Letter 131

• 131. Caroline to Friedrich Wilhelm and Luise Gotter: Frankfurt, 13 July 1793 [*]

Frankfurt, 13 July [1793]

|300| My dear and precious friends — I have been freed through the unremitting and noble efforts of my youngest brother — perhaps you will already know this when this letter reaches you, but my ardent gratitude for the sort of concern and interest I found among you prompts me to dedicate to you these first moments of the life that has now been returned to me.

They had to release me with no conditions and without even the smallest gesture of investigation. Philipp sent the king a well supported petition in his name [1] — the Mainz minister Albini had maintained that it was from this quarter alone that my release was being delayed.

But in reality things were quite different — indeed, it was the authorities in Mainz itself who had already hampered one investigation from that quarter and who had resolutely persisted in the idea of exploiting and tormenting me as a hostage. Up to that point, Friedrich Wilhelm [II] had thought I was Böhmer’s wife — he became interested in the matter and brought it about through three letters, one after the other, to his commandant in Frankfurt despite the considerable opposition of the Mainz ministers, who were quite ready to do something truly rash.

|301| Here are the rescripts [2] — in the Prussian one you truly can see the benevolence, and in the other the bonne tournure à mauvais jeu. [3]

What is especially gratifying to me is that I owe all this to my upright brother, and that I can perhaps see even within this good deed itself a reward issuing forth for him, since his conduct on behalf of an unfortunate sister so pleased him [the king] that one may well expect something for his advancement in Prussia — in his letter of gratitude, he volunteered his services to the army hospitals.

But it has become difficult for me having to leave behind Madam Forkel, whose continued imprisonment is equally unjust — though here, too, I am hoping for a quick resolution. [4]

You, my dear, dear Louise, are now expecting to be able to cheer up your unhappy friend — you are expecting me in your arms — but that is not possible. I have not been able to write much recently — hence you are not familiar with the negotiations that have brought me to this goal, and there are still things that need to be resolved — but the urgent advice of those to whom I have much to thank in this respect is that until everything concerning Mainz has been brought to an end, it would be better for me to remain hidden under an assumed name, though in Prussian territory. [5]

My brother is demanding that I leave in the very next hour — hence I really should not — I simply must not go near Gotha, and yet I have been burning with desire to see all of you for at least a short visit — since my health and my soul are in great need of recovery amid profound peace and quiet, and to that extent that “must” is fine with me. I will write again soon. Do not speak about me — do not let anyone surmise in which part of the world I might be except Wilhelmine and Mother Schläger — nor even that I intend to remain hidden. For the time being, the story is that I am first consulting with my relatives concerning these matters. God bless you all.

|302| My dear Gotter — let me thank you once again now literally, here in writing, just as in my heart I will be grateful to you for the rest of my life for your friendship. [6]


[*] Illustration of Frankfurt ca. 1834 from William Tombleson, Ober Rhein, vol. 2 (London 1834), plate preceding p. 3:



[1] Samuel Thomas von Sömmerring wrote from Frankfurt to Christian Gottlob Heyne this same day, 13 July 1793 (Forster’s Briefwechsel mit Sömmerring 632):

Madam Böhmer is genuinely free now and has departed Frankfurt. Mademoiselle Sophie Bethmann, the same on whom Richter operated in Göttingen [see Caroline to Luise Gotter and Wilhelmine Bertuch on 28 May 1784 (letter 41)], is her liberator. You probably already know that the king totally and harshly rejected the intervention from the Hannoverian ministers; I did what I could to see what might be done. The king did say on this occasion that he did not intend to intercede on behalf of the others.

Mainz wanted to make trouble but had to stand down.

As a native of Göttingen, Caroline was a subject of the Electorate of Hannover. See the chapter on Lower Saxony in the supplementary appendix on Germany in the late eighteenth century, esp. the section on the Elector of Hannover.

As it happened, it was through Sophie Bethmann, the current love interest of the king of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm II, that Philipp Michaelis, in a garden setting, was able to get a billet to the king in his successful attempt to get Caroline freed; see Luise Wiedemann’s account in her biography of Caroline in her Erinnerungen, pp. 81–82 (representative illustration: Marie Thérèse Martinet, Madame Gertrude [ca. 1770]; Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum; Museums./Signatur MTMartinet AB 3.17):


Since Sömmerring indicates that Caroline has already departed Frankfurt and is himself writing on the same day as Caroline’s present letter here, she seems genuinely to have left just as she herself suggests in her next-to-last paragraph. Back.

