By T. H. Enerdly
In 1889, Crown Prince of Austria Rudolph committed suicide together with his mistress, Baroness Mary Vetsera, an event known as the Mayerling incident, Mayerling being the Imperial hunting Lodge, the scene of the incident.
A few years ago, while reading an account of this incident in the book A Nervous Splendor by Frederick Morton, I chanced upon the following interesting observation about the Baroness:
“She knew it wouldn't do to arrive at costume balls as a Bourbon princess (accountants' wives were known to do that). Instead she’d come as a saucy chambermaid (the favorite disguise of duchesses).”
If one occasionally writes lady-to-maid stories as I do, one's interest cannot help but be piqued by a quote such as the one above. I immediately began researching duchesses who liked to wear chambermaid costumes…but found nothing. Every year or so since I first read the quote, I've tried to find more information, but have been disappointed every time.
Recently, I've tried a different approach. I decided to search for an image of a duchess wearing a chambermaid costume. Much to my delight, I found such an image on Pinterest, the one accompanying this essay. The Pinterest posting did not contain much information: Merely a couple of sentences that identified the subject as Grand Duchess Elena Vladimirovna and noted that she was wearing a masquerade costume, probably “chambermaid.”
My first thought, when viewing the image, was that it must be difficult to dance a waltz while holding a lit candlestick. But, with the image, I now more or less had confirmation that duchesses sometimes wore chambermaid outfits to costume balls. This was a place where I could start some actual research.
There is an article about Elena in the Wikipedia. She is described as having had a “grand manner” and a rather nasty temper, which, by the way, are not ideal character traits, either for a unmarried Grand Duchess or a maid. She is reputed to have had an offer of marriage, later withdrawn, from Archduke Ferdinand, the fellow whose assassination sparked World War I, an event some historians believe was a knock-on effect set in motion by the suicide of Crown Prince Rudolph. Failure to marry the Archduke probably was wonderful for Elena’s longevity, given that the man who assassinated Ferdinand also killed the latter’s wife. Elena ended up marrying Prince Nicholas of Greece, her only suitor, presumably because other potential suitors were unenthusiastic about her “grand manner” and temper.