Tag Archives: Miklos Banffy

Archduke Otto von Habsburg

Otto von Habsburg with a bust of himself at Paks, Hungary, in 2005

The funeral of the last heir to the Habsburg throne takes places today in Vienna. By family tradition his heart will be buried separately in a Bedendictine monastery in Hungary at Pannonhalma Archabbey, symbolising I suppose Vienna’s claim on the Hungarian empire. The characters in his early family life feature in Miklós Bánffy’s books. Many of the old aristocrats that Paddy came across in Hungary and Romania had served the collapsed Habsburg Empire.

First published in the Telegraph July 4 2011

Archduke Otto von Habsburg, who died on July 4 aged 98, began his public life as the infant Crown Prince of the multinational Austro-Hungarian Empire, and ended it as Father of the multinational European Parliament.

Within that neatly closed circle lay all the major political dramas of the 20th century, most of which he witnessed and some of which he influenced. He was centre stage for one of them — the unequal struggle against Hitler for the survival of his Austrian homeland, which he tried to conduct as an exiled Pretender in the 1930s. Not for nothing did the Führer call the triumphant march-in of March 12 1938 “Operation Otto”.

All that seemed unimaginable to the world in which young Otto, as he was known, started life during the deceptively tranquil Indian summer of the 650-year-old Habsburg monarchy. He was born third in line to the throne on November 12 1912 in the small Vienna palace of Hetzendorf and christened with a string of names demonstrating that the blood of all the Roman Catholic royal families of Europe flowed in his veins: Franz Josef Otto Robert Maria Anton Karl Max Heinrich Sixtus Xavier Felix Renatus Ludwig Gaetan Pius Ignatius.

His father, the Archduke Karl, was a great-nephew of the ruling Emperor Franz Josef, and was then serving as an infantry major-commander at the regimental barracks in the capital. His mother was the former Princess Zita of Bourbon-Parma, and their marriage the year before had been that rare event in a dynasty plagued with so many matrimonial mishaps and misalliances — a happy union of two people perfectly matched in attractiveness, temperament and lineage. Their firstborn was to follow the prescription almost to the letter in his own marriage 38 years later.

At the time of his birth, the 11-nation monarchy still seemed safe, if somewhat wobbly, and his own time at its helm still fairly distant. One Viennese newspaper hailed the newborn prince as the future monarch who “according to the human calculations, will be called upon to steer the future of Europe in the last quarter of the 20th century”.

The assassination at Sarajevo on June 28 1914 of the heir apparent, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, alongside his morganatic wife, put a brusque end to all such calculations. Indeed, the First World War which broke out six weeks later was to spell the doom of Europe’s continental empires, that of the Habsburgs included.

Half way through the war, in the early hours of November 22 1916, the old emperor Franz Josef, who had ruled for a record-breaking 68 years, died at last.

An era, as well as a reign, was over, but the succession was smooth. Otto’s father automatically became the new emperor, and he, aged four, the new Crown Prince. His first ceremonial appearance came on November 30 1916 when he walked, a tiny figure in a white fur-trimmed tunic, between his parents behind the hearse of the late ruler at the great funeral procession in the capital.

A month later he was greeted with wild enthusiasm by the monarchy’s Magyar subjects when his father was crowned in Budapest as the new King of Hungary. The official photograph shows the young boy, dressed in ermine and velvet with a great white feather in his cap, sitting between his parents in their ornate coronation robes.

He always retained vague memories of those events, but these became much sharper when, two years later, the monarchy collapsed under the combined pressure of domestic upheaval and defeat on the battlefield.

The beginning of November 1918 saw him and his siblings stranded in a royal shooting lodge near Budapest, where an armed revolution had broken out. They were rescued by one of their Bourbon uncles, Prince René, who smuggled them across the border to rejoin their parents in the Schonbrunn Palace of Vienna. Otto had a child’s eye view of the collapse of the monarchy, abandoned by the aristocracy it had created.

