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Meet Maria Anna, the Austrian archduchess who got to wear Marie Antoinette’s jewels…and had one hell of collection of her own.
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On November 13, 2018, Sotheby’s auctioned off over 100 jewels from the Bourbon-Parma family. One diamond tiara had been a wedding present from Emperor Franz Josef of Austria to his great-niece, Archduchess Maria Anna. It sold for 250,000 CHF to a buyer who was not me.
The star of the show that night was Marie Antoinette’s pearl and diamond pendant, which sold for a mind-boggling 36,427,000 CHF. But I found myself wondering more about Maria Anna. Who was she? Why hadn’t I seen any pictures of her if she had such a fantastic jewel collection at her disposal?
So I did what any self-respecting royal researcher would do. I told everyone else to get lost until I had an answer.
Maria Anna’s tiara was created by Köchert, the Austrian court jeweler, around 1900. Emperor Franz Josef gave it to her when she married Prince Elias of Bourbon-Parma.
It’s kind of a weird looking tiara, to be honest:
According to the auction catalog, these are circular-cut diamonds pave- and collet-set into a foliate scroll setting. The central cluster and side motifs are detachable, in case you’re too busy to do your hair but still want to rock an assload of diamonds. Snap those puppies off, pin ‘em to a lapel, and you’re good to go.
In her jewel ledger, Maria Anna called it “a small diamond tiara or bandeau” (Sothebys.com). Even she didn’t know what to make of it, apparently.
This tiara appears in an extremely rare book of Köchert jewelry designs. This design is dated 1901, with a note that it was made for Franz Josef. But Maria Anna and Elias didn’t get engaged until 1902, so we know this tiara definitely wasn’t designed for Maria Anna. We don’t know if it was made as soon as it was designed, or if the drawing sat around until Franz Josef (or, let’s be real, someone on his staff) picked it out for Maria Anna.
If you want a copy of that Köchert book, be prepared to cash in some stock options. They only printed 150 copies, and the one on eBay will set you back $4,800 plus $20 for shipping. (Side note: You can’t get free shipping on a book that costs almost five grand? Seriously?) Before you sell a vital organ, there are copies in the Getty Research Institute, the Library of Congress…and, of all places, the Cleveland public library.
Meet Maria Anna
Now that you’ve seen the tiara, let’s see what we can dig up about its owner.
Maria Anna was born on January 6, 1882 in Linz, a city in northern Austria. The astronomer Johannes Kepler had once been a teacher there, and a few hundred years later, Adolph Hitler would spend his childhood here. He liked the place so much he later decided to build his Führermuseum there. Eww.
Mom and Dad had been crossing their fingers for a boy, but Maria Anna joined her older sister Maria Christina in the nursery while her parents went back to the baby-making drawing board…er, bed. Let’s meet them, shall we?
Meet the Parents
Maria Anna’s dad, Archduke Friedrich, was the heir to the duchy of Teschen and a crap-ton of property in Hungary. Never heard of the duchy of Teschen? That’s okay; I hadn’t either. It was a Habsburg possession in Eastern Europe. Today, the city of Cieszyn (Teschen) straddles the borders of modern-day Poland and the Czech Republic.
Friedrich’s Uncle Albrecht, the duke of Teschen, had no sons to inherit his lands and properties. Friedrich knew an opportunity when he saw one. His own father had died relatively young at the age of 56 in 1874, so he dropped a massive hint that Albrecht should adopt him and make him his heir. Albrecht agreed. In an instant, Friedrich stood poised to inherit a fortune that would make him richer than the emperor. Nice work if you can get it, right?
But this dude wasn’t all work and no play. It goes without saying that every Austrian archduke joined the army. But his parents had also insisted he take up a trade, so he learned carpentry. In his spare time, he played five instruments and wrote love songs. With those mutton chops, it’s like he’s a ready-made hipster, if hipsters owned, like, half of Hungary.
Croÿ Me a River
In 1878, Friedrich went to Belgium to visit his cousin, the queen. There, he met Princess Isabella of Croÿ-Dulmen. According to the Marquise de Fontenoy, he fell in love so fast he proposed just a few days after meeting her. Most accounts describe theirs as a true love match. Later, however, in a New York Times article, Frederick Cunliffe-Owen (the Marquise de Fontenoy’s husband) would call Isabella “the most designing young woman at King Leopold’s Court” (3 January 1926).
Whether Isabella set out to seduce Friedrich or not, the point is that it happened. And once it did, she knew she was Samantha Baker getting noticed by Jake Ryan.
There was just one problem.
The Croÿs were noble but not royal. Oh, they’d tell you they were descended from a handful of medieval kings and saints, but as Janet Jackson said, “What have you done for me lately?”
This was a HUGE DEALBREAKER for the Habsburgs, who routinely married cousins because no one with a different last name could measure up. Brides had to be royal, period, no exceptions, final sale, no refund.
But Friedrich had an ace up his sleeve. He called his fairy godfather, Uncle Albrecht, who convinced Emperor Franz Josef to unclench for, like, five seconds. Long story short, Friedrich got his way. In 1878, he married Isabella in the Croÿ family’s Chateau de l’Hermitage, shown below.
This marriage did not go over well with the rest of the Austrian royal family. They hated the fact that Isabella—a freaking nobody—was now one of the highest-ranking women in the empire. So they talked smack and dissed her in public every chance they got.
