issue. and that rhymes with tissue.

Maria Theresa before her 16 births.

My kingdom for an HEIR! A male heir, that is.  The cry was heard throughout the world, issued by wives and their protectors.  For until the 20th century confirmed that the sperm donors, not the incubators, determined the sex of a child, women took the rap.

Remember Anne Boleyn?  The chopping block stood more than ready when a queen failed to give birth to a thriving male child.

In my own case, my mother-in-law, the Archduchess, stood beside my bed with each of my childbirths, ready to praise or condemn me depending on what the new baby bore between its legs.  My first baby was a girl.  My second baby: also a girl.  And then, praise the Lord, my Rudolf entered the world, and all was well.  For a while.

My dear Mummi, when it came to issue, she was a champion.  She had ten babies.  Ten!  Can you imagine?  In the days when hot water and a brass bedrail was all a laboring damsel had for her trouble.  No epidural. No Demerol.  No–oh, what do they call it, twilight sleep?  And that paragon Maria Theresa, she was a brood mare to outdo all.  She gave birth to sixteen children.  And they all lived!  Tough act to follow for any Austrian monarch, don’t you agree?

Maria Theresa after expelling her brood.

After Rudolf, I had my very favorite child (conceived during one of my make-up sex encounters with the Emperor–those are always special, are they not?)

One hopes that this “male issue” pressure has subsided permanently.  I mean, look at the three most recent US Presidents.  They beget girls only! Girls!  Thank the Lord that women, queens, first ladies and the like no longer face the opprobrium dished out by the guillotine for giving birth to baby girls.  Well, legally, anyway!

Scheisse my Papa says

my papa, the original "peter pan"

Was it from Vienna where the notion of girls marrying their fathers came? Freud, was it? Well, I can assure you, I did not marry my papa.  Duke Maximilian Joseph was nothing like the Emperor.  My papa was an eccentric hedonist–a champion of the underclass.  He liked nothing more than to dress up as King Arthur and preside over his very own Round Table.  When he wasn’t engaged in circus riding that is.  Or strumming his zither.  Or schtupping peasant ladies.

As for my husband, he had a mistress or two (I even encouraged it!), but he disdained stag parties and the like.  You would never find Emperor Franz Joseph in a brothel, or a tavern. He liked his whiskey neat.  Upon a little silver tray on his desk.  One shot only.

Whereas dear Papa was a bit of a spulfer.

And, my father had an eye for ladies of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds.  “Pretty girls have no need for lessons,” he told my governess as he untied the ropes she’d bound me to the chair with.  “Lise needs to know a poem or two, and keep her teeth clean.  That’s all.”  The governess was not pleased and stomped off, but not before barking, “She is wild and unschooled. I imagine she will end up marrying poorly.  As did her mother.”

Papa smirked, and, like a child, stuck his thumb to his nose and waved his fingers at the governess as she bustled away.

The rest of my family called me Sisi, or Duchess, or Elisabeth, but only to Papa I was Lise.  There was the time we dressed up like Gypsies and rode about the countryside from beer garden to beer garden, performing for florins that were tossed at our feet.  “If you and I had not been princely born, Lise,” he told me, “we’d have joined the circus.”

And to this day, those few coins were the only honest money I ever earned.

Then there was the time he called my mother-in-law, the Archduchess, “The only man in the Hofburg.”  that didn’t go over too well at home, as the Archduchess also happened to be my mother’s sister.

“Mind your mouth, Duke,” spat my mother.  And then Papa took Ludovica, my addled mother, up in his arms and danced her around.  Thus, nine months later, my youngest brother and my father’s namesake, Max Emanuel, was born.  Mapperl, we called him, and he was my favorite.

The Baroness finds me in a Compromising Position

as usual, the baroness is not amused

I was glad of the fact that I didn’t die after all.  And when next my eyes sprang open, no fire, no devil.  The pit of Hell, as it turned out, was not awaiting me.  But, close enough, because the smelling salts, the stinging slap, the rough absorption of the blood, were conducted by none other than the vicious and hateful Baroness Louise Wulffen.

Her eyes like two millet seeds pried into me.  The mole on her cheek had sprung hair since last I’d laid eyes on her.  She barked, “What were you thinking spread out like that?”

The Circus Within

if we were not princely born, Papa and I would have been circus riders

I adored my father, and was normally eager to join in the make-believe, the folly, the fun that he provided during his home stays, though even I could see how he’d stretched the limits this time.  Papa loved children.  All children.  But it often seemed as if his own children were no more or less important to him than any others.  Papa’s eyes were wild, and the green of them swam now, in a sea of drink.

What could I do?  I took two of the boys in either hand, and away I skipped, toward the welcome smells of fresh hay, sawdust and our very own circus.

In which I first meet the Archduchess

this lace is impossibly itchy!

The first time I laid eyes on the woman who would eventually ruin my life, she disappointed me.  In the flesh, the woman for whom we’d practiced hours curtseying was nothing more than a fluffed up matron.  Grey hair roughly pulled off a deeply-lined forehead revealed tired, dull eyes.  Her many necklaces tiered heavily round a wrinkled, white neck, accentuating an overly ample bosom that spilled, angry and powdered, out of her corseted trunk.

Mummi introduced us, and we curtsied and kissed the woman’s rings, which tasted of cold metal.  Her fingers were gnarled and deformed.  The woman turned to Mummi, and I whispered in my sister’s ear, “She’s like a witch.”

Of the two of us, Nené has always been the calm one, slower to laugh or show excitement, much more like Mummi, but this time she whacked me a hard one to the arm.  She whispered harshly back, “Do not ruin my chance to be the Archduchess’s daughter-in-law.”

The Archduchess herself didn’t hear a word, because her mouth was whispering into her own sister’s ear.  They couldn’t wait to go at it about their disappointments and their troubles.  My crinolines were itchy, and I looked around the drawing room for biscuits.