On November 11 1918 the Emperor Karl, though not formally abdicating, “renounced participation in the affairs of state”. That same night they fled the deserted palace, heading at first for Eckartsau, their privately owned shooting lodge 40 miles north-east of the capital.

The winter there passed fairly calmly, but by the spring their tiny self-styled “court” was under threat from Left-wing agitators. (Austria had promptly declared itself a Republic after their flight from Vienna.)

Their rescuer now was not a family member but a British Army officer — Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Strutt, dispatched on the personal authority of King George V with orders to escort the beleaguered Austrian emperor and his family to safety. This Strutt accomplished in some style, reassembling their royal train for the journey into Switzerland on March 25 1919. Otto never forgot the experience. Whenever he heard in later life complaints about British indifference to the Habsburgs’ fate he would reply: “Yes, but there was always Strutt.”

The two and a half years of their Swiss exile were marked by the two attempts of the ex-Emperor to regain his Hungarian crown. Both were blocked in Budapest by Miklos Horthy, who had now ensconced himself in power as Regent. After the ignominious failure of the second restoration bid the family were exiled by the allied powers to Madeira, where Karl died, a broken man, on April 1 1922. That same day the nine-year-old Otto heard himself addressed as “Your Majesty” by the tiny household-in-exile. To the end of his days he remembered the shock it gave him: “Now it was my turn.”

Under the protection of their kinsman, King Alfonso XIII of Spain, the family moved to Lequeitio on the Spanish Basque coast. Otto remembered the seven years they spent there as their most tranquil time of exile. They were also, for him, the most hardworking. Under the strict supervision of his mother he took, under various tutors, the Matura (roughly, English A-levels) in both German and Hungarian. His further education was also the motive for their next move — to the gloomy castle of Hams at Steenokkerzeel, in Belgium, so that Otto could take his degree at the nearby university of Louvain. It was at Hams that Otto reached his 18th birthday and was duly declared, in a family ceremony with few outside guests, “in his own right sovereign and head of the house”.

However ghostly that title appeared, it was enough to impress the Austrian-born Adolf Hitler, who was manoeuvring to seize power in Germany. When in the winter of 1931-32 the young Pretender spent a few months studying in Berlin Hitler twice suggested a meeting.

The first invitation came from Prince August Wilhelm of Prussia, the dim-witted Nazi son of the exiled Kaiser, and the second via Goering himself. Otto refused both times on the spurious excuse that he had not come to Berlin to discuss politics (in fact, he was doing nothing but). Hitler was incensed by the snub and it touched off a six-year battle between the two men for the fate of their Austrian homeland.

The climax was reached in February and March of 1938 when a Nazi takeover in Vienna seemed imminent, prompting a short-lived show of defiance from the Austrian Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg — a monarchist at heart but without the strength of his convictions. His vacillation prompted a remarkably courageous offer from the young Pretender to return from exile to take over the reins of government in order to repel Hitler. Schuschnigg dithered but eventually rejected the idea — perhaps just as well for Otto, who was already high on the Gestapo’s wanted list.

He had moved close to the top of that list by the time, two years after the Anschluss, that German armies swept into France and Belgium. The exiled Habsburgs got away from Hams only a few hours before Goering’s bombers attacked the castle, and then they joined the vast stream of refugees heading south. They eventually reached Lisbon, where they were still being hounded by the Gestapo. President Roosevelt (whom Otto had met in Washington just before the fall of France) then honoured his offer of “hospitality in an emergency” and they were all flown by Clipper seaplane to the United States.

As Otto von Habsburg later admitted, he wasted far too much energy during those wartime years in America on the faction-fighting among Austrian refugee groups instead of concentrating on the broader political picture. But, thanks largely to his personal ties with the President, he was able to repair the image of Austria so tarnished by its supine surrender to Hitler in the Anschluss. And, in the last months of the war, he worked closely with the White House in the vain attempt to lure Horthyite Hungary over to the Allied side.

Churchill, whom he met at the Quebec Conference, warmly supported the vision of a post-war conservative federation in Central Europe. Stalin put paid to those visions, however, and it was to a Communist-controlled Danube Basin that Otto returned in the spring of 1945.

