From Austrian Archduke to ordinary Swiss citizen: Leopold was in a hurry to become ‘normal’.
From Austrian Archduke to ordinary Swiss citizen: Leopold was in a hurry to become ‘normal’. Wikimedia

The Archduke becomes a Swiss citizen

After fleeing to Switzerland, Leopold settled there permanently and became a citizen of the city of Zug. His wife, on the other hand, preferred to spend her time at Monte Verità, a Mecca for alternative lifestylers. It wasn’t long before the storm clouds started gathering…

Michael van Orsouw

Michael van Orsouw

Michael van Orsouw has a PhD in history and is a performance poet and author. He regularly publishes historical books.

In the late winter of 1903, the runaway siblings went their separate ways: Louise was heavily pregnant with her sixth child, while Leopold and his lover, Wilhelmine, took up residence in a hotel in Montreux. Louise found accommodation at the Villa Toskana in Lindau on Lake Constance. She was in great distress: ‘I tasted every bitter torment,’ she wrote later, because she felt cooped up and trapped. On 5 May 1903, she gave birth to her daughter Anna Pia Monica. The juicy detail: there was some uncertainty as to who the baby’s father was. Was it her husband, Friedrich August III of Saxony, the future king? Or was it her lover André Giron, formerly the language teacher of her older children?
Was Friedrich August III of Saxony the father?
Was Friedrich August III of Saxony the father? Wikimedia
Or was it André Giron?
Or was it André Giron? Druck und Verlag C. Meissner, Leipzig
A whole delegation of specialists and trusted confidants therefore attended the birth: a doctor and midwife from Lindau and two specialists from Dresden, and Louise’s mother, Alice, rushed from Salzburg to be by her side. The specialists from Dresden were tasked with carrying out a professional assessment of the child immediately after its birth. In an age before DNA samples, they had to make do with an examination of external characteristics. Based on the hair colour and the shape of the infant’s face, the doctors concluded that the heir to the throne, Friedrich August, was the father. The doctors passed on these findings to Dresden, where Friedrich August III was hugely relieved. He cabled his congratulations to Lindau, prompting Louise to remark: ‘So he isn’t made of stone after all.’
Alice of Bourbon, Louise’s mother, rushed to Lindau to help her daughter.
Alice of Bourbon, Louise’s mother, rushed to Lindau to help her daughter. Wikimedia
Meanwhile, Leopold was enjoying life at Lake Geneva. He and his lover, ex-prostitute Wilhelmine Adamovic, were living at the grand Hotel Continental in Montreux, and they planned to finally marry. On 25 July 1903, the couple exchanged vows in Veyrier, on the southwest side of Lac Léman. It was a relatively cool summer’s day, with a maximum temperature of 19 degrees. In keeping with the weather and the other circumstances of the occasion, the ceremony was very modest, taking place ‘in the utmost seclusion’, the Vienna newspapers later reported. It was hardly ‘the most beautiful day’ of their lives, as people usually say about their weddings. Wilhelmine and Leopold were dressed simply, she in a demure grey silk dress – no traditional white wedding dress with veil and train for her – and he in a black suit.
Leopold and Wilhelmine enjoyed life at the Hotel ‘Continental’ in Montreux.
Leopold and Wilhelmine enjoyed life at the Hotel ‘Continental’ in Montreux. ETH Library Zurich
Scarcely was the wedding over than Leopold set about his next project. He applied for permanent residence in the Canton of Geneva, and planned to live in Zug. In those days, the little town in central Switzerland was neither tax-efficient nor especially sought-after among the international community. For one thing, Leopold was familiar with the area from previous trips to Switzerland. For another, Zug was a very Catholic city, which would have pleased his financial backer and father, Ferdinand of Tuscany. In addition, Wilhelmine was reluctant to make her home at Lake Geneva, where people spoke a language that she couldn’t speak. After a brief search, Leopold and Wilhelmine Wölfling found a suitable lakefront villa in Zug: Villa Seeburg on Artherstrasse (today number 38), with park-like gardens. Leopold Wölfling and his new wife set up home at the Villa, and he obtained Swiss citizenship. Archduke Leopold Ferdinand of Austria and Tuscany became Leopold Wölfling, a citizen of the City and Canton of Zug.
The newlywed Wölflings moved into ‘Villa Seeburg’ in Zug.
The newlywed Wölflings moved into ‘Villa Seeburg’ in Zug. Bibliothek Zug
Leopold then began attending lectures at the ETH and studied meteorological data at Lake Zug. He even came up with an invention, a trench knife (Sturmmesser). Wilhelmine, on the other hand, was bored. She spent her days dealing with the household chores, which she didn’t like at all. Leopold’s attempts to provide her with educational and cultural opportunities bore little fruit: she found writing difficult, foreign languages were too much of an effort for her, and she had given up playing the piano.

