On The Moustache Of Archduke Stephen, Palatine Of Hungary

There is an argument to be had that the well-groomed moustache is representative of all that is best in a certain apprehension of Western civilization, where gravitas, punctilio and rectitude are prized as essential qualities. Clearly the moustache cannot, in and of itself, guarantee that the pinnacle of social conduct has been achieved. We need only think of the luxuriant moustaches of, on the one hand, the savage Ancient Gauls and, on the other, the hippies and motorbikeists of nineteen-seventies America (think Easy Rider) to recognise the absurdity of that conceit.

And yet, within a larger context, one that includes manners and customs and dress and even carriage and posture, the moustache is incontrovertibly the icing on the cake, as it were. Remove the moustache and you remove a crucial – I would go so far as to say a necessary – element of civilization at its most civilized.

Consider for a moment the splendid moustache of Archduke Stephen, Palatine of Hungary (1817-1867), previously Archduke Stephen Francis Victor of Austria, governor of Bohemia from 1843 to 1847.


It is no accident, I think, that in this photograph the gaze of Archduchess Hermine of Austria is concentrated fixedly upon that moustache. Dapper as he is in his coat and trousers and shiny shoes, insouciant as he leans against a weighty carved wooden credenza, an imaginary clean-shaven Palatine would cut far less impressive a figure. Indeed, one cannot help thinking that Emperor Ferdinand I of Austria would have withheld the governorship of Bohemia from him until such time as he sprouted an appropriate moustache.

The Archduchess, incidentally, was not the wife of the Archduke, for he never married. It is quite possible that any prospective brides were intimidated by the moustache, perhaps intuiting that the Archduke’s mental and emotional energies were devoted to its cultivation and care, leaving little to spare for connubial shenanigans. Such a conclusion is borne out by careful and painstaking study of the countenance of the Archduchess in the photograph. You might want to deploy a magnifying glass, but I think you will agree with me.

There is a story, which I have just made up, that Archduke Stephen, finding the coffers of Bohemia alarmingly depleted, once made use of his moustache to raise much-needed funds. He staged a competition, open to all the citizens of Bohemia, the challenge being to make an accurate estimation of the number of individual hairs in his moustache. Each Bohemian paid a crown to enter, and having done so qualified to write down their chosen number on a scrap of paper, the gathered scraps being collected by one of the Archduke’s henchmen, together with the crowns. It is said that a barber from a Bohemian village was brought to the palace, armed with a comb and a counting-stick, about the size of a modern safety match, and was ordered to count one by one the hairs in the Archducal moustache. Before this humble yet numerate artisan could complete his task, however, Archduke Stephen’s father died, and he inherited the title of Count Palatine of Hungary, and left Bohemia for good, taking all the crowns with him but leaving the scraps of paper with numbers written upon them, shoved all jumbled up in the weighty carved wooden credenza against which he is seen leaning in that photograph. The exact number of hairs in his magnificent moustache never was calculated, more’s the pity.

One thought on “On The Moustache Of Archduke Stephen, Palatine Of Hungary

  1. Thank you for this inspirational post. I am strongly of the opinion that, had the moustache of Archduke Stephen, Palatine of Hungary been shorter, the whole face of the world would have been changed.

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