Franziska von Hohenheim was one of 15 children of an aristocratic German family and grew up on their estate at Sindlingen in Baden-Württemberg. In 1765, she was married to Baron (Freiherr) Friedrich Wilhelm Leutrum von Ertingen and accompanied him to the court of Württemberg, where he served as chamberlain. She became the mistress of Carl Eugen, Duke of Württemberg, in 1772. He gave her the title and the castle (schloss) of Hohenheim. After a divorce from her husband and the death of the duke's first wife, she married Carl Eugen but their union was morganatic as it was not recognized by the Roman Catholic Church or Württemberg law. After many years of struggle with various officials and institutions, she was finally acknowledged as Duchess of Württemberg.