Eugenfest

Philip Mansel looks at the commemorations surrounding the 250th anniversary of the death of a Habsburg monarch.

The might and majesty of the Habsburg monarchy, at one of the peaks of its power, are revealed in a series of exhibitions held in Austria this summer to mark the 250th anniversary of the death of Prince Eugene of Savoy. One of the strengths of the Habsburg monarchy was its talent-pool. The prestige of the dynasty, and the international character of the monarchy, meant that it could attract to its service able and ambitious men from all over Europe. Prince Eugene was a dissolute young prince, a cousin of the Duke of Savoy and Louis XIV who, in the words of the Duchesse d'Orleans, was 'nothing but a debauched boy who seemed to promise no good'. Nevertheless, in 1683 he exchanged the pleasures of Paris for the perils of fighting for the Habsburgs outside the walls of Vienna.

Prince Eugene admitted, in a letter to the Emperor Leopold I (1657-1705), that he had 'sought service many times under the French Crown'. However, Louis XIV distrusted him either because his mother, the Comtesse de Soissons, had a disastrous reputation for murder and intrigue, or because of Prince Eugene's own behaviour. Prince Eugene's grandmother had thrown him out of her house because he refused to become a priest. The Ottoman army was besieging Vienna. There were many good reasons for Prince Eugene to assure the Emperor 'that I will devote all my strength, all my courage and if need be my least drop of blood to the service of your Imperial Majesty and to the welfare and development of your great House'.

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