It was a humiliation Isabella absorbed to the very marrow of her bones. Before long, she channeled Dee Snider and decided she wasn’t gonna take it anymore.
When Friedrich’s military command took him to Pressburg (now Bratislava), Isabella flipped Vienna the bird. The couple rented Grassalkovich Palace and never looked back. Pressburg would remain their primary residence until 1905. Today, that palace is where the president of Slovakia throws all his shindigs.
Growing Up Royal
While in Pressburg, Friedrich rose through the military ranks and Isabella rose through society’s ranks. She hosted visiting dignitaries, local nobility, and royals, including Friedrich’s sister Maria Christina, the queen of Spain.
She also started popping out babies. The first, Maria Christina, arrived a year after the wedding in 1879.
When Maria Anna arrived in 1882, Friedrich and Isabella were probably a little disappointed, but a second daughter wasn’t the end of the world.
What probably did feel like the end of the world was the third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth daughters that arrived next.
Isabella must have been losing her ever-loving mind. But she and Friedrich kept calm and got their groove on…and at age 41, she finally produced their longed-for son, Albrecht, long after everyone else had given up.
He joined Maria Christina, Maria Anna, Maria Henrietta, Natalie, Gabriella, Isabella, and Maria Alice. Another sister, Stephanie, had died at age four in 1890. One year later, Natalie would die at age 14, leaving Albrecht with six living sisters. Here they are in 1898:
Unrelated note: Look at Maria Anna’s hair (second from left)…this girl has a head of hair like no one’s business, perhaps rivaled only by Crown Princess Cecilie of Prussia. There’ll be more pictures later. Stay tuned.
Growing up, the girls probably didn’t see their father very often. Friedrich spent lots of time with the army instead of with his family. Sources hint this was often by choice, since Isabella wasn’t the easiest person to get along with. One lady-in-waiting later described her as “self righteous” and “not easy to serve” (King & Woolmans, 41).
I don’t know if the kids noticed how hard their mom was on everyone, or wondered why their dad was gone so often.
If they did, they seem to have taken it in stride. They all looked happy and comfortable in the photos I saw in Ein Photoalbum aus dem Hause Habsburg. For example, there’s a picture of a family afternoon in the music room, with Friedrich on the drums and Isabella on the zither. They were outdoors a lot, too, hiking and hunting and boating.
Of course, growing up royal didn’t mean you were completely sheltered from the outside world. Sometimes, something so earth-shattering happened that there was no hiding it, even from kids.
On January 30, 1889, Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria, the heir to the throne, committed suicide after killing his teenage mistress, Baroness Mary Vetsera, in a suicide pact.
While the effect on Maria Anna and her family was minimal at the time, this was one of those “butterfly effect” moments that would change the course of world history.
The Sophie Chotek Scandal
In 1888, Maria Anna’s mom, Isabella, added a new lady-in-waiting to her staff: an impoverished Bohemian aristocrat named Sophie Chotek.
A few years later, when her oldest daughter was just hitting the marriage market, Isabella decided she wanted Sophie to help Maria Christina land a husband. And not just any husband…Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austrian throne.
Isabella invited the tubercular, mustachioed Franz Ferdinand to a string of hunting parties at their country houses, where he was supposed to fall head over heels for the teenage Maria Christina.
There was just one problem.
Franz Ferdinand fell in love with Sophie instead.
Isabella must have been waiting for the infatuation to burn itself out, at which point Franz Ferdinand would realize what a good little empress Maria Christina would make.
But that’s not what happened—not by a long shot.
One day in 1899, Isabella’s servant handed her some stuff Franz Ferdinand had left behind after a recent stay. One of the items was a pocket watch, the kind men often used to hold pictures of their beloved.
Isabella couldn’t resist.
She opened it, expecting to see her daughter’s face looking back at her.
It was Sophie.
Isabella went into beast mode. All the humiliation she’d felt as a bride came rushing back to her…except this time, it was on behalf of her daughter. In her mind, Maria Christina had been cruelly snubbed by that dickwad Franz Ferdinand.
Supposedly, she called a staff meeting and ripped into Sophie in front of everyone. At the end, she pulled a Donald Trump and told Sophie, “You’re fired.”
But firing Sophie wasn’t enough to make her feel better. She needed to destroy her. Remember those old cartoons, where Bugs Bunny gets mad and says, “Of course you know this means war”?
That’s what happened here.
Franz Ferdinand married Sophie in 1900. For the next fourteen years, Isabella would do everything in her power to belittle and ostracize her. For possibly the first time in her life at court, Isabella was at the cool kids’ table, joining with the other archduchesses in tormenting the new arrival.
Maria Anna was sixteen when the scandal broke. She must have known what was happening, especially since it involved her own sister. I leave it to you to decide what effect that would have on a teenager.
The Hofball: Imperial Vienna’s BFD
On January 6, 1900, Maria Anna turned eighteen, the traditional age for girls to “come out” into society.
She made her debut at the yearly court ball (hofball), the first since Empress Elisabeth had been assassinated in 1898. When you debuted, you were presented to the empress (or, if she was assassinated, the senior ranking woman of the family), after which you could mix and mingle in polite society. It’s like the debutante ball in Gossip Girl times a thousand.
