Hey kids, the bewitching hour encroaches like a linesman in a 3-point stance. Seems appropriate for a tale of black magic that extinguished 3 European empires. A curse that that freaked out the blue bloods of Europe to the point it affected the marriageability of anyone of Hapsburg blood. Let us away to the Second Mexican Empire, an ill-fated project from the start, especially after the United States refused to recognize legitimacy under the Monroe Doctrine. Born an Archduke of Austria and rather a simpleton, Emperor Maximilian of Mexico refused to abandon his people. Yup, the same people who were closing in on him with the armies of Benito Juarez.
By 1865, his wife Charlotte of Belgium [aka Empress Carlota of Mexico] had already returned to Europe begging family and friends to save her husband from impending doom. Charlotte’s pleas were callously ignored thus the only daughter of Leopold I of Belgium and legendary beauty suffered an emotional collapse. [That’s 19th Century medical terminology right there, kids. At least they didn’t call it ‘the vapors.’]
On June 19, Maximilian of Mexico was killed by firing squad, politely not in the face so his funeral could have an open casket. [Does the courtesy put anyone else in a “Goodfellas” state-of-mind?] In what your Blog Hostess can only assume was irony, the firing squad shouted, “iViva el Emperador!” when the emperor hit the ground lifeless. Just like Rodney Dangerfield used to say…
That very day, engulfed in despair and dementia, Charlotte dredged up the most malevolent of demons, invoking the black arts to destroy the three people she deemed most responsible for her husband’s death: Empress Eugénie of France, Pope Pius IX and Emperor Franz Josef of Austria. [Yes, it’s those people below. You guys are so perceptive!]
The curse was not only specific to this terrible triad but to all of their descendants. Let’s imagine the modern-day anachronistic reenactment, shall we? Cue Charlotte, “A pox on ALL yo’ damn houses!” For those who scoff superstition, hexes, poxes on all yo’ damn houses and that movie “The Craft,” brace yourselves to explain a ton of coincidence. Okay, you can scoff the Craft ‘cause that movie was aw-ful. And did you hear they’re remaking it? *shudder* Guess that’s the most bone-chilling part of this post.
(Left: Charlotte now Carlota after being crowned Empress of Mexico but before she went crackers and damned most of Europe.)
Pope Pius IX
Pope Pius IX landed on Charlotte’s hit list for not supporting her pleas to the rest of Europe for help. Both her family and the Hapsburgs had always been good Catholics and this Vatican cold shoulder was a particular affront. As a result of the curse, Pius IX was the last pope to rule as the Sovereign of the Papal States. The Italian army finally defeated the papal defenses in 1870 and incorporated the Papal States into the Kingdom of Italy. Pope Pius IX was stripped of his vestiges and lived out his days “as a prisoner of the Vatican.” On the upside, he had no descendants to inherit the curse. Ahem! Unlike some other popes, ahem ahem. Uh, sorry popes, the electric heat is very drying. AHEM! Not supposed to do that popes…
Empress Eugénie of France
Empress Eugénie, Napoleon IIIs wife and original owner of the Alba Diamond & Pearl Tiara was blamed for listening tothe U.S. and withdrawing the French troops who had been Maximilian’s protection. [The Empress, not Napoleon III, is generally blamed for the Mess in Mexico. Yeah, we can’t figure it out either.]
Napoleon III’s empire had been experiencing a steady decline but by 1870 it was a full-blown landslide. Eugénie was left as regent in Paris while Napoleon went with his armies to fight the Franco-Prussian war. Upon learning Eugénie was in charge, several major heads of state resigned and the Empress found her own replacements. Feeling elderly and useless abroad, Napoleon wrote that he intended to return to Paris, leaving his army in more capable hands. Eugenie replied, “Don’t think of coming back, unless you want to unleash a terrible revolution. They will say you quit the army to flee the danger.” Thank to this bitchy reply, her husband was present when the French army surrendered to the Prussians at the Battle of Sedan. It was her fault that Napoleon was captured and held prisoner in a castle at Wihelmshöhe from September 1870 to March 1871. The imperial couple were officially deposed as of September 3rd and the ex-empress escaped to England with the help of her American dentist. [Insert molar joke here.] Napoleon, already sickly after years of battle and imprisonment, died in 1873 leaving only one heir, their son, Napoléon Eugène, Prince Imperial. As the pretender to the throne of France, he inherited the title Emperor of the French and as well as Charlotte’s curse. A trained soldier and wishing to see some action, the Napoleon IV was killed in 1879 while serving with the British Army in the Anglo-Zulu war in present-day South Africa.
Napoleon IVs half-assed soldiering put an end to any hopes of a Bonaparte dynastic return. If he had simply called himself Napoleon Bonaparte IV, expatriate-at-large, might the pox have skipped him? Oddly enough, the widowed Eugenie had her hand in a bunch of other ‘coincidences’ that played out poorly…maybe we’ll save that for part two. Then again, by the time you’re done reading what happened to Franz Josef, you’ll wish that was part II.
