Monday, August 30, 2010

A Very Noble Pair: Prince Bernhard Zur Lippe-Biesterfeld & Baroness Armgard Von Sierstorpff-Cramm


Prince Bernhard Kasimir Friedrich Gustav Heinrich Wilhelm Eduard zur Lippe-Biesterfeld
26.VIII.1872 - 19.VI.1934

m: 4.III.1909

Baroness Armgard Kunigunde Alharde Agnes Oda von Sierstorpff-Cramm
18.XII.1883 - 27.IV.1971

His Serene & Illustrious Highness Prince Bernhard Kasimir Friedrich Gustav Heinrich Wilhelm Eduard zur Lippe-Biesterfeld was a member of the Lippe-Biesterfeld line of the Princely House of Lippe.  

I think we can all agree that a man is usually a direct product of his ancestry, his upbringing and his environment.  While this is, of course, basically true, when it comes to detailing Prince Bernhard’s existence it relates so differently today, in such a different world from his progenitors.  The world of minor Germany royalty, a world that was even more remote from today in outlook and customs than turbulent Athens or Imperial Rome, or even dark, glowering Carthage which Scipio Minor razed to the ground. 

As a matter of fact, so stable and secure was that world that even its most devastating moments seemed only trifle things, so assured was their existence, like the Emperor of Germany turning his back on a princely captain of a crack hussar regiment. And the title “Serene Highness” was more apt than ironical.

It was typical that the German princelings of who we speak lived in romantic castles or small rococo palaces manned by crowds of servants in their family livery and surrounded by the royal forest in which they loved to ride and hunt. In some ways they really were a caste considered “semi-divine,” hedged in by a sort of sacredness which the Romantic Movement in the 19th century literature did nothing to diminish.  Even the most ardent democrats of the time secretly and begrudgingly accepted them as a special breed. In fact, the mere progress of democracy added to this effect.  For as they lost real power they became even more detached from the mundane struggles of men, and existed on a plane suspended between heaven and earth. 

All the circumstances in motion insulated them from reality so successfully that their dream world seemed so real to them and it had persisted for so long that they thought it would go on forever.  Who could blame them, Prince Bernhard’s family had ruled Lippe-Detmold for over seven hundred years, ever since Bernhard the First, who fought under the Holy Roman Emperor Lotharius in the 12th century, so expecting it to continue for another seven hundred years was to be not only expected but accepted as well.

Prince Bernhard was the son of Gräf Ernst zur Lippe-Biesterfeld, Regent of the Principality of Lippe, and Gräfin Karoline von Wartensleben, a younger brother of Fürst Leopold IV zur Lippe, the reigning prince of Lippe-Detmold.

Lippe-Detmold was a rugged little principality located between Hanover and Westphalia, in Western Germany.  It consisted of 471 square miles of forested mountains and tilled fields and two little medieval towns, inhabited by about 130,000 people.  In 1871, it had been absorbed into the new German Empire, but its rulers retained a great deal of local autonomy and all their royal attributes.

Prince Bernhard pursued a career as a soldier, serving in the Prussian Army, and attaining the rank of major.  Bernhard had never wanted to be a soldier in the first place; he had a passion for medicine and would have made a dedicated doctor.  However his father, Gräf Ernst zur Lippe-Biesterfeld said, “The only possible profession for persons of our rank is the army.”  So a soldier he became.  It was Prince Bernhard’s profession as a soldier that brought him to the attention of his Imperial Majesty Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany.

Intriguingly, bad blood existed between the Kaiser and the Lippe  family and it went back to 1895, when the direct line of the princely rulers of Lippe became extinct with the death of Fürst Woldemar zu Lippe-Detmold. Prince Bernhard’s father, Gräf Ernst zur Lippe-Biesterfeld, was the rightful heir and regent, but, just as in a costume novel of Ruritanian proportions, his cousin Prince Adolph zu Schaumburg-Lippe, who hailed from the little principality of Schaumburg-Lippe just across the Weser River, conspired to seize the throne.  Though his claim was inferior, he had buttressed it by marrying Kaiser Wilhelm’s sister, Princess Viktoria of Prussia, and the Kaiser’s tremendous influence was on his side.

When Prince Woldemar died rather suddenly on March 20, 1895, there were dark doings in Schloss Detmold.  The story goes that they put the old boy in the ice house and did not announce his death until cousin Adolph got to Detmold.

