King Charles' ancestors lived in Transylvania

Charles finds peace and quiet when he visits rural Transylvania. But he also communes with ANCESTORS there – including a beautiful countess with a tragic fate…

  • King is fascinated by beautiful Countess Claudia Rhėdey, who met a terrible end 
  • His Transylvanian roots go back through Queen Mary, his great grandmother
  • READ MORE: For all the latest Royal news, pictures and videos click here

The King is ‘completely at home’ in Transylvania, as he once put it. ‘It’s in my blood.’ 

No doubt he felt the same way in the past few days as, looking happy and relaxed, he met villagers and inspected his rural estate.

Charles owns several properties in the region, tucked away in remote settlements where he can paint, walk, read, and rest, completely undisturbed.

What is less well-known is that many generations of his maternal ancestors lived in Transylvania which, for a long period, was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire.

The locals Charles sees on his walks, quietly nodding to him as they pass by with a horse and carriage, or walking their cows back to their farms are quite literally his own people.

King Charles greets the people of Viscri on his recent visit to Transylvania

The King is said to be fascinated by his three times great grandmother, Countess Claudia Rhėdey (pictured)

It is the Transylvanian side of the family which would eventually lead to Queen Mary of Teck, Charles’s great grandmother

The King is a great admirer of Transylvania’s traditional rural life

One ancestor with whom the king is particularly fascinated is his three times great grandmother, Countess Claudia Rhėdey, the grandmother of Queen Mary of Teck (wife of George V). his own great-grandmother.

In 2008 Charles visited her birthplace – at the time it was a school but has now been turned into a museum – in the village of Sângeorgiu de Pădure, as well as the nearby church where she is buried.

The then Prince of Wales was shown around by the village priest György Gáspár. His son, Pėter is the guide at the Rhėdey Castle, and an authority on the life of Claudia. I recently interviewed him while researching a book on the king’s ancestry.

‘The castle was the Rhėdey family’s summer residence, and Claudia, whose full name included Claudine as a tribute to her ancestor, was born here in September 1818, and baptised in the parish church when she was four days old.

‘Her diaries have recently been discovered in an archive and show that she was a deeply religious person. Her faith is also evident in her personal coat of arms which has the motto: ‘Believe in God’.

‘Most of the year was spent at the family’s main residence in, in what is now, Cluj-Napoca. Here she learned to dance, sing, play the piano, to draw and to learn languages – she spoke French, Latin, German and Italian. ‘

‘She was famously beautiful and had many suitors, especially when she attended the Austrian court in Vienna

It was while she was out riding in the hills around Vienna that she met Duke Alexander of Wṻrttemberg.’

From contemporary lithographs we can see that Alexander was also attractive – tall, slim and uniformed with the stylish floppy dark hairstyle that is reminiscent of Prince Albert.

Countess Claudia Rhėdey married Duke Alexander of Wṻrttemberg, pictured, even though her lack of royal status meant the union was seen as unsuitable

The Countess was famously beautiful and had many suitors, especially when she attended the Austrian court in Vienna

According to Pėter Gáspár, ‘It was love at first sight. They wanted to marry the very next day, but it was forbidden because of her non-royal lineage. Alexander lost his inheritance.’

The couple had two daughters and a son, Francis, the father of Queen Mary of Teck. They grew up without royal titles or status, though Francis became Duke of Teck upon his marriage.

Alexander and Claudia could never bear to be apart. When in 1841 he was serving with the Austrian military at Pettau (modern day Ptuj in Slovenia), Claudia, who was pregnant with her fourth child, decided to make the 100km journey from Graz to see him.

During her journey her carriage overturned. Claudia was injured but refused treatment. Determined to carry on, she made the rest of the journey on horseback. Arriving at the military camp, she collapsed and miscarried.

She survived another eight days but died from internal bleeding on October 1, 1841. She was only 29 years of age.

It was Claudia’s dying wish was to be buried with her parents near their summer residence in Transylvania, where Charles now has summer homes

In 2008 Charles visited her birthplace  in the village of Sângeorgiu de Pădure. At the time it was a school but has now been turned into a museum

Alexander was bereft. It was Claudia’s dying wish was to be buried with her parents near their summer residence and so he supervised the return journey, driving the carriage himself for the twenty days it took.

Before the funeral he had her heart removed and placed in a gold casket which he kept with him for the forty years of widowerhood, after which it was buried with him in Vienna.

Claudia’s tomb was inscribed with the words of Alexander: ‘Here lies a woman who has never given me any sorrow only happiness. Sorrow and tears only now when she left me alone on this earth.’

The marriage had repercussions down the generations.

The Teck family were regarded as second-class royals.

The impoverished Francis was barred from marrying any rich German princess and settled for Britain’s Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge, a first cousin of Queen Victoria’s.

The Queen thought Teck ‘handsome and gentlemanlike’ when she first met him in 1865. Aware of the chip on his shoulder from his non-royal parentage, she gave him the status of a British ‘Highness’ at the time of her Golden Jubilee in 1887.

A photograph of King George V and Queen Mary of Teck with their first child, who became Edward VIII

Four generations of the monarchy in Buckingham Palace after Princess Anne’s christening  in November 1950. Pictured: King George VI, Prince Philip, Queen Mary, Princess Elizabeth holding Princess Anne, Prince Charles and Queen Elizabeth

His daughter, Princess Victoria Mary of Teck, was always conscious of her lowly royal standing. She, too, was ineligible for marriage to a German prince.

Her granddaughter, Princess Margaret, told the writer Gore Vidal: ‘I detested Queen Mary. She was rude to all of us except Lilibet [the future Elizabeth II]. Of course, she had an inferiority complex.

‘We were royal and she was not.’

In the end Mary had the last laugh. She married the future George V, becoming Queen Empress, while her ancestral kingdom of Wṻrttemberg became extinct along with all the other German monarchies at the end of the First World War.

Mary never visited Transylvania, though she maintained a link with the family. As Princess of Wales, she asked for a plaque to be placed in the church honouring her grandmother’s name. Thirty years later, in the Silver Jubilee year of 1935, she paid for the church, where her ancestors are buried, to be restored.

A young Prince Charles  is held by his great-grandmother, Queen Mary of Teck

The King owns several properties in Transylvania, tucked away in remote villages where he can paint, walk, read, and rest, completely undisturbed

On his 2008 visit, Charles, inspected the two plaques commemorating Queen Mary’s generosity and saw the signed photo she had also sent.

He was shown the Rhėdey family arms on the church wall and was presented with a specially carved wooden root to represent his own roots in Transylvania.

Pėter Gáspár recalls: ‘he looked visibly touched when he walked into the church, and he was very humble.’

He left a bouquet of flowers in her memory of the ancestor who was so wronged during her lifetime but is still remembered when most of her generation is forgotten.

With it was a card bearing his cypher and the handwritten message: ‘In loving memory of my great, great, great grandmother. Charles.’

  • The Throne: 1000 Years of British Coronations by Ian Lloyd is published by The History Press price £16.99

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