Monday, April 14, 2014

I was to be Empress by H.R.H. Princess Stephanie of Belgium, Fürstin of Lonyay & Ex-Crown Princess of Austria-Hungary

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Obtained from: Local Library/ILL
Read: April 13, 2014

The intimate personal memoirs of H.R.H. Princess Stephanie of Belgium, Fürstin of Lonyay & Ex-Crown Princess of Austria-Hungary. Written nearly five decades after the tragedy at Mayerling, the book covers Stephanie's childhood, the events of her first marriage and the mysterious death of her first husband, Crown Prince Rudolf. 

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Many of those connected to the Mayerling affair left diaries and/or written correspondence, but Princess Stephanie one of only two to have released a personal memoir, a fact which makes I was to be Empress an invaluable resource for anyone interested in the Crown Prince. 

Written more than forty years after the death of her first husband, I think it important her account be taken with a grain of salt as she has a tendency to both embellish and dramatize. For example, she talks of saving a baby from a burning palace while visiting her parents in Belgium and directing lifeboats during an incident onboard the Greif, episodes that only seem to be noted here, in a book meant to reinvent her popular image. 

Admiration, however, was not her only goal as she obviously hoped to garner a degree of sympathy for her plight. Unfortunately, the overwhelming amount of text dedicated to the lack of appreciation and acceptance afforded her at the Hapsburg court is more arrogant than it is commiserative, a fact which leaves the reader with a distinctly unattractive illustration of the author’s vanity and pride.

Several letters appear in the volume, most from her husband which I found interesting as the tone of his correspondence wasn't as cold as might be expected considering their famously unhappy union. Cordially respectful, he writes often of his daily activities, health, the weather and their daughter. Typical everyday topics, these letters stood in stark contrast to the overt distain once senses throughout Stephanie’s own musings and reminiscences. 

Also of note, incidents the Princess fails to address, alters or entirely omits. I didn't truly expect her to delve into to her alleged affair with a Polish Count, but I was surprised that Mary Vetsera's appearance the German Embassy went unacknowledged. Stephanie does mention suffering illness at Lacroma, but she cites a bout of peritonitis as the cause which is understandable, but contradicts the treatment plan for which the royal family was billed. 

Illuminating to say the least, I was to be Empress is a must for anyone interested in Princess Stephanie. One cannot take what she says at face value, but that said, the book paints a startling portrait of Sisi's would-be successor. 

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Yet I had never ceased to hope that happiness would in the end come our way. Nor can it be said that out marriage had been unhappy from the onset. It did not fulfill my girlish ideals; there had been a lack of affectionate spiritual companionship; there had been nothing more than a sort of enforced association without cordiality. Still, though disappointed in many respects, I had done my best to understand the Crown Prince's nature, to adapt myself to him, to interest myself in his plans, his activities, his tastes, that thereby I might make our life together more congenial.
But all my endeavours had been in vain, because the Crown Prince had absolutely no inclination for family life, and because, owing to his multifarious experiences with women from youth upwards, he had come to regard them with contempt. He did not lack affection; he was loyal to his men-friends, and to those who shared his views and inclinations - but he despised woman, whom he could never look upon as his equals.
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