Eleonore of Schwarzenberg (with a replaced face) and her son Joseph, in a painting in Český Krumlov
baroque,  Bohemian lifestyle,  cemeteries and memorials,  churches,  Devil,  folk beliefs,  Magic Bohemia,  Prague and Bohemia,  vampires,  witchcraft

Does a vampire princess live in a Bohemian church?

Eleonore von Schwarzenberg led a bizarre life followed by an atypical burial.

Most members of noble families stick together, even after death. However, one member of the Schwarzenberg family is not with the others, and her life, as well as her peculiar burial, has fueled speculation that she was regarded as a vampire princess. Some people even suggest she inspired Bram Stoker to write Dracula. But the evidence for both ideas is not so clear.

Princess Eleonore von Schwarzenberg died at the age of 58 and is buried in a church in the South Bohemian town of Český Krumlov, even though she died in Vienna, and much of her family rests in a group mausoleum there.

According to the pro-vampire story, this was to prevent her undead body from wandering in the Viennese family crypt and feasting on her relatives, turning them into fellow vampires. She died on May 5, 1741, which coincided with the height of the vampire panic gripping Central and Eastern Europe. 

People at that time took the concept of vampirism as a contagious disease seriously and took steps to halt its spread. Archaeologists have discovered graves with decapitated corpses, stones in the mouth, iron weights on the body, and other preventive measures.

The princess’s corpse was transported from Vienna to Český Krumlov and buried five days after her death beneath the newly constructed chapel of St John Nepomuk in the Church of St Vitus. Although there was a lavish procession, no close relatives attended. The stone over the grave bears the inscription (in German) “Here lies the poor sinner Eleanor. Pray for her.” Neither the family name nor coat of arms was included.

Portrait of Princess Eleonore von Schwarzenberg vampire princess bohemian gothic
Portrait of Princess Eleonore von Schwarzenberg by an unknown artist
Adam Franz, the Third Prince of Schwarzenberg, vampire princess bohemian gothic
Adam Franz, the Third Prince of Schwarzenberg, by an unknown artist
Church of St Vitus in Český Krumlov, vampire princess bohemian gothic
Church of St Vitus in Český Krumlov, via Wikimedia commons
Tombstone in the John of Nepomuk chapel, via Die Vampirprinzessin vampire princess bohemian gothic
Tombstone in the John of Nepomuk chapel, via Die Vampirprinzessin

The tomb is covered by a carpet, though a picture of it can be seen in an Austrian documentary, Die Vampirprinzessin, which supports the vampire thesis. Her coffin was laid in a concrete vault and covered in consecrated ground, topped with the inscribed stone. 

The Austrian filmmakers claim that the church administration was completely unaware of the tomb, as the carpet had not been moved in decades. However, other parts of the church have well-known tombs of members of the noble Rožmberk family, so the secrecy surrounding this tomb seems odd.

Her heart is kept separately in a niche called the Tomb of Hearts in the same church, along with her husband’s heart, while her entrails are interred in the Church of St Giles in a family tomb in the town of Třebon, also in South Bohemia.

The organs were separated because an autopsy was performed. Although doctors did not know what to make of her organs at the time, it appears she died of cervical cancer and had several large tumors.

Strange but not completely uncommon practices

Proponents of the idea that she was regarded as a vampire princess point to all these burial oddities as proof. While the heart wasn’t pierced with a stake, it was removed to prevent the corpse from remaining intact. The concrete vault, topped with a heavy stone, was designed to contain something from escaping, and the consecrated earth layer would prevent evil spirits from moving.

Others, however, argue that the burial wasn’t unusual at all. Everything was executed according to the princess’s wishes. She is buried in the town where she felt most at home, as she lived in the castle there during her exile. The modest epitaph was because she often expressed empathy for the poor and wanted to emulate them in death.

Placing the heart and entrails separately wasn’t uncommon in noble families. Examples across Europe can be found as early as the 12th century and as recently as 2011 (for Otto von Habsburg). The tombstone may have been accidentally covered at some point in the past, as it lacked the family name, but the placement of the two hearts together in the niche was certainly not a secret.