He made a brief foray into Western Austria but was expelled by the reborn Austrian Republic, which had reaffirmed the anti-Habsburg legislation of 1919. He then faced a personal crisis — without a valid passport, a home or any regular income. He solved the last problem by embarking on a career as a journalist and public lecturer. This was exhausting but highly remunerative and, within five years, he had paid off all his wartime debts and was enjoying a comfortable income.

He could now think of finding a home and founding a family. The ideal partner appeared by chance in 1950, when he visited a refugee centre near Munich. Working there as a nurse was Princess Regina of Sachsen-Meiningen, herself a refugee whose father, Duke George III, had died in a Soviet concentration camp. The ideally-matched couple were married a year later and settled in a comfortable villa at Pocking, near Lake Starnberg in Bavaria. Their first five children were all girls, and it was not until 1961 that the birth of Karl Thomas, the first of two sons, assured the line of direct succession.

This prompted Otto to renounce his own dynastic claims and pursue what had long fascinated him, a full-time career in politics. He acquired dual German-Austrian nationality, and in 1979 was elected to the European Parliament as Christian Democrat member for North Bavaria. There he stayed for the next 20 years, becoming the highly regarded Father of the House and its only member to have been born before the First World War.

He proved an accomplished debater with a fluent command of seven European languages. Though he spoke on a variety of topics, his abiding theme was the need to bridge the East-West division of the continent and ultimately to bring all the nations of the old monarchy within the new European Union. He continued to work successfully at this even after his retirement, using the pan-European movement as his principal platform. He had been the president ever since the death of its founder, Count Coudenhove-Kalergi, in 1972.

On October 3 2004, Pope John Paul II beatified Otto’s father, Emperor Karl. It was an important event in Otto von Habsburg’s life, and one that perhaps softened the blow that had occurred five years earlier.

He had hoped that his son Karl would carry on the Habsburg name in the European Parliament, but in 1999 the young archduke — who had been sitting alongside his famous father as a Right-wing member for Western Austria — was dropped by his party after a controversy over the financing of his campaign funds. A subsequent attempt to launch Karl on to the Austrian domestic political scene proved a dire, if gallant, failure.

Otto von Habsburg’s wife, the Archduchess Regina, died in February 2010.

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The Phoenix Land: The Memoirs of Count Miklós Bánffy

A reminder that Arcadia Books will be republishing Count Miklós Bánffy’s memoirs “The Phoenix Land” in June 2011. The book is already available for pre-order in bookshops such as Waterstones in the UK. and of course on Amazon. Arcadia first published this in 2004 and you can read a Spectator review here.

Bánffy’s memoirs were translated from the Hungarian by his daughter Katalin Bánffy-Jelen and Patrick Thursfield,winners of the Oxford Weidenfeld Translation Prize. Paddy once more offers a foreward. The blurb describes the book as follows:

“The thousand year-old year-old kingdom of Hungary, which formed the major part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the last Habsburg fled in 1918, was finally dismembered by the Western Allies by the terms of the peace treaties which followed the First World War. Phoenix-like the Hungarian people survived the horrors of war, the disappointment of the first socialist republic, the disillusion of the brief but terrifying communist rule of Béla Kun, and the bitterness of seeing their beloved country dismembered by the Treaty of Trianon. This is the world that Miklós Bánffy describes in The Phoenix Land.”

I contacted Gary Pulsifer at Arcadia for some further background and to ask him to explain more about why Bánffy is one of their authors. He sent me this, including a little vignette about Paddy and the writing of his introduction:

Tom, two reasons, one general, one specific. The first is that Arcadia specialises in translated fiction. The second is the story and this is it:

When I worked at Peter Owen Publishers I was invited to Tangier by the Hon David Herbert, one of Peter’s authors. He took my partner and me to lunch with his neighbour Patrick Thursfield, who as you know is the Bánffy co-translator. After lunch Patrick gave me the manuscript of THEY WERE COUNTED, which I read while I was on holiday, and was hooked. I tried to persuade Peter Owen to publish the trilogy, but no go, so when I started Arcadia in 1996 volume one was one of our early titles. I became quite close to Patrick, stayed with him in Tangier and saw a lot of him in London and he even once came along to the Frankfurt book fair. He was overjoyed when THEY WERE DIVIDED won the Weidenfeld Translation Prize (this happened at an awards ceremony in Oxford, when Umberto Eco presented the prize).