That year, there were three very important debutantes: Elisabeth (the dead Rudolph’s daughter), Margaret (the Duke of Tuscany’s daughter), and Maria Anna.
Unlike other balls, the hofball included people who weren’t royal (gasp). Invitations went out to diplomats, nobles, churchmen, politicians, and soldiers of the Vienna garrison. As a non-royal, it was your one shot to give your friends the vapors by telling them you’d love to Netflix and chill, but you had to swing by the Hofburg first.
That night, Maria Anna and 2,000 other party guests descended on the palace’s great ballroom, the Redoutensaal. It had been retrofitted for electric lights, illuminating the giant mirrors that ran the length of the ballroom. Today, this room holds 750 people, so I’m guessing that with 2,000, you were basically in a fancy mosh pit sans deodorant.
Here’s how it worked.
The doors opened at 8pm for the non-royal guests, who mingled freely until the imperial family arrived. Maria Anna and her parents waited with the rest of the imperial family in an antechamber until the Grand Master of the Court (Obersthofmeister) told the emperor that everyone had arrived. Then the family lined up in order of precedence and said a few words of welcome to the gathered diplomatic corps—this chitchat took about an hour.
At 9:30 pm sharp, Grand Master Flash (I’m calling him that and you can’t stop me) led the royals into the ballroom. Again, they marched two by two, in order of precedence. On this night, Emperor Franz Josef escorted the Duchess of Cumberland (Thyra, sister of Russian empress Maria Feodorovna and Britain’s Princess Alexandra of Wales).
Once the royal procession was over, musicians began to play. You were meant to dance, but it was hard to bust a move without bumping into anyone. If you were a cardinal or a diplomat, you might skip the dancing and head straight for the emperor to say hi or try to ask for a favor.
All the young ladies coming out were presented to the senior ranking archduchess, Maria Josepha, who sat on a red satin sofa surrounded by palm trees.
Some of those lucky ladies scored an invite to take tea with Maria Josepha, while the others were free to dance or nosh at the buffet.
Oh, yes, there was a buffet, set up for your snacking pleasure from 10 pm to midnight. If you weren’t hungry and could find the space, you kept on dancing—Archduchess Elisabeth danced for three hours that night.
But, as the poet said, nothing gold can stay.
At midnight, most of the imperial family left, which was the signal for everyone else to start wrapping things up. By 1 am, the party was over and your carriage turned into a pumpkin again.
Everything from the dancing to the food to the conversation was beautiful and delicate and gentle, choreographed within an inch of its life. Such was the glory and the paralysis of imperial Vienna.
All the Single Ladies
For Maria Anna and the other debutantes, the hofball presented a bit of a problem. It’s hard to move, let alone flirt, when you’re surrounded by 2,000 other people. That’s why there was a second shindig at the Hofburg in February, called the ball at court (not to be confused with the court ball).
This time, the guest list was limited to royalty and nobility…just you and 700 of your closest friends, dancing in the Knights Hall (Rittersaal), with a sit-down dinner instead of a buffet.
Maria Anna was there, as were most if not all of the single archduchesses over age 18. Why? Because there was a very special guest, one reportedly looking for a wife: Prince Max of Baden. Dude was bae all day—handsome, smart, and connected, thanks to his Russian grandmother, the daughter of a tsar.
But Maria Anna’s dance card didn’t include Max, it seems. She waltzed with Count Hans Larisch and Count Alfons Boor, danced a bolsa with Count Moriz Rumersfirch, and danced the quadrille with Prince August Lobtowiz; she was also seen chatting with Prince Alois Liechtenstein.
Five bucks says Isabella was watching her daughter’s every move, waiting for one of these guys to hold her hand just a little too long…a sign, any sign, that Maria Anna had already landed a potential suitor.
It didn’t happen.
But there were more plenty more parties, balls, soirées, and special dinners for the imperial family on the schedule. Maria Anna attended them for two and a half years before we get even a hint of a relationship developing.
In the fall of 1901, big sister Maria Christina got engaged to Prince Emanuel of Salm-Salm. A British newspaper said it was a love match – the “bride is one of the best known and most popular of the Austrian Grand Duchesses” (Dundee Evening Post, 6 Nov 1901). I hope that’s actually true. It makes me happy, especially after all the fuss Isabella caused over Franz Ferdinand.
Put a Ring on It
IN JUNE OF 1902, ISABELLA took Maria Anna and Albrecht to Carlsbad for some R&R. Carlsbad was a popular hangout spot for royalty traveling incognito. It was a spa town, so you went there to relax, take the waters, socialize, and generally de-stress from your high society life.
It’s possible Maria Anna met someone there, because that August, a headline broke in two different Austrian newspapers: Archduchess Maria Anna was engaged.
The lucky groom? Dom Pedro d’Alcântara, Prince of Grão Pará.
If you’re scratching your head and going “Who?”, you’re not alone. I’d never heard of him either.
Here’s the deal: Pedro’s grandfather was the exiled king of Portugal, Dom Pedro II. Young Pedro grew up in France, and was a lieutenant colonel in the Austrian army. Interestingly, it seems he had a condition much like Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II—his left shoulder muscles had been damaged during birth, and despite lots of medical treatments, his left hand and arm were much weaker than his right.
But you don’t need to remember any of that because there was no wedding.
