Archduke Wilhelm Franz of Austria aka Vasyl Vyshyvanyi or, Basil the Embroidered
The Red Prince is a book I read a blurb about somewhere and thought it sounded interesting and educational so I put it in my library queue. The book jacket also mentions that Archduke Wilhelm occasionally liked to wear dresses which piqued my interest even more. Archduke Wilhelm Franz of Austria, aka The Red Prince was a nephew of Emperor Franz Joseph, cousin of Franz Ferdinand (the man, not the band) and he himself set forth from an early age with a plan to become ruler of a Ukrainian state.
I wasn’t disappointed by Timothy Snyder’s deeply researched history of the decline of the Habsburg empire over the course of two world wars, as it was cunningly disguised as the biography of a very wealthy bisexual with poor financial skills and delusions of grandeur. Wilhelm, prompted by his father the Archduke Karl Stefan, devised a plan to unite Ukrainian nationals in Eastern Europe and release them from German and Soviet control, all with an eye to becoming their presumptive leader—hopefully as a King, and failing that, military dictator would be OK too. Wilhelm liked hanging out with soldiers, especially dark-haired, exotic looking ones.
The Habsburgs were an interesting bunch. A very powerful European royal family all the way back to the 10th century, there were branches of Habsburgs ruling in Europe for centuries, from Spain to Montenegro—not to mention being Holy Roman Emperors even into modern times. Wilhelm, though not destined to become an Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was born into a pretty good family tree. His father, oblivious to the changing views on monarchist state-building, aligned himself to become ruler of an independent Polish state, so Wilhelm had a look at the map and set his cap for the Ukrainian nationalists. Though a life-long effort, it was never to be.
At the turn of the twentieth century the Ukrainians were a people without a nation. Their agriculturally bountiful lands were repeatedly overrun and the borders were an ever shifting tug-of-war between Poland, Austria/Germany and Russia. Wilhelm saw a need, and shaped himself to become a perfect leader for the Ukrainian cause. He immersed himself in Ukrainian history and language, commanded a Ukrainian military legion and even took a Ukrainian name, Vasyl Vyshyvanyi, which was helpful when World War I came along and pushed the Habsburgs out of favor.
I would recommend this book to anyone interested in knowing more about European history, particularly the Eastern front, and getting a very good grounding in the events leading up to World War I, then consequently World War II. Wilhelm is an appropriate representative of the shifting middle-european political dynamic of the World Wars era. He strove to be worthy of his adopted people, was an accomplished military man, but was not above using low level bribery and underhanded state craft to push his personal agenda to become king, a title he believed he deserved. He had no financial skills and his proclivities for unusual escapades often landed him in hot water, both legally and financially. He despised the Nazis and yet courted them with anti-semitic statements when he thought they would back him in another one of his plans for establishing a Ukrainian state. Unfortunately, it was the Nazis who brought him to an untimely end—he was tortured and imprisoned for refusing to claim German ancestry, though he was arrested for spying for the French—which he was—but that wasn’t as important to the Germans, who had a point to make with the surviving Habsburgs. Vasyl held fast to his adopted Ukrainian nationality to his dying day.