The Everyday Life of the Emperor
Martina Winkelhofer, historian and art historian, born in Vienna. University reader, lecturer at the Universities of Vienna and Prague, specialist in subjects of court and politics in the 19th century, aristocracy and social history. Author of 'Noblesse Oblige, Aristocratic Ladies of the Austrian Monarchy' (2009).
The Everyday Life of the Emperor
I A Day in the Life of the Old Emperor
Emperor Francis Joseph was awakened by his First Valet every morning at 3:30 am. Following his morning prayers, a rubber bathtub was dragged into the room and His Majesty's First Bath Attendant - tauntingly called 'Washcloth' by the courtiers - began his daily period of service. His undemanding duties consisted of soaping up the emperor and rinsing him off. His task was made more difficult by the fact that he invariably came to work inebriated. Often reprimanded by his superior, Washcloth invariably protested that he was the victim of his early hour of service. He had to start the day so early that he couldn't get out of bed; so he simply didn't go to bed, and stayed up all night at a local inn. And in order to keep awake until 3:30, he treated himself to a glass or two of wine. That was the sole cause for his staggering to work each day, redolent with alcohol, to perform his duties.
The emperor was always lenient with Washcloth. Occasionally, Francis Joseph remarked that the bath attendant really did reek of alcohol, but was always reluctant to fire him. It was not until Washcloth one time appeared for work so drunk that he couldn't even stand up straight, and had to hold himself upright by grabbing onto the neck and shoulders of the soaped-up emperor with all his strength to keep from toppling over, thereby nearly overturning emperor and bathtub alike, that the limits of patience were exceeded. The bath attendant had to be relieved of his arduous duties. However, he was not dismissed, merely transferred to a different court job which did not entail getting up so early in the morning.
The story of Emperor Francis Joseph and his bath attendant is symptomatic of the relations between the emperor and those in his employ at court. Francis Joseph was indulgent, he shied away from harsh penalties and above all refused to dismiss servants, much to the despair of his leading officials. He lived utterly in the aura and unspoken terms of patriarchal traditions of providing for those beneath him, seeing himself as father of his court servants. They were his children whom he had to take care of. They were not to be dismissed, even if they performed their duties poorly.
After his bath, valet Eugen Ketterl helped the emperor put on his uniform. Then followed breakfast: the identical breakfast served to officials and servants was brought to him at his desk. Apart from coffee and milk, he had breakfast rolls, butter and ham. And in the meantime, the court slowly lumbered to life. By 5:00 am at latest, a buzz of activity filled the halls of the court of Vienna. The first coaches delivered firewood, groceries and stationery needs for the officials. The wood carriers wheezed beneath the burdens of their bundles, trudging up and down every staircase of the Hofburg to supply each living and working section with the requisite fuel to last through the day. The cleaning staff ran back and forth across the inner yard carrying buckets full of water to commence the daily cleaning labours. In the court kitchen, more than 500 breakfasts were prepared, since only those servants who began their period of duty at 4:30 am had already had breakfast. The huge ovens in the court kitchen were fired up and the kitchen staff began to wash, scrub and slice the ingredients for the day's pre-planned menu. As on every other day, hundreds of breakfasts, lunches and suppers had to be prepared. Throngs of livery servants, doormen and chamber servants scampered across the inner courtyards to their respective places of work, while night watchmen and supervisory staff retired to their rooms after a long night of service to finally rest their weary heads.
By 7:30 am, the entire court was awake and humming. The court officials started their shift. They bade their wives farewell, left their court apartments impeccably dressed in the official uniforms of which they were s