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Maria Theresa, Queen of Hungary

Maria Theresa, Queen of Hungary

Maria Theresa by Edward Crankshaw is proving delightful in so many ways, not the least of which is reinforcing all of my deeply cherished stereotypes of Hungarians. If there is one thing Czech people love, it is maligning Hungarians.  Hungarians, my Czech family assured me growing up, are deeply self-absorbed, extravagantly romantic, and prone to depression.  They are beautiful and almost morbidly fascinating but not to be encouraged (or married).  Edward Crankshaw and Maria Theresa agreed, which is why I’ve been chortling away (there is no more graceful way to describe it, I’m afraid) as I read about young Maria Theresa’s canny exploitation of these national traits to turn the Hungarians to her cause:

In this moment of fearful crisis Maria Theresa did not lose her nerve.  With no help from anyone at all she conceived a new idea.  She was determined to keep Hungary, but keeping Hungary would be worse than useless unless she could harness the Hungarians to her cause.  She decided that if the stubborn Magyars could not be coerced they must be wooed.  She would present herself to them as a woman in distress, appealing directly to the chivalry which was still a real element in their make up…

A beautiful woman in distress? A chance to win glory for themselves?  What Hungarian could resist?

Later, in reviewing the impressive history of the Esterházy family, Crankshaw finds a man who epitomizes all the national traits I’ve been warned about since birth:

The last Esterházy to achieve international renown was imperial minister for Foreign Affairs under Francis Joseph at the time of Austro-Prussian war, a gentle, elegant, sceptical, questioning man with a keen intellect and far too much sensibility.  He could charm anybody into accepting his lead, argue anybody into accepting his view; but he was so conscious of the deep complexities of life that he did not want to lead and could never for long sustain a view: he was enchanted by all views.  In the end he went melancholy-mad and died in an asylum.

Oh Hungarians…

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Archduchess Maria Theresa by Andreas Moeller

Archduchess Maria Theresa by Andreas Moeller

The old men saw a young woman, to them a child, upright, with level eyes of a very clear blue; strikingly good looking, sometimes beautiful, with her height, her corn-coloured hair – great masses of it, her only known vanity.  They had known her as an extremely determined young girl, who was also gay and high-spirited to the point of frivolity, with a passion for dancing and card-playing all through the night.  Now she was pale, but the remarkable thing was that only a few hours before she had been prostrate with grief, her doctors prepared for a miscarriage; and now here she was, very much a queen, having summoned them to her first audience – not seated on the throne to receive them, but standing on the steps that led up to it, wonderfully fair in her mourning, framed by the heavy purple canopy.  She stood alone and with perfect self-possession, her husband, now Grand Duke of Tuscany, on her left, but outside the frame.  It was to go on like this.

from Maria Theresa by Edward Crankshaw

 

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