Wednesday, March 22, 2023

All dressed up: Archduchess Isabella

Marlene A Eilers Koenig collection

Archduchess Isabella was the seventh of nine children (eight girls and one boy) of  Archduke Friedrich, Duke of Teschen, and Princess Isabella of Croy.   She was born at Pressburg on November 17, 1888.

In 1911, Isabella became engaged to Prince Georg of Bavaria,  As Isabella was a daughter of "the enormously rich" Archduke Friedrich, she would bring a handsome dowry to the marriage.

The Marquise de Fontenoy described Isabella as  one of the six "nice, but rather homely daughters of Archduke Friedrich.  (Two daughters, Natalie and Stephanie, died in childhood.) 

Isabella's mother was determined to find the best husbands for her children.  The eldest daughter, Maria Christina, was "destined by her parents" to marry Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir presumptive to the throne.  But he fell in love with Countess Sophie Choteck, one of Archduchess Isabella's ladies-in-waiting.   Thus, Marie Christine's parents had to find another husband for their eldest daughter.   In 1902, she married Emanuel Prince zu Salm-Salm, who was killed in action in 1916. The second daughter, Maria Anna, scored in the marital stakes, when she married in 1903 to Prince Elias of Bourbon-Parma, heir to the Parma dukedom.  His sister, Zita, married Archduke Karl of Austria, who in 1916 succeeded Franz Joseph as Emperor.    Maria Henrietta was married to Prince Gottfried of Hohenlohe-Waldenburg-Schillingsfürst in 1908. 

Although Georg was not particularly well off for a prince, he was well-connected.  His mother, Archduchess Gisela of Austria, was Franz Joseph's eldest daughter, and he was a "favorite companion" of his grandfather, especially on shooting expeditions.    Georg had his own "suite of apartments" at Schönbrunn, and at the emperor's chateau in Styria, where "the most chamois-stalking expeditions are undertaken."  He was previously engaged to Archduchess Germana of Austria, but the engagement was broken off at the emperor's insistence due to not wanting his "favorite grandson to marry into a family as eccentric" as the Tuscany branch of the Habsburg family.

Franz Joseph was more approving of Georg's marriage to the young Archduchess Isabella.  The day before her marriage, Isabella, 24, in the presence "of the entire court of Vienna," renounced her rights to the thrones of Austria and Hungary.    The act of renunciations was sworn on one of Gospels, "before a crucifix in the presence of the emperor," members of the Imperial family, and the "greatest dignitaries of the two realms."  Every archduchess, when she weds, "no matter whether her fiancé is a foreign prince or an Austrian archduke: is required to renounce her rights to the throne.  

Thus, the archduchesses had to "share the rank of their husbands and subordinate any rights of precedence which they have by birth to those lesser ones which become theirs by marriage."

The couple was wed on February 10, 1912, in the presence of the emperor and other members of the Imperial family, at Schloss Schönbrunn.   

Isabella may have had second thoughts about marrying Prince Georg.  The night before the wedding, a fire broke out in her family's home, destroying her wedding gown and trousseau.  Isabella may have set fire to herself to postpone or even cancel the wedding.  

 "The bride, rebellious and tearful, showed in every action that she hated her husband," reported the Washington Post.

After spending their honeymoon in Wales, Paris, and Algiers, the newlyweds moved into a home in Munich.  Three days later, Isabella fled the marital home and returned to her father's palace. 

Both families attempted to arrange a reconciliation, but Isabella would not return to her husband, a pugilist, who was described by the Marquise de Fontenoy as "extremely irascible, violent," and "rather brutal".

On November 4, 1912, Archduchess Isabella filed a petition to annul her marriage.  The marriage was dissolved on January 17, 1914, by a special session of Bavaria's Supreme Court.

The marriage was dissolved on the grounds of "incompatibility based upon fundamental differences of character."   On March 5, 1913, the Vatican announced the marriage on the grounds of non-consummation.

In late 1913, Isabella trained as a nurse, taking a six-month course at the Red Cross's school in Vienna.  She wore the "dark uniform of a nurse," carrying out "all the tasks connected with her profession."    She did not use her imperial titles, preferring to be known as Sister Hildegard.   She returned to live at her father's "beautiful palace" in Vienna and hoped to travel to the north coast of Spain to train at a military hospital there.  Her aunt, Maria Cristina, was the mother of Alfonso XIII.  

In January 1914, she wrote to Queen Maria Cristina, seeking her assistance in getting to North Africa for further training.  She was also learning Spanish.

In November 1915, the New York Times reported that Isabella was engaged to marry a commoner, Paul Albrecht, a Vienna doctor.   The Times article was based on a dispatch in a German newspaper, Lokalanzeiger.  Franz Josef would not approve of the marriage and forced Isabella to break up with the doctor.  She never remarried.

As a nurse, she used her own personal wealth to buy medical supplies, and she established her own group of nurses.  

Archduchess Isabella died in La-Tour-de-Peilz, Switzerland, on December 6, 1973 Prince Georg, a champion boxer, served with the German military during the First World War.   In 1919, he resigned from his commission to enter a seminary.  He was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in 1921.  He lived in Rome for the final years of his life, and he died on May 31, 1943.

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