John George, Elector of Brandenburg (1525-1598)
In 1598, the White Lady walked to warn of the imminent death of John George, Elector of Brandenburg, who was the head of the House of Hohenzollern. John George saw her appear at a banquet, as did any number of his courtiers and servants, all of whom were terrified. It was on this occasion that she said she’d come to judge the living and the dead and that her own future was uncertain. According to some accounts, the White Lady carried a bunch of iron keys with her and used them to smash in the skull of a page boy. All sources agree that John George died soon after the ghost appeared. He was seventy-three years old at the time of his death but he’d seemed to be in good health until the ghost appeared. In the novel “The White Lady of the Hohenzollerns”, certain liberties were taken with John George’s character. Be it known that the real John George was considered a morally upright man who most emphatically did not turn his dungeon into a wine cellar.
John Sigismund, Elector of Brandenburg (1572-1619)
In 1619, the White Lady walked to herald the death of John Sigismund, Elector of Brandenburg, who was a grandson of her first victim, John George. She walked through the palace and knocked on John George’s door. He heard the knocks but did not see the ghost, but was told about her appearance by guards, sentries, and courtiers. Since the White Lady was sometimes said to walk as a presage of national disaster, it is possible that her appearance was also meant to herald the outbreak of the Thirty Years War, which impoverished the Hohenzollerns and their people and devastated all of Germany.
Elisabeth Charlotte von Wittelsbach, Dowager Electress of Brandenburg (1597-1660)
Late one night in 1660, a Hohenzollern courtier named Baron von Bohsdorf, who’d been drinking heavily, saw the White Lady walking through the Altes Schloss in Berlin. Rather than cower or faint as most people did when they saw her, he confronted the White Lady at the top of a flight of stairs. He drew his sword and attacked her but his blows went right through her. They tussled until the White Lady threw him down the stairs and serenely continued her walk. Bohsdorf died a few days later from the injuries he sustained in his fall.
The White Lady seems to have been walking on that occasion for Elisabeth Charlotte, the Dowager Electress of Brandenburg, who died later that year. She was a sister of Frederick, the ‘Winter King’ of Bohemia, who was also the Elector Palatine, and she had an excellent relationship with the Winter King’s children, her nephews and nieces. She hoped that her son Frederick William would marry his cousin, her niece Louise Hollandine, Princess Palatine, but the match fell through because Louise Hollandine didn’t have a dowry.
Luise of Orange, Electress of Brandenburg (1627-1667)
Luise of Orange was in love with an elegant Frenchman when she was forced to marry Frederick William, Elector of Brandenburg. In time, their marriage turned into a genuine love match. Many people believed that the clever Luise was the true ruler of their territory since she had great influence over her hot-headed husband. In 1667, the White Lady appeared to Luise, who had been suffering from a long illness, and who saw the White Lady sitting at her desk. Some say that the White Lady rose and curtseyed to Luise while others say that the ghost ignored her and riffled through her papers before vanishing. Luise realized that her time had come and died soon afterwards.
Erdman Philipp von Hohenzollern, Margrave of Brandenburg (? – 1677)
In 1677, Erdman saw the White Lady sitting in a chair in his rooms one evening just before he went to bed. He slept poorly that night, understandably so, and was thrown from his horse the next day in the cobblestoned castle courtyard. He died soon afterwards from his injuries.
Frederick William von Hohenzollern, Elector of Brandenburg (1620-1688)
In 1688, the White Lady walked to warn of the impending death of Frederick William, the “Great Elector” of Brandenburg. The terrified court chaplain saw the ghost and told Frederick William about it. Frederick William obligingly dropped dead soon afterwards. The chaplain researched the haunting and seems to have been the originator of the legend of Cunigunde and Albert the Handsome’s doomed love affair.
Frederick I, King of Prussia (1657-1713)
Frederick had much to be proud of: he turned his electorate into a kingdom and he also built the fabulous Charlottenburg Palace. Alas, he was feeling sorry for himself in 1713 because he’d married thrice but had only one son to show for it and that son only had one sickly son to show for his years of married life. Frederick had several half-brothers whom he despised and wished to bar from the throne. He hoped that his third wife, Sophia of Mecklenberg-Schwerin, would have a son who could serve as a spare heir but it was not to be. She didn’t like being married to a man who was old enough to be her grandfather, so they often quarreled. She withdrew from court life insofar as she could, turned to her Bible for comfort, became a religious fanatic and, worst of all, failed to produce a son. Frederick began pondering ways and means of divorcing her and he also began avoiding her.
