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Count Alexander Mensdorff-Pouilly, graphic from the portrait collection of the Austrian National Library
The life of Alexander Mensdorff-Pouilly was fundamentally different from that of other officials. He came from an old aristocratic family, the Pouilly, which left their homeland during the French Revolution. Thus, Alexander’s father Emanuel (1777–1852) had to build a position for himself in a completely different environment. He opted for a military career in the service of the Austrian Emperor and, like his brother, decided to take the name Mensdorff, which was supposed to help him to better adapt in the German-speaking world. His marriage to Princess Sophie of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (1778–1835), who was of a substantially higher status, undoubtedly also helped him consolidate his position. Thanks to this marriage, Emmanuel and his descendants became related to a number of European noble families. Perhaps the most famous among his male cousins was Albert (1819–1861), husband of Queen Victoria of Britain (1819–1901), while the most famous female cousin was Queen Victoria herself. The loving union of Emmanuel and Sophie produced five sons, four of whom survived to adulthood – Hugo (1806–1847), Alphonse (1810–1894), Alexander (1813–1871) and Arthur (1817–1904). Their life trajectories show how varied the fates of 19th-century nobility could be.
The eldest of the brothers, Hugo, was born in Coburg on August 24, 1806. Coburg was also the city where he grew up and received a private education. Emanuel wished to make military officers of his sons, and he succeeded. Hugo joined the army and became a cavalry officer. Although he was the eldest son and it was primarily him who was expected to ensure the continuation of the family, Hugo never married. He was no stranger to the company of women, but he did not meet a suitable partner from the upper classes. He preferred to remain alone rather than live in an unhappy marriage. During his military career, he won numerous awards and reached the rank of colonel. In 1847, however, his health began to fail. He was treated at a spa, first in Karlovy Vary (Carlsbad) and then in Jeseník (Freiwaldau), where he succumbed to laryngitis at the age of only 41.
The second-born Alphonse was born on 25 January 1810 in Coburg. His father intended a naval career for him. However, Alfonse refused and became an officer in the cavalry, where he attained the rank of colonel. A crucial issue for a man of his position was the choice of a bride. Alphonse seems to have had a lucky hand, since the woman he chose, Therese Dietrichstein (1823–1856), not only came from a good family, but there was also a mutual liking between them. The bride’s father, Franz Xaver of Dietrichstein (1774–1850), was initially not very enthusiastic about the match, hoping for a husband of a higher social position for his daughter. In the end, however, he agreed to their union. After Therese Dietrichstein became the heiress of the Moravian estate of Boskovice (Boskowitz), Alfons abandoned his military career and threw himself into the administration of the estate. For several years, during which they had four children, Alfonse and Therese lived a happy family life in Boskovice In 1856, however, tragedy struck the family – Therese died of scarlet fever. Alfonse resisted remarriage for several years, but the death of his only male heir, Arthur, in 1862, made him reconsider this decision.
His second wife was Marie, Countess of Lamberg (1833–1876), with whom he also had four children. Unfortunately, the second marriage did not last very long either, since Marie died at the age of only 42. But Alfons finally lived to see his longed-for heirs. The elder of them, Alfons Vladimír (1864–1935), later took over Boskovice. Besides taking care of the estate, Adolf also devoted himself to politics. From 1861 he sat in the Moravian Provincial Assembly in Brno and in the following year he also became a life member of the upper chamber of the Austrian Imperial Council. However, he did not see much sense in the exercise of these functions and seems to have been more comfortable with activities at a local level – in 1864–1876 he was mayor of Boskovice and in 1888 he even became its honorary citizen. Alfons died in Boskovice at the ripe age of 84 and was buried in the family tomb in Nečtiny (Preitenstein), which he had built himself.
Alexander was born on August 4, 1813 in Coburg as the third among his siblings. Like his brothers, he grew up in Coburg, where he befriended members of the most prominent European families. From a young age, however, he also felt a sense of belonging to the Austrian state and decided to serve in its army. His military career began in 1829 when he became a cadet in an infantry regiment. Over the next 20 years he rose to the rank of major general. He then entered the diplomatic service and became Austrian ambassador in St. Petersburg. However, he lasted only a year in this position and then returned to the army. At the end of the 1850s it started to become clear that if he really wanted to live up to his family duties, military service alone would not be sufficient. So he began to look around for a suitable bride. According to family correspondence, members of the Mensdorff-Pouilly family considered the mutual affection of both fiancés a necessary condition for marriage. However, Alexander seems to have given up on this requirement.
In 1857 he married Alexandrina of Dietrichstein (1824–1906), the future heiress of the large Mikulov (Nikolsburg) estate in South Moravia. The husband and wife had to find their way to each other, which was difficult at first, as they did not live together. Eventually, however, they became close and their marriage was happy. Four children were born into it, three of whom lived to adulthood – Marie (1858–1889), wife of Count Hugo Kálnoky (1844–1928), Hugo (1858–1920), heir to the estate and husband of the Russian noblewoman Olga Dolgorukova (1873–1946), and Klotylda (1867–1943), wife of Albert Apponyi (1846–1933).
In 1859 Alexander became lieutenant field marshal and two years later Governor in Lvov, where he also served as Commanding General for Galicia and Bukovina. One of the highlights of Alexander’s career was undoubtedly the year 1864, when he was appointed Austrian Foreign Minister. During his tenure, however, Austria lost the Austro-Prussian War, and Alexander was subsequently relieved from his post. At the end of his life, he served as Czech governor in Prague. It was also in Prague that he died on 14 February 1871 and was buried in the family tomb in Mikulov.
The castle in Mikulov today
The youngest Arthur, like his brothers, was born in Coburg, on 19 August 1817. He too became an officer in the army and for many years served the Austrian Emperor. However, when it became clear that he would get no further than the rank of major, he decided to leave active service in 1852. Instead, he turned to business. He tried his luck in coal mining but failed. Unfortunately, the income from his lands did not cover his expenses, so he was forced to borrow frequently from his family, including Queen Victoria. Neither was he very successful in his personal life. In 1853 he married Magdalena Kremz (1835–1899), a low-born circus rider, whom he had fallen in love with. His brothers and other relatives strongly criticized him for this decision and never fully accepted Magdalena in their midst. However, they did not reject Arthur himself and continued to help him. Arthur later came to regret his choice, since Magdalena really was not a good match for him, and in 1882 they divorced. Near the end of his life, Arthur found himself a matching bride – Countess Bianca Adamovich de Csepin (1837–1912). After two years of marriage, Arthur died in Velenje, a town in what is now Slovenia.
Service in the army played an absolutely fundamental role in the lives of the four Mensdorff-Pouilly brothers. Along with their aristocratic origin, it enabled them to establish themselves socially and economically in Austrian society. The family’s marriage policy also helped them on their way to the top. It was thanks to his wife’s inheritance that Alphonse became a landowner. As for Alexander, although he himself did not participate in the running of the Mikulov estate, the profits from it allowed even him to lead an expensive life. His clerical career was rather a side effect of the military one, and his social status, abilities and character, which made him popular among the people, undoubtedly played a role in it.
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