In July 1857, King Frederick William IV of Prussia and his queen were on their way to the springs of Marienbad when they stopped in Saxony to visit the king and queen who were not only cousins but friends. At that time, the Saxony Court was at the summer residence of Pillnitz Castle where the royal couple were staying.
The night following their arrival, the weather was bizarre. Nothing moved, not a single leaf, and the river was still. The moon shone to a certain height above the ground that was cloaked in a strange fog. A fog no taller than one or one and a half meters, yet it covered all the alleys and lawns of the park.
The clock had just struck one in the morning, and total silence reigned when a soldier standing sentry at the door at the corner of the palace heard, from afar, the steps of several people. The steps were steady but heavy, as though the characters he could not yet see were soldiers.
Soon, the sentry was able to distinguish a kind of group that appeared as five silhouettes advancing slowly towards him. It was a woman dressed entirely in white ahead of four men holding a very heavy and very long object. The trouble is, the sentry nearly fainted in horror because the five people had no head.
Frozen with dread and terrified, the sentry couldn’t move or even scream. The terrifying procession walked past him and then entered the palace from a small side door and disappeared. The sentry, having regained some composure, wondered what to do. Should he sound the alarm? Had he gone mad? Did he dream it? Did he imagine it all?
Perplexed, still trembling, distraught and disoriented, he didn’t know what to do when, again, the small palace door opened and the same terrifying and sinister procession reappeared. Except that this time, the woman in white preceded the still-headless men. They passed so close to the horrified sentry that he could see that what they were carrying was an open casket in which lay a man covered in ornaments.
The soldier could even recognize the Order of the Black Eagle, the highest badge of honour in the Prussian kingdom. Only, the corpse lying in the casket did not have a head, in its stead a royal crown was placed between the corpse’s shoulders. The sentry trembled all over. He was again paralyzed in fear and not even able neither to scream nor to move.
However, the sinister procession, with its steady steps, was slowly getting further away from him. In the meantime, the fog that had covered the ground slowly lifted, and the five headless characters disappeared. The last thing the sentry saw was a moon ray illuminating the crown in the casket. After that, he saw nothing.
The Hohenzollern Kings of Prussia had, since time immemorial, known that the White Lady usually appeared at the royal palace in Berlin to announce the death of a member of the dynasty.
This time around, the White Lady predicted yet another drama. During his stay at Pillnitz, the King of Prussia suddenly began experiencing symptoms of the terrible illness that would soon strike. Three months later, on October 8th, a haemorrhagic stroke would leave him incapacitated.
The madness was so apparent that the regency had to be assumed by his younger brother, Prince William, who hated the idea of taking over his older brother’s throne. He loved him dearly and did not want to seem like he was stealing his throne, but the situation called for this drastic measure.
For three years, the unlucky king remained mostly in a vegetative state. His madness had intermittent moments of increasingly rare lucidity until finally, he fell back into the obscurity of his madness.
His death, on January 2nd, 1861, was a deliverance. The death that three years earlier, the White Lady had so clearly announced.