[2] The two rescripts read as follows in Erich Schmidt (1913), 1:702 (see also Johann Heinrich Liebeskind’s essentially identical version in his account of the conditions in the prison at Königstein); the first (Caroline calls it the “Prussian” one):

Learned Sir, especially dear Sir: It is in no way My will that innocent persons share the deserved fate of criminals who have incurred imprisonment at Königstein. Since I now give complete credence to Your assurance that Your sister currently there, viz. the widow of the mining physician Boehmer, has in fact incurred no guilt in the matter, I have therefore ordered Major von Lucadow to release said woman along with her child. I am alerting You to such in response to Your missive of the 1st of this month and am Your gracious,

Currently encamped at Marienborn, 4 July 1793,

Friedrich Wilhelm

And the second:

To Doctor Medicinae Michaelis, in Frankfurt

Madam Böhmer, widow of Doctor Böhmer, is to be informed that, insofar as His Royal Grace the Prince Elector no longer requires her continued declaration in said matter and insofar as her release has now also been resolved by His Majesty the King of Prussia, she along with her child are herewith to be released after payment of incurred costs, of which a list is included in an attachment to this missive. Said widow must, however, remove to this authority together with her child and report to the Royal Prussian Commandant at said authority that she might receive the requisite passports for her return journey.
Frankfurt, 11 July 1793

Von Moers

Royal Administrative Chamber in Kronberg. Back.

[3] Fr., “[to give, put a] good face [turn] to a bad matter.” Back.

[4] Although the exact date of Meta Forkel and her mother’s release from Kronberg is not known, she seems to have been incarcerated for four months, and was in Kronberg at least until 18 July 1793, while Georg Christian Wedekind’s wife, Wilhelmine, was kept until 24 November 1794 (Monika Siegel, “Ich hatte einen Hang zur Schwärmerey,” 124 with fn 110). Meta Forkel’s husband, Johann Nikolaus Forkel in Göttingen, had written to an unidentified legation secretary on 29 April 1793 on behalf of his wife (cited in ibid., 123–24):

I was already informed on 5 April of the harsh fate that has befallen my wife, her mother, and Mad. B[öhmer] as a result of the [Georg Christian] Wedekind affair, and I immediately petitioned the Duke of Braunschweig, the General Adjutant of Mannheim, and the Prince Elector of Maynz himself for their release. I even sent to the latter’s chancellor, Herr v[on] Albini, appropriately notarized excerpts from several of my wife’s letters, excerpts demonstrating clearly and unequivocally that these women can be charged neither with participating in nor with approving of the activities of their Maynz relatives [Wedekind and Georg Wilhelm Böhmer].

Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the issue now. Herr Albini has declared that they are intending to retain these women as hostages until an equal number of the hostages are surrendered back in exchange that were sent to Landau primarily at the behest of [Georg Wilhelm] Böhm[er] and [Georg] Forster.

Given these circumstances, my own assistance is simply too weak. If you, esteemed Herr Legation Secretary, know of any way something might be effected in this regard, please do alert me to such or do as much as you yourself can in the matter.

I abide with particular respect

Your esteemed Sir’s obedient servant

Although Meta Forkel and Caroline stayed in touch to the end of Caroline’s life, both Caroline and Friedrich Schlegel entertained at least the suspicion that Meta might have divulged information about Caroline’s pregnancy to acquaintances out of pique over Caroline’s earlier release (see Friedrich Schlegel to Wilhelm Schlegel on 28 August 1793 [letter 134]). Back.

[5] The reference, of course, is primarily to Wilhelm Schlegel, who had come to Kronberg from Amsterdam to accompany Caroline and Auguste to Leipzig. — “Prussian territory” refers broadly not merely to the dominions of the Prussian king, but here especially to the king’s territories in Brandenburg in the circle of Upper Saxony centered on Berlin as the capital of all Prussian territories and as the residence of the royal family. Back.

[6] Caroline and Auguste seem to have left Frankfurt this same day accompanied by Wilhelm Schlegel on their journey directly to Leipzig (Post Karte Durch ganz Deutschland, ed. J. Walch [Augsburg 1795]):



Translation © 2011 Doug Stott