BOOKS OF MY LIFE: “If you have ever wondered why marrying your uncle is inadvisable, the Habsburgs can enlighten you.”


I’ll be purchasing this one.

Indeed, it sometimes seems as if my entire motivation for traveling in Europe has been to track down the legacy of the Habsburgs, particularly in their final iteration as overlords of the Austrian (and later, Austro-Hungarian) empire: from Sarajevo to Konopiště, and Rudolf’s Mayerling to Madeira (Karl’s island of exile).

In 2003 during the Danube River bicycle ride my friend Bob and I bicycled up the hillside to Artstetten, the heir Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s castle. As we were leaving, I mentioned to the gift shop attendant that I’d visited Vienna for the first time in 1985 and learned that Franz Ferdinand’s grave wasn’t there because he could not be buried with his beloved wife in the “official” imperial crypt owing to their morganatic marriage.

Their final resting places were at Artsetten, hence my visit, albeit 18 years later. I very much wanted to view the crypt at Artstetten.

Franz Ferdinand’s marriage is relevant to the book review below, because here was an instance of a Habsburg marrying for love, quite apart from the wishes of the realm. That’s why family protocol denied their children rights to the throne, and cruelly withheld from the couple many of the ceremonial perks of royal existence.

The attendant regretted there was no public access to the final resting place of this Habsburg. I understood and didn’t ask for favors. When I started to leave the facility she called to to me; I walked back to the desk and she silently pushed a key across and winked.

That was very nice of her. I was respectful of my time with the victims of Princip at Sarajevo, and took a photo (above). This is the first time it has been seen on the internet.

A breed apart: The Habsburgs’ marriages consolidated lands as well as faulty genes
(at The Economist)

European history is unimaginable without the once-imperious family

The Habsburgs. By Martyn Rady. Allen Lane; 416 pages; £30. To be published in America by Basic Books in August; $32.

Martyn Rady’s new book is billed as “the definitive history” of the clan. Not, it must be said, a hotly contested title. Once the names of Europe’s most powerful families—the Bourbons and Battenbergs and Garibaldis—were known across the world. Today, beyond the biscuit tin, they are largely forgotten.

Except, that is, for their eccentric matchmaking. If you have ever wondered why marrying your uncle is inadvisable, the Habsburgs can enlighten you. For centuries they experimented with marriages between first cousins, second cousins and cousins so multiply intertwined that the traditional familial vocabulary breaks down. A mother might double as a cousin; the wife of Leopold I referred to him throughout their marriage as “Uncle”.

The result was less a family tree, branching and widening, than a convoluted web. At one point the mortality rate of Habsburg children reached 80%, four times the average of the time. Of those who lived, many were hideously misshapen, with the infamous drooping lip and jutting Habsburg jaw. It is one of the abiding puzzles of European history that its aristocrats, so good at breeding horses, should have been so bad at breeding themselves.