On 10 May, 1951, in a true exercise in dynastic futility, Archduke Franz Joseph Otto Robert Maria Anton Karl Max Heinrich Sixtus Xaver Felix Renatus Ludwig Gaetan Pius Ignatius von Habsburg-Lotharingen married Regina Helene Elisabeth Margarete, Princess of Saxe-Meiningen. The ceremony took place here in Nancy, France, at l’église de Saint-François-des-Cordeliers.

The union was preceded by all of the byzantine debates, negotiations, and sanctions that attended any dynastic marriage of the Habsburg family. The succession to the imperial throne of Austria, Hungary, and Bohemia was secured—except for the minor quibble that said empire no longer existed.

In 1918, the Habsburgs were unique among the failed monarchs of Europe for not actually abdicating their throne. For the rest of the century—until 2007, in fact—they persisted in believing that a return to power lay around some steadily receding corner. Nazis, Communists, and democrats came and went, but none of those pretenders had divined the true monarchic soul of the faithful. Othon I, as the latest Archduke styled himself, continued to hand out titles and confer make-believe favors like any reigning monarch beloved by his non-existent people.

It was said of the Habsburgs that they built their empire the hard way—through marriage. So it was fitting for this archaic union to take place next door to the one-time Palais des Ducs de Lorraine. On 14 February, 1736, one of those Dukes, Francis I, exchanged his minor duchy for marriage to Maria Theresa of Austria and the imperial crown of the Holy Roman Empire. In spite of his serial adultery, the couple managed sixteen off-spring. Nine of the children died prematurely, the most famous being Marie Antoinette of France, who dutifully married the bumbler Louis XVI and then lost her head in the French Revolution.

So from the cold castles of Lorraine to the trendy beaches of Marbella and the sweaty discos of Saint-Tropez, marriage has always been one serious business for this Habsburg family. Their hyper-contrived mergers and acquisitions just no longer matter to the rest of us.


Categories: France

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