The Weekly Machen

This week, we continue with another review of a royal life by Arthur Machen, but we shift to the Continent. The adventures of Archduchess Louise of Austria (1870-1947) prove scandalous to the point of absurdity. Affairs, illegitimacy and a dodgy divorce are some of the seedy tropes which fill her tale, but perhaps, it is her dramatic escape from Saxony after the suggestion of lifelong accommodations in a madhouse that is most intriguing. However, after reading her memoirs, our correspondent remains skeptical with a hint of unsympathetic indifference.


The Apologia of a Princess:
The Life Story of an Unhappy Royal Lady
by
Arthur Machen
September 14, 1911

220px-Luise,_Erzherzogin_von_Österreich-ToskanaIt is feared that a good many persons who have been looking forward with avid curiosity to the publication of the Princess Louisa’s memoirs will find themselves considerably disappointed.

All Europe, it would seem, has its years pricked up, anxious to listen to the most indiscreet revelations, to be gratified by chatter about the coulisses of royalty from one who has moved there all her life, to pry into the skeleton cupboards of kings and princes and reigning dukes. In Italy, they say, there has been a bigger demand in advance for this volume than for any book published there during living memory.

Well, it seems to me that, as I say, these eager appetites will be disappointed. “My Own Story” is indiscreet enough, but I doubt whether its indiscretions are of that particular kind that was expected.

The ex-Crown Princess was born at the Castle of Salzburg in 1870. Her father was Ferdinand IV., Grand Duke of Tuscany—the family was exiled from Florence in 1850—and her mother was a Bourbon. There is, therefore, exile in the blood of the Princess Louisa both on the father’s side and on the mother’s, and as if exile were an inherited tendency she herself fled from her husband, the Crown Prince of Saxony, and from the kingdom that awaited her. The author says that she fled in self-defence, that if she had not chosen the way of a voluntary flight her enemies had ready for her the horrible exile of a madhouse. As to that, I say with Sancho, “I come from my vineyard; I know nothing.” But I see that even as her book is appearing the ex-Princess has fled from her second husband Signor Toselli, a Florentine pianist, whom she married after a somewhat irregular decree of divorce had been pronounced against her by a sort of Saxon High Court.

The Castle of Salzburg, says the lady, “was duller than a week of English Sundays.” There was no light literature, no visits to picture exhibitions, rare evenings at the theatre, and too many prayer-books and rosaries.

A visit to the old great-grandfather pleased the child. The old man, Duke Charles of Parma and Lucca, had been a sad dog in his day.

I looked at him and said decidedly, “You must have been very handsome, great-grandfather?” “Yes, yes,” he replied, “and I enjoyed life, and doubtless you will enjoy it, too, little one.” “I hope,” said mamma, coldly, speaking for the first time, that Louise will not follow in your footsteps, grandfather.”

The Marriage

In 1891 Louisa’s parents considered the question of her marriage. Her father pressed the claims of Prince Ferdinand of Bulgaria, her favoured Prince Frederick August of Saxony. Prince Ferdinand struck the young Archduchess as “a fine comic opera king.” … He looks as though he ought to be on “the stage, singing about himself and wooing a stage princess in the approved manner.” So her choice fell on the prince who is today King of Saxony; and the unhappy pair were married with great splendour and with the Emperor of Austria’s blessing at the Imperial Chapel of the Hofburg in November, 1891.

It is impossible, of course, to form a judgement on the story that follows. The Princess’s tale is none too clear; she talks of enemies in high places, of spies, of malignant and concocted scandals, of curtains moving gently in her apartment, of shadowy forms slinking away from her boudoir door. It seems clear that the Tuscan princess was “free and easy,” and the Court of Dresden was the reverse of free and easy. The reigning family, according to the author, is dévote: she, as we have seen, does not like many rosaries in a house.

Some of the Stories

The stories in the book are numerous and good, though they are more of the episodical than the anecdotal order. There is the little picture of the interview between Prince Ferdinand’s mother, Princess Clementine (who used an ear-trumpet and was christened “Aunt Coffee Mill”) and Princess Louisa’s father.

They commenced what I can only describe as shrieking duet. Papa shouted his hopes and plans about me into the ear-trumpet, and Aunt Clementine shrieked aloud her matrimonial designs for Ferdinand, and in this amusing way I heard their best laid schemes.

Of her father-in-law, Prince George, the Princess has an intense dislike. When Albert died Prince George succeeded him. Here is an account of the first family gathering after the death:—

My father-in-law simply revelled in his new dignity and kept on ringing the bell furiously, solely for the pleasure of hearing the fawning flunkeys address him as “Your Majesty”; it was life to him, and he seemed to me positively indecent in his unrestrained joy. During an interval of taking coffee, he turned to us and said, coarsely: “Well, goodness knows I’ve waited long enough to become king, in fact I was tired of waiting.”

Contrasting with so much that is unpleasant is the story of the workman who found the Princess carrying a pretty baby. He was the father.

“You had better know at once that this child belongs to a despised Socialist who hates all ‘Royalties,’ and wishes them at the devil,” said the man, rudely and defiantly.

I looked at him, then I said, quietly, “Whether this child belongs to a Socialist or not is all one to me; I only see a sweet baby.”

The man burst into tears.

“Pardon me, Royal Highness,” he stammered. “Now I understand why you are called ‘Our Louisa.’”

The book is the distressing story of a life that for one cause or another has certainly not been a success.

[“My Own Story.” By Louisa of Tuscany, Ex-Crown Princess of Saxony. Eveleigh Nash. 10s. 6d. Net. Published to-day.]


The Weekly

Previous: The Real King Edward

Next: The “Language” of the Dance


Introduction and supplementary material – Copyright 2022 by Christopher Tompkins. All rights reserved.

4 thoughts on “The Apologia of a Princess

  1. This doesn’t seem like the sort of book Machen would read and review. It’s interesting, though, that Eveleigh Nash was the publisher. EN published books by Algernon Blackwood, Rider Haggard, and William Hope Hodgson, each of them outstanding in the realm of strange fiction. Did Machen tell his employer that he would likely be happy to review books from EN? I would have to check to see what books by these authors had already been published by EN in time for the imprint to have made an impression on Machen and thus — possibly — to prompt him to request EN’s books for review. Probably the notion I’ve floated here is not correct.

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    1. You’re right… it doesn’t seem like the type of book Machen would have chosen to read for pleasure. He did read and review other authors from Nash, including Blackwood. I feel it is likely that he was assigned to review this particular item because it was an highly-anticipated book that would interest the public. It may have seemed to his editor that Machen, an accomplished and experienced literary critic, would be the obvious staff choice.

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  2. Hmm… Stevenson’s The New Arabian Nights appeared during her childhood, Hope’s Prisoner of Zenda a couple years after her marriage… I keep meaning to read more about late 19th/turn-of-the-century Austria: maybe I should at least browse this to that end – the chapter summaries have much that tantalizes (as, in X, “The German Emperor – His power in Saxony – The invasion of England” – !). What a lot was to start six weeks short of three years after this review, with what consequences for the dukedoms, kingdoms, and empires described. And how brief her English, Dutch, French, and German Wikipedia articles are about her “Later life” (until 1947, after surviving World War II) – and what a lot of tantalizing glimpses of the lives of her children (links awaiting clicking, for me, here!). And various of her second husband’s Wikipedia articles have intriguing details: he apparently wrote an opera in 1913 entitled ‘La principessa bizzarra’, having published his memoir of their marriage in 1912…

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    1. It is truly a bizarre and fascinating story. Thanks for adding those historical and literary details. Much to ponder…

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