The Hapsburg Anastasia, Part 3On March 17, 2021 by Elyse
Read in your best announcer voice: Last time on “The Hapsburg Anastasia,” Alma eloped with 22-year-old Yale University student and coal-and-steel heir Donald Andrews. Buoyed by love and presumably, lots of money, they fled to London to escape his disapproving parents.
If it was any comfort to Mr. and Mrs. Andrews, Alma gave Kim Kardashian a run for her money; the couple separated barely two months later. Donald came crawling, er, sailing back to the U.S. alone.
What could’ve gone so wrong so quickly for these lovebirds? Happily for us, Alma was the kiss-and-tell type. She claimed she had never loved Donald at all. In fact, back in New York, he had supposedly threatened to commit suicide if she didn’t marry him.
“I was a fool. But when a man stands up in front of you with a bottle of poison in his hand and threatens to take it you will agree to almost anything. I thought I was making a decent sacrifice, but his family turned upon me with the brazen outcry that I had married him for his money.”– Alma Vetsera, quoted in the Washington Herald, September 20, 1915
I can’t imagine what would’ve given them that idea.
As if that wasn’t enough, Alma had to find her own way back to New York from London:
She says [Donald] deserted her there without a cent. She got here, she said, by selling her automobiles and horses.– The Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, December 17, 1915
Not the automobiles and horses! The poor dear.
To solve her financial woes, Alma announced she would take to the stage:
“My husband being unable to support me, I must do something, and the theater, I think, promises me the most successful future.”– Alma Vetsera, quoted in the Washington Herald, September 20, 1915
Unfortunately, before her name could appear on a marquee, the newspapers reported in December 1915 that she had suffered a nervous breakdown and was recovering in a private sanitarium. A month later, she shifted gears and decided to devote herself to nursing in Europe instead. There was still a war on, after all.
Amid all the personal drama and international tumult, she somehow found the means to live large in London and rub elbows with high society.
She dressed in exquisite taste and without regard to cost. One woman who knew her estimated that she did not spend less than $50,000 a year on her clothes.
And here lies one of the many mysteries of her life. From her earliest days, even before any of her numerous marriages, she had been abundantly supplied with money. She once told a friend that the late Emperor Francis Joseph of Austria had furnished $1,000,000 for her maintenance and education on condition that she should be taken away from Austria and that the secret of her parentage should never be revealed.– The Washington Times, January 4, 1920
Oops. The emperor should’ve demanded his money back years ago.
While living in London, Alma became engaged to an unnamed but predictably wealthy Greek man, who had made his fortune during the war. The relationship ended inexplicably, but she didn’t grieve long. On August 30, 1919, she married Captain Cedric Sebastian Steane, an English army officer several years her junior. Go figure, he was also the son of a millionaire—what a coincidence.
Alas, the Hapsburgs aren’t known for their happy endings.
She largely hid it from society and newspapers alike, but Alma appeared to struggle with her mental health and reportedly made several suicide attempts. According to Cedric:
[S]he was subject to fits of despondency that were in deep contrast with her usual gayety of spirits. . . [She] was often hysterical. . . and during these spells she thought she could hear her mother calling to her from the great beyond.– The Washington Times, November 14, 1919
In November 1919, shortly after returning from her honeymoon with husband #3, Alma attended the Victory Ball in London commemorating the end of the First World War. After returning home early in the morning, Cedric recalled:
“[S]he went into her room perfectly happy. I then heard her call me. . . ‘Tony [Alma’s pet name for Cedric], I am really going to take this stuff this time.'”
He saw her raise her hand to her mouth, as if swallowing something, and drink water.
“[She] said, ‘Tony, kiss me for the last time.’ Almost immediately she had said it she sank down, and I caught her in my arms and lifted her on to the bed.”– Cedric Steane, quoted in the Washington Times, January 4, 1920
Alma committed suicide at the age of 29. Coincidentally, she passed away exactly one year after another young woman, actress Billie Carleton, similarly died of a drug overdose after the 1918 Victory Ball. That tragic end is about the most convincing piece of evidence for Alma being Rudolph and Mary’s daughter.
Interestingly, husband #2, Donald Andrews—remember him?—died of an accidental poisoning 11 years later:
However, it’s the second part of that headline Alma would approve of:
A decade after her death, at least one newspaper was still giving her the recognition she craved in life.
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 entertaining and educational Body Count podcast. I recently had the privilege of recording an episode, along with the fabulous history blogger Girl in the Tiara. I’ll add the episode link here when it’s available, but in the meantime, treat yourself and 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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