Archduke Ernst of Austria (1824-1899) never married or had children, at least according to the official story. Ernst, a cousin of Emperor Franz Josef, was the father of four children by a Hungarian noblewoman, Laura Skublics.
But was this relationship a mésalliance or did a marriage take place, which would have made the children legitimate, albeit non-dynasts to Austrian and Hungarian thrones.
After a first failed marriage, Laura fled a first marriage for a new life in Budapest, where she met and fell in love with Archduke Ernst. But she was not of equal rank, which meant that there could not be a marriage ... at least that was the official story as genealogists and historians let the family slip into the mists of time. It was American genealogist, Daniel Willlis, whose book, The Archduke's Secret Family, provided far more information about Ernst and Laura and their descendants.
Now it is the turn of Hungarian historian Dr. Peter Buza, whose research delves deeper into Ernst and Laura's lives, and her family.
Check Please, Your Highness (Bygone Books: $18.99) is the story of Ernst and Laura's son. Erno von Wallburg, who worked as a headwaiter in a posh Budapest hotel. Budza begins his story with a detailed account of Laura and her family, weaving the story to her second marriage and the births of her children, her death, and the eventual fight for recognition, not only by the emperor, but also by the courts.
After Laura's death, the children were largely abandoned by their father, although his brother, Archduke Rainer, provided minimal support. The children and their maternal relatives lived in relative penury, and denied their rightful name and inheritance.
This book is a translation of the original Hungarian edition. At times, the book's text can be confusing due to the straight translation, as the author dies not maintain a strict timeline. He jumps from one topic to another, leaving the reader a little puzzled.
I think the book would have been enhanced with family trees, a list of the main characters, and an index. I would have included a bibliography of the sources consulted by Dr. Buza.
Today there are at least 200 descendants of Ernst and Laura. Buza notes that there may be even more.
The text can be a little confusing, especially with the original Hungarian names. It is worth it, however, to stick it out to last page. This romance has been largely a conundrum, and thanks to Dr. Buza's deft research (and access to previously inaccessible archives), many of the puzzle pieces have been filled in.
Don't rush through Check Please, Your Highness. It does take time to savor and appreciate Dr. Buza's years of hard work.