Emperor Franz Josef of Austria
Charlotte blamed Franz Joseph for not sending Austrian troops to replace the redacted French ones. Maximilian was his younger brother after all and maybe that’s why the heaviest doom fell upon the Austrian Emperor, his family and his descendants. It did lead to Charlotte’s curse to be known in the 19th Century as the Hapsburg Curse.
February 2, 1911 Franz Josef’s cousin Johann was officially declared dead, in absentia, after being lost at sea. Johann was a member of the Tuscan branch of the House of Hapsburg-Lorraine, thus making him an Austrian Archduke and Prince of Hungary, Tuscany and Bohemia. He renounced his laundry-list of titles and set off to sail around South America with his commoner wife, Ludmilla Stubel, whose occupation was formally labelled ‘opera dancer.’ God, that’s worse than a back-up dancer…it’s like ‘human mannequin.’ Shortly after they wed, now-Johann Orth purchased a ship and set sail from Montevideo, Uruguay, supposedly headed for Valparaíso, Chile. The couple’s ship, the Santa Margareta, was last seen on July 12 in Cabo Tres Puntas, Argentina. The ship is thought to have sank in a storm off of Cape Horn, near the perilous Tierra del Fuego.
May 4, 1869: His favorite sister-in-law Sofie-Charlotte of Bavaria, the Duchess of Alencon was burned to death at the Bazar de la Charité in Paris. The Duchess refused to be rescued first stating, “I was the first to enter, I shall be the last to leave.” Her husband the duke, Prince Ferdinand of Orélans died of a broken heart only a few hours later. (Other sources show that “a few hours later” was in 1910. Internet vs. Books!)
January 30,1889: Franz Josef’s only son Crown Prince Rudolph and his mistress the Baroness Mary Vetsera took each other’s lives in the famous murder-suicide pact at Mayerling Hunting Lodge. This took place days after the Emperor chewed Rudolph out over the affair, demanding the Crown Prince return to his wife. For years, Franz Josef & his wife Sissi attempted to cover it up, calling it everything from a heart attack to a straight-up assassination.
September 10, 1898: Franz Josef’s wife, Sissi of Bavaria was assassinated. The Empress was stabbed to death while boarding a steamship on Lake Geneva headed for Montreux. The assassin, an Italian ancharchist Luigi Lucheni, killed her because his original target the Duke of Orléans, yet another pretender to the French throne had left town on an earlier ship. Literally having missed the boat, Lucheni picked up a local gossip rag that revealed, “an elegant woman traveling under the pseudonym of ‘Countess of Hohenembs’ was the Empress Elisabeth of Austria.” Lucheni was an assassin who hated down-time, so his literacy and love of royal gossip worked out splendidly. He later avered, “I came to Geneva to kill a sovereign…it did not matter to me who the sovereign was…it was not a woman that I struck…it was a crown.” Finally, an equal rights murderer! Is he mentioned in the women’s suffrage movement?
June 28, 1914: This date should ring a bell. If it doesn’t, especially considering the above photo, your Blog Hostess can only slowly shake her head and threaten to call your 8th grade history teacher. The most far-reaching example of the curse was anguish not only reserved for the Hapsburgs. This family tragedy sparked the first World War, killing 8.5 million people, and ended with the dismantling of Franz Josef’s mighty Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Emperor’s nephew and–since the Mayerling Incident–his heir, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, were assassinated in Sarajevo. Like the assassination of his wife, there were a few twists of fate that almost indicate the invisible hand of commination. At ten in the morning the first attempt failed. A grenade was thrown at Ferdinand and Sophie’s car but it bounced off the folded down convertible cover and detonated underneath the following car instead. After that failure Gavrilo Princip, another of the six assassins on the job, decided to station himself near a deli along the route from the Town Hall to the National Museum, the couple’s next stop. Even plotting anarchists enjoy some good deli, duh!
After such a hectic morning, one would have thought it prudent to remain indoors or at the very least, put the top up on the convertible. Arriving safely at Town Hall, it was suggested the Archduke’s party stay put until troops could be brought to secure the city streets. This suggestion was vetoed by Governor-General Oskar Potiorek citing–now your Blog Hostess’ all-time favorite dumb-ass excuse–that the soldiers had just come from battle and would not be dressed in the formal uniforms appropriate for a royal motorcade. Potiorek concluded with indignant, erroneous snark, “Do you really think Sarajevo is full of assassins?” [Can’t you just hear him saying that? What a douche! Thanks for the Great War, butt-wipe!] The original plan for the day was scrapped, Ferdinand and Sophie opted to visit those wounded in the explosion at the hospital. The driver followed the day’s original itinerary to the National Museum. While preparing to pull a U-turn the car came to a halt in front of the deli. The loitering Princip fired twice, hitting Franz Ferdinand in the jugular vein and Sophie in the abdomen. At his sentencing, Princip stated he was attempting to shoot snarky-bad-excuse-font Governor Potiorek instead of the Duchess Sophie. I can just hear the equal-rights tirade from Luigi Lucheni…it’s a crown not a woman dammit!
So I guess Charlotte knew what she was doing when she drew down the demons that day…