A few years ago I received an encyclopedia on the Habsburgs, Die Habsburger, written by Brigitte Haman. It was originally published in Vienna in 1988. It contains short biographies and some pictures of 400 important Habsburgs. One's head spins looking at the entries. For example, all the Marias. I found at least thirteen Maria Annas. And what about all those Maria Josephas? A similar largesse awaits the reader when it comes to Karls. Georg (György) wasn't a favorite Habsburg name. I found only two, and I will talk here about a third: György von Habsburg, youngest child of Otto von Habsburg. He, his wife Princess Eilike von Oldeburg, and their three children live in Sóskút, a village about twenty kilometers from Budapest.
First, a little about recent Habsburg families: they are large. The family of Otto, his brothers and sisters, their children, and their children's children numbers about 300. At least this is what György said in an interview. For some bigger occasion, a wedding or a funeral, about a hundred of his relatives gather. György's grandfather, known as Karl I in his role as Austrian emperor and Károly IV as Hungarian king, died young. Nonetheless he and his wife Zita, Princess of Bourbon-Parma, managed to have eight children in eleven years! Otto, the eldest, is still active and in good health at the age of 97. Although Karl-Károly had to renounce the throne, his son was brought up as someone who would one day rule the land of the Habsburgs. It was only in 1961 that Otto renounced all his claims to the thrones of Austria, Hungary, Bohemia, and Croatia, just to mention a few of the more important countries he was supposed to be king or emperor of. Among his official titles one could find: King of Jerusalem! Or what about King of Illyria? I also liked the King of the Cumans!
I'm not going to go into the details of Karl/Károly's unsuccessful attempts to extricate Austria-Hungary from the war when he inherited the throne upon Franz Joseph's death. The upshot was that in 1918 the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy disintegrated, Austria and Hungary became republics, and the family of Karl/Károly was barred from Austria. In Hungary, after the fall of the democratic republic of Mihály Károlyi and the declaration of a short-lived (133 days) Hungarian Soviet Republic, the new regime no longer wanted to be a republic. Instead, it became a kingdom without a king. The parliament in January 1920 chose a governor or regent, Miklós Horthy, whose full title was: His Serene Highness the Regent of the Kingdom of Hungary" (Hungarian:Őfőméltósága a Magyar Királyság Kormányzója). The legislators turned back to the time of János Hunyadi who bore the same title between 1446 and 1453. So Károly had reason to hope that one day he would be able to rule, at least in Hungary.
There were, however, serious problems with his return to Hungary. First and most important, the successor states, especially Czechoslovakia, considered his return a casus belli. Second, there was no consensus concerning the person of the future king. The country was deeply divided between the loyalists and the free electors. Nonetheless, Károly with the apparent encouragement of France tried twice to return to Hungary–in March and in October 1921. The first time Horthy simply refused to hand over power, and Károly went back to Switzerland. The second time the Hungarian government ordered troops against him and his supporters. The Hungarian government subsequently handed him over to the English, who exiled him and his family to the Island of Madeira where he died a few months later of the Spanish flu. Even ten years or so later, his children were still unable to leave Madeira, and Otto needed special permission to study in Belgium at the Catholic University of Louvain.
Otto, who married Princess Regina of Sachsen-Meiningen in 1951, also had a large family: five girls, two of them twins, and two boys: Karl and Georg (György). Karl was born in 1961 and György in 1964. It seems that although Otto gave up the idea of returning as king to the countries in which his ancestors once ruled, he still had political ambitions in the region. After 1990 the Smallholders' party had the harebrained idea of making Otto president of the republic. That is especially amusing if one thinks of the fiercely anti-Habsburg sentiments of the Smallholders historically. They were always on the side of "independence." They wanted nothing to do with the Habsburgs.
After the change of regime Otto and his family could freely visit Hungary and they did. Otto, who speaks fluent Hungarian, kept returning to the country which he last saw as a child in 1918. But he still has vivid memories of his father's coronation in 1916 when he was four years old. Here is the famous official photo I'll bet most Hungarians are familiar with. Towns and villages made him an honorary citizen and then came the news that his second son, György, would settle in Hungary for good. That was in 1992. At the same time it was reported that György's brother, Karl, would live in Croatia.
Although Otto's Hungarian is very good, his son's was nonexistent. Otto was the product of a draconian educational regimen; in response, he was much more relaxed with his children's education. The downside was that when György moved to Hungary he had to learn the language from scratch which, as he said, "wasn't easy." Then came his wedding to Princess Heilike von Oldenburg held in the Szent István Bazilika (pictured). It was a big wedding. After all, the family is oversized. There were also a lot of journalists on hand because, after all, it is not every day that a Habsburg marries in a country whose last king was his grandfather.
György is president of the Hungarian Red Cross, but in the last few months his name was also mentioned frequently in a political context. Ibolya Dávid's Magyar Demokrata Fórum proposed him as a possible MDF member of the European Parliament, second on the ticket. Lajos Bokros and György von Habsburg. György campaigned with great vigor although I don't think he really believed that MDF would receive enough votes to send two men to Brussels. However, we may see György's name in politics yet. There is some talk of recalling Lajos Bokros from Brussels for an election campaign next year. In that case, it would be György who would move up. He has accepted modest political roles before. Gyula Horn asked him to be an unofficial goodwill ambassador of Hungary to the European Union.
His wife does equine therapy for children, some disabled. There are twenty horses and 10 ponies in the stables next to the house. She teaches about 120 children every week. The Habsburgs have three children: Zsófia (2002), Ildikó (2003), and Károly-Konstantin (2004) who attend the local school and kindergarten. Obviously, they are becoming little Hungarians. Strange careers, strange life stories.