Captivated by the alternative lifestyle on Monte Verità

So it was a welcome change when Leopold and Wilhelmine went on a trip to Ticino. There, on Monte Verità, they encountered a former fellow officer of Leopold’s, who now had flowing hair and an unkempt beard and held unorthodox views; he pursued a ‘natural way of life’, ate very little and had given up meat completely, dressed in the plainest clothes, managed without the help of staff and lived in a shack he had built himself.
Alternative lifestylers dancing at Monte Verità, around 1910.
Alternative lifestylers dancing at Monte Verità, around 1910. Foundation Monte Verità
Wilhelmine was captivated by this primitive way of life. These ‘children of nature’ dwelt in simple mud huts and experimented with free love, a natural diet, self-blended drugs, fantastical alternative religions, mystical sessions and profound psychoanalysis. At that time, Ascona was developing into a real melting pot of reformers and wannabe revolutionaries. Wilhelmine was very taken with all of this, and she began to make increasingly frequent pilgrimages to Monte Verità; she felt very comfortable and accepted amongst the motley crowd of anarchists, intellectuals and starry-eyed idealists. In fact, Mrs Wölfling was so enamoured of the freedom from all constraints that she adopted the natural way of life herself. She discarded her elaborate, tailor-made outfits and wrapped herself instead in plain garments of linen cloth, she stopped going to the hairdresser and no longer combed her hair, she gave up wearing undergarments and using soap and perfume, drank no alcohol and ate only plant-based foods. This changed a few things for Leopold. He soon had a full beard, and he let his hair grow into a wild mane. But after a few weeks without soap he was repulsed by his own body odour, the long chewing on pulses and vegetables disgusted him, he missed good, solid Austrian food and disliked the coarse, hand-woven linen garments. He and Wilhelmine argued constantly.
Wilhelmine and Leopold had a parting of the ways at Monte Verità.
Wilhelmine and Leopold had a parting of the ways at Monte Verità. B. J. G. phot
For a trip to Florence, Leopold Wölfling cut his hair, shaved off his beard and dressed as he used to. When he returned in December 1906, he had changed completely. Clearly, in the end, the alternative way of life was too colourful for him; he decided to separate from his wife. So he handed over the smaller matters to his lawyers, who would be handling the divorce.

Louise and Leopold

In 1902, Crown Princess Louise and Archduke Leopold of Austria-Tuscany fled to Switzerland. The siblings sought to escape from their straitjacketed life in the bosom of the Habsburg family. They succeeded, but their lives became a scandal-plagued descent into a normal middle-class existence, and ultimately ended in poverty and loneliness. Part 1: Escape to Switzerland Part 2: The scandal becomes public knowledge Part 3: The Archduke becomes a Swiss citizen Part 4: Leopold and the women Part 5: Regensdorf versus the Archduke Read the detailed account of Louise and Leopold’s journey in the book of the same name, by Michael van Orsouw. It is published by Hier und Jetzt.

Further posts