Bad Blood

  October 12, 2004

Want pointers on how to nurture love and forgiveness in a large family? Don’t look to Duke Anton Ulrich of Meiningen and his brothers.

The odds of their getting along were never good. Their father set up a nasty rivalry in his will when he gave the three brothers: Ernst Ludwig, a domineering eldest son; a not-so-bright middle son: and Anton, daring and the youngest—equal ruling power over the small state of Saxe-Meiningen. The result was a series of disputes that crippled the state. After Ernst died and left the two remaining brothers vying for power, the governing of the state was thrown it into chaos.

The most extreme of the quarrels focused on Anton’s marriage to Philippine Casarea: his sister’s lady-in-waiting, the daughter of a Hessian captain he’d served under, and “a woman of lower rank.” So infuriated was the family upon hearing of this secret marriage in Holland that it banned Anton Ulrich from the castle, denied his bride her title, and stripped any future children of their inheritance.

 “At one point, Anton returned to the castle but was left standing in a cold, pouring rain, knocking on the door of his former home,” Bennett says. “It could be a movie!”

In a desperate attempt to regain Philippine’s title and his children’s inheritance, Anton spent two years in Vienna lobbying Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI.

“His sister was a very prestigious lady there, the Empress was his first cousin, and he got to know everybody,” Bennett says.

Anton finally regained his wife’s title and children’s inheritance, but that only deepened his family’s anger toward them. In a gruesomely poetic end to the row, Philippine died while Anton was away in 1724 and the middle brother refused her burial in the family crypt. Instead, he had her body placed in a room in the castle and covered with sand.

An enraged Anton returned the favor two years later when the middle brother died, ordering his body covered with sand in a separate room.

Some time later, Bennett says, the standoff was resolved.

 “At midnight, both bodies were buried in the family crypt. But talk about a family feud!”