Sophia knew that her marriage was in trouble, so she decided to visit her husband’s rooms one night. The servants told her that it wasn’t a good idea and tried to persuade her to stay in her own rooms. Their efforts to keep her away from her husband upset her so much that she charged past them and ran through the palace while wearing nothing but a white nightgown. As she raced along, she ran into a mirror, a window, or a glass panel in a door and cut herself so badly that her nightgown was drenched with blood. She kept running, chased by servants, until she burst in upon Frederick. He believed that she was the White Lady and had a massive heart attack. He died a few weeks later. Sophia was sent back to her family and spent the rest of her life, poor lady, under restraint.
Frederick II aka Frederick the Great, King of Prussia (1712-1726)
In 1786, the White Lady walked in a more spectacular way than usual. Her appearance was recorded by Princess Louise of Prussia, a niece of King Frederick the Great, in her memoirs, “Forty Five Years of My Life.” In her memoirs, she wrote:
“The legend of the White Lady has been familiar for centuries, – how this figure always appeared at the Schloss at Berlin on the death of a Sovereign or a member of the Royal family and, it would seem, had been seen on suchlike occasions by many people!….One evening at the tea-hour, the Queen, sitting at a window in a closet of her apartments, thought she saw a face bending forward and looking out from a turret. She summoned the ladies and gentlemen of her household, and even her lackeys, who all saw the same head. The Princess Frederica was the last to come on the scene. ‘What do you see in that turret?’ the Queen asked her. The Princess and her governess declared they too saw the White Lady. All eyes remained fixed on the window while the Queen’s attendants ran to open it. But before they could reach the spot the phantom disappeared.”
The great Frederick died a few weeks after his Queen saw the White Lady. Legend has it that the ghost walked more than once to warn of Frederick’s death, perhaps because he’d put Prussia on the map as a world power. It is believed that Frederick himself saw the White Lady with his own eyes. During his final days, he shooed his doctors away and said that further medical care was pointless because he’d seen the White Lady and knew that his end was near.
King Louis XVI (1754-1793) and Queen Marie Antoinette of France (1755-1793)
On June 20th, 1791, Alexander Piccini, who later became a famous composer, was serving in the French army and was assigned to guard the home of the Mayor of Paris. That night, he saw a strange veiled woman who was dressed entirely in white come out of the Mayor’s home, walk down the street, and vanish. There must have been something unearthly about the woman because he was greatly struck by her strange clothes and by her eerie appearance and disappearance. He learned the next day that King Louis XVI and his family had tried to flee the country. He also learned that the royal family had been captured near the French frontier and was being brought back to Paris under guard and by force. Piccini was convinced that he’d seen the White Lady and that she’d walked as a sign of the imminent royal disaster.
In December 1792, Louis was put on trial for his life by the revolutionaries who were holding him prisoner. He was permitted to consult with lawyers although everyone knew that he was going to be found guilty by his judges. One night when he was working on his defense, he asked his lawyers if they’d seen the White Lady walking outside the prison where he was being held. They had no idea who the White Lady was and said so. Louis explained: “[D]o you not know that, according to popular tradition, whenever a prince of my race is about to die, a lady, clad all in white, wanders round the palace?”
In 1793, Prince George of Hesse saw the White Lady walk at his palace in Hesse-Darmstadt. He himself was in good health and so was his family, so he believed that an unexpected disaster would soon take place and braced himself for the worst. He was a close friend of Marie Antoinette, who was put on trial for her life and guillotined soon after the White Lady made her appearance at George’s palace. George believed that the White Lady walked at his home because she knew that he loved Marie Antoinette and that he’d tried to save her life.
King Frederick William II of Prussia (1744-1797)
In 1797, the White Lady was seen walking in a gallery at Charlottenburg by a sentry who fainted at her spectral feet. A few hours later, Frederick William was dead. Just as in the novel, Frederick William was a bigamist and womanizer who had a ghastly relationship with his uncle, King Frederick the Great. Unlike the fictional version of him in the novel, Frederick William briefly served with the Prussian army after the outbreak of the French Revolution and was also a generous and discerning patron of artists and musicians.
Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia (1772-1806)
In 1806, Louis Ferdinand, a gallant soldier and talented composer, and some of his friends saw the White Lady. The ghost appeared to them in their military quarters, a small house that they’d commandeered for the night. Louis Ferdinand and his friends were so frightened by the ghost’s appearance that they wrote out a statement describing what they’d seen which they signed, sealed and sent to his cousin the King of Prussia. Louis Ferdinand lost his life at the battle of Saalfield on the day after he saw the ghost.