Then without missing a beat, the Kaiser’s obedient Court Marshal proclaimed Adolph as Prince Regent zu Lippe-Detmold.  As soon as he heard the news Gräf Ernst came roaring over to claim his rights. First he appealed to the Parliament of Lippe, but twenty-one nervous gentlemen who made up that august body refused to stick their collective necks out and voted to be neutral.  Then Ernst took his case to court.

Had Kaiser Wilhelm been the absolute autocrat the world in general believed him to be, Count Ernst would not have had a chance. But in truth, the German Empire was a place where law prevailed above imperial pleasure and justice was done.  The court held Gräf Ernst to be the rightful heir, and he triumphantly entered his principality on July 17, 1897. The Kaiser, whose memory was a long as an elephant’s never forgot nor forgave the Lippe-Biesterfelds for supplanting his brother-in-law on the princely throne and for thwarting his wishes and desires!

Eleven years went by.  At the Kaiser Review at Paderborn in 1908 Prince Bernhard commanded a squadron of the crack 14th Hussars.  A remarkably fine sight they were in their silver frogged dress uniforms and plumed shakos as they wheeled into perfect line and trotted smartly towards the spike helmeted, spiked mustached Emperor of Germany.  At precisely the right moment their proud young captain shouted an order. The squadron halted.  Sabers flashed in salute, pennants dipped, and Major Prince Bernhard sat like a martial statue to receive his Emperor’s acknowledgment.  To his chagrin it never came.

The Kaiser deliberately turned in his saddle and began chatting with a member of his staff over his shoulder, while along the line of spectators, of ladies in great cartwheel hats and gentlemen in frock coats and toppers, ran audible snicker.

Apparently, the Lippe blood has an abnormally low boiling-point.  Major Prince Bernhard’s was no exception.  Angrily he shouted his penultimate order to the 14th Hussars:  “By the left! Forward! At the gallop!”

The spectator’s laughter changed to a great gasp.  The Kaiser’s face turned from white to red to purple, and his incredulous eyes bulged as the 14th Hussars turned their collective backs on God’s Anointed and followed their commander right off the field.

The next day, Prince Bernhard resigned from the Army before he was thrown out.

On March 4, 1909, Bernhard entered into a morganatic marriage with Baroness Armgard von Sierstorpff-Cramm. Slightly before this marriage, his future wife was granted the title Gräfin von Biesterfeld on February 8, 1909.  Armgard was the daughter of Baron Aschwin von Sierstorff-Cramm, Hereditary Chamberlain of the Duchy of Brunswick.  Somewhat of a dandy, the baron was one of the top amateur steeplechase riders of Germany in the 1870’s. He was so fond of horses that for a short time he took the position of Supreme Master of the Horse to the Sultan of Turkey, who gave him the title of pasha. When he came back to Germany he bought the estate of Woynowo, in Brandenburg, which he renamed Reckenwalde.  Armgard’s mother was Hedwig von Sierstorpff-Driburg. Essentially, Baroness Armgard was in effect the girl next door, as Lippe bordered on Westphalia, and the prince had known her for many years.  She was tall and slim with a thin, beautifully modeled face and dark brown hair worn in a pompadour.  In her coronet and splendid jewels she looked the epitome of regal beauty.  But she was warm and witty and a dead game sport fanatic, who rode at least as well as her husband and was better equipped than he to withstand the shocks which lay just beyond the edge of time.

One shock was that because Armgard had been divorced after a brief marriage to Count Bodo von Oeynhausen, Prince Leopold was refused permission for his brother to marry her. As a result, although married to a prince, she was called Gräfin Armgard zur Lippe-Biesterfeld and her children were mere gräf’s only, until Leopold relented in 1916 and recognized the marriage. On February 24, 1916, she and her two sons Bernhard and Aschwin were created Prinzessin & Prinz zur Lippe-Biesterfeld with the style Serene Highness, the stinging caveat was that they did not belong to the princely house of Lippe, due to the marriage of Bernhard and Armgard having been declared morganatic.

For those historically minded of esoteric, this couple is most notably known for the fact that they were the parents of Prince Bernhard zur Lippe-Biesterfeld, Prince Consort of Queen Juliana of the Netherlands, father of the present reigning Dutch monarch, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands.


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