The Royal Articles -
Princess Louise of Belgium: 'Eve after the Fall of Man'
Marengo is a history student from Amsterdam with a special interest in Portuguese, Napoleonic and Dutch royals. 
By Marengo
Published on 05/19/2009
After an unhappy childhood in the court of her father King Leopold II, Princess Louise Marie of Belgium gained some freedom in her marriage to Prince Philip of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. However, the couple drifted apart, and Louise finally found happiness with Count Geza Mattachich. Her life with Mattachich involved scandal, debt, imprisonment, and exile, but she stayed with him until his death and outlived him by only a few months.

Queen Marie-Henriëtte and King Leopold II Princess Louise Marie Amélie of Belgium (18 February 1858 - 1 March 1924) was the eldest child of King Leopold II of the Belgians and Queen Marie-Henriëtte (born an Archduchess of Austria). Her birth was a severe disappointment to her father, who had hoped for a son. Princess Louise grew up at the court of Laeken, and had a spartan upbringing, slightly brightened by the moments she shared with her younger brother Prince Leopold and her younger sister Princess Stéphanie. At court the princess was given the nickname 'Madame Pourquoi' as she was very curious and usually wanted to know everything that was going on. Louise's father was a cold man who had very little interest in his wife and his daughters; the little love that he could share he strictly reserved for his son. It was said that Marie-Henriëtte preferred horses over people, though she treated her children somewhat better than her husband did. Every day the family had lunch together at half past one. Ten minutes before the lunch started, the Queen asked her children's governess about  their behavior, and any misstep had to be mentioned and punished. After this the queen usually took the children to the study, to fetch the king for lunch. The girls curtsied and kissed their father's hand, and the King would touch their forehead. "No kind word, no sign of greeting came over his lips" his daughter Stéphanie would write later. In an unbroken silence they had their meal, after which the family went to the King's study where Leopold II would smoke a cigar while Marie-Henriëtte read the newspaper. The children meanwhile had to stay near the window, whispering. "When we were finally allowed to leave we would run through the corridors and down the stairs, ecstatically happy to be released from our parents for a few hours," one of them would later write.
Princesses Stéphanie and Louise Not only was the royal couple's relationship with their children difficult, but the marriage between Leopold and Marie-Henriëtte was very cold too. Princess Louise would later write, "they both lived their own lives, neither physically, rationally or psychologically was there any connection between them. (...) As far as I can remember he was always the same egocentric, silent man to her". Louise confessed she could not remember one sign of friendliness or affection for her mother from the King. As a result the once so carefree Marie-Henriëtte sought solace in an active daily life and a stern piety. She still retained some of her good-natured charm, and even her daughters spoke about her "generous open character". Marie-Henriëtte raised her children 'the English way', which meant that they slept on hard beds, washed themselves with cold water, and had very little furniture in their room. The Queen took care of her children's religious upbringing herself and also of the punishments. Princess Stéphanie tells in her memoirs how once she was made to kneel on dried peas for an extended time with bare knees and that she was locked up in a dark room for hours or days. 'Neither sighs, nor tears or promises of better behavior could soften my mother and release me from my horrible imprisonment". However the queen also showed her softer side to her children; she told them about her childhood in Hungary, talked about the endless pusztas, and played melancholic gypsy music. When the Queen had an official duty at night, she sometimes allowed her children to see how pretty their mother looked: "she looked like a fairytale figure and I was not able to hold my tears" her daughter Stéphanie would later write. In 1868 Louise's brother fell in a pond at Laeken and developed pneumonia, which resulted in problems with his heart. The prince's life was in danger for months, and on 22 January 1869 the young Leopold died. As the king needed an heir, he and queen resumed marital relations and in 1872 a girl was born, princess Clementine. "The king was furious," Louise later wrote, "and he refused to have anything to do with the woman, to whom God refused a son, any longer."

