sibling rivalry never goes out of style.

the "it" sisters of 2011

Sisters. Can’t love with them, can’t love without them. It has more than come to light that at the latest royal wedding, all eyes were not on Kate. Some were on her younger sister, Pippa. Many, in fact, were on her younger sister. Including those of the spare heir, the paparazzi, and her increasingly anxious beau.

But, what’s a royal wedding without a wee scandal, yes? My own royal wedding was replete with sister jealousies, as many of you know. Word on the street is that I scooped my elder sister for the Emperor’s attentions using my feminine wiles. It was my sister, Nené , who was slated for the throne. Franz Josef’s mother and our mother, Ludovica (who were also  sisters) had painstakingly arranged it. But, alas, my sister was a bit of a sour puss, and, well, it’s not exactly that I cavorted in a bikini top, but the Emperor found my shy-yet-frisky demeanor a bit more to his liking.

the "sit" sisters of 1848

I’m setting the record straight here and now. I did not flirt with the Emperor during the betrothal meeting. I did not bat my eyelashes. I did not, as the movie indicates, accidentally hook the Emperor with a fishing line whilst he tarried to the castle. No, I think the Emperor’s choosing me had more to do with passive-aggressively thwarting his mother’s meddlesome ways.

Whatever the reason for Franz Josef choosing me over my sister, it caused quite a stir in our family. Nené didn’t speak to me for months! Of course, eventually, she found a beau of her own, and it’s been said that her marriage was the happiest of all us Wittelsbach girls.

It remains to be seen how the Middleton girls stack up over the marital long haul. I’m sure we’ll all find out.

of beauty and fascination. rule the fourth.

Henry VIII and his boobalicious entourage.

Today, I shall dedicate this post to the gentlemen entirely, and our rule will focus on, well, to use the modern parlance, bling.

Again, I turn to the stylization in the recent Tudors series, where King Henry VIII and his retinue are festooned in fob chains, breast pins and all manner of rings. But let us not forget about the last Spanish Habsburg king, Charles II, another so-called King of Bling (though he was more famous for his long, thick curls and the breed of spaniel named for him). Throughout history, there is quite a bit of evidence to suggest powerful men are not afraid to be fancy.

The ladies swooned for King Chuck!

Like these ostentatious monarchs, you, too should beat your drum loudly with flash and sparkle. Gentlemen, by all means wear jewelry! If you have not your own, borrow it, or get it some other way, for you must be sure that you go not into the presence of any woman, whose good opinion is worth having, without layer upon layer of ornament.

Would you mess with this bird?

Take a page, perhaps, from nature. The peacock, yes? Here’s a little-known fact: it is not that the brightness  itself attracts a mate, it is the pomp and sure-cockedness (pun intended) of such a colorful bird defying predators to eat him if they can wrestle him down. It is as if he says, “Yes, I’m easy to find, but woe to the fox that can kill me, for I am one tough critter!”

Like a peahen, we ladies swoon over that sort of brash, self-assuredness. Remember, the bigger the rock, the bigger the … well, never mind.

empress of the month: eugenie

here she sits amid her ladies in a portrait by winterhalter (who, by the way, also painted yours truly)

She was the last French Empress, and quite a charmer, that María Eugenia Ignacia Augustina de Palafox Portocarrero de Guzmán y Kirkpatrick. She lived to the ripe age of 94, and was best known for starting up the caged crinolines fad (that, and a primary role in the ill-fated French intervention in Mexico).She was 26 when she wed Napoleon III, much to the disapproval of the snooty House of Bonaparte, but marry she did, dutifully producing an heir before closing her bed to her increasingly lecherous and obese husband (who satisfied his seeming bottomless appetite for the fair sex with countless public affairs).

In our day, an Empress set trends, and Eugenie was no exception. What initially was thought a scandal turned Paris on its ear in 1862 when the Empress got it in her little head to appear in public without a shawl. After the society hags simmered down women everywhere began to attend functions without cloaks and shawls, freeing them up to display their dresses without cover, and creating quite a ripple in the fashion world.

And, of course, other than me, Eugenie was the only decent rider among empresses of our day. In fact, it was her horseback prowess that first led to her husband’s initial interest in courting her (or so the gossip goes).

Eugenie's wedding ensemble, described in the London Times, 1853: White epiglé velvet, with rather large basque and demi-train. A veil of point d’Angleterre flowed from underneath a rich diadem sparkling with diamonds.

We were often referred to as “rivals.” How silly! Eugenie had a much more sophisticated style. Just look at her bridal get-up below. I was much more given to practicality. Well, as long as my waist was cinched in tight.

