The prince and the garrulous watch-maker

May 12, 2016

Maximilian Joseph, Duke in Bavaria (1808–1888), father of Empress Elisabeth of Austria

Maximilian Joseph, Duke in Bavaria (1808–1888), father of Empress Elisabeth of Austria

One day when the Duke was traveling from Munich to Vienna, without submitting himself to any of the fuss which generally surrounds the voyages of princes, a gentleman, at the moment when the train was about to steam out of the station, entered the ordinary first-class carriage in which he was established. A conversation soon began between them, in the course of which the unknown mentioned that he was one of the greatest watch-makers in Austria, and ended by asking Duke Maximilian what his profession was, and why he was going to Vienna.

Nordwest Bahnhof Vienna

Nordwest Bahnhof Vienna

“Well, to tell you the truth,” replied Maximilian, “I have at present no profession, and I am going to Vienna to visit my daughter and son-in-law.”

“Ah, and is your son-in-law in business?”

“Yes and no; he is a pretty busy man, if that is what you want to know.”

“Has he a good position?”

“Yes, a pretty good position.”

“What kind of a position is it?”

“He is an emperor.”

The Viennese watch-maker began to laugh loudly, thinking, of course, that his traveling companion was joking, and when they finally arrived at their destination, the vivacious merchant, without waiting until the train had completely stopped, gave a playful dig in the ducal ribs, and jumping out of the old railway carriage, called out to the astounded old gentleman:

“That was a good joke of yours, but I am not so easily taken in. Good-bye, and good luck; hope to see you again soon. Don’t forget to introduce me to your imperial son-in-law some day.”

A lithograph of King Franz Joseph and Queen Elisabeth, with their children Rudolf (1858); Marie Valerie (1868) and Gisela (1856).

A lithograph of Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Elisabeth, with their children Rudolf (1858); Marie Valerie (1868) and Gisela (1856).

At dinner that evening Duke Maximilian related his adventure to his greatly entertained children, and the Emperor, who was then still exceedingly fond of fun, hastened next morning to send for the watch-maker in question. Upon being ushered into the Emperor’s presence, the unfortunate man, who at a glance recognized the benevolent-looking gentleman with whom he had traveled from Munich on the previous day, was frightened out of his senses. But he was soon reassured by the Emperor’s kind smile, and, moreover, delighted beyond measure at receiving an order for some dozen or so of his very finest watches.

“You see,” laughed the sovereign, “that my position is not a bad one, but don’t you go envying it, for it brings with it often more thorns than roses.”


Marguerite Cunliffe-Owen, The Martyrdom of an Empress (New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1902), 37-8.
Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 524


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