Archduke Ludwig Viktor, born on this day in 1842, was the youngest of Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph’s three brothers. I first wrote about him two years ago, describing how the Archduke’s bathhouse indiscretions saw him banished from Vienna to provincial Salzburg (and I recently found an uncredited paraphrase of my post – hiya!). But my interest in the pink sheep of the Habsburgs was reawakened by the discovery of a remarkable pamphlet in Berlin’s Staatsbibliothek. It was written in 1923 by Max Reversi and bears the title Erzherzog Ludwig Viktor von Österreich: Eine philosophische Studie (“Archduke Ludwig Viktor of Austria: A philosophical study”). Despite the title it contains little philosophy, although it is long on polemics.
Its paper not so much yellowing as browning, its edges crumbling, Reversi’s cheaply-printed essay has aged poorly. It was published in Berlin by Adolf Brand, also responsible for Der Eigene, the first-ever gay periodical. Reversi’s thoughts were pointedly printed along with two poems by Frederick the Great, Prussia’s celebrated queen. Ludwig had died just four years previously, and in outing him Reversi was daringly engaging with recent events rather than retelling what everyone already knew about a few long-dead Greeks. The pamphlet thus represents Weimar Berlin’s emerging gay movement branching out into what we would now consider a queer reading of history.
Reversi not only sympathises with Ludwig’s ruin, he singles out Archduke Franz Ferdinand as its chief architect. Ludwig’s nephew nursed a lifelong dislike for his flamboyant, gossipy uncle. A passionate hunter who apparently felled some half a million animals in his lifetime, Franz Ferdinand once shot a white deer and smirked,“doesn’t it look like Uncle Ludwig?”
“Luzi Wuzi”, as he was often known, adored balls: on the dancefloor he was said to move with “the exaggerated and precious grace of an 18th century prince”. The decor of his apartments was the talk of Vienna. In short, he was light on his feet and good with colours. He even frocked up for the occasional theatrical performance. But still the emperor didn’t twig that his brother was not as other men.
And then: “Archduke Ludwig seems to have lost any sense of what was permissible,” asserts Reversi. “Perhaps he wanted to enjoy his life one more time before he was caught by the already palpable grip of dark forces, forces that seek to destroy anything which casts doubt on their teachings.” Although ambiguously worded, the pamphlet suggests that Franz Ferdinand arranged the decisive incident which precipitated Ludwig’s fall. Once Ludwig made a pass too far in the bathhouse and was rudely rebuffed by an affronted soldier, Franz Ferdinand hurried to bring Franz Joseph’s ignorance to an end.
Humiliation was swift. Ludwig was no longer permitted to wear military uniform, his servants were denied their accustomed purple and silver livery and the wheels of the Archduke’s carriage were now black instead of gold. But the changes weren’t just aesthetic; Ludwig was banished to his summer residence, Salzburg’s Schloss Kleßheim. The Salzburgers, who were well aware of Ludwig’s reputation, nonetheless embraced their good-hearted imperial guest, who excelled in charitable works.
But even here, according to Reversi, the long arm of Franz Ferdinand continued to operate. He set a honey trap in the form of a comely coachman and when Ludwig took the bait, he was forced to undergo brutal, primitive psychiatric treatment. He finally ended up confined to a suite of three rooms, watched over by nuns.
Meanwhile the Habsburg dynasty hastened to its demise. Ludwig’s brother Maximilian was executed, as we saw, in 1867 and his nephew Crown Prince Rudolf killed himself in 1886. Ten years later Karl Ludwig (Franz Ferdinand’s father), a religious zealot, died after drinking contaminated water from the River Jordan. Sissi was taken out by an anarchist in 1898 and then – clearly heeding his father’s lesson in dramatic irony – Franz Ferdinand the compulsive hunter was felled by a bullet. Ludwig’s nemesis was no more, but of course his demise triggered the bout of protracted unpleasantness that was the First World War. At the end of it Franz Joseph was dead, the family business in ruins, and against all odds Ludwig Viktor was the last man standing. But he had little time to savour the victory, dying in 1919. A loyal servant had to beg for the upkeep of Ludwig’s beloved dog, Pamperl, and the Archduke himself was conveniently forgotten by the Austrians.
Well, not entirely forgotten. In Salzburg, a laneway a few streets from the Archduke’s palace bears his name. And like its namesake, Ludwig-Viktor-Gasse is largely hidden from view and completely, gloriously bent.