So, what do the Empress Eugenie and I have in common? Well, our “fancy ephemera” is featured on the Royal Paper Dolls website, along with Norway’s Queen Maude and the Peacock Princess.


Ludwig ‘n Charlie. A reincarnation?

crazy never goes out of style

I can only imagine my cousin, King Ludwig, in today’s world. Not only would he be firing publicists left and right, I am certain the entire city of Munich would line up at the chance to intern for him at the Linderhof Castle. Can’t you just picture it? A bevvy of fops, nibs in hand, marching up the Strasse with their ideas.

Mad King Ludwig would have loved the Tiger Blood concept. “Harnessing the of power Hollywood to ignite our platform!” Only, in the parlance of the day he might have called for “Wagner in the streets! Piped in orchestral classics from every corner of the fairy castle.”

One really must indulge the eccentric icons among us, yes? For the color and charm and laughter they add to our lives?

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!

more about mad cousin ludwig

he wore it well, my dear ludwig, god rest his crazy soul.

Word on the Strasse is that my beloved cousin, King Ludwig II, was murdered as he tried to escape deposition for mismanagement of funds during a particularly harrowing bout of madness. The company line is that he tragically drowned in Lake Starnberg alongside his psychiatrist.  Some say suicide; some say natural causes.  Whatever the circumstance, my poor, dear Ludwig was entirely manic at the time, as I myself reported in an earlier entry on The Mad Men and Women of Bavaria.

Ludwig was definitely among the most eccentric of our clan. Even as a boy, he was fascinated with building fairy castles.  We’d pop over to his father’s palace for tea, and there he’d be, in his velvet tails and short pants, lying amidst the dust bunnies with his blocks, stacking them against all the laws of physics until they tumbled to the floor. Again and again and again he would do this until the nurse yanked him up by his frilly cuff and dragged him off to an elocution lesson (or a whipping).

the king and i, we were the et and mj of our day!

Ludwig and I were quite close. I was Elizabeth Taylor to his Michael Jackson.  We understood the trappings of celebrity.  The demands.  He adored me almost as much as he adored my son, Rudolph–his favorite of my children.

But yes, he was odd. While he was passionate for Wagner, he rebuffed my sister Sophie, to whom he was briefly engaged, even though of us all, Sophie sang like a sparrow. In fact, after my father, Duke Max, gave Ludwig the ultimatum (set the date or set her free), my cousin wrote,

Sophie written off, the somber picture scattered; I long for freedom, I thirst for freedom, for a return from the tormening nightmare.

That written, he flung a sculpted bust of my sister out the window of his fairy castle!

He was a handful, that Ludwig.  His only brother, Otto, was already in an asylum for the insane, so with Ludwig’s precarious walk on the sanity tightrope, the whole Bavarian monarchy was in peril.

But on the note that he drowned? I reject the notion entirely.  My cousin loved the water.  He was a strong swimmer.  Why, I remember this one time I brought my beloved blackamoor, Rustimo, on a boat trip with the king. It was just the three of us, and Rustimo sang and played the guitar so sweetly, Ludwig placed a ring upon his finger. He was impulsive, that way.

the breathtaking neuschwantstein castle is but one of king ludwig's creations

We all knew, of course, that my cousin generally preferred the company of men to women, (as did I!).  It seemed that distressed his mother, Queen Marie, more than having two crazy sons.  This I found more than odd. Perhaps there is something in the Bavarian water that we may blame for all this lunacy? Until we know for sure, I’ll take solace in the good king’s legacy.  The wondrous castles he built in the Alpine foothills of my homeland.

when a tart is not a tart

Katharina was much more wifely than I!

It has been noted that there are several parallels between myself and Lady Di.  Most often reported is that we were both obsessed with our weight.  Also, that we suffered from ill-treatment and the occasional shunning from our mothers-in-law (both women had their sons hangtied–what is the mother-son equivalent of pussy-whipped, anyway?).  Also, we both died violent deaths, at the hand of another.

But on the subject of our husbands’ mistresses, well, there is a huge distinction.  Namely, I was FOR the Emperor’s long-standing dalliance with the actress Katharina Schratt.  In fact, I pushed the two together like chicken and dumplings!

Of course, it was different for Di. What with paparazzi constantly trying to humiliate her with clandestine snapshots of Charles and Camilla.  The Princess considered the Prince’s affair an intrusion, calling Camilla “the third person in our marriage.”

My thoughts on a suitable mistress are a bit different. With discretion, the right concubine can ease household tension. Reduce the chore of frequent intimacies.  Put a smile on a grumpy face.  The thing is, though, the tart must know her place. She’s much like an extra lady-in-waiting, actually.  Someone to help with household responsibilities.

