Friedrich Wilhelm Carl Ludwig Georg Alfred Alexander, Prince of Solms, Lord of Braunfels, Grafenstein, Münzenberg, Wildenfels, and Sonnenwalde, the first commissioner-general of the Adelsverein and imperial field marshal, was born at Neustrelitz on July 27, 1812, the youngest son of Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Solms-Braunfels and Princess Friederike of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. Prince Carl's illustrious connections included Prince Frederick of Prussia, Queen Victoria, Czar Alexander I of Russia, King Leopold I of Belgium, and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Not only well connected, but also handsome, highly spirited, and romantic, the trilingual Carl was educated both as soldier and courtier. Because of his connections, he secured prestigious military assignments, awards, and knightships, even though in 1839 he was sentenced by a Prussian court martial to four months in prison as a result of having absented himself from his command without leave. An early morganatic marriage, which had commenced in secret in 1834, dimmed his prospects after it became known, until, under duress from all sides, Carl consented in 1841 to the putting away of his wife, pensioned as the Baroness Luise "von Schönau," and his three children by that marriage. That same year Carl became a captain of cavalry in the imperial army of Austria, progressing though prominent assignments in the Balkans, Bohemia, and the Rhineland. While stationed at the imperial garrison at Biebrich, he read Charles Sealsfield's novel about Texas (see POSTL, CARL ANTON), William Kennedy's geography of Texas, and G. A. Scherpf's guide to immigrants to Texas. As one of the twenty-five members of the Adelsverein, organized initially in 1842 and reorganized in 1844, Carl worked tirelessly to promote the growth, finances, administration, and political acceptance of the society. He lobbied his many relatives, traveled incognito through France and Belgium to the Isle of Wight, where he may have met with Prince Albert, and, along with other members, secured the covert support of England, France, and Belgium for the Texas colonial project, which was at once philanthropic, mercantile, and political.
In 1844 Carl was appointed commissioner-general for the first colony that the society proposed to establish in Texas. Provisioned with two cannons, table linens, and twelve place settings, he traveled to London, where his assistant's diary suggests there was a royal audience, then to the United States, and westward down the Ohio and Mississippi to the Republic of Texas, where they arrived in Galveston on July 1, 1844. A series of letters, subsequently turned into formal reports, trace the route and detail Carl's growing comprehension of North American culture, commerce, and geopolitics. Seeing himself at the head of a migration of German artisans and peasants to what one of his colleagues called "the new Fatherland on the other side of the ocean," the visionary Carl wrote, "The eyes of all Germany, no, the eyes of all Europe are fixed on us and our undertaking: German princes, counts, and noblemen...are bringing new crowns to old glory while at the same time insuring immeasurable riches for their children and grandchildren." In preparation to receive the German settlers and to protect them from what he considered the bad influences of the Anglo-American frontier, Carl purchased land on Matagorda Bay for the establishment of a port of debarkation named Carlshafen, or Indianola. He also traveled extensively throughout Texas and advised the Adelsverein, which already owned the right to settle Germans in the remote Fisher-Miller Land Grant, to buy even larger expanses reaching southward from the Llano River to Corpus Christi Bay and westward to the Rio Grande. Further, he communicated to Texas officials the threat of possible war with Britain, France, Russia, and Mexico should annexation occur. After the arrival in December 1844 of the society's first settlers, some of whom he left at Indianola, or Carlshafen, the prince led the first wagon train into the interior of Texas. Near Victoria, he left the immigrants and proceeded to San Antonio in order to conclude the purchase from Juan Martín Veramendi and Raphael C. Garza of a fertile, well-watered tract on the Guadalupe and Comal rivers. The immigrant train reached this tract on Good Friday, March 21, 1845, and founded the settlement of New Braunfels, named for the Solms ancestral castle on the Lahn River, southwest of Wetzlar. Before Prince Carl left New Braunfels for Germany on May 15, 1845, he saw the work on the Zinkenburg, a stockade on a bluff on the east bank of Comal Creek, almost completed and work well underway on the Sophienburg, a fort on the Vereinsberg, a hill overlooking the old residential section of New Braunfels.
After he returned to Germany, Carl resumed his military service, from which he had been given a year's leave, and on December 3, 1845 at Bendorf, he married Sophie, the widowed princess of Salm-Salm and the daughter of the reigning prince of Löwenstein-Wertheim-Rochefort. In 1846 he published Texas, a clear and succinct geography and guide to Texas. During this time Carl also wrote a fifty-nine-page memoir, transmitted to Queen Victoria in 1846, in which he explained that Europe and the westering United States were on a collision course to dominate world trade. America would likely win this race, Carl told the queen, if the United States reached the Pacific. He offered containment through colonization, the establishment of a powerful monarchy in Mexico, and the emancipation of the slaves as England's surest policy. Carl remained active in his support of the Adelsverein, in which his family had heavily invested. In 1847, for example, he helped to recruit the Forty, an idealistic fraternity of students that eventually settled in the Fisher-Miller Land Grant.
His checkered military career continued. He left the Austrian army and became a colonel in the cavalry of the Grand Duchy of Hesse in 1846. An attempt to rejoin the Prussian army failed. In 1850 the Austrian army accepted him again, and by 1859 he had become a brigadier with command of dragoons on Lake Constance. In 1866, having also drawn Hanover into the conflict, he took part in the unsuccessful war of Austria against Prussia. As commander of an imperial corps, Carl failed, was recalled and reprimanded, but acquitted by court martial. He retired as a field marshal in 1868 to his residence at the estate of Rheingrafenstein near Kreuznach on the Nahe River. Prince Carl died seven years later, on November 13, 1875, at the age of sixty-three, at Rheingrafenstein. He was interred in the city cemetery of Bad Kreuznach. Sophie died the next year. They were the parents of five children, four of whom survived them. Characterized by one of his German contemporaries in Texas as a "Texan Don Quixote" and by an eminent German historian as the last knight of the Middle Ages, Carl is a complex character, more romantic and individualistic than practical and accommodating. His two fixed passions, for which he was acknowledged to have had an expert eye, were fine horses and ruined castles-to which, in the early 1840s, he added empire-building.