Gregory Brown
513 Agnes Arnold Hall
Department of Philosophy
University of Houston
Houston, TX 77204-3004

Karl Wilhelm Ferdinand
(Charles William Ferdinand)

Duke of Brunswick - Wolfenbüttel (1773-1806)

In 1773, seven years before the death of his father duke Karl I. (1713-1780), Karl Wilhelm Ferdinand had already taken up the rule in the principality of Brunswick - Wolfenbüttel.  When duke Karl Wilhelm Ferdinand was born in the Wolfenbüttel castle in 1735 and baptized one day later, king Friedrich Wilhelm I. (1688-1740) of Prussia traveled from Berlin in order to see his grandson.1  Karl Wilhelm Friedrich grew up in the midst of his thirteen sisters and as hereditary prince he received a suitable education from the Abbot Jerusalem. As a result of his close family connection to Prussia and an agreement of support in which the principality of Brunswick placed troops at the disposal of Prussia, the twenty-one-year old hereditary prince fought in the Seven Years' War against the French on the side of Prussia.  In 1763 Karl Wilhelm Friedrich married princess Auguste (1734-1813) of Great Britain, the sister of king George III. (1738-1820).  The liaison of the hereditary consorts was conventional and followed the courtly form.  The marriages of the daughters foundered, and only a son, Friedrich Wilhelm (1711-1815), remained healthy and able to succeed his father in the reign in 1806. On a trip to Italy in 1766, duke Karl Wilhelm Friedrich made the acquaintance of his mistress of many years, Mrs. Branconi.  This relationship produced a son, the count of Forstenburg.

In the beginning the reign of the duke was conducted capably.  Successful reforms allowed the small principality of Brunswick to flourish.  Under the influence of the Abbot Jerusalem and the pedagogue Campe, duke Karl Wilhelm was a truly enlightened prince.  His greatest passion, however, remained the military.  In 1787 the duke was appointed the Prussian field marshal.  He then took supreme command of the Prussian and Austrian troops in order to subdue the French Revolutionary Army.  The plan foundered with the bombardment by Valmy, and the duke again resigned his position in 1794.  In 1806, completely without reason, Karl Wilhelm Ferdinand was reactivated as commander-in-chief of the Prussian army.  At the great old age of seventy one, he died as a consequence of a severe wound received in the war against the Napoleonic army.

--Adapted from the website, Die Welfen


1The mother of Karl Wilhelm Friedrich's father was the Prussian princess Philippine Charlotte, who was  the daughter of king Friedrich Wilhelm I.


  • Biegel, Gerd. Karl Wilhelm Ferdinand und seine Rückkehr aus Frankreich am 6. Ferbruar 1794.  Brunswick, 1994.