Karl Wilhelm’s harem

Perhaps inspired by Venetian practices, in the mid-1710s Karl Wilhelm, Margrave of Baden-Durlach (1679–1738), established a large ensemble of Hofsingerinnen—female court singers. Some visitors to his court were scandalized, not least the Duchess of Orléans (Élisabeth Charlotte de Bavière, 1652–1722), who expressed herself repeatedly:

“I have already heard about the ridiculous seraglio maintained by the Margrave of Durlach. According to what I’ve heard lately about our Germans—whether they are princes or aristocrats—they are all as crazy as if they had come out of the madhouse; I am really quite ashamed by this.” (15 December 1718).

“I have heard about the bedlam life led by the Margrave of Durlach; he is completely mad. I fear that he has turned into a complete imbecile; [his lifestyle] has never been crazier…” (13 September 1719)

“The man of letters…will surely be given a leading position in heaven if he can persuade the Margrave of Durlach to abandon his scandalous life and shut down his seraglio.” (4 June 1722)

Due to such accounts, Karl Wilhelm’s courtly lifestyle has inspired visions of Oriental harems to this day, tempting three centuries of historians either to omit the topic intentionally or to misuse it as a way to project their own fantasies.

This according to “The court of Baden-Durlach in Karlsruhe” by Rüdiger Thomsen-Fürst, an essay included in Music at German courts, 1715–1760: Changing artistic priorities (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2001, pp. 365–387). Below, a suitably illustrated work by Sebastian Bodinus, who was employed by Karl Wilhelm around this time.

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Filed under Baroque era, Curiosities

2 responses to “Karl Wilhelm’s harem

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