Archduchess Mathilde of Austria
Mathilde Marie Adelgunde Alexandra, was born on the 25th January 1849 in Vienna. She was the third child of Archduke Albert, Duke of Teschen and Princess Hildegard of Bavaria. Her elder sister was Maria Theresia (1845 – 1927) who married Duke Philipp of Wurttemberg in 1865. Her elder brother, Karl Albrecht was born in 1847, but tragically died of smallpox aged 18 months, in 1848, before Mathilde was born.
The family were close to the Imperial family, Mathilde’s mother being a cousin of the Empress Elisabeth, and spent a good deal of time in their company. A distant cousin of the Italian Habsburg line, Archduke Ludwig Salvator wanted to marry Mathilde after falling in love with her, but this was not to be. She was destined to become the wife of Umberto of Savoy, and so become the Italian Queen, in order to ease the tense relationship between Austria-Hungary and Italy. In March of 1864, when Mathilde was just 15 years old, her mother Princess Hildegard was in Munich for the funeral of her brother, King Maximillian II. Whilst she was there she became ill, developing pleurisy, from which she never recovered.
Very little is known about her private life, but it seems that Mathilde had an interest in both the arts and science. She visited the theatre, galleries and Art exhibitions. It was before one such visit that tragedy struck. There are differing accounts of events, but all agree on the final points. It seems that the family were readying themselves for a visit to a gala evening at the theatre on the evening of 22nd May 1867. It seems that Mathilde was smoking a cigarette before leaving, despite her father’s disapproval. When her father approached her, she tried to hide the cigarette behind her back. Unfortunately the said cigarette caught her gauze dress alight. Mathilde suffered second and third degree burns to her legs, back, neck and arms. It seems that Mathilde survived until 6th June, when she finally succumbed to her injuries, at Schloss Hetzendorf, the Viennese home of the Empress Elisabeth. The incident was witnessed by a number of members of the family, who were present at the time. She was just 18 years old. Mathilde was buried in the Imperial vault of the Imperial Crypt beside both her mother and her brother.