Magazine article The Spectator

Death of a Gentleman

Magazine article The Spectator

Death of a Gentleman

Article excerpt

High life

Death of a gentleman

New York

My father-in-law Peter Schoenburg died last week. He was 88. I've often written about Peter in the past because I was very proud to be his son-in-law. No, not for the reasons a snob might suspect. In fact the opposite. It was his gentleness, decency and kindness which made Peter the very attractive man he was throughout a long and tumultuous life. His Serene Highness Prince Peter Karl Marie Anton Pius Benedictus Markus Johannes Schoenburg-Hartenstein was born in the Rome embassy of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire in 1915. His father was ambassador to the Holy See. His mother was Princess Sophie Oettingen-Wallerstein. In a book Peter published for the family, he describes his idyllic childhood in the Palazzo Venezia - as the embassy later became - served by close to 100 staff, and how it all disappeared overnight once the empire collapsed in 1918. (Paying one's bills by post in Vienna was impractical; the stamp was worth more than the amount owed because of inflation.)

The old Prince Schoenburg refused to serve under anyone else but the emperor, who was no more. He retired to Bohemia, which he partly owned, and that is where Peter and his seven brothers and sisters grew up. Cervena Lhota, or Red House, has been described by the New York Times as the most beautiful and romantic castle in Europe. It is a 13th-century fortress built on a low rocky spur, which became an island after a shallow valley was flooded. After school, Peter served as a cavalry officer, but just before the Anschluss left the country for South America. Both his brothers served with distinction on the Russian front, and both suffered terribly once they fell into Russian hands. One of his sisters, Loremarie, went to ask the Pope for his approval to assassinate Hitler. The Pontiff did not approve; nor did he disapprove, however. This was in 1942. Peter became active on the Amazon frontier as an explorer and surveyor. He married my mother-in-law, Lyna, in Bogota, Colombia, had my future wife, but then the couple divorced. Lyna was beautiful, spoilt and rich, and liked the high life. He did not.

H.L. Mencken, the American thinker, wrote that every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under. Peter always gave me the impression he was ashamed of the society he lived among. By this I mean the society which had fallen into the hands of unspeakable philistines, vulgarians and publicity hounds. …

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