Maybe this was fake news, made up by a reporter on deadline. It’s also possible there was an engagement that fell apart. All I can offer is one small clue: Pedro had already met the woman he would later marry, a Bohemian countess named Elisabeth Dobrzensky de Dobrzenicz (below). Maybe they were on a break?
It doesn’t look like Maria Anna lost any sleep over it. Three months later, she was engaged—for real, this time.
That November, Friedrich and Isabella hosted a hunt in Klausenburg (Cluj-Napoca), the capital of Austro-Hungarian Transylvania. One of the guests was Prince Elias of Bourbon-Parma, a lieutenant in the 7th Regiment of Austrian Dragoons.
By the end of the month, he’d proposed to Maria Anna and she’d said yes. What did they bond over? I wish I knew. Maria Anna seems to have loved horses—later, society journals document her attendance at numerous derbies and show-riding competitions. Also based on later events, Elias seems to have loved cars and hunting. Maybe they connected over a love of animals, the outdoors, or the shared experiences of growing up in a large family.
In any case, Elias met Franz Josef in a special audience in early December to ask the emperor’s permission to marry Maria Anna; it was granted. With that formality out of the way, the news went public the next day.
Later that December, there was an official engagement ceremony in Pressburg, and a dinner at Elias’s parents’ home, Schwarzau Castle, in Lower Austria.
On January 6, the mayor of Pressburg led a deputation to the palace to offer their congratulations and serenade Maria Anna with a military band. I find this unbelievably charming.
LET’S TAKE A QUICK STEP backward to meet Elias and his family. After all, they’re the ones who inherited Marie Antoinette’s jewels that Maria Anna would get to wear after the wedding. Plus, some crazy stuff went down in this family that you’re not gonna believe.
But first things first.
Prince Elias was born on July 23, 1880. His father was Duke Robert of Parma, who’d been deposed during the unification of Italy. Robert never lost hope that one day, unified Italy and the house of Savoy would fall and he’d be invited back to rule Parma. It didn’t happen. In the meantime, he raised his family at Schwarzau Castle in Austria, with summers spent at the Villa Pianore in Italy.
Elias’s mom was Princess Maria Pia of Bourbon Two-Sicilies. Here is an absolutely adorable picture of the two of them:
Now, despite being deposed, Robert left Parma with a crap-ton of wealth in the form of art, jewels, and properties. Where’d he get it all? Short version: the French royal family (his mom was King Charles X’s granddaughter).
Elias’s mom had a total of 12 kids, but she died giving birth to the last one. Not all of them survived, but of the ones who did, six (her two oldest sons and four of the daughters) were mentally handicapped. This was likely the result of generations of royal inbreeding. Maria Pia’s family tree didn’t have nearly enough forks; cousins married cousins and uncles married nieces on the regular.
Two years later, Duke Robert married again—this time, to Infanta Maria Antonia of Portugal, who also gave him 12 kids. Are you doing the math here? THIS DUDE HAD 24 KIDS. Here’s a family portrait with 18 of them from 1906:
We don’t know what Maria Anna and her parents knew about genetics, or if they stopped to think about why so many of Elias’s siblings were handicapped. If they suspected, it didn’t stop her from accepting his proposal.
Elias and Maria Anna picked a classic date for their wedding: May 25, 1903. Earlier that month, Franz Josef had delivered her present, this tiara, in person at the Palais Albrecht, her parents’ Vienna home.
My Big Fat Habsburg Wedding
THE VIENNESE COURT WAS KNOWN for its protocol, and an archduchess’s wedding was no exception. Maria Anna couldn’t elope to Vegas, like I did. Nope. You had to get through an exhausting weekend full of ceremonies and parties.
Here’s what had to happen before Maria Anna could call herself Mrs. Elias of Bourbon-Parma.
That morning, Maria Anna had to formally renounce her claim to the throne. Every archduchess had to do it, and for whatever reason, they usually wore pink. By noon, the boring ceremony was over and it was time to party. That night, there was a soirée for 600 people in the Hofburg’s Ceremonial Hall (Zeremoniensaal), shown below.
On Sunday night, there was a smaller dinner for the imperial family at 6 pm, where Maria Anna sat in the place of honor on Franz Josef’s right. If there were bachelor and bachelorette parties later that night, the Austrian newspapers tactfully refrained from mentioning them.
Just like a hofball, a royal wedding required the imperial family to line up in order of rank and walk together to the Hofburg’s Pfarrkirche. Family members arrived between 11:00 am and 2 pm, when the procession began its march. A cardinal met the emperor and the bridal couple, escorting them to the altar. Here’s what it looks like today:
The cardinal made a speech, blessed the rings, and read the vows. After Elias and Maria Anna exchanged rings, there was a Te Deum. Then, the imperial family left the church and headed for the Alexander Apartments, where Franz Josef greeted the newly married couple.
“Hope yours turns out better than mine,” he said.
Just kidding. He didn’t say that, but I bet he was thinking it.
SO WHAT’S IT LIKE when you come from a rich non-reigning family and marry into a rich non-reigning family? In a nutshell, you have no work, little responsibility, and you can buy anything you want.
Despite giving up her claim to the throne, Maria Anna was still a member of the imperial family, and her name shows up in the lists of attendees for various state occasions, balls, and gala dinners at the Hofburg right up until the end of World War I. For example, she met the future King George V and Queen Mary of Great Britain in 1904 on their state visit to Austria.
