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Schonbrunn Palace

June 22, 2015


Vienna’s Schönbrunn Palace was Austria’s attempt to recreate Versailles, even though at 1441 rooms it’s smaller. The present Baroque structure was built in the 1740s, and Austrian emperors lived here until the collapse of the Habsburg dynasty at the end of World War I. The rooms are as lavishly decorated as you’d expect, and I was particularly interested in, of all things, a tapestry of a fair where peasants were queued up at a stall where, for a few coins, a monkey would pick fleas from their heads. The origin of the term flea market?



View from the back of the palace










As we passed through sumptuous rooms, a strange marble sculpture in a corner drew my attention. The work showed the Duke of Reichstad on his deathbed. At first I didn’t recognize the name, but then the identity of the sculpted young man dawned on me.           


The subject of the sculpture had suffered ill health, probably tuberculosis, and died in 1832 at the age of twenty-one. He was educated by a staff of military tutors and showed an aptitude for soldiering, which made much of Europe extremely nervous. Why were they nervous? Because of bloodlines. This boy lived under house arrest and was seldom allowed outside the gates of Schönbrunn Palace—because of his last name. For most of his life he was called Franz; it was his last name that caused worry—Bonaparte.


The Duke of Reichstad was Napoleon’s only legitimate son, who in 1815 at the tender age of four was briefly declared Napoleon II, Emperor of the French, by his defeated father. Franz had a serious claim to the French throne if allowed to escape the palace.


Napoleon had divorced Josephine because of her inability to provide him with a son to inherit his throne, and he’d married Marie Louise, the eldest daughter of Austrian Emperor Francis II. Francis wasn’t happy about the marriage, but Napoleon had twice humiliated the Austrians in battle and the Austrian leader had no choice. Napoleon was a self-made man with no connections to royalty, and this was his way of legitimizing the Bonaparte name. As for Marie Louise, she was beautiful but simple-minded, weak and always did what she was told. She quickly gave Napoleon the heir he desired, and the baby was given the title King of Rome, since his father was also King of Italy at the time.



King of Rome; later the Duke of Reichstad


In 1815 Napoleon lost his power, and freedom, when defeated at Waterloo. After abdicating, he named his son Emperor of France, but the Allied powers wouldn’t recognize the boy and restored the Bourbon monarchy instead. Years later, Franz was given the title Duke of Reichstad by his maternal grandfather.



The Duke of Reichstad


Napoleon never saw his son after abdicating in 1815, when he was exiled to sultry St. Helena in the Atlantic, where he died in 1821. Marie Louise, the former Empress of France, escaped with their son and retreated to Austria, taking up residence in Schönbrunn Palace where Franz lived out the remainder of his short life. When he died, a mask was made of his face and a drawing ordered to show the world that the spawn of Napoleon Bonaparte was dead, never to disrupt the world like his father.



Engraving after a drawing of the Duke on his deathbed


In 1852, Franz’s cousin followed in Napoleon’s footsteps by declaring a Second Empire and beginning his own reign as Emperor of France. In deference to Franz’s briefly having been emperor, even though he never ruled, his cousin chose the name Napoleon III.


As I passed through the golden rooms of Schönbrunn Palace, each more sumptuous than the next, I felt sorry for Franz, and I recalled petty moments of childhood unhappiness, times when I thought life unfair and I wondered what it would be like to be a king or emperor. It never occurred to me that a palace, no matter how magnificent, could also be a gilded cage.



Sculpture of the dead Duke




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That would be really crappy to be a prisoner in my own home, mega-nice home or not. The interior is amazing. Reminds me of Windsor Palace.
By: Alex J. Cavanaugh on June 22, 2015
a pretty sad existence for that one! 'spawn of napoleon'.
By: TexWisGirl on June 22, 2015
Money certainly does not buy happiness- sometimes it guarantees despair. Thanks for the history lesson!
By: Kathe W. on June 22, 2015
Yes, much like Versailles including the Hall of Mirrors. Back view is more lovely, though.
By: Tabor on June 22, 2015
Nice history lesson. I read several biographies of Napoleon when I was a young lad but had never heard about the second and third successors.
By: Catalyst on June 22, 2015
Thanks for that history! If I ever knew that story, I'd forgotten it. More likely I toured Schonbrunn without ever learning about that. I do remember fantasizing about living there, and then feeling kind of relieved that I did not live there!
By: Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma on June 22, 2015
Thanks for the history lesson!!
By: fishducky on June 22, 2015
I learned something (yet again!) from your blog. Ever since I can remember, I knew there was a Napoleon (obviously) and a Napoleon III. But, I always wondered, what about a Napoleon II? Yes, yes, I could have researched it, but I knew that you'd come along eventually and set me straight. Thanks!
By: Al Penwasser on June 22, 2015
A gilded cage indeed! What a juxtaposition, a confined and sad life midst such splendor! The photographs are beautiful.
By: Tom Cochrun on June 22, 2015
What a fascinating story! Your pictures are great, Stephen. Thanks for sharing this! I can't help but feel sorry for the Duke. So young and with few options. On top of that - ill.
By: Cherdo on June 22, 2015
So he was under palace arrest, but without that ankle thingy.
By: Val on June 22, 2015
As always, Steve, a very interesting history lesson that I knew nothing about! And photos to go with it made it more "real." I loved it.
By: Linda on June 22, 2015
How sad. I didn't know. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on June 22, 2015
Interesting history lesson here, I had no idea. nice one!
By: LL Cool Joe on June 22, 2015
Prisoner in a gilded cage? It's an interesting thought and begs the question: how do we truly define freedom? Is it merely the ability to go wherever we want? In the modern U.S.A. there would be many that could not travel far from home because it is too expensive. So they choose to keep aspirations small and take vacations sparingly if not at all. Are these people free?
By: Michael Offutt on June 22, 2015
I had no clue about Napoleon's son nor of this story. Great history lesson. Such an enormous and beautiful palace if you're free to come and go!
By: Bouncin Barb on June 22, 2015
These guys have much more to lose. They have more and bigger toys. some of those toys are other countries.
By: red on June 22, 2015
You bring back memories of what I had learned a long time ago and had forgotten! Thanks for the lesson and the photos. Makes you wonder - what's the lesser evil, the royalty from back then or the politicians of modern times?
By: Pixel Peeper on June 22, 2015
Great stuff!!
By: cranky on June 22, 2015
That's a very sad story. It's ironic, too, that though borne into royalty, his life was so short and ill-fated. The palace looks exquisite.
By: Robyn Engel on June 22, 2015
I suppose a professional duster would have great job security at a place like that.
By: Jerry E. Beuterbaugh on June 22, 2015
I really enjoyed this post.
By: John on June 23, 2015
I enjoy reading about your travels. You peel back the layers to reveal tidbits of history with a dab of art providing depth without overwhelming the uninitiated art/history novice in like me. :)
By: Daniel LaFrance on June 23, 2015
What a fascinating part of history that I knew nothing about. Thank you. There is a really good novel in that story.
By: Akansas Patti on June 23, 2015
I'm doing a lot of vicarious traveling this year. first to Paris and now Austria!
By: Ellen Abbott on June 23, 2015
Stephen: Yes, agree on the prison (gilded cage). I felt this way after touring Elvis Presley's Graceland!
By: Michael Manning on June 23, 2015
Those royals ... yes, they lead different lives, but not necessarily better lives.
By: Tom Sightings on June 23, 2015
What a sad life he lived -- sick and imprisoned. Even if the place was beautiful, it doesn't make up for loss of health and freedom.
By: mimi on June 23, 2015

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