Family and court relations in the memoirs of Countess Louise Charlotte von Schwerin (1684−1732)


The memoirs of Countess Luise Charlotte von Schwerin (1683–1732) provide valuable insights into female agency and networks in early 18th century court society.

Born a Baroness von Heiden in the Duchy of Kleve and raised in the Netherlands, she married into one of the leading families of Berlin’s court nobility in 1704. In 1716, she accompanied her husband, Count Friedrich Wilhelm von Schwerin, on his mission as an extraordinary Prussian ambassador to Vienna. In 1719, she converted from the Reformed to the Catholic faith in the Viennese palace of Countess Eleonore Theresia von Strattmann. Due to the opposition of the Bohemian chancellor Count Schlik, she failed in her plan to buy an estate in Silesia, which might have facilitated the entry of her husband and brothers into the emperor’s service. Because of her conversion, she was expelled from Prussia and separated from her family; she spent the rest of her life in Cologne, Silesia, and Vienna, where she died in the convent of St. Laurence in 1732.

In the early 1720s she wrote her memoirs, which have survived in two copies in French. Especially for the Imperial court and the Habsburg lands, no comparable self-narratives by women have survived from this time. In the course of the research project, a scholarly digital edition will make the text accessible in French and German and provide background information and digital analytic tools.

Research will be centered on the countess’s account of her social network in Vienna, which was based primarily on kinship and informal relations, but also on court office and church institutions. In this respect as well as concerning the text’s communicative strategies and intended audiences, the project will look into contemporary concepts of publicity, “privacy”, and secrecy. The memoirs allow insights into women’s lives and agency at the Imperial court and the confessionally diverse Viennese circles the countess frequented.

The digital edition is developed in co-operation with the Austrian Centre for Digital Humanities in Graz. The project is funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF). It also builds on earlier research (partly conducted within the DFG-research group “Self-Narratives in Transcultural Perspective”) and a print edition that was based on one of the two differing copies of the memoirs which are known today: Une conversion au XVIIIe siècle. Mémoires de la comtesse de Schwerin, edited by Maurice Daumas and Claudia Ulbrich with the co-operation of Sebastian Kühn, Nina Mönich and Ines Peper (Bordeaux, 2013).