Maria Krystyna Immaculata Renata Elisabeth Alice Gabriela von Habsburg-Lothringen, Princess of Altenberg, died this morning in Zywiec, Poland. The princess, who was 88 years old, died in her sleep.
The Princess's funeral will be held next week, and she will be interred in the family crypt at Zywiec, according to a Polish government spokesman.
Maria Krystyna was born on December 8, 1923 at Zywiec, the daughter of Archduke Karl Albrecht of Austria and his Swedish wife, Alice Anacrona. The marriage was morganatic, which meant that the couple's children were not entitled the imperial titles of Archduke and Archduchess. Alice and her children were given the title of Princess and Prince of Altenburg with the rank of Highness, in 1949 by Archduke Otto.
The family considered themselves Polish, and were involved in financing scientific and cultural societies and other organizations. The Archduke was an office in the Polish Army. As he did not support the Nazis and refused to become a German, he was imprisoned by them after Germany;s invasion of Poland. The Nazis also took the family's property.
After the war, the family was forced to leave Poland, although they had acquired Polish citizenship. Maria Krystyna lived in Sweden and in Switzerland, but remained a proud Polish national.
In 1993, she was able to obtain a Polish passport. She returned to live in Poland in September 2001, moving into a small apartment in her family's former palace in Zywiec. When she received her passport back after nearly twenty years, the princess said that this act was one of the most important moments in her life. "In this way I am no longer a stray dog who was wandering, but a citizen of the Third Republic."
In January 2011, the princess spoke to a reporter from AFP, who asked her about living in two rooms as a tenant in her family's palace in southern Poland. "Well, isn't that funny? I live here as a tenant in my own palace." She said she is the "happiest of tenants. I'm delighted to be back where I was born, where I spent my childhood,
:When the city asked me to return to the palace, I didn't hesitate for a moment. I sold off my apartment in Switzerland and I'm here. I'm very happy. I'm treated like a queen. A Habsburg, who is completely Polish," she said to the reporter in French.
"My brother lives in Sweden, my sister in Spain, they have their families there and could not come back."
When Poland gained its independent in 1918, Maria Krystyna's grandfather, Archduke Karl Stephan, once mooted as a possible king for Poland, became a Polish citizen.
"I'm not Austrian. My mother tongue is not German, it's Polish," the Princess said.
The princess' parents owned the brewery at Zywiec, which was confiscated by the Communists after the war. In the early 1990s, Archduke Karl Albrecht's descendants sued the Polish government for $77 million as compensation for the nationalisation of the brewery and the use of the Habsburg name in marketing the beer. The case was settled out of court in 2005 for an undisclosed amount, which allowed for the the brewery to continue to use the Habsburg family crest.
The brewery is now owned by Heineken.
A year earlier, the Princess was given a pension of about $340/ £190 a month from the local government. The then mayor of Zywiec said: "The Habsburgs were great patriots. They were persecuted for it by both the Germans and the communists. We wanted this to be a small compensation." Local officials had petitioned the prime minister for the pension.
"After all, it's not every town in Poland that has a Habsburg princess," the mayor said.
Princess Maria Krystyna is survived by her brother, Prince Karl-Stefan, who married his first cousin, Marie-Louise af Petersens, and her younger sister, Princess Renata, who lies in Spain with her husband, Don Eduardo de Zuleta y Dato, and several nieces and nephews.
She was a devout Roman Catholic and a Dame of Honor of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.