A funny aside is that Paddy’s forward was written in longhand and he came into our tiny offices to have Daniela de Groote, now our associate publisher, word-process it. Daniela, who is Chilean, hadn’t been in the UK all that long – she had been studying for a PhD here prior to working at Arcadia – and she had some difficulties in understanding Paddy’s upper crust accent as he dictated the foreword. Daniela was also catching a plane to Santiago that afternoon and the whole thing was a little much for her. So much so that I had to leave the office until they were finished . . .

The Phoenix Land: The Memoirs of Count Miklós Bánffy

I am just ten tantalising pages away from the end of Miklós Bánffy’s Transylvanian Trilogy (They Were Counted, They Were Found Wanting and They Were Divided) published by Arcadia books. If I have time I will write a short review very soon.The books are lively, and Bánffy writes so well about love, life, and politics in Transylvania and Hungary in the ten years leading up to the start of World War One, an event which was to tear apart the lives of so many, and which ended the comfortable existence of Hungarian aristocracy in Transylvania.

The story will almost certainly end in tragedy and sadness but that does not deflect from from what Patrick Leigh Fermor describes in his foreward to the Trilogy as a story that is “beyond question, dramatic.”.

One cannot read these books without wanting to know more about the author whom Paddy characterises as “such a deeply civilised man.”

The good news is that very soon we shall be able to do so once more when Arcadia Books re-publish Bánffy’s memoirs “The Phoenix Land”. Due for publication on 23 June 2011 the book is already available for pre-order in bookshops such as Waterstones in the UK. Arcadia first published this in 2004 and you can read a Spectator review here.

Bánffy’s memoirs were once again translated from the Hungarian by his daughter Katalin Bánffy-Jelen and Patrick Thursfield,winners of the Oxford Weidenfeld Translation Prize. Paddy once more offers a foreward. The blurb describes the book as follows:

The thousand year-old year-old kingdom of Hungary, which formed the major part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the last Habsburg fled in 1918, was finally dismembered by the Western Allies by the terms of the peace treaties which followed the First World War. Phoenix-like the Hungarian people survived the horrors of war, the disappointment of the first socialist republic, the disillusion of the brief but terrifying communist rule of Béla Kun, and the bitterness of seeing their beloved country dismembered by the Treaty of Trianon. This is the world that Miklós Bánffy describes in The Phoenix Land.

In preparing this post I contacted Gary Pulsifer at Arcadia for some further background and to ask him to explain more about why Bánffy is one of their authors. He sent me this, including a little vignette about Paddy and his introduction:

Tom, two reasons, one general, one specific.  The first is that Arcadia specialises in translated fiction. The second is the story and this is it:

When I worked at Peter Owen Publishers I was invited to Tangier by the Hon David Herbert, one of Peter’s authors.  He took my partner and me to lunch with his neighbour Patrick Thursfield, who as you know is the Bánffy co-translator.  After lunch Patrick gave me the manuscript of THEY WERE COUNTED, which I read while I was on holiday, and was hooked.  I tried to persuade Peter Owen to publish the trilogy, but no go, so when I started Arcadia in 1996 volume one was one of our early titles.  I became quite close to Patrick, stayed with him in Tangier and saw a lot of him in London and he even once came along to the Frankfurt book fair.  He was overjoyed when THEY WERE DIVIDED won the Weidenfeld Translation Prize (this happened at an awards ceremony in Oxford, when Umberto Eco presented the prize).