There was a never-ending whirl of family events like weddings, funerals, christenings, and vacations to Ischl, in addition to society events like art exhibitions, fashion shows, horse races, and military ceremonies. By the way, if you’re wondering what she and Elias gave his half-sister Zita when she married Archduke Karl, it was a table centerpiece and two silver candelabra. Yeah, I go looking for details like that because I’m nosy.
In 1905, Maria Anna’s family moved from Pressburg to Vienna when her dad took over the job of Inspector General of the army. They moved into the sumptuous Albrecht Palace, where Maria Anna and Elias were frequent visitors.
In 1906, Elias and Maria Anna took a little time to travel. They showed up in Egypt, traveling from Cairo to Khartoum, where they went to a garden party thrown by Sir Reginald and Lady Wingate.
In 1907, Elias’s father died. In his will, Robert of Parma left Elias half of his estate, with the other half in trust for the remaining 17 kids. Elias also became his handicapped siblings’ legal guardian.
It’s hard to overstate how huge this inheritance was. A British newspaper estimated Robert’s fortune at £8,000,000 (Daily Telegraph & Courier, 18 Nov 1907). In today’s money, that would be north of $1 billion. Part of that inheritance included Marie Antoinette’s jewels. Maria Anna created an inventory with notes and pictures, which she later updated in 1932.
Less than four months later, Elias’s stepmom petitioned the Austrian court to declare Elias’s six full siblings mentally incompetent. This cleared the way for Elias to take possession of the fortune and begin distributing it (or not) as he saw fit. Unfortunately, this really pissed off some of his half-siblings.
It’s not hard to see why, when the inheritance at stake included the amazing Chateau de Chambord in France. Put a pin in this issue; we’ll come back to it later.
MARIA ANNA AND ELIAS HADN’T just been traveling and partying in the decade since their marriage. They’d also been raising a family.
Their first daughter, Elisabetta, was born in 1904. A boy, Carlo, was born in 1905. Maria Francesca followed in 1906, Roberto in 1909, and Francesco in 1913. Three more kids would follow, Giovanna in 1916, Alice in 1917, and Maria Christina in 1925. Here’s Maria Anna with her oldest, Elisabetta. LOOK AT THAT HEAD OF HAIR, YOU GUYS. I can’t even.
But in 1912, Maria Anna’s firstborn son, seven-year-old Carlo, died of meningitis. It was the beginning of a run of crap luck for this family and, oh, the entire freaking world.
There were signs that all was not well.
Signs the whole world should have seen, like the dick-swinging dreadnoughts Germany and Britain launched with frat-boy swagger. Like the tangled web of European foreign alliances that created a virtual Rube Goldberg device guaranteed to trip the panic switch if anything upset their delicate balance.
And more obvious signs, like a medium telling you, “Hey, morons, wake up—shit’s about to hit the fan.” That’s what happened in 1912, if you believe a write-up in the Neue Freie Presse published twenty years after the fact (15 May 1932).
According to the story, Maria Anna’s mom, Isabella, had invited Countess Bianca Beck-Rzikowsky to her Vienna salon and asked her to give a few predictions for the future. The countess, who hadn’t yet rebranded herself as Madame Sylvia, went into a trance. Then, she said something along the lines of, “I understand your feelings about Franz Ferdinand and his wife, but you should be nicer to them because in two years, they’ll be dead.”
Someone asked how they would die. The countess replied, “By the same bullet.” She prophesied that “a huge red patch” would spread over Europe as a result of the event…but that it wouldn’t be the end of the world. That wouldn’t happen until later, she said, in another disastrous global war.
MARIA ANNA AND HER FAMILY were busy during the spring and summer of 1914.
In April, Maria Anna and Elias took their last trip to the Chateau de Chambord. At a party where they entertained friends and local nobility, neither the hosts nor the guests suspected they would soon be enemies.
By early June, they were back in Vienna. Maria Anna attended the annual derby and show-jumping competition, sitting in the imperial box along with her mom, dad, two sisters…and Franz Ferdinand and Sophie.
No one knew it was probably the last time they would all be seen together.
On June 28, Franz Ferdinand and Sophie were assassinated in Sarajevo, sparking the ultimatum that led to declarations of war between Austria-Hungary, Serbia, Germany, Great Britain, France, and Russia. Here they are, walking to their car in Sarajevo, about five minutes before the assassination:
The assassination changed everything. Elias’s half-sister, Zita, would now be the next empress of Austria. Her husband, Archduke Karl, replaced Franz Ferdinand as heir to the throne. You’d think this would mean smooth sailing for Maria Anna and her family, right? Nope, not so much. Isabella and Friedrich didn’t get along with Karl and Zita any better than they had with Franz Ferdinand and Sophie. Plus, Zita’s full brothers were still pissed at Elias for bogarting the Parma inheritance.
The stage was set for war…and a family drama of continental proportions.
WHEN WAR WAS DECLARED, EMPEROR Franz Josef was too old to lead the army himself, so he put Maria Anna’s dad, Friedrich, in nominal charge as commander-in-chief in the east.
But Friedrich wasn’t the right guy for the job.
