In our day it is no longer a great sensation when royal princes marry into the untitled ranks. This was very different 450 years ago, when Archduke Ferdinand II of Austria (1529–1595) married Philippine Welser (1527–1580) from Augsburg. The fact that a member of the ruling family had an affair with a member of the middle-classes was nothing exceptional. What was exceptional, however, was that the great-grandson, nephew, and son of an emperor did not marry within his social class.
With this decision from the heart, he not only disappointed his family, but also ruined his own brilliant career chances…
His father ultimately accepted the union, but with strict conditions: absolute secrecy, and the exclusion of any children from the succession to the throne. When the cardinalate was to be conferred on the oldest son Andreas (1576), the need for secrecy was at last removed.
In order to ensure that Philippine was provided for according to her rank, Ferdinand transferred Ambras Castle with extensive estates to his wife for her lifetime. In this manner, Philippine was the ‘mistress’ of Ambras Castle, with Ferdinand the welcome guest.
After the death of his wife Ferdinand reacquired the castle from his sons and made it into the centre of his collection. In the nineteenth century, this unusual union between a royal prince and a commoner ultimately provided descriptive material for theatrical works, novels, and paintings.
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