Habsburg Emperor Franz Josef died 21 November 1916. While he died peacefully in his bed, his reign of 68 years was full of tragedies, which some said were the result of a curse. Mrs Daffodil trusts that her readers will excuse the length of this post in view of its lurid exposition of imperial scandals. The supposed curse came about in this way:
“May Heaven and Hell blast your happiness; may your family be exterminated; may you be smitten in the persons of those you love best; may your children be brought to ruin and your life wrecked, and yet may you live on in lonely, unbroken, horrible grief, to tremble when you recall the name of Karolyi!”
This was the curse pronounced on the Emperor Franz Joseph by the Countess Karolyi, whose son was put to death by order of the Emperor for participating in the Hungarian uprising. The Countess is said to have shrieked out her curse at the Emperor when he appeared at a State ball in Vienna.
“It will come to pass!” she cried as the attendants dragged her away.
Surely her words were prophetic, for death has come to the Emperor’s best loved relations in a most tragic manner. Today we find him tottering with old age, standing alone like some great tree which a storm has shorn of its branches.
“Nothing is spared me!” cries the venerable head of the House of Hapsburg as he sits in his palace surrounded by every luxury which wealth can procure, the most pathetic figure in European history.
The recent assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austrian throne, and his devoted wife by a nineteen-year-old fanatical Servian adds another chapter to the long line of Hapsburg tragedies which have shocked the world during the past quarter of a century, and the sympathy of the world goes out to the old man who has suffered almost beyond endurance. His reign has been a stormy one, and in the earlier days of his life his rule was marred by cruelties not so much y his wish, but by the influence of his high spirited mother, the proud, cold Archduchess Sophia, who during the first few years of his reign held absolute sway over the young ruler’s acts. In those days it was no uncommon thing for the Archduchess to be hooted on the streets of Vienna and called the wholesale murderess of the Hungarians… [Franz Joseph’s] troubles began early in his reign, as a few months after he came to the throne dissension arose throughout the land which were followed by external aggressions.
The Curse In 1853.
In 1853 the list of tragic incidents which have marred his reign began when an attempt was made to assassinate him. Early one afternoon in February of that year the Emperor was taking his daily walk on the ancient bastions which used to encircle Vienna, attended by a single aide-de-camp, Count O’Donnell. The two men had stopped to view the movements of the soldiers who were drilling nearby. Suddenly a man ran up the narrow steps leading to the bastion and dealt the Emperor a violent blow with a knife. The blow was aimed at the neck, but it struck a bone behind the ear and did not inflict a serious wound although the concussion caused partial blindness for a time. The man proved to be a Hungarian named Lebenzi [János Libényi]—a tailor by trade. He declared that he was determined to kill the Emperor and had waited for the opportunity for some time…The Emperor was kindly disposed toward his subjects, even the Hungarian rebels, and tried to win them, but the Archduchess Sophie had formed the policy of his reign—a cruel, heartless policy which carried death and exile to many. She was heartily disliked by the people, and the historians regard it almost a miracle that she was not assassinated during one of the Hungarian uprisings.
Marries Princess Elizabeth.
When “Franzl,” as she affectionately called her son, was about twenty-three, she set about to find him a wife, so she sent him on a courting expedition to the home of the Duke of Bavaria, who had married her younger sister. Among the daughters of the Duke was the Princess Helene, who was just nineteen, and the mother hoped that her son would fall in love with his princess, but she was destined to disappointment for he paid little attention to the Princess Helene and fell in love with her younger sister, the Princess Elizabeth, who was then only fifteen years of age. A year later they were married and the beautiful princess charmed all Austria and Hungary as well. She bore the name of the patron saint of the latter, and when she came with the Emperor to Budapest the wildest enthusiasm prevailed. She studied their language and spoke it like a native. Even today she is known as the good angel of Hungary, and a special museum has been established where articles which at one time belonged to her are on exhibition. Of a naturally vivacious disposition [Some called her vivacity eccentricity; others labeled it “the madness of the Wittelsbachs”] the new Empress chafed under the restraint of Court etiquette and did a lot of unheard of things which shocked the Austrian royalty, but delighted the pleasure-loving Hungarians.
For a time the couple led an existence of unclouded happiness. Four children were born as the result of their union. The oldest, the little Archduchess Sophie, named for her grandmother, died of typhoid fever in early childhood. The disease was contracted from drinking water sent from a Vienna spring. In some way it became uncorked and spoiled, but the nurse did not discover it until the child was taken ill.
The second child, the Archduchess Gisela, is now the Queen of Bavaria. The other two children were the Archduchess Marie Valerie, who became the wife of Franz Salvator, Archduke of Austria-Tuscany, and Prince Rudolph, the heir to the throne.
