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?

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5 Castle Series: The Hofburg

The Sisi Museum. Quite an homage, if I do say so myself.

Moving right along, let us now dive into the deep end. Dessert before vegetables: The most Imperial of all Habsburg Palaces, The Hof.

Crown jewel of Vienna, The Hofburg was home to six generations of Habsburg royalty, including, by marriage, yours truly. Opulent and oppressive in every way, even naysayers must admit, the place is an impressive collection of all that glitters. Not only does the palace boast the Gothic Royal Chapel, where the sweet voices of the Vienna Boy’s Choir charm visitors seven months a year, but it is home to a collection of national treasures so vast, it would make a dead empress blush.

Okay, forget the fact that the fancy Neue Burg was the chosen spot for Hitler to announce his Anschluss, as palaces go,  it has a pretty impressive entrance.  Ah, but that’s the so-called “new palace.” And it does not hold a platinum candlestick to the Imperial Apartments of the Hof proper. Those fancy rooms, where I spent many a day fanatically exercising and scheming my next exotic rest cure, brim with porcelain, silver, portraits and tapestries. And, of course, this is where one can spend hours in the Sisi Museum, where I’ve been immortalized as a tragic figure.

Lastly,  if you have time, you must scurry over to the Treasury and take in the embarrassingly extensive collection of jewels. If you are a fan of excess, you are in the right place. And, the 8 Euro admission fee is a deal, where else can you see a 500-year-old unicorn horn?!