sjhstrangetales

THE CURSE OF MIRAMARE CASTLE

Posted on: April 20, 2017

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A beautiful mid-19th century castle in the north-east of Italy may be responsible for cursing an entire European dynasty, and may even be held indirectly responsible for the start of World War One.   The Curse has it that anyone who sleeps in the place will die a violent death in a far country, and that was the grim fate which befell many of its occupants.

The Victorian era was a notable one for extravagant building projects.  It wasn’t unknown for aristocrats and tycoons to build grandiose dwelling-places for themselves, usually in a style which harkened back to a romanticised view of the Middle Ages or an elusive Arthurian era.  Those stern, forbidding Victorians were keen romantics at heart, and the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian was no exception.

It is said that Ferdinand fell in love with the area, near Trieste, after sheltering there during a storm.  He chose to build a beautiful castellated castle on the rocky spur, overlooking the sparkling Adriatic Sea, and dedicate it as a monument of love to his wife, Charlotte of Belgium.  Building works were begun in 1856 and continued for another 4 years.  The couple couldn’t wait to move in, and inhabited the ground floor whilst the building work was in progress.

The couple were to enjoy their romantic idyll for only a few short years.  In 1864 he and Charlotte sailed to Mexico, to take up his new role of Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico, an idea encouraged by Napoleon III of France who wanted a monarchist ally in the New World.   Their short 3-year sojourn in Mexico was a disaster.  Maximilian was a conservative in outlook, whereas his new subjects were liberal.  There was also the problem of the American Civil War, which was just coming to a close, and the Americans’ objections to any European meddling in the affairs of the New World.   Things came to a head in 1866 when Maximilian refused to pull out of Mexico, in spite of Napoleon III urging him to do so.   Charlotte sailed back to Europe, to desperately drum up support for her husband.  But it was to no avail.  After trying to hold out in a siege, Maximilian was executed by firing squad on the morning of 19 June 1867.

Poor old Charlotte, whose mind was already in meltdown due to an acute (and probably justified) persecution mania, suffered a complete mental collapse.  She spent the rest of her days in seclusion, at Bouchout Castle in Belgium, still deeply in love with Maximilian right until she passed away in 1927, at the age of 86.

If that isn’t enough romantic tragedy, there is then the legendary Mayerling Incident.   The castle had passed into the hands of the Emperor Franz Joseph and his wife Elisabeth of Austria.   On the morning of 30 January 1889 their only son, 30-year-old Rudolf, Crown Prince of Austria – who was married to Princess Stephanie of Belgium – was found shot dead, alongside the body of his young mistress, 17-year-old Baroness Mary Vetsera, at the royal hunting lodge of Mayerling, deep in the Vienna Woods.   The incident, thought to have been a suicide pact, caused an enormous scandal and political ructions, and has since spawned numerous films, radio plays, operas, ballets, not to mention conspiracy theories.

The Curse doesn’t stop there.  Oh no.  It would next strike Rudolf’s mother, the Empress Elisabeth.   I think it’s fair to say that the Empress – who went by the nickname Sisi – was the Princess Diana of her day.  She was very tall (for a woman), beautiful, a fashion icon, was beloved for her charitable works, and hugely popular with the public.   Her beauty regime became the stuff of legend.  It was said that she would spend 3 hours every morning simply tending to her long, lustrous hair, and she kept her slender figure due to a rigorous exercise regime.  She also seems to have been plagued with an eating disorder though.  At times of extreme stress she would stop eating for days on end.   At the age of 30 she decided that she would sit for no more official portraits, as she wanted to be remembered for being young and beautiful.

She loved travelling, and in 1898 the 60-year-old Sisi travelled to Geneva, with her lady-in-waiting, Countess Irma Sztaray de Sztara et Nagymihaly.  One morning the two ladies left their hotel on foot to catch a steamer.  Unfortunately, a young Italian anarchist, by the name of Lucheni, was also in town.  He made it clear he had come to Geneva “to kill a sovereign”.  It didn’t matter which one.  The victim was irrelevant.  The statement was all that mattered.  Poor Sisi came into his firing-line.  He ducked under her parasol to get a look at her, and stabbed her in the chest with a sharpened needle file.  Sisi manged to walk onto the steamer, but she died less than hour later.  On her death she had willed it that her jewellery collection was to be auctioned off, and the proceeds donated to her religious and charitable organisations.   Her death would see an outpouring of public grief which would be reflected nearly a 100 years later, with the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.  As for Lucheni, he was declared sane and sentenced to life imprisonment.  He would hang himself with his own belt 10 years later.

The Archduke Franz Ferdinand was said to have laughed at the idea of any curse on the castle.  This probably wasn’t a wise move.  His death would prove to be the most infamous of all.  His assassination, along with his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, in the streets of Sarajevo, in June 1914, would light the blue touch-paper which would spark the world into a horrifying global conflict.   There is a wild rumour that a fortune-teller had told Ferdinand that he would one day “let loose a world war”.  Some have voiced scepticism of this one, and admittedly it does have a feel of All Wise After The Event about it, but it is also said that Ferdinand told friends, only a month beforehand, that “I know I shall soon be murdered”.

There is also yet another wild rumour that Ferdinand had shot a white stag on a recent hunting-trip, which was considered spectacularly unlucky.  This isn’t as famous as the Urban Legend about Ferdinand and Sophie’s cursed car though.  It seems the Habsburg family are awash with curses.  Much that has been written about the cursed car seems to have been total fantasy, most particularly the one that it was destroyed in a World War 2 air-raid.  From what I can gather, the car is still on public display – complete with bullet holes – in a Viennese museum.

At the end of World War One, the area of Trieste, including the castle, was handed to Italy.  The next occupant became Prince Amedeo, Duke d’Aosta.   During his tenure the Duke extensively restyled and modernised the castle, installing running water, central heating, telephone lines and even a couple of lifts.  He was a supporter of Mussolini, and became Governor-General of Ethiopia in 1937.   He died, possibly from complications from TB and malaria, in a British-run Prisoner Of War camp in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1942.

A Wartime occupant of the Castle was said to have been Austrian Nazi Fredrich Rainer.  Although he was reputedly sentenced to death, for crimes against humanity in 1947,  and a copy of his death certificate was sent to his widow, there are some rumours that he was never executed, and was still alive in the 1950s, working for the Yugoslavian Department of State Security.   They are just rumours though, and somehow I doubt the Curse let him fall through the net.

Up until 1954 the Castle was occupied by British and then American military.   I’ve even seen a fatal heart-attack suffered by one American general, in 1951, blamed on the Curse, although he was taking part in the Korean War at the time, but hey, who knows?   Finally, in 1955, it was restored to its former glory and opened to the public.  Since then it has become a popular tourist attraction, and I can only hope that the fee-paying public, who clearly very much appreciate the stunning beauty of this waterside castle, have finally laid the abominable Curse to rest.

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