The Vampire Princess
Odds are you (like most people) have never heard of Princess Eleonore Elisabeth Amalia Magdalena von Lobkowicz. A quite important (or at least wealthy and highly placed) person in her day–the first half of the 18th century, roughly–she vanished into obscurity along with countless others who had position and power yet did little enough to distinguish themselves. She neither led nor inspired any wars, acted as patron to no great artist. Her immediate relatives ended up as forgotten as herself. Nobody, as far as we can tell, killed or died for her (although her husband was killed in a hunting accident by Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI, who then raised the couple’s only son at court–methinks the makings of some kind of interesting story lie there, but remain a dramatic mine as yet untapped).
But in 2005 this shadowy figure from three centuries past became the latest center-piece in a minor cottage industry–trying to identify the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula.
In fact, Stoker almost certainly was drawing first and foremost upon a very personal image of a horrific, bestial foreigner from the East. Coming across an obscure reference to Vlad Tepes (i.e. The Impaler) and the name by which his family became known–Dracula–Stoker evidently like the sound of it and incorporated a few details into his book. Other than the name, the most obvious contribution of that was to shift the antagonist’s homeland from Styria to Transylvania.
No matter. Austrian writer and director Klaus Steindl & Andreas Sulzer used such speculations as a selling point for their documentary “The Vampire Princess” available on YouTube as well as the Smithsonian Channel. It even won a CINE award (check out www.cine.org for more information on this). Never mind the attempts to link Princess Eleanore to Stoker, including some footage of a man in a familiar-looking red cloak and elaborate white hair-do. Her story contains quite enough to interest the history buff as well as the vampire buff alike.
Princess Eleanore was the daughter of a prince in the Holy Roman Empire (which had rather a lot of those, given its patchwork nature) and married another, the very wealthy Adam Franz Karl Eusebius von Schwarzenberg. theirs was an elegant and cultivated court in Brandýs nad Labem-Stará Boleslav (today part of the Czech Republic, not far from Prague). Like many women of her class and status, her main occupation was a baby factory and in this sacred task she proved barely competent. She had only two children, one of them male. On the other hand, they both lived past infancy, no small thing. It was actually in an effort to bear a son that her story begins to take a detour into the strange, even the supernatural. Her attendants went and caught some wolves from the surrounding countryside, for the express purpose of milking them. Wolf’s milk was supposed to encourage the production of male offspring for some reason. As bizarre as that sounds, it was precisely the kind of “medicine” practiced for centuries in Europe and at least in this case could do little harm (to the drinker anyway–pity the poor servants stuck with the job of milking a wild female wolf!).
Who knows, maybe it even worked? She did bear a son, eventually. Her direct descendant Karl VII heads the House of Schwarzenberg to this day!
Having done her duty, and then losing her husband, the fabulously wealthy Princess Eleanore didn’t really have that much to do with her life. One wonders if in our own era she might have begun working for UNICEF or traveled the world or maybe gotten a reality show (she was avid and skilled hunter). But those were different days, and in truth her health began to fail. Today it seems likely she had contracted cancer. Then, she began to spend ever-increasing amounts of money on medicines and balms. Bills of sale from the Brandýs nad Labem-Stará Boleslav archives read like the ingredients needed for Potions class at Hogwarts!
Keep in mind this was the very era when fears of a vampires began to grow. Within a decade or so of Princess Eleanore’s death the Empress Maria Theresa authorized an official investigation into the so-called “epidemic.” Their conclusion led to an imperial edict forbidding the desecration of graves by impalement and beheading.
Princess Eleanore’s health deteriorated over the years, necessitating in the end a trip to Vienna, a last-ditch effort to find a doctor to save her. When she died–and very unusually–her body was subject to an autopsy. Even more strangely, she was not then buried with the rest of the family, but in a church back at Brandýs nad Labem-Stará Boleslav. The filmmakers even got permission to examine the tomb, learning in the process her body was sealed far more intensely that would be normal for the era.
One might hope that, like Vlad the Impaler and Countess Erzebet Bathori, some one might find a way to tell a dramatic version of this story!