A funny aside is that Paddy’s forward was written in longhand and he came into our tiny offices to have Daniela de Groote, now our associate publisher, word-process it.  Daniela, who is Chilean, hadn’t been in the UK all that long – she had been studying for a PhD here prior to working at Arcadia – and she had some difficulties in understanding Paddy’s upper crust accent as he dictated the foreword.  Daniela was also catching a plane to Santiago that afternoon and the whole thing was a little much for her.  So much so that I had to leave the office until they were finished . . .

You may enjoy browsing the current Arcadia 2011 catalogue which is here as a pdf.

Arcadia_2011

Related articles:

Paddy’s Introduction to the Transylvanian Trilogy by Miklos Banffy

If food be the music of love … Bánffy’s lover in Cluj (Kolozsvár)

A Journey to the Heart of Transylvania

Count Miklós Bánffy

To complete my very own trilogy on Banffy, here is an article, not just a review, by the always readable Charles Moore from the Daily Telegraph. I am so very much looking forward to the arrival of the first volume so that I can make a start!

Time to salute the Tolstoy of Transylvania

By Charles Moore. First published in The Telegraph 11 Jan 2010

This sequence of books began publication in 1934, so I have been rather slow to get round to it. The trilogy was first published in English between 1999 and 2001, so even in this country it is not new. But perhaps because of the smallness of the publishers, or perhaps because people here know little and care less about Transylvania (unless vampires are involved), these books are not well known. But their reputation has been spreading by word of mouth, so much so that it can be hard to find the volumes because they are often reprinting.

This growing acclaim is deserved. Bánffy’s trilogy is just about as good as any fiction I have ever read. I think of it this week because of snow. If you flick through the book, you will see that the author almost always places events in their weather and season. The hero, Balint, has estates in Transylvania which he is constantly attempting to manage on better and more enlightened lines. He is also in love with Adrienne, who is married to a sinister, possibly sadistic and increasingly insane man.

Balint visits his estates and tries to range as far as possible into their remote forests to stamp out local corruption, usually making an unintentional mess of things as he does so. The author walks with him, as it were, observing nature intently, and relating it to Balint’s private thoughts. In the depth of winter, Balint climbs down to a hidden waterfall which still bursts forth despite the frost: “Even when in the air it was degrees below zero steam would mingle with the spray to form icicles which hung from every bough and every overhanging rock, so that the fall itself was framed with great pillars of ice.” To Balint, “Adrienne’s image was conjured up by the beauty and restless movement of uncontrolled nature”.

Part of the point, the better for not being directly stated, is that Adrienne, at this time, is frigid, loving Balint, but fearful of all physical contact. The waterfall in winter naturally impresses itself on his mind. In late July, Balint climbs a mountainside which is shimmering with forest life, and sees “a little bird, smaller than a quail, with a strange swooping flight. It rose in the air, and then dropped again, and Balint saw that it was a young snipe, barely more than a fledgling and still very awkward. For a moment Balint watched the little bird’s efforts as twice more it flew up and then came to earth again, cowering in the grass as if too tired to try again.” The party passes quickly onward “so as not to frighten, or tire further, the little snipe in its first efforts to fly”. Once again – and once again without clunking overemphasis – the image of fragile new life relates to the couple’s love.

Count Miklós Bánffy, who wrote these novels, was a public man. He was the Hungarian foreign minister just after the First World War. Like Balint, he was a Hungarian who owned vast estates in Transylvania, where, in numerical, though not financial terms, Romanians predominated. His position, therefore, was rather like that of a benevolent Protestant landowner in Ireland before Partition. He loved the wider nation, indeed Empire (Austro-Hungarian), of which he was a part, but also his unusual little bit of it, though many of the inhabitants viewed him with suspicion.

Such an insider/outsider vantage point is a good one from which to view the politics of a great civilisation, especially of a civilisation in crisis. The titles of each book in the trilogy – for example, They Were Found Wanting – are taken from the writing on the wall that appeared, according to the Book of Daniel, at Belshazzar’s feast. The books are set in the years running up to 1914. They are full of love for the way of life destroyed by the First World War, but without illusion about its deficiencies.