Queen Louise of Prussia (1776-1810)
In 1810, the White Lady walked again in the palace of Charlottenburg. Everyone in the Prussian royal family seemed to be in good health, so the Hohenzollerns didn’t understand why she’d appeared. Despite the ghost’s reputation as a harbinger of death, they were still shocked when Queen Louise, who was just thirty-four years old, suddenly fell ill and died. Thanks to the ongoing Napoleonic wars, Louise had been under terrible stress for a long time and she’d also been suffering from depression. She’d hinted to her family and friends that she didn’t think that she could go on much longer but no one realized that she was so worn out and dispirited that she’d succumb to a feverish cold until she did just that. News of the ghost’s walk and its unexpected aftermath spread so far and wide that Jerome Bonaparte, a younger brother of Emperor Napoleon I of France, received gossipy letters about it which he saved for posterity.
Grand Duchess Catherine Pavlovna Romanov, Queen of Wurttemburg (1788-1819)
Catherine’s mother was a princess of Wurttemburg, so she doubtless heard stories about the famous ghost as she was growing up. After marrying her cousin William, Catherine moved to Wurttemburg in the hope that she’d have a long and happy life there. Catherine was ill in bed one night when her bedroom door suddenly opened for no reason. There seemed to be no one there. Catherine asked the servant who was looking after her to close the door. After the servant did so and prepared to return to the chair where she’d been sitting, she saw that the White Lady had taken her seat. Catherine was left staring at the ghastly ghost, who disappeared after the servant began screaming for help. Catherine died a few days after the ghost appeared.
Catherine Bonaparte, ci-devant Queen of Westphalia (1783-1835)
In 1835, Catherine was living in Switzerland and her son Jerome Bonaparte, Prince de Montfort, was staying at the Ludwigsburg palace, the home of her brother, King William I of Wurttemburg, in Stuttgart, Germany. One night the White Lady appeared at Ludwigsburg, strode through the palace as if she owned the place, terrified the sentries and guards who saw her, went straight to Jerome’s suite of rooms, knocked on his bedroom door, and vanished. Jerome slept through the whole thing.
The guards and sentries woke up Jerome, who’d never heard of the White Lady and who thought that they were playing a trick on him. He politely thanked them for the information they’d given him and placidly went back to sleep. The guards and sentries told their superiors what they’d seen and word was sent to the king. The next morning, Jerome’s uncle, King William I of Wurttemburg, told Jerome that he must go to his mother immediately. It was obvious that William believed that the White Lady was real and that her appearance was a harbinger of Catherine’s imminent death. Catherine’s health was indeed poor but Jerome didn’t think that she could be at death’s door by any means but he didn’t dare displease his uncle. Jerome dutifully raced to his mother’s side and arrived in the nick of time: she died in his arms a few hours after he arrived.
Jerome later told a friend that although he didn’t believe in the White Lady, the royal family of Wurttemburg most definitely did, as did many other ruling families. Jerome also said that although many royals were scared of her, it seemed to him that if she really existed, she must be a kindly ghost whose visits were made with the best of intentions. Jerome himself died just a few years after his mother did. Since he was a Bonaparte rather than a member of the royal family of Wurttemburg, it seems unlikely that the White Lady walked for him.
King Frederick William IV of Prussia (1795-1861)
In 1850, the White Lady was seen at Charlottenburg once more. A sentinel who was posted outside the Queen’s rooms fainted and was found lying unconscious on the floor. Once he revived, he told everyone who would listen that he’d seen the White Lady. The King died after a sudden illness a week later.
Archduchess Mathilde of Austria (1849-1867) and Emperor Maximilian of Mexico (1832-1867)
In 1867, the White Lady walked to warn of the imminent deaths of Maximilian and Mathilde. No one was particularly surprised to learn that Maximilian’s life was in danger because he’d spent the past three years in Mexico trying to become its Emperor against the advice of most of his family and against the tenets of common sense. Maximilian was an ambitious man who hated being the younger brother of an Emperor and who wanted to become an Emperor himself, which was why he’d embarked on his foolish Mexican adventure. The fall of his government and his death by firing squad were considered foreseeable tragedies which Maximilian had brought upon himself by going to Mexico.
