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."