A Sneak Peek of Meinrad von Steinberg’s Memoirs

A Sneak Peek of Meinrad von Steinberg’s Memoirs

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Introduction

My life has been extraordinary from the time of my birth and I have no regrets for the things I have done. Even my actions the first night my Mutti came to my bed are justified in my own mind. My life has not been one that the mediocre would ever understand.

I sit here in the dreariest days of my winter years and I know that those who could never fathom Meinrad von Steinberg zum Riesa are those who will leave the records. Love her as I always have, I do not feel as if my darling Galiena will ever speak of me with kindness. Verina, God rest her troubled soul; she understood in these last years and I greatly valued her company.

Perhaps it is because of Verina’s death that I have been inspired to write this memoir. I would like to leave something more than the perceptions of others. My life, my deeds, and my accomplishments should not be judged via the tales of tiny men.

I feel that I should also explain the situation of Steinberg and Riesa before I continue further. Officially the title of our family is Kurfürst, as we were princely electors in the Holy Roman Empire. Many confuse the Steinberg from which we come as being that inside Schleswig-Holstein but that would be incorrect. The place from which we take our name was near Jüterbog, but was destroyed long before I was born. We ruled Steinberg and Riesa as independent monarchs until Napoleon. Then, I must admit, mistakes were made by my great-great-grandfather Rudiger. Our family had joined the Third coalition against Napoleon and while we lost heavily in the war, including two of my great-uncles at the battle of Austerlitz, we managed to retain our holdings. When the Fourth coalition was formed, both the Elector of Saxony and the König of Prussia believed that we were on their side. But Rudiger secretly made a deal with Napoleon that should Riesa capitulate, our people and lands would be spared. Family lore suggests that Rudiger had simply tired of fighting and did not wish to lose anymore of his sons. Unfortunately, my great-grandfather Leonhard and his two remaining brothers offered up their services to Alexander of Russia and all but my great-grandfather perished over the next few years.

Sandwiched as Riesa is between Saxony and Prussia, the turning of our coats was a source of particular consternation to our former allies. When the Sixth coalition gathered to drive Napoleon from Germany, our lands were nearly destroyed. Riesa was caught between the battles of Leipzig and Dresden. It was only careful planning on the part of my great-grandfather that we managed to hide our family treasures from the greedy hands of both sides. After the Prussians and their English allies sent Napoleon to Elba, they turned their eyes on those who they felt had betrayed them. Rudiger was very firmly in their gaze. Many Prussian peers demanded the destruction of what was left of Riesa and its Kurfürst, but because Leonhard had fought with König Friedrich we were given the option to become a client of Prussia and use the title Prinz instead.

It was a generous compromise; far more generous than I would have been, under the circumstances. Rudiger agreed, but out of spite of the title offered by what he considered a ‘younger’ family, opted to use the most prestigious older title we had, that of Pfalzgraf.  Strangely, upon Rudiger’s death, Leonhard continued the tradition and we have been Pfamgrafs ever since. The Hohenzollern insist on using Prinz; were I to call on the present Prinz von Preußen, he would call me Prinz von Steinberg. I would correct him and then our conversation would continue with all due cordiality. It’s a question of style and tradition, though rather irrelevant at this point.

I’m sure it stuck in Bill’s craw when our ranks equalised and I had everything while he had a ratty hunting lodge in Doorn on Dutch sufferance. Poor old Bill. The world’s a sadder place without him. We understood each other. I’m rather glad he didn’t live to see these days for they would have broken him all over again. The present Prinz von Preußen is a tad callow by my standards, but then, who isn’t?

Yet I have digressed. The bond between the Hohenzollern and my family only grew from that time; the heirs encouraged towards camaraderie; culminating in the intermarriage of our families. However, a return to a state of independence has always been paramount to the von Steinbergs, and I am no different. Many of the actions in my life have been an attempt to recreate what we lost through our own stupidity and Prussian bullying. I think I created something in my life which my ancestors would be proud of. My only concern is that my dearest Galiena can hold it all together in these greatly uncertain times. May she be blessed with my longevity.

The Earliest Days.

Unwilling as I am to ape Charles Dickens, I must start with the undeniable fact that I was born. The blessed event happened at Schloß Riesa in 1861. I was a special child as I was the first to survive. Four before me had not. My father, Lothar Magnus Heinrich Wilhelm Pfalzgraf von Steinberg, was in his thirties when I came along and my Mutti, Cecilie Marlis Verina Sabine Pfalzgräfin von Steinberg was just twenty one. Her Mutti was the widowed Galiena Winifred Viktoria Gräfin von Lüttwitz.

That my Mutti was born on the wrong side of the blanket was well known and in the general scheme of things would have excluded her from marriage in to a family such as ours. An exception was made as her father was equally well known to be Wilhelm Friedrich Ludwig Prinz von Preußen; in 1871, Kaiser Wilhelm the first of Germany. While my maternal grandfather never publicly acknowledged my Mutti as his child, the court knew and she was accepted to be more than a noble by-blow. The wife of Wilhelm, the Prinzess Augusta, did not suffer my Mutti to be at court in her youth and later I understand there was often tension. What bargain was struck between Wilhelm, my father and my grandfather was never revealed to me; my Mutti swore until the end of her days that she did not know. I do know that von Lüttwitz died six months before my parents wed and my Mutti always referred to my father as her Paladin. I’ve always wondered what legitimization of an imperial bastard was worth to Riesa. I have my suspicions but there has never been the confirmation.