Louise grew up to be a curious child, lively, sensitive and a born liar, who was very well aware that she had been neglected by her parents. Later she would say that when she was 10 her father caught her while she was hiding a love letter that her mother received from an admirer. As she refused to show her father the letter, he held a grudge against Louise for the rest of his life. This story is rather unlikely because Leopold could just have taken the letter from her, as she was only a child. In 1874, at 15 years of age Louise got engaged to her second cousin, Prince Philip of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, who belonged to the wealthy Hungarian branch of the Coburg family and who was 14 years older than his bride-to-be. Louise later claimed that Philip used to be one of her mother's former lovers, but there is no evidence to support this story.
Married Life
Princess Louise Prince Philip of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha The couple married on 18 February in 1875. After the wedding, the inexperienced Louise quickly found herself waking up in a nightmare. On her first night with her husband she ran away barefoot from their bed and hid herself in the glasshouses of Laeken. Nobody had told her what would happen in the bedroom, and the princess wrote in her memoirs: "I am sure I am not the only woman who lived on pink clouds during her engagement time but who was thrown on the floor abruptly after the wedding night, who escaped humanity, got mentally hurt and in tears." A cavalier found her among the camellias in the greenhouse and took her to her parents.  Leopold didn't bother to get out of bed, but Queen Marie-Henriëtte tried to comfort her daughter. While crying, the Princess told her of her shock, but she had to promise her mother that next time she would be less uncooperative as the queen enlightened her daughter about the marital duties. Louise's own version of this story is harsher: "I listened while she yelled at me, she tried to make me do what were my duties. (...) I didn't dare to protest and point out that this was completely different from what she used to tell me". Prince Philip  later tried to get his wife to relax a bit with alcohol, erotic literature and images from his art collection "at which a young woman cannot look without blushing."

Palais Coburg After her marriage the Princess moved into the Palais Coburg in Vienna, far away from her familiar and safe environment. Her mother had already told her many stories about the Habsburg court, but still it was very different from what she expected. She was dazzled by the glitter and glamour which seemed without end. Due to her birth and marriage she was allowed into the close circle around the emperor and the - usually absent - empress. The couple enjoyed being allowed to sit at the Imperial table and receiving many important courtesies. The Princess quickly started to enjoy her new cosmopolitan life in Vienna to the fullest.
Her husband taught her how she had to fulfill her duties as an adult. The Princess was given a serious makeover and took pains to be ostentatiously glamorous. Crown Prince Rudolf was delighted by her good nature, and Emperor Franz-Joseph admired her figure and said she would make an excellent Prussian grenadier. According to Louise he even asked her to buy clothes for his wife. The Tsar of Bulgaria went even further and offered her his whole realm, himself included. When Louise visited Brussels for the first time after she had left, her sister Stéphanie was surprised by her transformation: "My sister Louise is not the same anymore. She has other interests, is an admired and celebrated woman." Apart from these lessons about style, Louise also had become fully used to marital pleasures. The "lessons" were so successful that it was said that no man at court was safe from Louise's advances. This lifestyle worried Louise's mother, who received extensive reports from her Habsburg relatives on her daughters scandalous conduct. Marie-Henriëtte did everything she could to make her daughter live a more sober life, but much to the Queen's despair Louise did as she pleased, which led the Queen to confess, "Louise is a monster, she belongs in a madhouse!" The Austrian press soon compared her to Lucrezia de Borgia, Cleopatra, and Ninon de Lenclos.

Princess Louise with her children In the meantime Prince Philip merrily went on partying as he had before his marriage; he didn't take his vows too seriously and was very promiscuous. It was no surprise that gradually Philip and Louise drifted apart. Especially after the birth of their son Leopold and their daughter Dorothea, the couple became more distant. By all accounts, Louise, rather like her own mother, was not a very loving mother herself. It was even said that she didn't show the slightest interest in her children. According to one of the governesses of her children, she was more interested in looking in the mirror than in attending to the education of her children. She often sat in the garden, looking at herself in a mirror for hours and at all angles. "Narcissus himself could not have parted from his image with more displeasure," the governess judged. "If Louise wasn't busy with herself she spread slander about others, it was said she had a low character," she continued. This behavior made Louise the talk of Vienna. Theodor Herzl, who would later be the pioneer of Zionism, once saw Louise seated in her loge at the theatre, all covered in jewels. He turned around to one of his friends and whispered: "Eve after the fall of man."

True Love?

