Monday, November 22, 2010

The Red Archduchess


The first cousin once removed of both King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth of Belgium, Archduchess Elisabeth Marie was the only child of Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria and his wife, Princess Stephanie of Belgium. Scandal and tragedy surrounded Elisabeth Marie on both sides of her family. Her father and his mistress, Mary Vetsera, were found mysteriously killed at Mayerling when the little girl was only five. The assassination of her troubled paternal grandmother, the famous Empress Sissi, followed less than a decade later. Meanwhile, Elisabeth Marie's maternal grandfather, King Leopold II of Belgium, outraged public opinion with his exploitation of the Congo and irregular private life. His eldest daughter, Elisabeth Marie's aunt, the flighty Princess Louise of Belgium, also shocked Europe with her romantic misadventures; for a time, she was even confined to a lunatic asylum.

In spite of this disastrous family history, Elisabeth Marie was mentioned as a possible bride for Prince Albert of Belgium in his youth, much to the horror of his sister Henriette. Understandably, the pious and proper daughter of the staid Count and Countess of Flanders thought the young lady had too unstable a background for the marriage to be a success. Thankfully, nothing came of the idea. Elisabeth Marie went on to generate scandals of her own, becoming estranged from her mother, the long-suffering Stephanie, and espousing socialism and spiritualism. I am very glad she was never Queen of the Belgians! I doubt even the capable King Albert would have been able to manage such a difficult consort. I also can only imagine how enemies of the Belgian monarchy would have seized upon Elisabeth Marie's eccentricities to undermine the throne. The princess Albert did marry, Duchess Elisabeth in Bavaria, was fortunately a much more stable character. Nevertheless, she, too, had that zany Wittelsbach streak, which could alarm even her most fervent admirers. Just as Elisabeth Marie of Austria became known as the "Red Archduchess," so Elisabeth of Belgium, during the Cold War, would enthusiastically visit Communist countries, becoming known as the "Red Queen."

8 comments:

Theresa Bruno said...

Interesting! I 'm learning so much from your blog. It's a good thing the "red archduchess" didn't become queen of the Belgians. She would have been a handful.

Matterhorn said...

Indeed! She was the last thing Albert needed.

Thanks for reading and commenting!

Christina said...

Fascinating posts! The 'zany Wittelsbachs' indeed! What an interesting family...so much inter-marriage, so many double first cousins, no wonder so many of them turned out to be so wacky!

Don't you just love the wildness and freedom and free spirit of the Empress Elizabeth of Austria, and Queen Elizabeth of Belgium? So different from the sadness of poor mad Ludwig of Bavaria, and his aunt who thought she had swallowed a glass piano.

Your blog is so very beautiful and interesting - thank you :-)

Matterhorn said...

They must be one of the most 'original' royal families, and one of the oldest, too. Queen Elisabeth of Belgium was one of the happier members of the family, I agree. It's funny, in her memoirs, Elisabeth's daughter Marie-José is at great pains to say that the 'madness' of King Ludwig etc. was not on 'her' side of the family.

Jorge said...

It's quite a contradiction how Queen Elisabeth thought so highly of Communism and ven visited the Soviet Union. I wonder what her children and grandchildren thought about that.

Matterhorn said...

Baudouin strongly disapproved...but Elisabeth went anyway. As for Leopold, he adored his mother no matter what, while Charles resented her in any case. Marie-José accompanied her mother on the trips (E. was afraid of traveling alone, with her poor health) and found them interesting. She also said, many years later, that her mother wasn't really pro-Communist, exactly, it was more that she was curious about all ideologies and thought every system had its merits and one could learn from all of them. E. certainly could make friends with all sorts of people, often of very contradictory backgrounds and views. I think she was an idealist and saw a certain idealism in Communism, perhaps more so than in the West. I also think she was a bit mischievous and liked shocking people!

Anonymous said...

Queen Elisabeth: she sure was an interesting and off-beat individual!

I bet she always kept things lively!

Matterhorn said...

Yes, she did!