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Charles William Ferdinand
Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel
Preceded by Charles I
Succeeded by Frederick William
Personal details
Born (1735-10-09)9 October 1735
Wolfenbüttel, Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel
Died 10 November 1806(1806-11-10) (aged 71)
Spouse(s) Princess Augusta of Great Britain

Charles William Ferdinand (German: Karl Wilhelm Ferdinand, Fürst und Herzog von Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel) (October 9, 1735 – November 10, 1806), Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, was a sovereign prince of the Holy Roman Empire, and a professional soldier who served as a Generalfeldmarschall of the Kingdom of Prussia. Born in Wolfenbüttel, Germany, he was duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel from 1780 until his death. He is a recognized master of the modern warfare of the mid-18th century, a cultured and benevolent despot in the model of Frederick the Great, and was married to Princess Augusta, a sister of George III of Great Britain. The botanical genus Brunsvigia was named in his honour.


Charles William Ferdinand (German language: Karl Wilhelm Ferdinand) was the son of Charles I, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel and Philippine Charlotte, daughter of King Frederick William I of Prussia. Karl received an unusually wide and thorough education, and travelled in his youth in the Netherlands, France and various parts of Germany. His first military experience was in the North German campaign of 1757, under Prince William, Duke of Cumberland. At the Battle of Hastenbeck he won great renown by a gallant charge at the head of an infantry brigade; and upon the capitulation of Kloster Zeven he was easily persuaded by his uncle Ferdinand of Brunswick, who succeeded Cumberland in command, to continue in the war as a general officer. The exploits of the hereditary prince, as he was called, soon gained him further reputation, and he became an acknowledged master of irregular warfare. In pitched battles, and in particular at Minden and Warburg, he proved himself an excellent subordinate.

After the close of the Seven Years' War, the prince visited England with his bride, the daughter of Frederick, Prince of Wales, and in 1766 he went to France, being received both by his allies and his late enemies with every token of respect. In Paris he made the acquaintance of Marmontel; in Switzerland, whither he continued his tour, that of Voltaire; and in Rome, where he remained for a long time, he explored the antiquities of the city under the guidance of Winckelmann. After a visit to Naples he returned to Paris, and thence, with his wife, to Brunswick. His services to the dukedom during the next few years were of the greatest value; with the assistance of the minister Feonçe von Rotenkreuz he rescued the state from the bankruptcy into which the war had brought it. His popularity was unbounded, and when he succeeded his father, Duke Karl I, in 1780, he soon became known as a model to sovereigns.


The Duke was a typical "enlightened despot" of the 18th century, characterized by economy and prudence. His habitual caution often made him draw back from potential reforms. He brought Braunschweig into close alliance with the king of Prussia, for whom he had fought in the Seven Years' War; he was a Prussian field marshal, and was at pains to make the regiment of which he was colonel a model one, and he was frequently engaged in diplomatic and other state affairs. He resembled his uncle Frederick the Great in many ways, but he lacked the resolution of the king, and in civil as in military affairs was prone to excessive caution. As an enthusiastic adherent of the Germanic and anti-Austrian policy of Prussia he joined the Fürstenbund, in which, as he now had the reputation of being the best soldier of his time, he was the destined commander-in-chief of the federal army.

Charles William Ferdinand of Brunswick.

Military experience

First experience

His first military experience was during the Seven Years' War in the North German campaign of 1757, under the Duke of Cumberland. He gained great fame at the Battle of Hastenbeck with his gallant charge at the head of an infantry brigade.

French Revolutionary Wars

In the early summer of 1792, Ferdinand was poised with military forces at Coblenz. After the Girondins had arranged for France to declare war on Austria, voted on April 20, 1792, the Catholic Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II and the Protestant King of Prussia Frederick William II had combined armies and put them under Brunswick's command.

The "Brunswick Proclamation" or "Brunswick Manifesto" that he now issued from Coblenz on July 25, 1792 threatened war and ruin to soldiers and civilians alike, should the Republicans injure Louis XVI and his family. His avowed aim was:

to put an end to the anarchy in the interior of France, to check the attacks upon the throne and the altar, to reestablish the legal power, to restore to the king the security and the liberty of which he is now deprived and to place him in a position to exercise once more the legitimate authority which belongs to him.

Additionally, the manifesto threatened the French public with instant punishment should they resist the Imperial and Prussian armies, or the reinstatement of the monarchy. In large part, the manifesto had been written by Louis XVI's cousin, Louis Joseph de Bourbon, Prince de Condé, who was the leader of a large corps of émigrés in the allied army.