Riesa in 1861 was a paradise for a young boy. No industry darkened the sky around the castle and the idyll I experienced affected the rest of my life. I always protected the land around Riesa to the best of my ability and I know that Galiena did to hers. But I am getting ahead of myself.

In keeping with tradition, my father was a companion to Prinz Friedrich and spent much of his time at Sans Souci in Potsdam. In retrospect, I know those long absences were for the benefit of the family but until I was in my fifth year, he was virtually a stranger. Mutti, on the other hand, adored me and spent far more time with her son than was the fashion. My nurse Rebekah would bring me to my Mutti in the mornings and we would spend our days together. I remember those times very clearly. In summer we would play by the lake near the estate and wait for Father to come home to us. I do know his visits to my Mutti were of a carnal nature for in the ten years between my birth and that of my brother Maximillian, my Mutti was enceinte seven times. Only three of those pregnancies came to fruition, and those poor wretches only lived from a few days to a few months. Even their names are lost to me without a family bible close.

The other activity which filled those early days was my education. I seem to remember Herr von Manteuffel being in my life from my earliest days. Von Manteuffel, my tutor, was a cadet member of the famous military family; the dusty scholar who didn’t fit in with the sportive soldiers. I was on an accelerated learning program as I was to discover later, but my thirst for knowledge was visible even then.

My father took very little interest in the mechanics of my education, only that it progressed at a specified rate. The place he did seem concerned with was that I develop a proper love for our ancestral lands of Steinberg and Riesa. After dinner, Father and I would spend an hour or two discussing our history. As I remember, he was a magnificent story teller and the rogue’s gallery which were our ancestors came to life. He always sat in his chair by the fire and I was on my little stool by his feet.  If I asked a particularly astute question, Father would ruffle my hair. Those rare moments filled me with a small boy’s pride.

Perhaps the thing I remember most about my father was the scent of his Turkish pipe tobacco. It clung to his clothing like a cloud and he smoked more than any other man I have ever seen. He could fill the interior of a coach with a grey blue haze on the trip between Riesa and Potsdam; even with the screens open. His pipe was a fantastically carved meerschaum where the von Steinberg dragon was shown in a life and death struggle with the Hohenzollern eagle.  It had been a gift from the Kronprinz Friedrich, who in my lifetime would become Kaiser for a mere 99 days, and who was my father’s closest friend. They had a jest that the pipe represented exactly how their families felt about one another, despite their own personal feelings. There is no end of truthfulness in that. Father served Friedrich faithfully, but the von Steinbergs would tear down the Hohenzollern in a heartbeat, given the opportunity. Galiena still has this artifact, I believe.

When I was eight, it was my turn to go to court and assume my position as companion to the Prinz Wilhelm. Of course, we had met before, but the prince had protested that he did not want to play with a baby. I remember my stripling dignity being wounded by that pronouncement. I must have been about six. It had been well explained to me that this boy would be my Liege someday and it was very important that I become his friend, but still I smarted. Even at my most tender ages, I was not much impressed by my counterpart.

Before I say much more about Bill, I should make it very clear that he was my closest friend and I miss him very much. His passing was a source of great pain to me. Later in life, as I will show, we were two peas in a pod. What I describe here are the perceptions I developed as a young lad.

Wilhelm the second was always desperately arrogant. He protested my return to court two years later. I was age eight and he, two years my senior made his feelings known  vociferously and with a completely unPrussian temper tantrum. “That baby shall not serve us!” He proclaimed loudly throughout the hall in that piping voice which only little boys have.

I stared straight into his unanointed eye. This was no König who demanded my allegiance, but a child who, despite being my size, was older than me. In the hierarchy of children, that made us equals. I was a tall thing for my age and felt no intimidation as I loudly proclaimed ‘The von Steinbergs have ruled in Germany far longer than the upstart Hohenzollern and we produce no babies!”

The silence which filled the chamber was of the deep, velvet kind. I remember my father staring at me with something akin to mortification. Then Chancellor Bismarck began to laugh; long and hard in the silence. This was in the year before the Franco Prussian war and just after Prussia had defeated the Austrians.  With Saxony on one side of that war and Prussia on the other, I need not explain whose lands were caught, yet again in the center. But we had acquitted ourselves very well and I was well buoyed by the pride in our people.

The König joined the Chancellor in his mirth. “Herr Prinz von Steinberg!” He said to my father, his prodigious moustache turning up. “Is this boy made of flesh? Or Kruppstahl?”

My father inclined his head. “Nay, Sire. He is yet another dragon from the von Steinberg clutch. We never change. You should know of our constancy by now.”

Willhelm I’s brow had raised. The man had brows like a dreadnaught. “Blast the lot of you! I regret the day my Grandfather made you clients of Prussia!”

A deep court bow. “Then release us, my Liege!” My father spoke so solemnly but with that twinkle in his eye.  They knew he was loyal; his friendship with Friedrich ensured that.

“I should, then invade and wipe the lot of you from the German confederation,” The König growled, safe in the knowledge that he now controlled Saxony and he had no allies who could assist us.

“But an eagle with a dragon in reserve is far safer when he faces a French lion than one without,” my father murmured. Everyone knew that war with the mighty French empire was inevitable, and strange as it sounds now, Prussia was not the side a smart gambler would wager on in that battle.

I swear that Wilhelm winked at me. “Be welcome at our court, Meinrad Prinz von Steinberg. If you have difficulty with our grandson, come to us.” But of course Wilhelm the first wanted me at court. I was his grandson too. Now he had all of his family close to him and there was very little the Königen Augusta could say about it.

Kaiser_Wilhelm_I._

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