According to the army’s head press honcho Edmund Glaise-Horstenau, Friedrich took orders by phone from Isabella on everything, including which uniform to wear (336). Some even called Isabella “the real field marshal” (Herwig, 203). Here’s Friedrich with his good buddy, Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1915:
It wasn’t just the officers who mocked him. Friedrich’s soldiers nicknamed him “Archduke Bumbsti,” which roughly translates to Archduke Kaboom (Habsburger.net).
That’s what he said when they showed him a film of a 30.5cm mortar exploding. Kaboom. Not, “Hey this is a pretty cool weapon, let’s think about how to use this,” or “Mother of God, we’re going to blow ourselves to bits and lose all essence of humanity.” Just…kaboom.
The war went badly for Austria from the get-go.
No one had expected the Russians to pose a real threat, but that’s exactly what happened. After heavy early losses, Friedrich and General Conrad withdrew their headquarters behind the front, to Friedrich’s palace in Teschen (Cieszyn). There it stayed until 1916.
On the home front, not much changed for our royal women. There were still society events to attend…although these took on a decidedly patriotic flavor. In early 1915, Maria Anna went to a lecture on “The Wife as Nurse.” That November, she went to the second concert of the brand-new Budapest Philharmonic.
Outside the palace, however, there were rumors about Maria Anna’s dad. Despite inflation that ran to 100% by 1915 and another 50% by 1916, Archduke Friedrich was making more money than he had before the war, thanks to his contracts for food, supplies, and ammo (Herwig, 225). Later, Cunliffe-Owen would describe him as “one of the most successful and greedy profiteers of the great war” (New York Times, 3 Jan 1926).
We don’t know what Maria Anna felt about her father’s role in the war, or his image as a profiteer.
A House Divided
WORLD WAR I CAUSED A big problem for Elias and his siblings. Elias and his half-brothers Rene and Felix were in the Austrian army; his half-sister Zita was married to the heir to the Austrian throne, Archduke Karl (shown below). Clearly, they were on Team Central Powers, with Germany and the Ottoman Empire.
But Elias’s full sister Beatrice and half-brother Louis were married to Italians. Plus, his half-brothers Sixtus and Xavier had married Frenchwomen, and enlisted in the Belgian army. Both the Italians and Belgians fought for Team Allied Powers, with the French, British, and Russians.
This was not going to end well.
In Austria, Elias requested not to be sent to France, where he might end up facing one of his half-siblings across the battlefield. Army bigwigs approved his request and he fought in Serbia and Romania instead.
But his position in the Austrian army cost him, big time. In 1915, the French government requisitioned the Chateau de Chambord.
To them, it was inconceivable that a national historic landmark like Chambord should belong to someone fighting for the enemy. So they made like the otter in that meme. “I need dis,” they said, and took it.
The War to End All Wars
ON JUNE 4, 1916, TWO years into the war, Maria Anna’s father Friedrich celebrated his birthday with a gala dinner at army headquarters. Isabella had come for the occasion, too. That’s when Conrad got the terrible news: the Russian soldiers of the Brusilov offensive had overrun the Austrian Fourth Army.
“Minor setback,” he said. “Party on, Wayne.”
But it wasn’t a minor setback.
It was the death knell of the imperial Austrian army.
As Austrian losses mounted, Germany began to pay closer attention to its bumbling ally. Conrad chafed under German oversight. So did Franz Josef, but he could read the writing on the wall: “How on earth can we pursue even a tolerable foreign policy when we fight so badly?” he said (Herwig, 107).
Then, that November, Emperor Franz Josef died at the age of 86.
Maria Anna’s cousin Karl was the new emperor. This spelled trouble because Karl was no fan of Friedrich or Isabella (he called her “the beast”) (Herwig, 226-7).
One of the first things he did was demote Friedrich and move army headquarters out of Teschen. I bet that made the next family gathering, Karl and Zita’s coronation, a teensy bit awkward. Here’s Maria Anna in court dress, similar to what she would have worn to the coronation in 1917:
It didn’t matter how good Karl’s intentions were. Nothing he could do could save the empire. When the Entente powers finally defeated Austria-Hungary and Germany, revolutions toppled both monarchies.
Friedrich and Isabella were stripped of their titles and lost their Austrian properties—gone was the beautiful Palais Albrecht, with the attached Albertina museum and its priceless art collection. All in all, Friedrich’s sequestered property was estimated to be worth $200 – $400 million (New York Times, 31 Dec 1936).
Friedrich and Isabella hitailed it to Lucerne, Switzerland. My guess is they wanted to put some distance between themselves and the new Austrian government…you know, in case things went sideways like they had in Russia, where the Bolsheviks were killing Romanovs right and left.
You know who joined them there? Maria Anna’s oldest sister, Maria Christina. Her husband, the prince of Salm-Salm, had been killed at the Battle of Pinsk in 1916.
In 1921, when it was safe, Friedrich and Isabella resettled at Féltorony castle in Hungary with their two daughters still living at home, Gabriella and Maria Alice.
Because Maria Anna was married and no longer considered a Habsburg, she didn’t have to give up her personal possessions in Austria. Elias had fought honorably in the Austrian army, earning a promotion to Colonel along with four decorations, so he was safe, too. Aside from short stays in Paris, they remained residents of Austria.