The Empress lost her health after the birth of the Crown Prince and had to spend much of her time away from the Emperor at the different “spas” of Europe.
Then the Archduke Maximilian was persuaded to go to Mexico to rule over that restless land. He was urged to do this by his wife, the Empress Charlotte, and his mother, the Archduchess Sophie, the latter being most insistent in her demands—declaring that she wanted to be known as the mother of two Emperors. But the Curse of the Hapsburgs fell once more, for Maximillian was executed by the Mexicans and his wife, the beautiful Empress Charlotte, ended her days in a mad house.
Death Of The Crown Prince.
The hopes of the Emperor now became centered on the Crown Prince, who grew to manhood universally beloved by all his subjects. Always of a shy and retiring disposition, the young prince spent much of his time in shooting and became a taxidermist of no mean ability, [!!!] mounting up the results of his shooting expeditions for the National Museum. He married the Princess Stephanie, the second daughter of King Leopold II, of Belgium. There seems to have been very little love in the matter of the Crown Prince seemed to have been infatuated with the Baroness Marie Vestera. In 1889 the Curse fell once more on the Hapsburgs, for the heir to the throne was found dead at his hunting lodge at Mayerling not very far from Vienna. Beside him was the dead body of the Baroness. All sorts of rumors were afloat as to how the couple met death, and it was finally given out as suicide, but as suicide was so abhorrent to the Catholic Church the Empress refused to believe that her son had taken his life. However, no effort was made to find the murderer and the case is still known in Austria as “the Mayerling mystery.”
The death of the Crown Prince had an alarming effect on the Empress who was devoted to her son. She never appeared at Court after his death, but wandered from place to place in her sorrow. The Emperor, who was always devoted to his wife, did all in his power to lift the veil of melancholy which seemed to envelope her, but without avail, and to use the language of a noted Hungarian writer: “The sorrowing woman in black wandered from country to country as though a dread shadow pursued her.”
The Curse of the Hapsburgs was destined to claim her in its clutches, and this occurred while she was in Switzerland trying to recover health and strength to be present at the Emperor’s Jubilee in 1898. Walking on the Quai de Mont Blanc in Geneva, accompanied only by her lady-in-waiting, the Countess Sztaray, she was stabbed by an Italian anarchist, who used a sharpened shoe awl as a weapon—driving it into the heart of his victim. By a strange coincidence, it was very like the knife used ears before when Franz Joseph’s life was attempted. The dress worn by the Empress at the time of her death is one of the relics preserved at the Elizabeth museum in Budapest. Only a tiny blood stain appears upon the gown, the Empress having died of internal haemorrhage.
This seemed to be the crowning sorrow of the many which had fallen upon the Emperor, and those who know him best declare that he has never been the same since the “Geneva tragedy.”
But the trials of the Emperor were not over, for a few years later his favorite sister-in-law, the Duchess d’Alencon, lost her life in the great fire which swept over a charity bazar in Paris, and only a short time afterward one of his nieces was burned to death at the Palace of Schoenbrun.
Then his granddaughter, the Princess Elizabeth, daughter of the dead Crown Prince fell in love with a young army officer of the House of Windisch-Graetz, who was serving with a regiment quartered at Vienna. After a stormy scene with her grandfather she obtained his consent to marry the young man. The young man then became Prince Otto of Windisch-Graetz, and on the day of the marriage the entire junior branch of the house to which the bridegroom belonged was given the rank of “Serene Highness.” But even this marriage was destined to bring disgrace, for only a short time after the wedding the Archduchess fired a shot at an actress of whom she was jealous. Her mother, the Princess Stephanie, in the meantime had created a scandal at Court by marrying Count Louyay and had caused the Emperor no little humiliation by her extraordinary behaviour at Court.
The Emperor’s grandchild, Princess Louise, of Tuscany, astounded both Vienna and Paris by the life which she led and when reprimanded for it flaunted her escapades in the face of the royal family by publishing a sensational account of her mad career. Still another granddaughter was destined to bring sorrow to the venerable Head of the Hapsburgs when she eloped with an army officer and lived with him for some time before her family forced her to marry him. The Archduchess Louise was the next to create a scandal, for she deserted her husband for a music teacher. [Mrs Daffodil must note that Princess and Archduchess Louise are one and the same.]
Archdukes Cause Scandals.
The male members of the family, too, added grief to the declining years of the Emperor. The Archduke Leopold after a career of debauchery married a second rate actress and was deprived of his titles and exiled. [Another Archduke, Johann Salvator, renounced his titles, married an actress, and was lost at sea.] Archduke Louis Victor, another brother who was known as the greatest roué in Europe, had to be confined in an insane asylum. [He was fond of young men and of dressing in ladies’ clothing.] Archduke Otto was dismissed from the army owing to a scandal which he had caused, [one really cannot pick just one from the lengthy list…] and the Archduke Ladeslas [Mrs Daffodil can find no trace of this individual] was killed while on a hunting expedition by a peasant in revenge for cruelty practiced by him on this class.