Princess Louise Louise had several lovers but finally found true love in the person of the Croatian count Geza Mattachich, a Lieutenant of the Uhlans regiment who was 10 years younger than she was. The two first met at the Prater in 1895, where Geza attracted Louise's attention while he was trying to tame a black stud horse. When the wild horse jumped in the direction of Louise's carriage, she caught a first glimpse of the Count. "It was a sort of electrical shock," Geza later said  and according to the then 27-year-old Geza it became an absolute life necessity to see her again. Although he tried for months to find her, he was only able to finally meet her for the first time six years later in Abbazia on the Adriatic Sea. Princess Louise was flattered by his attentions and soon became his mistress. The romance was not very discreet; the Princess showed herself in public with her lover and they both spent a lot of money everywhere. The whole of Vienna noticed the affair, and it did not take long before the ever-intriguing Archduke Ludwig-Victor turned to his brother the Emperor and urged him to discipline Louise. However, Louise still failed to realise the seriousness of the matter. As a result she fell completely from grace with the imperial couple, and her own father chose the side of Louise´s husband instead of that of his daughter. Queen Marie-Henriëtte tried to change her daughter's mind in several letters, urging Louise to end the affair: "In vain I waited for a letter that would tell me that you had exchanged your worldly, vain and useless life for an upstanding family life and that you would try to find happiness  by doing your duty, having peace of conscience and a life worthy of a Christian woman. The world, dear child, is hungry for scandals. When you run after your pleasures you will lose the most valuable possession of a woman: her honour. You are taking big risks for a few passing successes of nice dresses, compliments  or love declarations. They won't last longer than bubbles of soap! Stop the stories that are circulating, dry the tears of your mother. Open your heart to your best friend, the only one who has good intentions: your exemplary husband of whom any woman would be proud. Ask if he will protect you from yourself!  Wash your heart, blinded by the fraudulent dazzle of the world, by experiencing a deep religious faith. When the sacrifice is hard on you, think about  our Lord, Jesus Christ. Think how he suffered voluntarily for our redemption. Meditate five minutes about this mystery and you will conquer. Your deeply saddened mother."

 Louise, however, had other thoughts than those about Jesus Christ or her 'exemplary' husband, and she decided to choose her count, despite everything. She decided that she wanted a divorce from Philip and travelled to Brussels to ask her parents for permission. The king refused the request outright and cynically remarked that a husband could be useful as a cover and that if one were discreet nobody would have to know what happened behind closed doors. Louise, however, did not want to listen to her father and travelled to Nice, where she settled in Villa Paradis with her daughter Dora and with Geza. Prince Philip felt that he had to defend his honour and challenged Mattachich to a duel. Since the athletic Mattachich was an excellent shot while Phillip was short-sighted, this was no match. After Philip's shot missed its mark, Mattachich fired in the air and sent the Prince home humiliated.