In the end, I do thank Frau Schratt for all she did for my marriage.  She was kind, unambitious and clean.  What more could a wife want from her husband’s mistress?

how do you solve a problem like maria (theresa)?

maria, maria, maria!

It is no secret that we monarchs do not marry for love, and the Habsburgs are certainly no exception.  Oh, sure, Franz Joseph and I had our pre-wedding crush on one another (as you know, I was a teenager, and fell in love with the idea of love, as teenagers do), but that soon faded, became stained, and crumbled to dust.

Do I sound bitter?  No, I’m really not.  I’ve made peace with my lot, as Franz has with his.  Though the Emperor continued to idolize the notion of me, a few years into marriage off he went, like they all do, to find his greener pastures.

But I’m not here (for once) to belabor my own raw deal.  Instead, I bring to you the legend that all Viennese children are taught to venerate.  The one pure Austrian love story.  No, it’s not Maria and Captain von Trapp, but you’re on the right track.

The union of Maria Theresa and Franz Stephan is thought to be the only dynastic Habsburg union where love thrived.  Their profound fondness for each other blossomed with each of the sixteen babies they made (including, let’s not forget, the tragically disgraced Marie Antoinette).  Can you imagine giving birth sixteen times and not going into Pavlovian paralysis at the sight of a frisky mate? I gave birth only a quarter as many times and the door was closed for good after the last one.

Maria Theresa is venerated as the ideal mother, a fertility icon, if you will.  Her patience and good-heartedness are legendary, and she was tested quite a bit.  Though Franz Stephan loved his wife, that didn’t stop him from taking multiple mistresses, but MT took it in stride.  She had a feverish, sanctimonious, pious view on the role of a woman:

Women’s duty is resignation before God and one’s fellow human beings. The world does not dispense us from this duty. Women are always in the wrong, however their husbands may behave.

Enabling. Isn’t that what it’s called in today’s parlance?  Resignation before God? Really? How freeing to embrace this mindset!  How much easier one’s life would be if one could simply swallow the vomit and be done with it.  And: “women are always in the wrong” stated completely without irony?  Oh, dear, dear, Maria Theresa, how hard you made it for those who had to follow in your footsteps along the varnished and cold surfaces of Schönbrunn!

When it comes to bad behavior by husbands, I much prefer the reaction of the modern woman. But, alas, I lived over a century ago, before the invention of the 9-iron.  Or even an automobile, for that matter!

my thoughts on the duchess’s skiing ban

I am perturbed to hear that Sarah Ferguson has put the kybosh on her girls’ annual skiing holiday lest they get bumped or bruised before the upcoming nuptials of their cousin, William.

it's just another wedding, after all!

Friends, this strikes a deep cord and opens many wounds for yours truly.  I can’t tell you the number of fun activities I had to forgo for this or that silly reason.  Having to wield a parasol every time the sun broke through the Vienna cloud so freckles wouldn’t overtake.  Banning me from my daily exercise routine during my monthlies.  And don’t even get me started on the restrictions to horseback riding!

I am surprised that in this day and age the elder generation is still so nervous about potential calamity.  What’s the worst that could happen?  Bea in a cast as she ambles into the church?  Or Eugenie with a sunburn? No, if I was their mum, I’d insist as business as usual.  Those girls could use a little fresh air and exercise! Some red into their pale British cheeks! I say, put them back on the pistes and let the skis fall where they may.

But then, that’s what always gets me into trouble.

a paint by produce portrait

court painter arcimboldo's view of the archduke

The Emperor had four portraits of me painted before he gave the nod.  Four!  Which meant I had to sit on a perch, all day long, on four different occasions whilst the artists squinted, rubbed and stroked their way to failure.

But, in the artists’ defense: it’s hard to please the monarchy and the subject, both.  A good portrait must flatter, accentuate, capture a mood, and, well, tell a story.

Before our wedding, the story the Emperor wanted to tell of me is that I was nymphlike, graceful, supple and kind.  O, and spunky as well! He wanted a picture of me that aligned with his deepest fantasy.  A bare shoulder, but not so bare that the portrait would cause arousal of the entire Court.  My flushed cheeks should hint that I’d just come in from a long, brisk walk–reminiscent of the first time we met, when he dumped my sister and asked for my hand in marriage.

On these details three attempts failed.

In one I am too wan. In the second, my hair is not lively enough.  The third made me look fat.  Time ticked on.  At last, the fourth portrait was accepted!

Really, I long for the days of my ancestors, when Arcimboldo’s veggie tales were in vogue.  Arcimboldo got away with turning popes and kings into fanciful platters of produce: actual peaches for cheeks!  Hair sprouting grapes and corn!  Had he been alive during my Habsburg reign, I should have loved to witness my life as a collection of nightshade fruits and wholesome grain.