dowager, hofburg style

Back in the day, when I was the poor relation offered in marriage to the most powerful man in the world, like Lady Mary, I was often at the mercy of dowagers. In Lady Mary’s case, the quippy ladies (made delightfully acid-tongued by that genius, Mr. Fellowes), have the eldest Crowley daughter’s best interests at heart because she is, after all, their granddaughter.

photo from carnival film & television

photo from carnival film & television

Alas, would that that were true for yours truly.

The dowager in my life, my mother-in-law, was also my aunt–having been the Wittelsbach daughter who married most spectacularly. Archduchess Sophie was often referred to as, “the only man in the Hofburg.” Like the irrepressible Countess of Grantham, the Archduchess was ever-busy in the background at Court, pulling strings and making up for the passivity and laziness of the men who sat in power.

As a true model of strength, however, Sophie was a tad undercooked. Though she brokered deals and snapped the reins during the revolution of 1848, once she managed to finagle her darling and favorite son, Franzl, up on the throne, she threw all of her energies into the hand-wringing meddling of any overzealous mum, and set out to make  a reasonable marital match for him.

one big happy family 1861

one big happy family 1861

Ah, she had such hopes that my woefully placid elder sister, Helene, would be the niece slash daughter-in-law of her dreams. Alas, her Franzl found Helene petulant and mild, and instead, set his sights on the fifteen-year-old brat kid-sister. Me.

I have often wondered, lo these three seasons of Downton, if our story were a series, who would play the Archduchess? Do we even have a Bavarian Maggie Smith? An über Frau with a big stick?

I relish the thought of such scenes as Sophie snapping my babies off my breast and installing them instead to a nursery in the center of her apartments at the Hof. Or standing at the end of the bed I shared with her son on our wedding night schimpfing about my duties as an heir-producer. Or presiding over the insufferable 13-course Sovereign Court Table when her dear Franzl was off on state business. Or banning my animals–the monkey, the hunting dogs–from the Imperial apartments.

Perhaps, once Downton runs its course, the world will be open to exploring the juicy lives of the Habsburgs. What do you think?

the mothers-in-law

With all the buzz about the new TV program Monster-in-Laws, it seems that less-than-charming mothers-in-law are once again in the public eye. I am quite sure that if I were alive today I would be glued to that particular reality television show, nodding in agreement when the Relationship Expert intervenes, wagging her finger at a meddlesome crone, and letting her have it.

It’s no secret that my own mother-in-law, the Archduchess Sophie, was a difficult woman. She disapproved of my exercising, my love of animals, my need for the occasional rest cure, and, of course, she was most affronted by her son’s complete obsession with me.

My monster-in-law in younger days

Never mind that she took complete possession of my children from the moment of their births–installing their very cradles in her apartments. Indeed, she turned my little ones against me, caused friction between the Emperor and myself, which all but drove him into the beds of countless tarts, thereby causing the eventual venereal diseases that necessitated the aforementioned rest cures.

But, having a son myself, I suppose I understand a mother’s love. Sometimes a woman forgets her boy is no longer a babe in short pants who needs to be reminded to wash his hands before supper. I certainly made mistakes with my own Rudolf, and if you asked that mousy woman who married him, she probably would not admit to collecting any Sisi Souvenirs.