Francis Ferdinand Marries Beneath Him.
Even the man who up to a short time ago was the heir to the throne, the Archduke Francis Ferdinand, caused the Emperor no little trouble. This young man paid a visit to the home of the Archduchess Isabella, who expected him to marry her daughter. Among her ladies-in-waiting was Sophie Chotek, a young Bohemian of good family. The Archduke was at once smitten by the charms of the beautiful girl and he determined to make her his wife. When the Archduchess Isabella learned of the turn of affairs she at once dismissed the girl and sent her home to Bohemia. The Archduke returned to Vienna and announced his intention of marrying the pretty Bohemian, to his uncle, the Emperor. There was a long stormy scene at the palace, but in the end the Archduke won, but only after he had made an oath that children by this marriage should not inherit the throne. The wedding took place very quietly—not even the bridegroom’s brother being present. However, it turned out happily, and three children were born to the couple. In the meantime, the daughter of the Archduchess Isabella—the young girl who had “set her cap” for the heir to the throne entered a convent much to the sorrow of her family. On learning this the old Emperor is said to have declared that although he ruled a mighty nation he was not master of his own house.
After a time, however, the charming manners of the wife of the heir apparently won the heart of the lonely ruler and he conferred upon her the title of the Duchess of Hohenberg. She had great influence with her husband and was gradually changing his policy, but before he was able to put her theories into practice the Curse of the House of Habsburg fell-the husband and wife were shot to death in Bosnia, the little country which had fallen a prey to the Austrian land-grabbing propensities.
“Sophie, live for our children,” were the Archduke’s last words, as he sank back against the cushions of the carriage dying. But the Duchess never heard, for she became unconscious after the first shot. The children had remained at Schoenbrun with the Emperor while their parents were paying their official visit to Bosnia and were playing in the garden beside him when the news of the assassination reached the palace. The heart-broken old ruler is said to have gathered them in his arms and told them of the awful fate of their devoted father and mother.
New Heir Popular.
This makes the Archduke Charles Francis, the younger brother of Francis Ferdinand, the heir to the throne. This young man who is but twenty-seven years of age has always been a favorite with the Emperor and is immensely popular throughout Austria and Hungary. His tastes are democratic, and he is said to be as mild and ingratiating as his uncle is stern and forbidding. Then, too, he is happily married to the Princess Zita of Parma, and their children may inherit and thus the House of Hapsburg may be preserved.
The Emperor Franz Joseph in the course of nature cannot live much longer. Will the terrible Karolyi Curse, which has so relentlessly pursued the Hapsburgs, have spent its force at his death?
Lexington [KY] Leader 2 August 1914: p. 27
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Well, good gracious, where does one begin? The journalistic excellence of the American press is always suspect, but there are an unusual number of errors and misunderstandings. This may perhaps be excused by the thorny underbrush that is the Hapsburg family tree: their habit of intermarrying and re-using the same names renders a written programme almost essential in sorting out the “players.”
Let us start with the canard that the Imperial marriage between Franz Josef and Elisabeth was in any way an “existence of unclouded happiness.” The couple were utterly unsuited to each other; Elisabeth recoiled from the physical aspect of marriage and detested pregnancy. She spent much of her marriage fleeing her husband with numerous trips abroad.
Princess Elisabeth, daughter of Crown Prince Rudolph, was a willful child from the very start. Her husband, Prince Otto, had been engaged to another woman, but when the Princess wished to marry him, the Emperor ordered him to break off his engagement, which he did. The year after their marriage, the Princess shot an actress whom she found with her husband. The newspapers vacillate between declaring that the actress died and denying the shooting ever occurred. Princess Elisabeth, in later life, became a Socialist and was known as “The Red Archduchess.”
Archduke Francis Ferdinand’s children were most definitely not playing with the aged Emperor when their parents were assassinated; nor did the Emperor tenderly take them in his arms. In fact they were shunned by the Court and raised by a friend of their father’s. They were of little interest to the Emperor, since they could not inherit.
As for the whether the Karolyi Curse spent its force at the Emperor’s death, we all know how tragically the career of his heir Archduke Charles ended: the horrors of the Great War, the young Emperor renouncing sovereign power (he never actually abdicated), exile, and death from consumption, age 34. His wife, the former Empress Zita, and family of eight children struggled through war, poverty, and privation. Empress Zita died in 1989, aged 96.
Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes
You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.