It was asserted the manifesto was in fact issued against the advice of Brunswick himself; the duke, a model sovereign in his own principality, sympathized with the constitutional side of the French Revolution, while as a soldier he had no confidence in the success of the enterprise. However, having let bear his signature, he had to bear the full responsibly for its consequences.

The proclamation was intended to threaten the French public into submission; it had exactly the opposite effect. In Paris, Louis XVI was generally believed to be in correspondence with the Austrians and Prussians already, and the republicans became more vocal in the early summer of 1792. It remained for the Duke of Brunswick's proclamation to assure the downfall of the monarchy by his proclamation, which was being rapidly distributed in Paris by July 28 apparently by the monarchists, who badly misjudged the effect it would have (See text in link). The "Brunswick Manifesto" seemed to furnish the agitators with a complete justification for the revolt that they were already planning. The first violent action was carried out on August 10, when the Palace of the Tuileries was stormed.

After the French Revolutionary Wars

Memorial in Christianskirche

The Duke of Brunswick had served in the Seven Years' War and was made a Prussian general in 1773. After he succeeded to his title in 1780, he was made field marshal in 1787, and commanded the Prussian army that rapidly and successfully invaded the United Provinces (The Dutch Republic) and restored the authority of the House of Orange. He was less successful against French citizen's army that met him at Valmy. Having secured Longwy and Verdun without serious resistance, he turned back after a mere skirmish in Valmy, and evacuated France. When he counterattacked the Revolutionary French who had invaded Germany, in 1793, he recaptured Mainz after a long siege, but resigned in 1794 in protest at interference by Frederick William II of Prussia. He returned to command the Prussian army in 1806 during the War of the Fourth Coalition but was routed by Napoleon's marshal Davout at Battle of Jena-Auerstedt (14 October 1806). During the battle he was struck by a musket shot and lost both of his eyes. Mortally wounded the Duke fled before the advancing French Forces and died in Ottensen on November 10, 1806. His body was provisionally laid to rest in Christianskirche, before it could be transferred for burial in Brunswick Cathedral on November 6, 1819.



Karl Wilhelm Ferdinand II, Herzog von Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel (1735-1806) and Princess Augusta of Great Britain

Karl Wilhelm Ferdinand's eldest son and designated heir, Karl Georg August (1766–1806), married Frederika Luise Wilhelmine, Princess of Orange-Nassau, daughter of William V, Prince of Orange and Wilhelmina of Prussia, in 1790. He died childless shortly before his father on 20 September 1806.

His successor, Friedrich Wilhelm (1771 – June 16, 1815), who was one of the bitterest opponents of Napoleonic domination in Germany, took part in the war of 1809 at the head of a corps of partisans; fled to England after the Battle of Wagram, and returned to Braunschweig in 1813, where he raised fresh troops. He was killed at the Battle of Quatre Bras.

The remaining two sons, Georg Wilhelm Christian (1769–1811) and August (1770–1822), were declared incapacitated and excluded from the line of succession; neither of them married. The eldest daughter, Auguste Caroline Friederike (1764–1788), married King Frederick I of Württemberg. The second daughter, Caroline (1768–1821), married, with very unhappy results, her first cousin King George IV of the United Kingdom.

Name Birth Death Notes
Auguste Caroline Friederike Luise 3 December 1764 27 September 1788 married 1780, Friedrich III, Duke of Württemberg; had issue
Karl Georg August 8 February 1766 20 September 1806 married 1790, Frederika Luise Wilhelmine, Princess of Orange-Nassau; no issue
Caroline Amalie Elisabeth 17 May 1768 7 August 1821 married 1795, George IV of the United Kingdom; had issue
Georg Wilhelm Christian 27 June 1769 16 September 1811 Declared an invalid; Excluded from line of succession
August 18 August 1770 18 December 1822 Declared an invalid; Excluded from line of succession
Friedrich Wilhelm 9 October 1771 16 June 1815 married 1802, Maria Elisabeth Wilhelmine, Princess of Baden; had issue
Amelie Karoline Dorothea Luise 22 November 1772 2 April 1773

External links


  • Lord Fitzmaurice, Charles W. F., duke of Brunswick (London, 1901)
  • Memoir in Allgemeine deutsche Biographie, vol. ii. (Leipzig, 1882)
  • Arthur Chuquet, Les Guerres de la Révolution: La Première Invasion prussienne (Paris)

Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. Encyclopædia Britannica Cambridge University Press 

Charles William Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel
House of Brunswick-Bevern
Cadet branch of the House of Welf
Born: 9 October 1735 Died: 10 November 1806
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Charles I
Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg
Prince of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel

Succeeded by
Frederick William

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