Tuesday, October 2, 2012

+ Princess Maria Christina of Altenburg (1923-2012)

Princess Maria Christina of Altenburg passed away earlier today in Poland.

Born at Zywiec (Saybusch) on 8 December 1923, Maria Christina was the second child of Archduke Karl Albrecht of Austria and of his wife, Swedish noblewoman Alice Ankracrona. The marriage was considered unequal and the Head of the Imperial House later granted Alice the title of Princess of Altenburg, a princely name inherited by her children.

After the fall of the Habsburg Empire, part of the former realm went to form the new Poland. Considerable Habsburg-Teschen lands were located within the borders of the new country. These properties belonged to Archduke Karl Stephan of Austria, a brother of the immensely wealthy Archduke Friedrich, Duke of Teschen, as well as of Queen Mother María Cristina of Spain. Karl Stephan's children were first cousins of King Alfonso XIII of Spain, a family relation that the Spanish Royal House surely has forgotten about by now. Karl Stephan's half-sister, Maria Theresa, was the last Queen of Bavaria as consort of King Ludwig III, who also lost his throne in the debacle that followed the end of the Great War.

Karl Albrecht and Alice were the parents of four children. Prince Karl-Stefan was born in 1921. Maria Christina followed him. Then came Karl-Albrecht, who was born at Zywiec in 1926 and died there two years later. Finally, in 1931 Alice gave birth to her last child, Renata, who was born at Zywiec. Karl-Stefan married his first cousin Marie-Louise af Petersens in 1952. They had two children, but these offspring never married. Princess Renata married Eduardo de Zulueta y Dato, a Spanish diplomat she met while he served as Embassy Secretary in Stockholm. He later served as Spain's ambassador to the United Nations, Luxembourg and Algeria. Renata and Eduardo had four children, of whom three survive with descendants.

Archduke Karl Albrecht of Austria owned many businesses in the new Poland, including the vast estate at Saybusch with its forests and a renowned brewery. His children, the Princes of Altenburg were to inherit the estate, known in Polish as Zywiec. Unfortunately, the tragic events leading to Germany's invasion of Poland in 1939 and the onset of war destroyed the family finances. WBy the time the Soviets overran Poland, Karl Albrecht and his family had fled.

The Altenburgs were to live in Sweden for some time and before Maria Christina eventually settled in Switzerland. Princess Maria Christina lived there until she was able to return to a free Poland and take up residence in an apartment granted to her by the authorities managing Zywiec, the property having been expropriated by the Communists after 1945. Several years ago the Altenburgs were able to reach a settlement with the Polish state and this restored a small portion of their formerly vast domains. Heineken International purchased the brewery several years ago.

In 1993 she was able to reclaim Polish nationality and eight years later she moved permanently to Zywiec. While she lived at Zywiec, Maria Christina was treated with great respect and admiration. She represented the spirit of resistance that has inspired Poland to do away with the shackles of state-sponsored terror consequence of decades under Communist rule.

She will be laid to rest next week in theFamily Crypt at Zywiec.

May She Rest in Peace...

©Pawel Sowa/AG

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