Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Archduke Ludwig Viktor


The Habsburg dynasty had a consequential problem with inbreeding, resulting in a family that, how shall we say, lacked handsome physical attributes. Archduke Ludwig Viktor was no exception. His only advantage was the fact that his older brother, Franz Josef, was the Emperor of Austria-Hungary.

The archduke (1842-1919) had a face only a mother could love (evidence at left). After having produced three male heirs, Ludwig’s mother ignored the fact that he wasn’t the girl she had wanted and dressed him like one. It didn’t help that everyone called him Luzi-Wuzi (pronounced Loot-see Voot-see). He was an impetuous, openly homosexual pleasure-seeker whose life revolved around the theatre and collecting art and antiques. He wore women’s clothing (photo below), kvetched and gossiped incessantly and couldn’t be trusted with a secret from anyone. His über-vain sister-in-law Sissi (Empress Elizabeth), adored by the Austrians as an antidote to their dull, stuffy emperor, was initially kindly disposed toward Ludwig Viktor, until things she told him in confidence got back to her. It got so bad that she eventually refused to have a conversation with him unless a third party was present to verify what transpired. Incredibly, Sissi’s favorite sister Sophie was singled out as a possible bride for Ludwig Viktor, but she rejected him, only to become engaged to and then dumped by another gay royal, the King of Bavaria, Ludwig II, of Neuschwanstein fame.

Trivia: In related tragic family news, another of Ludwig Viktor’s brothers, Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico (emperors seemed to run in the family), was executed by firing squad while in Mexico City in 1867. Maximilian and Ludwig looked so much alike (unfortunately) they could have been twins. To be a Habsburg royal was a big deal. From the early thirteenth century to 1918 this dynasty controlled vast properties in which more than a dozen languages were spoken, and not just in Europe. A Habsburg was Emperor of Mexico, and another the Empress of Brazil. In addition to Austria and Hungary, the Habsburg dynasty at one time ruled over major portions of Spain, Slovenia, Serbia, Switzerland, Croatia, Poland, Italy, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Portugal, Slovakia and Romania. Impressive.

Photo at right. Just who you think it is.

But I digress. At age 21, the archduke needed new digs to host his notorious and extravagant “stag” parties, so he built an Italian Renaissance palace on the new Ringstraße, the grand boulevard encircling central Vienna sited along the path of the recently razed city walls. Built on Schwarzenbergplatz just two blocks from the State Opera House, Ludwig Viktor’s city palace, designed by famed architect Heinrich von Ferstel, had a glaring deficiency – it had no swimming pool. This oversight gave the archduke reason to patronize a nearby public establishment, the Centralbad, Vienna's "largest and finest bathhouse." The archduke, a frequent visitor, went there regularly for “Turkish baths.”

Ludwig Viktor’s homosexuality was an open secret. Even his brother Franz Josef joked about it. But in 1906, the archduke was slapped and knocked to the ground by one of the young Centralbad* patrons, an athletic middle-class man, apparently as the result of an unwanted advance by the archduke. Ludwig Viktor used his family ties to have the young man arrested, but it was determined that the man’s actions were warranted, and he was released from jail. When informed of his brother’s scandalous behavior, Emperor Franz Joseph became disgusted and banished Ludwig Viktor to the archduke’s summer palace, Schloss Kleßheim, a former residence of the Archbishops of Salzburg, and ordered him not to return to Vienna during his brother's lifetime. Ludwig Viktor was also forced to resign his patronages, and most of his staff was moved to other positions.

*Trivia: the Centralbad is now the Kaiserbründl, one of Europe’s most luxurious gay male saunas, complete with chandeliers, erotic frescos, marble columns, restaurants and bars. Kaiserbründl means "Emperor's Spring."

At Schloss Kleßheim (above) Ludwig Viktor had a grand blue and white swimming pool installed. He invited army officers to use it, but could never seem to find swimsuits for them to wear. As a result, Austrian soldiers were subsequently forbidden to go there. In Salzburg the archduke eventually won the hearts of the locals for his charitable efforts, and by an amazing coincidence, outlived the Habsburg empire, dying on January 18, 1919, on the first day of the post-WW I conference in Versailles, which would abolish all royal orders. He is buried just a mile or so south of Schloss Kleßheim in the cemetery of the local Pfarrkirche in Siezenheim. Notice the "LV" on the pedestal supporting the cross. It is noteworthy that he was not buried in the Imperial Crypt in Vienna, along with all his other family members.

Both of Ludwig Viktor’s palaces can be visited today. Schloss Kleßheim was used as a dance school in the 1920s, but the Nazis later took it over as a guest house. Hitler and Mussolini held meetings here, and the palace was notoriously riddled with listening devices. During the Cold War, the neutral Austrian government used Schloss Kleßheim to hold conferences and host international guests, among them U.S. President Richard Nixon, who met here with Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky on his way to Moscow in 1972. The palace now serves as Salzburg’s main gambling casino and features glamorous bars and restaurants.

As for Ludwig's downtown Vienna palace on Schwarzenbergplatz (above), the military used it as an officer’s casino before the First World War. Ludwig Viktor would turn over in his grave if he saw the TGI Friday’s restaurant on the ground floor, but he’d take more kindly to the fact that today, the palace’s great hall functions both as a rehearsal space for the Burgtheater and an alternative venue for the theater’s smaller productions. Fortunately, the restaurant and theater entrances are around the corner from each other. With only two hundred seats, “Burgtheater im Kasino,” as it is known, offers a small and intimate setting for one of Vienna’s best theater companies.

Sources: James Conway (Strange Flowers), Wikipedia