An arranged marriage between Bavaria’s heir apparent and one of Europe’s most eligible ladies set the stage for a wedding reception, Oktoberfest, that has continued to resonate with Munich, and its visitors, for over two centuries. After researching exhaustively, we here at MunichNOW have pieced together the dearth of information (with some embellishments) to give you an idea of what might have happened.

October 13th, 1810, Munich

Yesterday, on a cold, damp, drizzly Friday afternoon, October 12th, 1810, Bavaria’s Crown Prince Ludwig married Princess Therese Charlotte Luise Frederica Emile of Saxony-Hildburghausen, at the Hofkapelle inside Munich’s Residence, in front of about 200 witnesses.  Bavaria’s favorite son, and Saxony’s most eligible lady-in-waiting, tied the knot just after 2 pm. During a short respite of the rainy weather, the bells of Theatiner Church rang above the gathered throngs on Odeonsplatz, at 2:36 pm, sending the citizens into a tizzy.

Shortly afterwards, the groom’s father announced that in five days hence, a large reception would take place on the large meadow just southwest of the main gate at Karlstor to celebrate the nuptials. The long interim between the wedding and reception was to allow bakeries to bake extra bread, and for the other food purveyors a chance to set up their operations. All 40,000 residents were invited, and it would be a city holiday. Everyone was asked to wear their Sunday best – no lederhosen would be permitted.

There was a collective audible gasp of excitement when the princess entered the Kapelle. She epitomized all the things that Germans find attractive. The princess had steely eyes, a regal face and demeanor, and curves which were both beautiful and practical. She was not fragile in appearance – au contraire, she looked strong in shape with a determined countenance. Her beauty is the type that would only increase with age.

Prinzessin-ThereseA few months past her 18th birthday, she was given away by her father, Frederick, Duke of Saxe-Altenburg. There were five bridesmaids and the Maid of Honor, all in light blue chiffon dresses.

The bride wore an exquisite dress, made by the Parisian dressmaker Claude Le Croix, which secreted her modest bosom and accented her strong and shapely arms and face. The dress hung a bit loosely and left much to the imagination, but that was the style of the day, and monsieur Le Croix captured the mood impeccably. The bride wore her thick dark hair parted down the middle and in tight ringlets, another ‘mode du jour’, which allowed her to accentuate her matinee necklace of sapphires.

There was little wonder to those in attendance as to the reasons why she was on Napoleon Bonaparte’s short list for brides last year. He had been searching for an eligible princess to bear him an heir, and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen’s name had often come up. Her court said she had resigned herself to the idea that she would be his empress, but was overjoyed when Napoleon selected for his wife Maria Ludovica Leopoldina Franziska Therese Josepha Lucia von Habsburg-Lothringen, or Maria-Louise of Austria, for short. Either way, Napoleon married a German which he had insisted on, for both political and carnal reasons. (It is widely known that Napoleon suggested to his brother, Lucien, that he should also marry a German, after Napoleon had had an affair with a German dutchess).

Crown Prince Ludwig, 24, known for his wandering eye, appeared smitten with his bride, whom he had only met a few days before. (It is also rumoured that she refused his invitations to his bedchamber before the wedding.) He also must have felt some sense of satisfaction for winning the princess, solidifying his position in both Bavaria and Saxony, and irking Napoleon in the process. It is well-known that Ludwig has little love lost for Napoleon, unlike his father, King Maximilian I Joseph of Bavaria, who more than tolerates the French emperor.

The wedding was non-denominational, due to the fact that the Crown Prince Ludwig is Roman Catholic, and Therese, Lutheran. Prior to the wedding the men took part in baumstamm sägen (log sawing), and the engaged couple had a polterabend (plate-smashing), with a few close friends and royalty.

Update:  October 19th, 1810, Munich: The wedding reception of Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese, took place this past October 17th, on the meadow southwest of Munich. It was a picture-perfect ‘Altweiber’ (old widow) summer’s day. Much beef, pork and chicken was served to the nearly 35,000 guests. Some wine was provided for the upper-classes to imbibe, but the regular ‘Volk’  had to provide their own drink. All who attended wished the new couple ‘viel Glück’  (much happiness), and many children.

The finale of the reception was a horse race. It was won by the National Guard Cavalryman and hackney coachman Franz Baumgartner. Unconfirmed reports allege he proposed the race. There are plans already underway (a German characteristic) to have another festival next year, and to showcase the latest Bavarian farm equipment, in addition to the horse race. It would be an opportunity for much of Europe to experience Bavaria, this land of tradition and innovation.

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Michael V. Owens
Michael Owens was born in San Diego, California, but is a product of the Orlando, Florida, school system. This gave him a love of the ocean and its bounty, a rudimentary education, and a great swing for both baseball (then), and golf (now). He followed his heart and received a diploma in Humanities, which did him absolutely no good in the USA. He didn’t choose Munich; it chose him. Despite his adoration for history, Renaissance art, and medieval philosophy, Michael would prefer to see the world in 2150, rather than in 1150. But it is close.