The lovers Louise and André as a postcard.
The lovers Louise and André as a postcard.   Druck und Verlag E. Graenert, Amsterdam

The scandal becomes public knowledge

In Switzerland, the runaway Habsburgs Louise and Leopold deliberately laid false trails in order to continue hiding their whereabouts. But their efforts were unsuccessful, and the scandal shocked the aristocracy and the public throughout Europe.

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.

It was a strange party of travellers that came together in Zurich in December 1902: the runaway Habsburgs Leopold Ferdinand and his sister Louise, along with their respective lovers, Wilhelmine Adamovic, a former prostitute, and André Giron, previously the language teacher of Louise’s five children in Dresden. Giron, a Belgian, arrived in Zurich one day after the others. To cover up the fact that they had run away together, the lovebirds resorted to a clever ruse. A friend of theirs sent a telegram in Louise’s name from Brussels, in which she purportedly informed the Saxon court of her abandoned husband that she had absolutely no intention of returning to Dresden. The content of the bogus telegram quickly spread throughout Europa and, according to the otherwise restrained Neue Zürcher Zeitung, it hit ‘like a bombshell’; up to then, it had been thought that Louise was still in Salzburg, and certainly not in Brussels, the hometown of her lover André Giron.
This illustrious quartet fled secretly from Zurich to Geneva. From left: Leopold Ferdinand, Louise, André Giron and Wilhelmine Adamovic.
This illustrious quartet fled secretly from Zurich to Geneva. From left: Leopold Ferdinand, Louise, André Giron and Wilhelmine Adamovic. Wikimedia
To further cover their tracks, Louise, Leopold and their companions decided to move on to Geneva. On 15 December they took four rooms at the Hotel d’Angleterre. In Geneva the runaways led a carefree existence in the run-up to Christmas, with strolls along the city streets, while behind the scenes the telegraph wires were running red-hot. Only after two days of uncertainty did the Saxony secret police work out that the fugitive Crown Princess was not in Brussels, but in Geneva. A new delegation from Saxony, including detective Arthur Schwarz, immediately set off for Geneva and also took rooms at the Angleterre.
The foursome holed up in the Hotel d’Angleterre in Geneva.
The foursome holed up in the Hotel d’Angleterre in Geneva. / Bibliothèque de Genève
Schwarz and his people planned to kidnap the Crown Princess. But the Geneva police got wind of their intent, and scuppered the plan; Geneva would not tolerate clandestine operations by a foreign police force. Switzerland then lodged an official complaint with the Kingdom of Saxony over this violation of Swiss sovereignty. So the Saxony detective Arthur Schwarz had to drop the abduction plan, but there was nothing to stop him from keeping the Princess under strict surveillance. He intercepted the royal guests’ mail, bribed chambermaids with generous tips and noted on hand-drawn floor plans exactly which rooms had connecting passages and, in particular, where the beds were located: the Crown Princess’s room was right next to that of Giron, which Schwarz interpreted as further evidence of adultery! Archduke Leopold was annoyed by the presence of the bothersome detective from Saxony; he asked the hotel operator whether he could simply rent the entire hotel in order to get rid of Arthur Schwarz. But in view of the presence of other guests, the hotelier turned down his request.
The overt and celebrated intimacy was scandalous: Louise with her lover André Giron on a postcard.
The overt and celebrated intimacy was scandalous: Louise with her lover André Giron on a postcard.   Druck und Verlag C. Meissner, Leipzig
Because the abduction plan had failed and adultery was not sufficient grounds for arrest in Geneva, the Saxons took the legal route. They accused Louise of stealing the Saxon crown jewels, worth 800,000 marks, and applied for an international arrest warrant. But this allegation was entirely fictitious – Louise had far fewer valuables with her than she had left behind in Dresden. The requested international manhunt was suspended after a few days.

A public relations masterstroke

After an initial evasive lie claiming that Louise was ill, the affair could no longer be kept under wraps. On 22 December the official bulletin of the Saxon royal court was issued: ‘Her Imperial and Royal Highness the Crown Princess has, in an apparently pathological state of emotional agitation, abruptly left Salzburg and betaken herself abroad, severing all ties with her family members here.’ The official statement was intended to put an end to the persistent rumours. The wording ‘apparently pathological state of emotional agitation’ is telling – Louise is characterised as ill, even though the word ‘apparently’ alleviates the pathological nature of her condition somewhat. In this respect, the bulletin was a masterpiece of political PR that left open a host of options.
Louise’s tragic life in pictures… YouTube
The gutter press pounced on the story: a Crown Princess and an Archduke do a runner because they’re in love with members of the hoi polloi; and to top it off, she’s pregnant. This was tabloid fodder of the finest quality even for conventional newspapers, which at that time were opening up to this type of subject matter. Louise, Leopold and André Giron met with journalists from all over Europe, and even America, readily providing information to well-known newspapers such as Paris’s Le Figaro, the Münchner Neuesten Nachrichten and the New York Herald.
The Swiss press, in this case the 'Tägliche Anzeiger für Thun und das Berner Oberland', also reported on Louise and Leopold.
The Swiss press, in this case the Tägliche Anzeiger für Thun und das Berner Oberland, also reported on Louise and Leopold. e-newspaperarchives
Leopold affirmed that he wanted to be free as soon as possible and marry his lady-love. Louise hoped ‘to dissolve [her] marriage’, after which she wished to marry Giron, because her love for him was ‘much too deep’. There was no playing down the unsavoury facts: although initially kept secret, the amours were an unparalleled public embarrassment. The royal house of Saxony had disgraced itself in the eyes of all of Europe. The nobility throughout Europe was appalled, while the political left saw once again the imminent downfall of the degenerate monarchy. Vienna’s Neue Freie Presse gave a trenchant analysis: ‘Never before has the rift between passion and tradition played out so radically and so brazenly in a royal family. One can really feel this battle between the old era and the modern age.’
Leopold and Wilhelmine Adamovic were the object of press scrutiny. Vienna’s Kronen Zeitung newspaper considered the relationship a ‘royal misalliance’.
Leopold and Wilhelmine Adamovic were the object of press scrutiny. Vienna’s Kronen Zeitung newspaper considered the relationship a ‘royal misalliance’. Kronenzeitung, Wien
In that respect, the scandal was much more than a breach of the rules by two self-indulgent aristocrats; it represented the struggle between yesterday and tomorrow. At the time, the world was experiencing an unprecedented level of upheaval and change. The industrial sector was churning out more and more products, more and more cheaply; globalisation was picking up pace; women were demanding their rights; cars, electricity and telephones meant day-to-day life was moving faster; the sciences and art were shattering the old world view. People felt as if they were on a speeding train, but they didn’t know which way the switches were set! Many were caught in a vortex of uncertainty between the ‘old era and the modern age’. Louise and Leopold were acting out their break with tradition on a very public stage, and the events need to be viewed against this backdrop.

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.

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