Archduchess Elisabeth Marie of Austria

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For other people named Elisabeth of Austria, see Elisabeth of Austria (disambiguation).
Archduchess Elisabeth Marie
Elisabeth Marie.jpg
Spouse Prince Otto Weriand of Windisch-Grätz
Leopold Petznek
Issue Prince Franz Joseph of Windisch-Grätz
Prince Ernest of Windisch-Grätz
Prince Rudolph of Windisch-Grätz
Princess Stéphanie of Windisch-Grätz
Father Rudolf, Crown Prince of Austria
Mother Princess Stéphanie of Belgium
Born (1883-09-02)2 September 1883
Laxenburg, Austria-Hungary
Died 16 March 1963(1963-03-16) (aged 79)
Vienna, Austria
Burial Hütteldorfer Friedhof

Archduchess Elisabeth Maria Henriette Stephanie Gisela of Austria (2 September 1883, Laxenburg – 16 March 1963, Vienna) was the only child of Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria and Princess Stéphanie of Belgium. She was known to the family as "Erzsi", a diminutive of her name in Hungarian. Later nicknamed "The Red Archduchess", she was famous for becoming a socialist and a member of the Austrian Social Democratic Party.

Early life[edit]

Elisabeth was born at Schloss Laxenburg on 2 September 1883, to Rudolf and Stéphanie, daughter of King Leopold II of Belgium. The only child of his only (deceased) son, Erzsi was the favorite granddaughter of her paternal grandfather, Emperor Franz Josef of Austria.

In 1889, when Erzsi was a little over five years old, her father and Baroness Mary Vetsera, his mistress, were found dead in what was assumed to be a murder-suicide pact at the Imperial hunting lodge at Mayerling. Her father's death interrupted the dynastic succession within the Austrian imperial family of Habsburg-Lorraine, fractured her grandparents' already tenuous marriage, and was a catalyst in Austria-Hungary's destabilization which culminated in the First World War and the subsequent loss of the Habsburg Empire.

After Rudolf's death, Franz Josef took over guardianship of Erzsi; by his order, she was forbidden to leave Austria with her mother.[1] At a young age she displayed a strong personality, as well as an opposition to the Viennese court.

Her grandmother, the capricious Empress Elisabeth, did not enjoy being identified as a grandmother and was therefore not close to any of her grandchildren. However, after her assassination in 1898, her will specified that outside a large bequest of the sale of her jewels to benefit charities and religious orders, all of her personal property was bequeathed to Erszi, her namesake and, of course, Rudolf's only child. The Empress was open in her dislike of her daughter-in-law prior to the scandal, and after Mayerling blamed Stéphanie's jealous behavior for her son's unhappiness and suicide. Rudolf's wife, the Crown Princess Stéphanie, mother of the young Archduchess Elisabeth, was entirely dependent on the Emperor's charity. Following Rudolf's death, the resulting lack of Imperial support towards Stephanie impacted Elisabeth's relationship with her mother negatively; the parent and child were never close.[2]

In 1900 Stéphanie renounced her title of Crown Princess to marry the younger – and Protestant – Hungarian Count Elemer Lonyay. Although Franz Josef provided her with a dowry and Lonyay eventually converted,[3] Elisabeth broke off all contact with her mother as she disapproved of the marriage, feeling it a betrayal of her father's memory. Later, following her marriage, Stéphanie retaliated by disinheriting her only child, Elisabeth, in 1934.[4]

First marriage[edit]

The Belgian royal court considered Elisabeth as a possible bride for Prince Albert, heir-presumptive to the throne of Belgium; but King Leopold II violently disapproved of Erzsi's mother's recent Morganatic marriage to Count Lonyay, and he refused to give Albert his permission. Albert's sister Henriette was horrified at her brother's choice, feeling Elisabeth's background was too unstable for the marriage to be a success.

That same year, Elisabeth met Prince Otto Weriand von Windisch-Grätz (1873–1952) at a court ball. Ten years her senior, he was far below her in rank. Nonetheless she importuned Franz Josef to be allowed to marry him; he agreed. By many accounts it was Elisabeth alone who wanted the marriage; Otto was already engaged to another woman and was dumbfounded when the Emperor informed him of his new engagement. Ordered by the Emperor to break his "lesser" engagement to marry his granddaughter, he complied.[5]

Elisabeth Marie and Prince Otto von Windisch-Grätz

In order to avoid future succession issues, the Emperor made the marriage conditional on Elisabeth's renouncing her right to succession, although he allowed her to keep her personal title and provided her with a generous dowry. Although the Habsburgs did not regard Otto's Mediatized House as their equal, unless the marriage was morganatic, his family would have grounds for pressing Elisabeth to become empress should the succession become interrupted again.[6]

The couple married at the Hofburg on 23 January 1902. They had 3 sons: Prince Franz Joseph (1904–1981), Prince Ernst (1905–1952) and Prince Rudolph (1907–1939). Their last child, a daughter, Princess Stephanie of Windisch-Graetz (1909–2005), was born at Ploschkowitz.

The marriage, however, was troubled, and led to unwelcome reminders for the Emperor of his son's death, and possible further scandal for the family:

"His granddaughter has lately married the Prince Windischgratz; she was the only daughter of the late Crown Prince Rudolph. The marriage was a love match, but when they had been married only about one year they quarrelled on account of an actress at Prague, who was fired at by the Princess. The actress has since died of the wound. The Emperor, in consequence of this event, did not attend the baptism of the son of the Archduchess Princess Windischgratz. The whole affair caused a painful sensation at the Court in Vienna, though it has been hushed up as most events of the kind are."[7]

"The Red Archduchess"[edit]

Both Erzsi and Otto were open in having mutual affairs, most notably Elisabeth's liaison with Egon Lerch, an Austrian submarine captain during World War I.