No one initially realized that the White Lady’s appearance had anything to do with Mathilde, a healthy teenager who did not seem to be engaged in any dangerous pursuits. Her family was arranging a marriage for her with the Crown Prince of Italy, so it’s likely that she was a little stressed at that time. Stress often worsens bad habits like smoking, and it is to be feared that Mathilde was a secret smoker. Her father had repeatedly forbidden her to smoke but Mathilde was hooked, so that was that. Mathilde was smoking one night just before she was to go to a ball when her father came into the room. She guiltily hid the cigarette behind her elegant ball gown as he came towards her. Her dress burst into flames in front of her horrified father and the rest of her family. Some people say that Franz Joseph, who was fond of Mathilde, was there and saw the whole thing. Stop, drop and roll had not been invented yet, so the poor girl ran hither and yon, screaming as she ran. By the time they were able to stop her and put out the fire, she’d suffered serious burns that soon became infected and caused her death.
Prince Waldemar of Prussia (1868-1879)
In 1879, the White Lady appeared once again at Charlottenburg. One of the guards who saw her ran away as fast as he could and deserted his post in the process. He was later arrested for what was perceived to be his cowardice. He seemed relieved, even pleased, to be in jail and said that he’d prefer to spend the rest of his life there because that would mean that he’d never have to set foot in Charlottenburg or see the ghost again. As word spread through Berlin society about the ghost’s appearance, everyone had a good laugh because they thought that the legend of the White Lady was too ridiculous for words. The laughter stopped a few days later when Prince Waldemar of Prussia, who was just eleven years old, unexpectedly died of diphtheria.
Prince Louis of Baden (1865-1888)
In 1887, the White Lady appeared in the ruins of Heidelberg Castle, which belonged at that time to Frederick I, Grand Duke of Baden, whose wife was a Hohenzollern princess. The ghost was seen by a guard at the castle who was terribly frightened by her and who ran away from her as fast as he could go. Alas, no one believed him when he tried to report what he’d seen to his employers although news of the ghost sighting quickly spread through the countryside. It was claimed that the guard had been drunk and had imagined the whole thing and then everyone tried to forget about it. A short time later, Frederick’s youngest son, Louis, was thrown from his horse and died instantly.
Crown Prince Rudolph of Austria (1858-1889)
In the summer of 1888, the White Lady walked at the Hofburg palace in Vienna to herald the mysterious and untimely death of Crown Prince Rudolph, who died on January 30, 1889 at his hunting lodge at Mayerling. The Habsburg family claimed that Rudolph had committed suicide and many believed that his death was a foreseeable tragedy. It was rumored that Rudolph had in actuality been murdered and that his family had had the devil of a time covering up what really happened to him.
Empress Elisabeth of Austria (1837-1898
In the spring of 1898, the White Lady appeared at the Hofburg palace once more. It is unclear whether she was wearing a black or white dress and veil. The ghost always wore black when she warned of the deaths of Wittelsbachs but she was walking to warn of the imminent death of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, who was a Wittelsbach by birth but a Habsburg by marriage. At any rate, the ghost’s walk bore grim fruit: Elisabeth was fatally stabbed on September 10, 1898 by a man who hated the concept of royalty but who had nothing personal against her. Elizabeth loved being as far away from her husband and her family as she could get, so she was staying in a Swiss hotel with only servants for company at the time of her death. It was claimed that the White Lady had been seen standing in the hotel garden and staring at Elisabeth a few days before the murder took place and that when Elisabeth sent servants to chase the White Lady out of the garden, the ghost vanished.
Archduke Francis Ferdinand (1863-1914) and Kaiser Wilhelm II (1859-1941)
In 1914, the White Lady walked at the Hofburg to mark the imminent death of Crown Prince Francis Ferdinand, who was attacked and murdered on June 28, 1914 while on a visit to Sarajevo. The White Lady might also have walked to warn of the outbreak of World War I, which took place soon after the murder and which resulted in the fall of most of the monarchies of Europe.
Legend says that the White Lady didn’t just appear in the Hofburg but that she also visited the Charlottenburg palace in an effort to stop Kaiser Wilhelm II from leading Germany into a war that he was destined to lose. Wilhelm reportedly saw the White Lady with his very own eyes but did not, perhaps could not, stop the war from breaking out.
When the German empire and kingdoms fell in 1918, the royal families that the White Lady had haunted for so long settled into private life. On the whole, the ex-rulers gave up some or all of their castles and they also dismissed their courtiers, guards, and sentries. Ambassadors no longer monitored their doings and newspapers largely ignored them. No one knows if the White Lady continued to haunt them once they became private citizens.