The cancer goes a long way toward explaining her actions in the waning years of her life. She had been suffering for a long time, and nothing that doctors could do seemed to help. Indeed, there was no effective treatment for cancer at the time. She turned to folk remedies and the occult to try to improve her health, as nothing else offered any hope.

Shavings of unicorn horn (likely from a narwhal tusk) and other expensive preparations together cost the equivalent of thousands of dollars a month. Unusual for a woman of her time, she smoked tobacco, believing the smoke would be beneficial for her health.

Her illness made her pale, and she avoided sunlight, again for health reasons. She spent much of her time reading books about the occult and had amassed a large collection. These odd behaviors cast suspicion on her, and her extravagant spending caused conflicts within the family.

Castle in Český Krumlov where Eleonore von Schwarzenberg often lived. via Wikimedia commons vampire princess bohemian gothic
The castle in Český Krumlov where Eleonore von Schwarzenberg often lived. Via Wikimedia commons, CC BY-SA 4.0
A Schwarzenberg family tomb is under the altar in St Giles, Třebon vampire princess bohemian gothic
A Schwarzenberg family tomb is in the crypt under the altar in the Church of St Giles, Třebon. Via Wikimedia commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

Even before her health began to fail, she turned to folk remedies to help her conceive a male heir to the Schwarzenberg line. Rumors state that she kept wolves so she could drink wolves’ milk, but “Wolfsmilch” is also the German name of an herb known in English as euphorbia

In any case, she associated wolves’ milk – whether mammalian or herbal – with the legend of Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome who were suckled by a wolf mother. She was an avid hunter but refused to hunt wolves out of respect for this legacy.

While in modern times we associate bats with vampires, in her era it was more common for wolves to be seen as these shapeshifters. The line between  werewolves and vampires was razor thin. So accusations of keeping wolves and protecting them on hunts was another cause for suspicion against her.

The princess gave birth to a girl in 1706 when she was 24 years old. But this was followed by several miscarriages. She didn’t give birth to a male heir until she was 40 years old, which at the time was quite late. Her detractors maintained that this late birth was due to her suspicious interest in the occult and a pact with the Devil. She just couldn’t catch a break, PR-wise.

Defaced paintings and an unhappy marriage

One hard-to-explain oddity is that almost all of her portraits seem to have been altered, with original faces cut out and new canvas patches with new faces sewn in. The outline of this odd artistic surgery can be seen in a few paintings. Why the faces were completely cut out rather than simply painted over is not known.

Speculation suggests this happened after she died. Perhaps a relative who was not a fan literally defaced them, just like in modern times when people cut an unpopular ex out of a family portrait. Later, after tempers cooled off, someone else probably had the paintings repaired so they could again be displayed with other family portraits.

Princess Eleonore von Schwarzenberg was a particularly powerful woman for her time, and such women are often depicted negatively in history. Separating fact from slander is incredibly difficult as the people interested in spreading the slander are usually the same ones who write what becomes accepted as history.

One example is Elizabeth Bathory, the so-called Lady Dracula who lived in what is now Slovakia. This noblewoman allegedly killed hundreds of young women so she could bathe in their blood. A growing number of scholars now believe these accusations were false. Rivals may have invented the tales and coerced witnesses to lie as part of a plot to avoid paying debts owed to her.

Some members of the Schwarzenberg family were jealous of Princess Eleonore’s wealth and power, and seemed happy to cast her in a bad light. Her marriage to Adam Franz, the Third Prince of Schwarzenberg, was an arranged one and filled with more than its share of conflict. The prince had wanted to marry a lowly countess, but his father would not allow it.

Eleonore of Schwarzenberg (with a replaced face) and her son Joseph, vampire princess bohemian gothic
Eleonore of Schwarzenberg (with a replaced face) and her son Joseph, in a painting in Český Krumlov
Detail showing the rectangle of new canvas where the face is vampire princess bohemian gothic
Detail showing the rectangle of new canvas where the face is

The princess had been born into the House of Lobkowicz, and the strategic marriage served to strengthen the ties between the two noble families. She was born as Princess Eleonore Elisabeth Amalia Magdalena von Lobkowitz on June 20, 1682, in Vienna. (Many sources mistakenly claim she was born in Mělník, just north of Prague.)

