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Fig.1. Buried Alive, Otto Dix (1927 based on his experience of the Third Battle of Ypres, ‘Passchendaele in 1917)
One hundred years on it is worth comparing the causes of the First World War and to dread that events in Eastern Ukraine as indicators of the wrong response to the fragmentation of old empires: one hundred years ago the Ottoman Empire’s demise resulted in fractures at its edge – the Balkans and Middle East. Germany, eager to bolster another weakening empire, its ally the Austro-Hungarian Empire, took steps to test its power and influence to destruction by pushing Austro-Hungary to deal with Serbia with a swift conquest. To what degree is Putin testing the strength or weakness of the Russian Federation by the decisions taken first in Syria to support Assad and then in Ukraine to support the pro-Russian separatists? To what degree did Putin achieve this with his swift action in Crimea? What legacy did the British and French Empires leave in this region when they divided up their spoils in the Middle East?
There is an exhibition of original art work by Otto Dix at the De La Warr, Bexhill. Brilliant.
Fig.1.Crown Prince Rudolph of Austria-Hungary – Only son of the Emperor Franz Josef
You are one of the wealthiest and privileged men in the world and likely, by all accounts, to be one of the most powerful men too some day soon, but you are deeply unhappy and married as protocol requires to another European royal.
You are Crown Prince Rudolph of the Austro-Hungarian Empire – wanting for nothing and everything. Your are also crushingly unhappy – the privilege a burden.
Then you fall in love and like royals before you the woman becomes your mistress – two years of bliss are doomed when your father the Emperor demands that it ends. Rather than give each other up you commit suicide, shooting first your 17 year old mistress, then turning the gun on yourself.
Love for a girl and hate for the Empire could only be resolved through violence. The year is 1889.
Fig.2. Archduke Franz Ferdinand, wife the Duchess Sophie of Hohenberg and their children Sophie 13, Max 10 and Ernst 8 c 1914.
Some two decades later your nephew, the heir presumptive since your own death, appears to have it all – a compromise had been found when he refused to give up the woman he wished to marry in 1890. Archduke Franz Ferdinand, stunningly wealthy, happily married to the Countess Sophie Chotek – the woman he loves, with three healthy children, and trained up through his military career to rule would expect to become the next emperor soon – his grandfather the Emperor Franz Josef is now in his 80s.
Then, on the morning of Sunday 28th June 1914 Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s misplaced ‘love’ for his subjects and his unquestioning love for his wife puts them both in an open top tourer on a formal visit to the Austro-Hungarian provincial capital of Sarajevo.
Hate looms in the form of the 19 year old Gravilo Princip, a Serbian nationalist, desperately poor, principled, prepared and determined. Under instructions and guidance from the leaders of the radical Serbian terrorist group ‘The Black Hand’ he finds himself positioned on the route the Archduke will take back and forth through Sarajevo with six others – armed and eager to kill.
In their different ways both Franz Ferdinand and Gravilo Princip disliked what the Austro-Hungarian Empire represented and how it behaved – both had ideas of how the problem could be fixed – Franz through compromise and accommodation – he tabled a federation of Austro-Hungarian states in 1906 -while both Count Rudolph at one end of the scale and Princip at the other, both felt that two bullets from a revolver were the pill that wold fix everything when others controlled your life in a way that you found intolerable.
Two world wars later, nearly 50 million dead and conflict only recently resolved in the Balkans and if there is a one word lesson to take from the 20th century it is ‘Diplomacy’.
(Born Aug 24, 1855, died Feb 12, 1944)
My goal is to find a way into this story – my quest might be over.
I’m doing this as an exercise
I’m taking known facts rather than fiction and using the 1939 book ‘Story Writing’ by Edith Ronald Mirrieless as my guide. Narrative is a powerful tool, but compare a factual account, say of the sinking of the Titanic, with the move. Compare too some botched attempts at the telling of the 1914 Sarajevo assassinations where students recall above all else that Gravilo Princip apparently went into a cafe to buy a sandwich when he say the Archduke’s car outside. There is invention and accuracy, but also responsibility to ensure that the facts that matter and can be corroborated are in the story.
The story I tell will be told by the Infant Marie Theresa of Portugal who married Archduke Karl Ludwig a month before her 18th birthday at Kleinheubach on 23 July 1873.
She would have been 32 when Crown Prince Count Rudolph killed himself. Maria Theresa then stood in for the Empress who retired from court life after her son’s death. She carried out honours at the Hofburg Imperial Palace with the Emperor until 1896 and was instrumental in helping her step-son Franz Ferdinand fulfill his desire to marry the Countess Sophie Chotek which he achieved in July 1990.
The following details I sourced from various places and will verify and alter in due course.
It was then Marie Theresa who broke the news of the couple’s death to their children Sophie, Maximilian and Ernst. She also managed to ensure the children’s financial security after telling the Emperor that if he did not grant them a yearly income, she would resign the allowance which she drew as a widow in their favour. (The majority of Franz Ferdinand’s property went to his nephew the Archduke Charles)
When the Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed following its defeat in the First World War. After his abdication, Maria Theresa accompanied Karl and his wife Zita into exile in Madeira, but eventually returned to Vienna where she spent the rest of her life.
In 1929, following a decline in her finances, Maria Theresa engaged two agents to sell the Napoleon Diamond Necklace, a piece inherited from her husband, in the United States.
After a series of botched sales attempts, the pair finally sold the necklace for $60,000 with the aid of the grand-nephew of Maria Theresa, the Archduke Leopold of Austria, but he claimed nearly 90% of the sale price as “expenses”. Maria Theresa appealed to the United States courts, ultimately resulting in the recovery of the necklace, the imprisonment of her grand-nephew, and the absconding of the two agents.
Maria Theresa died in Vienna during World War II.
- The first of a million tragic love stories – the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and Sophie Chotek (mymindbursts.com)
- My fascination with the First War will only grow as we approach the 100th Anniversary – here is one day to remember (mymindbursts.com)
- World War I Centennial: Austria-Hungary Escalates, Kaiser Convenes War Council (mentalfloss.com)