Elias’s Family Feud
WHEN WE LAST LEFT THE beautiful Chateau de Chambord, it had been seized by the French government. Elias protested, as did his half-brothers Sixtus and Xavier. Their tug-of-war started a years-long legal battle in France.
In 1920, Elias hit upon a solution…or thought he did. He called up King Alfonso XIII of Spain and said he needed to prove he wasn’t Austrian. “I got this,” said Alfonso, who granted him Spanish nationality on April 18, 1920. “Ha!” Elias said to the French government. “I told you I wasn’t Austrian.”
But the French legal courts were like, dude, you can’t use your friends as job references. Thank you, next.
So the case dragged on.
Finally, the Orléans Court of Appeals put an end to the siblings’ bickering. They ruled that Elias had been the rightful owner, which also meant the government seizure had been valid and lawful. As the rightful owner, he now had a decision to make: try to take back the chateau, or leave it with the French government and ask for compensation.
Elias asked for the money.
The French government wanted Chambord so badly they agreed to pay him 11 million francs. As a result, since April 13, 1930, the chateau has belonged to France (Pelluard, 61).
Elias & Maria Anna Post-War
There aren’t a lot of headlines about these two post-war. Apparently, people had bigger concerns than writing about former archduchesses. As a family, they stuck close to Vienna. That’s where Maria Anna had her last baby, Maria Christina, at the age of 43 in 1925.
I did find a few interesting stories, however.
THE GENTLEMAN BURGLAR
On January 16, 1922, police arrested a burglar in Paris. That burglar, Serge de Lenz, claimed to steal only from the rich. He operated by a strict set of rules: always work alone, dress the part, don’t call attention to yourself, and only steal during lunch hour when no one’s paying attention to you.
His system worked. Until, that is, he failed to recall the timeless advice of the real Grandmaster Flash (not the Austrian master of ceremonies): white lines – don’t do it.
According to the French newspaper Le Gauloise, De Lenz became a coke addict and it made him sloppy.
He got caught on the way out of a robbery when a bystander asked him an innocent question. He looked so freaked out that she called the police.
Later, in court, he told the judge an interesting story. “One time, at band camp,” he said, “I went to Prince Elias of Bourbon-Parma’s apartment on the Avenue Bois-de-Boulogne. I only took one tiny thing to remind me of my visit—a small silver plate with an image of Franz Josef on it. I could have taken more, but I don’t roll like that.”
He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
It looks like Maria Anna and Elias were able to give their kids the same sort of life Maria Anna had while growing up – lots of time outdoors, lots of travel and excursions.
They divided their time between Schloss Schwarzau (below) and a hunting estate called Glashütte, with occasional visits to Paris and Maria Anna’s family’s great hunting estate Bellye (Bilje) in Hungary. Their daughter Alice’s fondest memories included her time with Elias, hunting at Glashütte during their long summers there. She was quite the hunter, bringing home her first trophy deer in 1929 at age 12 (Cazavision.com).
In the 1920s, Maria Anna still made the Austrian society pages…but now, she wasn’t attending events with her mom and sisters. She was with her daughters. The events were also more low-key; there would be no hofball for the next generation. Maria Anna and Elias attended parties at the home of the French ambassador, Count Clauzel—a soirée in honor of Prince Gustaf Adolf of Sweden, for example, and a dinner dance in honor of the Association of Recognized Automobile Clubs.
As the World Turns
INEVITABLY, AS HER KIDS GREW up, Maria Anna’s parents aged and eventually passed away. Isabella died of pneumonia in Budapest in 1931, shattered after her only son, Albrecht, made a morganatic marriage and destroyed her hopes of a Habsburg restoration in Hungary. All the kids had obeyed her summons to come see her one last time—even the disgraced Albrecht (below).
Maria Anna’s dad, Friedrich, outlived his wife. He died in Magyaróvár, Hungary on December 30, 1936 of a heart attack following a severe flu.
But Friedrich was still alive when his granddaughter, Alice, had married earlier in the year. She’d grown into an expert hunter and horsewoman, never happier than when she was out with her horses and dogs.
On April 16, at age 18, she married Infante Alfonso, the nephew of the deposed King Alfonso XIII. The wedding took place in Vienna, at the Church of the Minorites. Because of Spanish royal etiquette, Alice couldn’t wear any jewels during the ceremony; she wore a simple long veil crowned with orange blossoms. The couple settled in France, but later moved to Switzerland and then Spain in 1941. That’s them coming out of the church after their wedding below.
Alice was Maria Anna’s only child to marry and have kids of her own. If you find that odd, you’re not alone. I can’t help but wonder if they saw what had happened to many of Elias’s half-siblings and thought, “Nope. Gene pool needs to be drained.”
Imagine meeting someone, falling in love…and not being able to marry them because you’ve personally sworn not to reproduce…this being before the era of readily available birth control.
Of course, there’s another perspective I have to mention. In a 2017 article, Christophe Vachaudez, a royal jewel historian who knew the family, wrote that five of Maria Anna’s eight children were “autistic, as one says euphemistically” (Eventail.be). Unfortunately, I don’t have any information about what sort of lives they lived to show how capable (or incapable) they were. We may never know, and that’s okay.
IN 1940, MARIA ANNA WENT to Lausanne, Switzerland for the baptism of Alice’s second daughter, Inés. She died there suddenly on February 25, at the age of 58. She was spared the chaos and horror of World War II.
