A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the eventful life of the Habsburg monarchy's last Crown Prince, Otto, who died in July aged 98.
Paradoxically, it was announced that the man who had not been allowed back into Austria until he renounced his claim was to be given an imperial burial. Criticism of this plan came from both left and right, with monarchists complaining that as Austria had no interest in restoring Otto in life it should not be allowed to make tourist capital of him in death. Many socialists, meanwhile, felt that the ceremonies were unfitting for a Republic. I take a more relaxed view: monarchists could see this as Austria’s attempts to make peace with the past, forgetting the bitterness of the post-1918 years. They will never again bury an Archduke, born in the purple of the imperial era.
Otto’s coffin made its journey from his home town of Pöcking to Vienna, lying in state in Mariazell en route while mourners filed past. It was joined by that of his wife, Regina of Meiningen, who died in 2010 and had lain temporarily interred with her own ancestors until then. The funeral, held in Vienna's Cathedral, the Stephansdom, was attended by royal, ex-royal and diplomatic representatives from around the world. Many even sang the former anthem, the Kaiserhymne, though the Austrian President, Heinz Fischer, abstained for obvious reasons. Afterwards, a cortege more than a kilometre long traced the route that Otto himself had walked as a young child at the funeral of Franz Josef, bearing the coffin to the imperial crypt. As it passed the Hofburg, soldiers fired a military salute.
At the door to the crypt, itself one of Vienna’s most strange and atmospheric tourist attractions, the coffin bearers enacted the famous ritual of knocking and requesting entry for Otto, using his full string of imperial titles. Monks inside duly declared that knew him not, and entry was requested a second time using the academic and political titles he had earned in his career. Again, entry was refused, and only when the erstwhile Crown Prince was announced as "Otto, a sinner" did the priests swing open the door. This ceremony, which seemed designed poignantly to echo Otto's path in life, is actually said to have been enacted at every imperial funeral for centuries. Austrian officials, however, would unromantically insist that the triple knock is nothing but a legend, and that Otto himself first caused it to be used for his mother’s funeral in 1989!
[The tomb of Karl VI in the Imperial Crypt in Vienna; picture by Welleschik from Wikimedia Commons]
By tradition, Habsburg hearts are buried apart from the rest of the body. Otto chose to have his interred in the Benedictine Abbey at Pannanholma in Hungary, where he had spent time as a boy learning the Hungarian language. With this act, he seemed to lay to rest the awkward – sometimes even poisonous - relationship that had existed between the later Habsburgs and the Kingdom of Hungary, that prickly junior partner in the Dual monarchy.