Wilhelm von Habsburg wore the uniform of an Austrian officer, the court regalia of a Habsburg archduke, the simple suit of a Parisian exile, the decorations of the Order of the Golden Fleece, and, every so often, a dress.He could handle a sabre, a pistol, a rudder, or a golf club; he handled women by necessity and men for pleasure.He spoke the Italian of his archduchess mother, the German of his archduke father, the English of his British royal friends, the Polish of the country his father wished to rule, and the Ukrainian of the land Wilhelm wished to rule himself.
Born in 1895, as the age of mass politics was beginning and the peoples of Europe were learning to resist their own empires, Wilhelm - although accustomed to command as a child - came to identify with these very dissenters. In his boyhood imagination he was at one with the downtrodden, a rebel against a world whose rules were written by his ancestors; as a teenager during the First World War he chose his own kingdom, the exotic and unknown land of Ukraine, in characteristic defiance of his father's wishes. But in some way choice itself was his kingdom, for he chose his own nation, finding a people who would love him as he loved them - in poetry, in war, and sometimes in the bedroom.The collapse of his Ukrainian dream after its 1921 dissolution made him, by turns, an ally of German imperialists, a notorious French lover, an angry Austrian monarchist, a calm opponent of Hitler, and finally a British spy against Stalin.Through all of these transformations he was in some way loyal to the choices of his youth: when he faced Soviet interrogators in 1947, he spoke to them in Ukrainian.
This masterful biography, written by the award-winning author Timothy Snyder, not only reconstructs for the first time the life of this fascinating prince, but also charts the final collapse of the ancien rŠgim in Europe and the birth of a new world order.