Elias died in 1959 at the age of 78. Before his death, he sold Schloss Schwarzau to the Austrian government. It is now a women’s prison.
Elias and Maria Anna are buried in the crypt of the chapel near the hunting lodge on the Glashütte estate, Thalberger Schwaig.
Their only direct descendants are Alice’s children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Alice’s only son, Carlos, was hand-picked by the Count of Barcelona to room with his son, the future King Juan Carlos of Spain, at a special Spanish boarding school created with Francisco Franco’s approval. Today, Carlos’s son Pedro (Maria Anna’s great-grandson) manages the family’s estate, La Toledana.
Who Inherited This Tiara?
IN THE LONG RUN, ALICE. I’m not sure if she inherited it as soon as Maria Anna died, or if it went to one of her siblings, whom she then outlived and inherited it from them in turn.
- Elisabetta died unmarried in 1983.
- Maria Francesca died unmarried in 1994.
- Giovanna was killed in a shooting accident on her sister Alice’s property in Spain in 1949.
Maria Christina lived until 2009. She loved opera, history, jewels, was friends with the Queen of Thailand, and never married. Alice’s kids called her “Aunt Putz.” That is so cute.
Alice was the longest-lived of all Maria Anna’s children. In 2017, at age 99, she died in Madrid. She was the only sibling with kids, so presumably Maria Anna’s entire jewelry collection had come to her, one way or another, including Marie Antoinette’s jewels.
After Alice’s death, the family auctioned off many of these jewels, including Maria Anna’s tiara. Alice had never worn many jewels – she just wasn’t the type. All her life, she remained a devoted hunter, preferring her horses and dogs and the outdoors to social functions.
We don’t know who bought Maria Anna of Austria’s tiara in 2018 at auction. Was it you? If so, please drop me a line – I’d love to see a picture of it in your collection!
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Loose Ends: Archduchess Maria Anna of Austria’s Tiara
- There is so much more information I want to share about this family, but holy crap, this post is already over 8,000 words long. Maybe this will become a short book. I have more to tell you about Isabella, Maria Anna’s siblings, and the family’s strong Spanish connection. Another time…
- Nora Fugger’s memoir, The Glory of the Habsburgs, has a slight twist to the story of Friedrich and Isabella’s courtship, as well as the story of how the Franz Ferdinand/Sophie Chotek affair was discovered. I didn’t include her Franz/Sophie story here because it’s the only one that says the big reveal/firing happened in Abbazia; the overwhelming majority of sources say it happened at Isabella’s house. When it comes to Friedrich and Isabella, Fugger implies they met in Vienna. How would she know? Because she said Isabella was a frequent guest at her mom’s house (her mom married Isabella’s cousin once removed). Fugger doesn’t come out and say that’s how they met, just that everybody knew Friedrich was in love with Isabella. Radziwill noted that Friedrich fell fast, proposing just days after meeting her. Cunliffe-Owen wrote that they met in Belgium, while he was visiting his cousin. Is C-O wrong? Is Fugger right? If you know any more about this, please contact me.
- A portrait of “Archduchess Maria Anna” painted by Joseph Bernard (real name: Hans Zatska) sold at auction in 1979. Is this a painting of our Maria Anna? Are there any photos of it?
- A portrait of Maria Anna and Maria Henriette by Laszlo appeared in an exhibit in the painter’s studio in 1905. It’s not currently listed in the catalog raisonné online, but the Laszlo Foundation is adding to it all the time. Are there any photos of this painting?
- Does anyone have any information about Giovanna, killed in a hunting accident on her sister Alice’s property in Spain?
- Daily Telegraph & Courier
- Dundee Evening Post
- Le Gauloise
- The New York Times
- Neue Frie Presse
- The Pall Mall Gazette
- The San Francisco Examiner
- Sport & Salon
- The Washington Post
- Wiener Salonblatt
Books & Articles
- The Assassination of the Archduke: Sarajevo 1914 and the Murder That Changed the World by Greg King and Sue Woolmans
- Ein General Im Zwielicht: Die Erinnerungen Edmund Glaises Von Horstenau by H.E. von Glaise
- Ein Photoalbum Aus Dem Hause Habsburg by Archduchess Isabella, Vilmos Heiszler, Margit Szakács, and Károly Vörös
- The First World War: Germany and Austria-Hungary 1914-1918 by Holger H. Herwig
- The Glory of the Habsburgs by Princess Eleonora (Nora) Fugger
- La famille de Bourbon-Parme Chambord, enjeu d’un procès de famille by J. Pelluard, accessed via gallica.bnf.fr
- Prelude to Blitzkrieg: The 1916 Austro-German Campaign in Romania by Michael B. Barrett
- ABC.es: La Infanta Doña Alicia «era una mujer de campo, siempre coqueta y muy puntual»
- Cazavisión.com: Adiós a Doña Alicia, la Infanta cazadora
- Dinastias.forogratis.es: Muere doña Alicia de Borbón, la infanta-decana
- L’Eventail.be: Disparition de la princesse Alice de Bourbon-Parme
- Sothebys.com: Diamond tiara, Köchert, circa 1901
- Music, post audio: “Viennese Spirit” by Johann Strauss, Jr. via Musopen.org.
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