The Hapsburg Anastasia, Part 2On March 3, 2021 by Elyse
Welcome! If you haven’t yet read Part 1, please don’t spoil the story for yourself—start there!
When we last left our heroine, Alma Vetsera had failed to break her boyfriend out of an asylum, but at least she’d kicked her first husband to the curb.
Alma made the most out of her newfound freedom—it helped that she wasn’t (yet) living in the midst of a global pandemic. She became a jetsetter before jets were invented, and her name appears on several transatlantic passenger lists in 1913 and 1914. She provided plenty of gossip for her fellow passengers on these long, intercontinental jaunts:
Mrs. Hayne attracted much attention on board the Aquitania. . . She appeared in a new costume almost every day. One of these costumes, a scarlet skirt of knitted silk, with a blouse and jacket of the same material, set off by a French hat trimmed with stiff feathers, and green stockings and shoes, was quite a topic of conversation among the middle-aged women in the garden lounge.– The New York Tribune, June 29, 1914
The ocean liner should’ve advertised gossiping about Alma’s wardrobe as an on-board amenity.
She didn’t know it then, but she had a close call: On February 7, 1914, she arrived at Ellis Island after sailing from Liverpool on. . . drum roll, please. . . the Lusitania, which would be sunk the next year by a German U-boat, killing nearly 1,200 passengers.
Alma had another stroke of luck the next time she and little Rudolph sailed to New York from Liverpool. They arrived on June 5, 1914, only weeks before Archduke Franz Ferdinand (the man, not the band) was assassinated, kicking off the First World War.
Newspapers reported that at the time, Alma:
. . . told several of the passengers aboard the liner that she had decided to renounce her title of Princess Vetsera and that she expected to live in America so that she might educate her son in the way she wishes. “I don’t want to live any more on the other side,” she declared. “There are too many unhappy associations with Europe for me. I am building a home in New York, and I intend to make a home that I can enjoy in the real sense.”– The Polk County Observer, August 4, 1914
That home was purported to be a “luxurious 5th av. apartment in New York.” Royalty or not, she certainly lived like a princess.
However, Alma was singing a different tune a few weeks later. Following the assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire on June 28, 1914, syndicated articles about her and her son appeared in newspapers all over the country.
She may have been one of the world’s first momagers:
“My little Rudolph is the one true Hapsburg in all the world, and yet I will see him dead before I will watch him mount that blood-stained throne of Austria. . . I am so sorry this tragedy has happened. . . It makes little Rudolph just so much more valuable in the eyes of the Hapsburgs. Every assassination brings him nearer to the throne, and I do not want him ever to come within its sight.
“What could there be in a throne for my Rudolph? What has there been in the throne for Francis Joseph, my grandfather. Just unhappiness, and why should I WANT Rudolph to give up his greatest heritage—being an American citizen—simply for the sake of wearing a crown, a crown of thorns as royal crowns always were and always shall be?”– Alma Vetsera, quoted in the Day Book, July 6, 1914
The lady doth protest too much, methinks. And I’m not the only one who thought so:
Out of the confusion that has arisen from the assassination of Francis Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne. . . arises the interesting report that a small boy, now being educated in the United States, will lay claim to the throne of Austria. . .
Mrs. Hayne. . . has persisted that she is the offspring of the morganatic union of Prince Rudolph and Marie Vetsera, and she named her son after the man she claims for her sire. . . [Franz Ferdinand’s] death, Mrs. Hayne now believes, opens the way clearly for the claims of her son, Rudolph, and there is every reason to believe that she intends pushing them.– The Polk County Observer, August 4, 1914
In fact, in a passport application from May 1915, Alma indicated she would travel to England to enroll Rudolph in school there. So much for raising him as an American citizen.
Neither war nor pushing her son towards a blood-stained throne interfered with Alma’s romantic life.
After her divorce from George Hayne, Alma vacationed at a resort in Camden, South Carolina, where she befriended a young woman named Elizabeth Strong. When Elizabeth’s fiancé, Donald Shields Andrews, visited New York City a few months later in April 1915, she wrote to him “Be sure you call on [Alma]. You’ll find her a perfect love.”
Big mistake: “[Donald] found [Alma’s] attraction quite up to Miss Strong’s specifications.” The feeling was mutual. Oh, did I forget to mention that Donald, a 22-year-old senior at Yale University, was also the son of a millionaire coal and steel magnate? Alma evidently had a type.
Just like Justin McDougald before him, Donald became infatuated with Alma. His parents reacted in much the same way as Justin’s had:
Mr. and Mrs. Matthew Andrews. . . authorized [private] detectives to go the limit in preventing the mesalliance. . . They went so far as to capture the student’s clothes and lock him in the room of a New York hotel pending the arrival of his mother. Mrs. Andrews came on from Cleveland, and with one of her boy’s chums as a guardian accompanied him back to college at New Haven.
Alma’s affairs start out like romantic comedies but inevitably turn into nail-biting thrillers.
Mr. and Mrs. Andrews’ efforts were all to no avail:
A few days ago young Andrews eluded the vigilance of his guards. He and the “princess” were married in Mamaroneck [New York].– The West Virginian, May 20, 1915
By some accounts, they had only known each other a week when they tied the knot on April 24, 1915. If she’d been born a century later, she’d have been an ideal contestant for “Married at First Sight.”
Will this relationship turn out any better than Alma’s others? Come back next time to find out if this imposter princess gets her happily ever after in the thrilling conclusion to “The Hapsburg Anastasia!”
For more on this kooky story, as well as a deep dive into what may or may not have happened to Rudolph and Mary at that hunting lodge in Mayerling in 1889, keep an eye, er, ear, out for an upcoming episode of the hilarious Body Count podcast. Along with the fabulous history blogger Girl in the Tiara, I recently had the privilege of recording an episode about these stories. I’ll add the episode link here when it’s available, but in the meantime, check out the blog and previous episodes of the podcast!
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Disclaimer: The modern era is far from the first to grapple with rampant “fake news.” As I am neither a historian nor journalist, I make no claims about the accuracy or lack thereof of the above sources. I assert only that they make for a good story.
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