Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Obituary: Princess Gabriele of Bavaria, Dowager Duchess of Croÿ (1927-2019)

+ Princess Gabriele of Bavaria, Dowager Duchess of Croÿ

Princess Gabriele, Dowager Duchess of Croÿ, and her sister Princess Sophie, Dowager Duchess of Arenberg

HRH Princess Gabriele of Bavaria, Dowager Duchess of Croÿ, passed away on Friday, 19 April, at the age of ninety-one. She was the widow of Carl, Duke of Croÿ (1914-2011). The Dowager Duchess is survived by her three children and ten grandchildren. 

Death notice of Princess Gabriele of Bavaria, Dowager Duchess of Croÿ
Photograph (c) Frankfurter Allgemeine Lebenswege

Princess Gabriele of Bavaria was born at Berchtesgaden on 10 May 1927 as the fifth chid and fourth daughter of Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria (1869-1955) and his second wife Crown Princess Antonia of Bavaria (1899-1954; née Luxembourg). Overall, Gabriele was the fifth daughter and ninth child of Crown Prince Rupprecht when one counts the children from his first marriage to Duchess Marie Gabriele in Bavaria (1878-1912). Gabriele's half-siblings from her father's first union were Prince Luitpold (1901-1914), Princess Irmingard (1902-1903), Duke Albrecht of Bavaria (1905-1996), and Prince Rudolf (1909-1912). The princess had joined four older siblings and was followed by one younger sister: Prince Heinrich (1922-1958), Princess Irmingard (1923-2010), Princess Editha (1924-2013), Princess Hilda (1926-2002), and Princess Sophie (b.1935).

Crown Prince Rupprecht and Crown Princess Antonia with their five eldest children

As is well-known, the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany mean that the Bavarian Royal Family eventually had to leave their country, owing to the Wittelsbachs' noted opposition to the policies of the National Socialists. This lead to Crown Prince Rupprecht, his wife Antonia, and his offspring from both marriages being scattered around Europe for the duration of the Nazi's time in power, especially during World War II. Gabriele and her sisters Hilda and Sophie first found themselves in Florence, where they began their education. As a result of her time there, Princess Gabriele became fluent in Italian. Thereafter, she moved to the South Tyrol with her mother Crown Princess Antonia. Now living at Brixen in South Tyrol, Gabriele continued her studies at the School of the Loreto Sisters. After two years in Brixen, Gabriele and her younger sister Sophie returned to Italy where they continued their education at Assisi under the supervision of Countess Paula Bellegarde, a friend of the family. At some point, Countess Paula and the Bavarian princess were discovered by the Gestapo and sent to Weimar: from there, they would endure a series of tribulations. 

Princesses Editha, Sophie, Gabriele, and Hilda at Florence in early 1944
Photograph (c) Noel McFerran 

By late 1944, Gabriele and many members of her immediate family found themselves in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. As the Russians advanced into Germany, the Bavarian royals were moved to the Flossenbürg concentration camp. Gabriele and her sisters were allowed to go for walks at Flossenbürg, where they witnessed the executions of prisoners who were forced to work in the labour camp but had collapsed along the way to fulfil their "duties." Gabriele later recalled the murders at the camp: "These pictures haunted us for years." After Flossenbürg, Gabriele and her family were transported to Dachau. It was from this concentration camp that the princess and the Bavarian royal family were liberated on 29 April 1945 by American forces. 


After the end of the war, Princess Gabriele was able to finish her education. She attended the Ecole des Arts et Métiers at Lausanne, where she studied photography. Again, she was under the watchful eye of Countess Paula Bellegarde. Gabriele graduated in 1949, after which time she traveled to Egypt and Peru to pursue her photographic passion. 

Crown Prince Rupprecht with his children (l to r): Heinrich, Editha, Sophie, Hilda, Gabriele, and Irmingard.
The family is pictured in the 1950s.

In 1950, Gabriele met her future husband Carl of Croÿ at the wedding of her sister Irmingard to their first cousin Prince Ludwig of Bavaria (1913-2008). Gabriele and Carl became engaged in early 1953. They celebrated their religious marriage on 18 June 1953 at Nymphenburg; Cardinal Wendel, Archbishop of Munich, presided over the ceremony. Hereditary Prince Carl of Croÿ was the eldest child and first son of Duke Carl Rudolf of Croÿ (1889-1974) and his first wife Nancy Louise Leishman (1894-1983), the daughter of John George Alexander Leishman (1857-1924), onetime US ambassador to Turkey, Switzerland, and Germany, and his wife Julia Crawford (1862-1918). 

Duke Carl Rudolf and Duchess Helen of Croÿ

Carl succeeded as the Duke of Croÿ after his father's death in 1974. In the meantime, Carl and Gabriele became the parents of three children: Princess Marie-Thérèse (b.1954), Prince Rudolf (b.1955; the current Duke of Croÿ), and Prince Stefan (b.1959). In due time, all children married: Rudolf to Countess Alexandra Miloradovich (1960-2015) in 1987, Stefan to Countess Béatrice du Chastel de la Howarderie (b.1964) in 1990, and Marie-Thérèse to Count Stephan von Walderdorff (1963-2011) in 2002. 

Carl and Gabriele with their son Rudolf, daughter-in-law Alexandra, and grandchildren Carl Philipp and Xenia.
Photograph (c) Alamy

Carl, Duke of Croÿ died on 14 June 2011 at the age of ninety-six. After her husband's death, Princess Gabriele, Dowager Duchess of Croÿ, continued to reside at Schloß Merfeld. A memorial Mass for Gabriele will take place on 3 May at Klosterkirche St Jakobus at Dülmen. Gabriele's sister Princess Sophie, Dowager Duchess of Arenberg, is the only surviving child of Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria.

Duke Carl and Duchess Gabriele of Croÿ in 1981
Photograph (c) Alamy

Carl and Gabriele, Duke and Duchess of Croÿ, in 1985
Photograph (c) Alamy

The Duke and Duchess of Croÿ in 1989.
Photograph (c) Alamy

May Her Royal Highness Rest in Peace.


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