One of the best scenes is the duel between László, Balint’s best friend and cousin, a handsome, hopeless, drunken man, and his rival in love. It is as good as Pushkin at describing the fear, the pointlessness, the idea of honour. It is also precise about the rules of duelling and how they were interpreted and disputed. The author fully inhabits the world he describes, without being enslaved by its values.

He has a good comic touch too. He is writing about a culture which worships England without knowing it very well. One young fellow is thrilled because he has managed to buy a pink English hunting coat (of “a marvellous material as hard and stiff as zinc”), but is then mortified that hunting etiquette (also derived from England) means that he cannot wear it at a meet of harriers. So, though everyone else is in black and white evening dress, he wears it to a ball, where his old breeches and boots smell so bad that the ladies will not go near him.

These novels are not well served by a puff on their covers which says they are “swashbuckling”. They aren’t remotely. Although they are very funny, they are deeply serious. They are like Anna Karenina and War and Peace rolled into one. Love, sex, town, country, money, power, beauty, and the pathos of a society which cannot prevent its own destruction – all are here.

Related article:

Paddy’s Introduction to the Transylvanian Trilogy by Miklos Banffy

Paddy’s Introduction to the Transylvanian Trilogy by Miklos Banffy

You may be interested in Paddy’s introduction to the trilogy written by Miklos Banffy. I have been able to find it on the web for you to enjoy. Paddy wrote this whilst staying with the Devonshire’s at Chatsworth, Christmas 1998.

 

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Related article:

Andrew Nurnberg to handle world rights for Miklos Banffy’s The Transylvanian Trilogy

Andrew Nurnberg to handle world rights for Miklos Banffy’s The Transylvanian Trilogy

I am in the process of purchasing Banffy’s trilogy but still waiting for the first volume. Will I be able to read it all before they make a TV series or movie??

Book Trade Info reports on 5 October 2010

Arcadia Books appoints Andrew Nurnberg and Piers Russell-Cobb of MediaFund to handle world rights and film & TV rights respectively for Miklos Banffy

ON THE EVE OF THE FRANKFURT BOOK FAIR, Arcadia Books has appointed Andrew Nurnberg to handle world rights (ex Hungary) in The Transylvanian Trilogy (They Were Counted, They Were Found Wanting and They Were Divided) and Piers Russell-Cobb of MediaFund to sell film and TV rights on behalf of Arcadia and the Banffy Estate.

Originally published in the 1930s in Hungary, the trilogy was ignored under the communists and republished to acclaim in the 1990s. Following publication of Arcadia’s prize-winning translation by Katalin Banffy-Jelen and Patrick Thursfield a decade ago – Banffy’s writing has been compared to that of Proust, Tolstoy, Milosz, Galsworthy, Roth, Musil, Lampedusa and Dostoevsky among others – the trilogy has been published in France (by Phebus Editions, in C and B format editions), Spain (Libros del Asteroide, instant bestsellers last year), Italy (just out with Einaudi) and the Netherlands (Atlas, 2011).

The Transylvanian Trilogy, winner of the Weidenfeld Translation Prize (presented by Umberto Eco), has attracted praise from, among others, Patrick Leigh Fermor (who penned the Foreword at Chatsworth), Jan Morris, Simon Jenkins, Charles Moore, Martha Kearney, Francis King and Allan Massie, has been the subject of a Guardian editorial and was also chosen as one of ‘1000 Novels You Must Read’ in that newspaper.

Comments Arcadia’s publisher Gary Pulsifer: ‘The combination of Andrew and Piers is explosive and we look forward to taking the trilogy to a new international level, including with our B format reprints now coming out, for which we have ear-marked a high marketing spend and a high-profile marketing campaign. Just after Spain bought the rights Italy immediately followed suit and there is serious interest from various other European countries.’ Adds Andrew Nurnberg: ‘Banffy is potentially very big, quite something . . . this has a rhythm and sense of place that one simply doesn’t find these days.’ Says Piers Russell-Cobb: ‘Andrew will do a brilliant job and I agree with you that we are onto a bestseller.’