Due to her financial situation, Princess Louise was forced to sell her possessions in public; everything was to be sold, from her jewels to even her underwear. Prince Phillip felt humiliated by this public sale of his wife's personal belongings;  the Emperor was shocked too and urged Phillip to do something about it. As a solution to the problem, Phillip had to buy everything that was sold by Louise, even the undergarments. But this money was not enough to solve the Princess' financial problems. To face this matter Louise signed promissory notes and even forged the signature of her sister, Crown Princess Stéphanie of Austria, when the shops did not accept hers anymore. She was so desperate for money that she even bought jewels on credit and then sold them immediately at half price for cash. When King Leopold II travelled to the Riviera he did not even want to meet his daughter, let alone pay her debts. Prince Philip placed an announcement in the local newspapers that he would not pay his wife's debts either, which led to a group of creditors forcing entry to Louise's hotel room and taking everything that they could find. The couple even lost their horses and Louise's daughter Dora was urged to go to the parents of her fiancé in Germany, so she could escape this life.
Locked Up
Princess Louise As Louise and her lover could not stay in Nice and they needed money urgently, they decided to return to Austria in secret. They went to the castle of Mattachich's stepfather in the mountains of Croatia. As the local authorities preferred not to arrest Mattachich in the castle of a powerful local noblemen, they looked for ways to get him away from the castle, to Zagreb. He received a military order to get a medical check-up in the city, which he could hardly refuse. When the couple had arrived in Zagreb their hotel room was searched by the police and Mattachich was soon arrested for embezzlement, lost his title and was sentenced to six years in prison without any evidence. Louise, who didn´t get any support from her children or Belgian relatives, was given the choice: of returning to her husband or being committed to a psychiatric institution - she chose the latter. To give all this a legal framework, a court was hastily summoned that ordered Louise to be locked up in a psychiatric hospital in Purkersdorf owned by Court physician Dr. Pierson. Her Austrian and Belgian relatives were probably relieved that she could not create any more scandals, and they ignored her. Only her sister Crown Princess Stéphanie of Austria kept in touch with her, but had to do so in secret. Nobody else lifted a finger to help her, not her mother Queen Marie-Henriëtte, not her daughter Dora and certainly not her father Leopold II. The King did show some interest in the matter though: he ordered the director of the hospital to "strictly guard this female patient."
To prevent Louise from becoming too popular, as Austrian public opinion started to feel sympathy for the princess, she was brought to another institution, Linderhof in Saxony.  Although she had a bit more freedom of movement and  more comfort, the guards remained as strict as before. The only Belgian relative who paid attention to her in these times was her aunt the Countess of Flanders, who even persuaded Louise's daughter Dora to pay her a visit. Four years after he was sentenced to imprisonment, Count Mattachich was rehabilitated and released due to the efforts of a socialist parliamentarian. After he was released, he immediately travelled to Lindenhof to visit Louise. Once, during a carriage ride Louise saw a cyclist and noticed immediately that it was Mattachich. She did not show her recognition to her escorts, but when she returned to Lindenhof she persuaded a lady-in-waiting to help her. Two meetings in the woods were arranged, but the local police got suspicious and ordered Mattachich to leave the village at once. Louise did not hear from Mattachich for months, until during another carriage ride a boy threw a note onto her lap, which said "Hope." The first opportunity to release the princess was when she was allowed to visit Bad Elster. Mattachich had set up a plot, which was revealed to Louise in her hotel by a butler who gave her the note for which she had been waiting for such a long time: "It will happen tomorrow." That night, at 1 a.m. somebody knocked on the door of her bedroom. She was able to keep her dog Kiki quiet and opened the door, to find the night porter who told her to prepare herself to leave and that he would soon return to collect her. The princess stood next to the door for two hours, until at 2.30  the man returned. Again she was able to keep her dog quiet, and together they walked on tiptoe through the corridor and down the stairs to a side door, where Mattachich was waiting for her. They had to be careful when they tried to get away from the garden, as two guards were talking there. When they had passed, Louise and Mattachich crossed the road to the  dark trees across the street where a carriage was waiting for them. They drove to the station and took the first train to Berlin, but only when they reached Paris did they feel free. The nightmare that had lasted for seven years was over.
Later Years
Princess Louise In Paris they lived in an attic like bohemians. The princess  again tried to get a divorce from her husband and became completely estranged from her father.  When Emperor Franz-Joseph asked the King to pay his daughter's debts, Leopold II remarked that his daughter was dead to him. "You also have to pay for a dead daughter,"  was the Emperor's sharp reply.  Queen Marie-Henriëtte had died two years previously, but her children had not seen a penny of their inheritance yet and their father did not intend to give anything either, so Stéphanie and Louise went to the law courts to ask for half of their father's capital. Mr. Paul Janson represented the princesses in court, which he did with so much passion that the audience would be moved to tears. Still these tears were not enough and the princesses lost. "The King does not even have a heart of stone," a Viennese newspaper commented, "his heart is of gold, which is harder than stone." In response to public opinion Leopold II decided that he could not afford any more criticism of his financial dealings. He sent his attorney, Sam Wiener, to offer Louise an estate near Cologne and an annual sum of 50,000 francs if she would break with Mattachich. Louise, however, refused to abandon her lover and rejected her father's proposal. In 1907 a court in Gotha dissolved the marriage of Louise and Philip. The court marshal in Vienna ratified the ruling, but the Vatican refused to annul the marriage. This divorce provided Leopold with the perfect excuse to denounce his daughter for good, in which he was not alone; even Crown Princess Stéphanie, who could not forgive Louise for slandering the family name in such a way, did the same.
King Leopold II and his mistress The divorce did not solve all of Louise's problems; she and Geza still were in a difficult financial situation and had to move frequently. In 1909 King Leopold II died, but his daughters found out that he had not left them a penny; instead, he left much of his capital to his mistress, the Baroness de Vaughan, and left the rest to a new foundation called the 'Dotation Royale'. Louise and Stéphanie did not respect their father's last wishes and immediately started a trial. Stéphanie gave up after a few years, but Louise, who needed the money even more than her sister, proceeded. Although she eventually lost in court, the government gave permission in 1913 to pay the princesses 6 million francs. But by then Louise and Geza had moved to Germany and the First World War was imminent, so Louise had to wait for 5 more years before she would see her money. Soon after the outbreak of the First World War, Geza was arrested by the German police. Since he was a Croat, they suspected he had sympathies for the allies. When he was released two years later, the couple settled in Budapest, until civil war broke out. When their house was searched by the communists after the revolution, one of them exclaimed, "Here lives a Princess who is poorer than I am." After this Louise and Geza moved to Paris again, where Louise would write her memoirs in which she tried to clear her reputation and in which she took revenge on several people in her life, especially her father. Strangely enough, Louise dedicated her memoires to "the great man, the great king, who was my father." While Louise was writing her memoirs, Mattachich's health deteriorated, and  in 1923 he died in Paris. After his death Louise moved to Wiesbaden, Germany, where she died only six months later in March 1924, before getting a chance to see the first edition of her memoirs. While she was dying, Louise held the portrait of her beloved Geza against her chest. "I knew much misery, humiliation and physical pain" she wrote shortly before her death. "But I also know love, and whatever adversities I faced, when you have had real love in your life you can say you truly lived."

Photo Credits
Photos of Louise and her family, public domain.
Photo of Palais Coburg by Flickr member
Vestaligo and used with permission.