L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Sunday, August 28, 2016

From my collection - the lost children of the Bavarian Royal Family

Princess Marie Gabrielle and her three sons.

The Wittlesbach dynasty of Bavaria underwent a crisis in the second half of the nineteenth century. In 1886, King Ludwig II - the infamous, castle-building "Mad King Ludwig" - was declared (arguably) insane and his father's brother Luitpold named Prince Regent in his place. Ludwig died under mysterious circumstance only days later and his definitely insane brother Otto succeeded him; Uncle Luitpold would continue as regent for the next twenty-six years. On his death in 1912, his son Ludwig would succeed him as regent and, one year later, Otto still king of Bavaria in name only, the constitution was amended and Ludwig succeeded to the throne as Ludwig III. (King Otto, mentally and physically totally incapacitated, died three years later.) Although he lived until 1921, Ludwig III would be the last king of Bavaria, the monarchy being abolished in 1918 at the end of the war.

Prince and Princess Rupprecht and their three sons.
The three brothers.
Princess Marie Gabrielle and her three sons.

Ironically, during this dynastically unstable time, Bavaria - now part of the unified German Reich - enjoyed a prosperous tranquility. Headed successively by the placid, unassuming presences of Prince Regent Luitpold and Ludwig III, the royal family was popular with the public. Because both Ludwig II and Otto had no issue, it was long understood that Ludwig III's son, Rupprecht, would one day be king. Born in 1869, he had entered into the expected military career, while still finding ample opportunity for extensive travel in the Middle East, India, and Asia. In 1900, he married his second cousin once-removed, Duchess Marie Gabrielle in Bavaria. (Marie Gabrielle was a niece of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, and her sister Elisabeth would marry the future Albert I of Belgium.) Like her parents, Rupprecht's bride was a great lover of science and nature, as well as poetry and music. And she shared her new husband's enthusiasm for world travel. Marie Gabrielle would give birth fives times, but the couple's family life would be shadowed by tragedy.

The eldest son, Luitpold, and his mother.
The middle son, Albrecht, and his mother.
The youngest son, Rudolf, and his mother.

Luitpold Maximilian Ludwig Karl, Hereditary Prince of Bavaria (8 May 1901 – 27 August 1914).
Princess Irmingard Maria Therese José Cäcilia Adelheid Michaela Antonia Adelgunde of Bavaria (21 September 1902 – 21 April 1903).
Albrecht, Duke of Bavaria (3 May 1905 – 8 July 1996).
Stillborn daughter (6 December 1906).
Prince Rudolf Friedrich Rupprecht of Bavaria (30 May 1909 – 26 June 1912).

The three brothers.
Rudolf and Albrecht.

Their daughter Irmingard died of diphtheria at the age of only seven months. A second daughter was stillborn three years later. Their third and youngest son died as a result of diabetes at the age of three. Four months later the children's mother, herself, only thirty-four, died of renal failure; she was interred in the Theatinerkirche in Munich near her deceased children. And, finally, less than two years after his mother's death, at the beginning of the First World War, the couple's eldest son, Luitpold, died of polio. As Europe descended into the darkest days it had ever yet known, the father and son - the middle child, Albrecht - were the only survivors of the once happy family.

Luitpold and his mother.
With the Prussian Crown Prince Wilhelm.
(In many of the images here, the boys are dressed in satins and lace, rather outré outfits based on illustrations from the
wildly popular children's book "Little Lord Fauntleroy". The vogue for dressing young boys in this manner persisted
for some years; mothers adored the look, while little boys quite understandably detested it.
Luitpold and Albrecht with their first cousin Prince Charles-Théodore, Count of Flanders, son of the King of the Belgians.
Luitpold and Albrecht with their father.
Luitpold and Albrecht fishing on the Königssee.
A memorial card; the cross before the date signifies that he died on that day. "Letzte aufnahme" translates to last image taken.

With his father's succession in 1913, Rupprecht was now Crown Prince of Bavaria. He commanded the German Sixth Army on the Western front during the first half of the First World War, and from August 1916 he commanded Army Group Rupprecht of Bavaria, which occupied the sector of the front opposite the British Expeditionary Force. He was a much-respected commander and rose to the rank of field marshal, but he eventually came to the conclusion - much earlier than most other German generals - that the war could not be won. He also opposed the Imperial German Army's "scorched earth" policy during retreat, but his royal position made a resignation impossible for him.

Albrecht and his mother.

During the civil unrest following the end of the war, King Ludwig III, though never officially abdicating, left off any control of the government and Bavaria became a republic, ending 738 years of Wittelsbach rule. Rupprecht had become engaged to Princess Antoinette of Luxembourg - thirty years his junior - in the final months of the war, but because of political and dynastic turmoil in both countries, they were only able to marry in 1921. They would have six children together, a son and five daughters; at this writing, the two youngest are still living. The family survived the instability of German politics for the next decade and a half, but Rupprecht never supported the Nazis and their leader - even after promises of a royal restoration - and in 1939 he was forced into exile in Italy. His family subsequently moved to Hungary.

Albrecht with his father and future step-mother, circa 1918.
Albrecht - center - and his father - far right, facing camera - at the burial ceremonies for Ludwig III and his consort, Munich, 5 November 1921.
Albrecht and his first half-sibling, Heinrich, 1922.

Rupprecht was still in Italy in October 1944, but his wife and children were in Hungary, now under German occupation. They were captured and imprisoned in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. In April 1945 they were moved to Dachau concentration camp, where they remained until the camp was liberated later that month by the United States Army. Crown Princess Antoinette never completely regained her health after their ordeal and, after vowing never to again set foot on German soil, she died nine years later in Switzerland at the age of fifty-four. Crown Prince Rupprecht died the following year, 1955; he was eighty-six.

Crown Princess Antoinette, circa 1930s. (Wearing the Bavarian Lover's Knot diadem.)
An engagement portrait (?) with his future wife, Countess Draskovich, called Marita in the family.

His only surviving son from his first marriage, Albrecht, became head of the family at his father's death. In 1930 at the age of twenty-five, he had married Countess Maria Draskovich de Trakostjan. Together, they had four children - at this writing, all still living - fifteen grandchildren, and forty-one great-grandchildren. They moved to Hungary during the war, and were arrested at the same time as his step-mother and half-siblings, and shared their experiences in the concentration camps. From his father's death until his own death in 1996 at the age of ninety-one, he was Duke of Bavaria and doyen of the House of Wittelsbach - and the only survivor of his parent's happy union.

Albrecht on the wedding day of his father and step-mother, 7 April 1921.


  1. I had no idea -this was fascinating! interesting they all survived the concentration camps. I wonder if they had any special privileges?

    1. Not easy to find information on them, particularly. But my understanding of the camps is that they had different classes of prisoners. Non-Jews, royalty and aristocrats, while certainly enduring harsh conditions, probably didn't have to ever seriously fear extermination as the Jewish and some other prisoners did; "degrees of horror", including the ultimate....

  2. Beautiful photographs and a very sad family history. Incidentally, I'm just reading a couple of biographies of Ludwig II inspired by an internet story I recently read about his castles. A fascinating but very sad figure.