The marriage was troubled from the start due to a dispute over the nonpayment of a substantial part of the dowry and accusations of the princess being unfaithful. Prince Adam Franz was so unhappy with the union that he had Princess Eleonore exiled from Vienna, so they didn’t even live in the same city for 12 years. The princess spent much of this time in Český Krumlov.

The prince was killed in a hunting accident in Brandýs nad Labem in 1732 when he got in the way of a shot fired by Emperor Charles VI. He was buried in the family crypt in Vienna, except for his heart.

The princess received an annual stipend from the emperor after that. She was also now in sole control of the family lands and finances. Her son was still a minor and not yet eligible to take the reins. He seems to have not liked the arrangement, as he did not attend his mother’s funeral nine years later. He also got rid of her occult books and virtually every other trace of her existence as soon as he could.

Inspiration for a bride of Dracula?

The idea that Princess Eleonore inspired Bram Stoker is a bit of a convoluted journey. Stoker’s short story “Dracula’s Guest” was originally intended to be the first chapter of Dracula before the publisher wanted to shorten the novel. The chapter was published in an anthology after Stoker’s death.

Early drafts of Dracula seem to link one of the female vampires in Dracula’s castle to the woman depicted in the short story. In “Dracula’s Guest,” a woman named Countess Dolingen hails from Graz in the Austrian province of Styria.

The unnamed protagonist encounters the countesss tomb in a grove during Walpurgisnacht (Witches’ Night). Inside lies a beautiful sleeping woman. The man falls unconscious after a lightning strike and is awakened by a large supernatural wolf. He then makes his way back to a hotel in Munich, where a telegram from Dracula awaits him, warning of dangerous wolves in the night. The unnamed man in the story is apparently Jonathan Harker, already en route to Transylvania.

“Dracula’s Guest” includes the line “the dead travel fast” as an inscription on the tomb. This line also appears in Gottfried August Bürger’s 1773 German-language Gothic ballad “Leonore”.

Illustration for 'Leonore' by Frank Kirchbach, 1896 vampire princess bohemian gothic
Illustration for 'Leonore' by Frank Kirchbach, 1896
Illustration for 'Leonore' by Friedrich Geselschap, 1866 vampire princess bohemian gothic
Illustration for 'Leonore' by Friedrich Geselschap, 1866
Illustration of 'Leonore' by Schubert. 1800 vampire princess bohemian gothic
Illustration of 'Leonore' by JD Schubert, 1800

The poem takes place just after the Battle of Prague in 1757. A woman named Lenore or, in some translations  Ellenore, is concerned when her boyfriend does not return with the other soldiers. She takes a high-speed late-night ride on horseback with what appears to be her boyfriend but is actually the personification of Death. He leads her to her marriage bed – the grave in a cemetery where her husband now lies.

The first step in this connection is to accept that Princess Eleonore von Schwarzenberg inspired Bürger’s Gothic ballad. It was widely translated into English, so Stoker would have been familiar with it. Quoting it would have been a nod to a fellow author. Stoker also acknowledges Sheridan Le Fanu’s story “Carmilla” by referencing Styria.

But the only connection between Princess Eleonore von Schwarzenberg and the poem is the similarity to the name of the main character. How Bürger would have become familiar with the alleged supernatural speculation about the princess is never sufficiently answered. And nothing else in the princesss life or death is reflected in the poem. 

Without this first link, it is hard to conclude that the princess inspired Stoker, even if we acknowledge his addition of the princesss beloved wolves to the story. Stoker took his vampire lore from popular printed sources, the same ones that Sheridan Le Fanu used. None of these books mention Eleonore von Schwarzenberg as a vampire princess.

An article by BabaBarock with Raymond Johnston. Copyright BabaBarock Ltd, all rights reserved. Please contact us if you would like to syndicate or otherwise use this article.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *