special printing of the 2nd edition of Könneckes Bilderatlas zur Geschichte der deutschen Nationallitteratur, 2nd ed (Marburg 1900), 24. Back.

[4] The continuing story of Napoleon’s anger with Weimar and its duke was more complicated. See the supplementary appendix on Friedrich Müller’s odyssey on behalf of Karl August. Back.

© 2018 Doug Stott