07 March 2019


The 300 year old plane trees in summer. Planted to orders from Karl Wilhelm Friedrich, Margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach in the 17th century. The Wild Margrave, as he was called, had serious delusions of grandeur and spent money like there was no tomorrow. He was married to Friederike Louise, a daughter of the king of Prussia, the poor unfortunate woman was 15 years old at the time of this arranged marriage to secure Prussia's foothold in Franconia. The marriage was a disaster as could be expected. Here is the unhappy couple.

Friederike suffered from one of the congenital chronic illnesses of the European gentry and after the birth of the heir, she was exiled to a small castle not too far away, where according to my father, she spent her days among women "knitting and sewing".

I walked around the castle grounds, the buildings are currently being renovated to become a "tourist gem", and tried to imagine what life may have been like for a young woman, an outcast, in this godforsaken village, surrounded by carp ponds and fields, far away from any family or social life. Her firstborn died, she gave birth to two more boys, the Margrave arriving drunk and jolly in the middle of the night now and then, let's call it rape, and in her later life, she apparently suffered from melancholia.

The Margrave lead a life of luxury, with hunting and falconry and plane trees imported from France. He had palaces built all over Franconia and churches here and there to absolve for any sins.

Alexander, his heir, the second son of Friederike Louise, continued in this vein, with many mistresses and endless luxury. But no children. In the end, he sold the title to the Prussian king and abdicated, leaving his luxurious residences (incl. all staff and animals) without a second thought and no provisions. He then married his current, English, mistress, Lady Craven, moved to her manor house in Berkshire and spent the rest of his life there breeding horses - as one does.
Any similarities to current political leaders - anywhere?

Plane trees: http://bilddatenbank.natur.de/default.asp?BildID=4138
Photographer: Erich Kraus, Weidenbach, Germany

The couple, Unterschwaningen castle, Benham Park: Wikipedia, public domain


  1. I was not even aware you could sell a title. How bizarre! And I'm sure that a lot of that royalty (including Henry VIII) had genetic disorders that prevented them from fathering children. Which of course they blamed on their ever-suffering wives and in the case of Henry led to some extremely dramatic results.

    1. Plus, he developed dementia.
      This poor women here had porphyria what was also called the madness of King George - (George III).

  2. Sounds like a current political leader. Yep.

    Thank you so much for the links to the novel and to the talk by forester, Peter Wohlleben!

    In 1999, when I was visiting Richardson Grove, a stand of redwoods in Northern California, the park ranger (maybe the equivalent of a forester) told me that she knew that the redwood trees talked with each other. She said that before a redwood tree fell, it would let the surrounding trees know, and it was always careful to fall between other redwood trees rather than on them.

    Now I love plane trees. Are they fruit trees? Here is the story from my mother's father's mother's family. My great great grandfather was given permission to emigrate from Achern on May 4, 1861:

    "The account of how Melchior obtained funds for the passage of himself and his family to America is interesting. It was customary in Germany at that time for towns and villages to plant fruit trees along roadways in what we would call tree lawns, and the crops were allotted to certain citizens. Melchior's employer advanced passage money in the hope of reimbursement from rights for eight years to the harvest of the community fruit trees."

    Melchior Stecher was a cooper and day laborer. He had 11 children. After the death of his wife, Helene (Roethler), he was depressed and lonely and decided to come to America with his younger children. They first settled in Massachusetts. Only one of his children, Jacobine, remained in Germany.

    1. You must find a copy of this film by Edgar Reitz:

      It will tell you some of the story of your German great great grandfather. It is a beautiful film, as are all films by Edgar Reitz.

      Tree lawns are found in many rural areas, they are now protected. Often, fruit trees are planted along the roads leading in and out of villages and rural towns, on common land for all to use.
      This type of edible common land has seen a comeback recently with many open spaces, parks and hard shoulders etc. being planted with fruit and veg for all to pick. This one is a short journey upriver from us:

      Plane trees, however, are not fruit trees, they are related to your sycamore trees.

    2. Following your suggestion, I found out just now that the Edgar Reitz film has been purchased by our public library recently. I put it on hold and will get to watch it this week. Thank you, Sabine.

  3. Lovely photographs and such an interesting history there. It's so true about power and corruption. Here we are in 21st century and the dramas of power have only gotten crazier and way more dangerous.

  4. So many lives of wealth and privilege were lonely and mind-numbingly boring for the women. How we romanticize history.

  5. I'm teaching Macbeth in my twelfth grade English class and can't help but see that there's nothing new under the sun.

  6. I always imagined margraves to be places rather than people. But with the advantage of having Bach ("Old Bach" that is, not the rag, tag and bobtail that followed) write music for them.

    Selling off the title, I've been thinking of doing that. Herr Decommissioned Editor might make me a few bob. Pensioned-off Octagenarian Roderick Robinson would go down well in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. But only if either or both were translated into German, preferably as multi-syllabic Lego-brick constructions. Then I'd order myself a gross of plane tree saplings.

    I'm wondering how a present-day margrave - with his resources and his lack of direction - would while away the time. Become a TV celebrity? Form a political party so far out on the right-wing that it met the left-wing from behind? Turn up at Monaco in his 70 m power yacht and watch the GP, drinking G&Ts on the poop? If it had a poop.

    And these days his put-upon wife would hire a complaisant hack who'd write up her story as a sex-slave to an impotent Milord. Making squillions and infecting him with melancholia.

    1. A margrave is like your marquess I think. Not as "high" as a duke but higher than an earl in that pecking order. You Brits surely know how this works. We watched The Crown!

      The weirdest thing for me is that the last heir of that particular line, Alexander, just fecked off to England and left several well stocked palaces behind all over Franconia.
      My father's town, Ansbach, was thus landed with a massive and expensive property and for decades this residence was crumbling away. The US troops helped themselves to whatever when they arrived in April 1945. It was an eyesore throughout my childhood visits.

      It is now splendidly restored, home to museums and concerts and Bach features every year for an entire Bach week with concerts indoors and out, fancy dress and Baroque dancing, the lot.

  7. So much drama! And I'm sure she DID have melancholia. Even without her inherited genetic peculiarities and god knows what else she sounds like she had good reason to be depressed. Nice trees, though.

  8. She was robbed of a meaningful life.

  9. hi sabine, i just made my blog private for work reasons. if you'd like to have access, please send me your email at 37paddington@gmail.com

  10. The more things change, the more they are the same.

    I'm guessing he might not have had dementia but rather tertiary syphilis.

  11. Interesting. And yeah - Trump certainly follows in those footsteps.