Only after the death of Franz Joseph in 1916 and the end of the monarchy in 1918 did the couple officially separate. In 1921 Elisabeth joined the Social Democratic Party and met Leopold Petznek from Bruck an der Leitha, then president of the audit office, at one of the election meetings. A teacher and a committed Social Democratic politician who became president of the Lower Austrian Landtag [state parliament] after the war, Petznek came from a modest background, but was highly cultivated. He was also married; his wife, with whom he had a son, was institutionalized at a psychiatric hospital in Mauer-Ohling, where she died on 9 June 1935.

The lengthy legal process dragged on and it was not until March 1924 that Elisabeth was able to obtain a judicial separation. A sensational custody battle for their four children ensued. Originally the court granted Elisabeth custody of the two elder sons, while their younger son and daughter were to live with Otto. She is supposed to have prevented this either by presenting Otto with a house full of armed Socialists when he came to remove them, or else by threatening him with suicide should she have to give them up. In any event, Elisabeth ultimately retained custody of all four children. Elisabeth doted on her children when they were small, but her relationship with them deteriorated as they grew older. Rudolf, in accordance with her socialist politics, was reportedly taken out of school and put to work in a factory. Elisabeth and her daughter Stephanie did not have a good relationship; she reportedly stated that she married her first husband based on the fact that her mother did not like him.

Elisabeth moved to the Hütteldorf district of Vienna and bought a villa in 1929, where she lived with Petznek for the next twenty years. She was at his side at Social Democratic marches and meetings, where she was accepted and accorded great respect. Leopold, however, due to his "haughty" character, was not welcome in aristocratic circles. In 1934 her husband and son made a legal motion to place her under a conservatorship on the grounds that she had squandered profits from the sale of the couple's property in numerous donations, made in order to join the Social Democrats. The motion was later dropped. Although divorce became legal in 1938, when Austria became part of Germany and adopted German law after the Anschluss, Elisabeth was not able to divorce her husband until after the end of the war.

Second marriage[edit]

In late 1933 Petzneck was arrested and jailed by the Austrian government until July 1934. In 1944, he was arrested by the Nazis and sent to Dachau concentration camp, until the camp was liberated by the Americans in March 1945. After the war he became the first President of the Austrian Federal Court of Audit.

Leopold Petznak, police photograph, 1944

As Elisabeth renounced her official title of Archduchess to the House of Habsburg at the time of her first marriage, the new Habsburg-laws did not apply to her; she was allowed to stay in Austria and keep her personal possessions. She formally divorced Prince Otto in early 1948, and on 4 May 1948 she and Leopold married in a registry office in Vienna.

When Vienna was liberated by the Red Army, Elisabeth's villa was commandeered and then ransacked by Soviet soldiers. When Hütteldorf became part of the French occupied zone, the villa was occupied by General Bethouart; Elisabeth and Leopold were not allowed to return until 1955, when the Allied occupation ended. By then both were in bad health: Petznek died in July 1956 from a heart attack. Elisabeth, who was wheelchair-bound much of the time due to gout, bred German Shepherds, but became reclusive until her death in 1963.

Aftermath[edit]

Unmarked grave of Elisabeth Marie and Leopold Petznek: Grave 29, Group 22.

On her deathbed, she ordered her staff to close her villa against her two surviving children and call for a police detail to secure her belongings until the Ministry of Education could remove them. Only her daughter was allowed to see her for a few moments, in the presence of her servants. She had willed some 500 heirlooms, owned by the Habsburg Imperial family, to the Republic of Austria. Over the objections of her first husband, who thought they should go to their children, she wanted all art and books to "be put back in their former places", as she did not believe Imperial property should be sold at auction or come into the possession of foreigners. These pieces are in museums in Vienna today.

She ordered that her dogs be killed on her death, so that (not unlike the heirlooms) they would not have to go to other trainers.

According to her wishes, she was buried in a nameless grave at the Hütteldorfer Friedhof in Vienna with her second husband, close to the house where she spent her last years.

Since 1995 the villa has been in the possession of the international (Buddhist) community Soka Gakkai International.


Honours[edit]

She received the following orders:[8]

Ancestry[edit]

See also[edit]

  • Elisabeth Island (An island in Franz Josef Land, Russia, that was named in her honor).

References[edit]

  1. ^ Moore, George Greville, Society recollections in Paris and Vienna, 1879–1904, D. Appleton and Co., 1908, p. 236
  2. ^ Anonymous, At the Austrian Court: Recollections of a Royal Governess, D. Appleton & Co., 1915, p. 299
  3. ^ Anonymous, At the Austrian Court: Recollections of a Royal Governess, D. Appleton & Co., 1915, p.299
  4. ^ Weissensteiner, Friedrich, Elisabeth, Die rote Erzherzogin Elisabeth, the red Archduchess, Vienna, 1982, p.142
  5. ^ Anonymous, At the Austrian Court: Recollections of a Royal Governess, D. Appleton & Co., 1915, p. 310
  6. ^ Weissensteiner, Friedrich, Elisabeth, Die rote Erzherzogin [Elisabeth, the red Archduchess], Vienna, 1982, p. 142.
  7. ^ Moore, George Greville, Society recollections in Paris and Vienna, 1879–1904, D. Appleton and Co., 1908, p. 232.
  8. ^ Hof- und Staatshandbuch der Österreichisch-Ungarischen Monarchie (1915), Genealogy p. 1