Archduchess Assunta of Austria – The beautiful princess who wanted to be a nun

Public domain via Österreichische Nationalbibliothek

Assunta Alice Ferdinandine Blanca Leopoldina Margarethe Beatrix Raphaela Michaela Philomena was born on 10 August 1902 to Archduke Leopold Salvator of Austria and Infanta Blanca of Spain as their eighth child out of ten.

Public domain via Österreichische Nationalbibliothek

The household full of children – the ten brothers and sisters were very close in age, and every year their parents seemed to be welcoming a new addition to their family – was by all accounts a happy one. Their main residence was the Palais Toskana in the district of Wiede in Vienna, and the family was spending vacations in Italy where their mother, Infanta Blanca, owned property. It was a multicultural family with ties that stretched across the main royal families in Europe. Assunta was particularly close to her sister, Maria Antonia, but she also enjoyed the company of her other brothers and sisters and lived an idyllic childhood until the age of 16.

Following the First World War, the Habsburg dynasty was removed from the throne of the Austrian Empire, and this marked the moment when the life of the family changed forever. The members of the royal family were not treated kindly by the new republican Austrian government, which confiscated all their property, leaving them without a source of income. Assunta was only sixteen years old, and she saw her family ripped apart. Her older brothers, Archdukes Ranier and Leopold, chose to remain in Austria and they recognised the new republic while the rest of the family moved to Spain, settling in Barcelona and living with very limited means.

Assunta and her sister Maria Antonia found refuge in religion. Their parents were observant Catholics, but they felt the newly found religious drive of their two daughters might be a bit worrisome. Maria Antonia had a change of heart and married a Spanish aristocrat, while Assunta was determined to become a nun. Her parents were opposed to this decision, but after she ran away to South Africa aboard a ship, they accepted her desire to join a religious order. She entered the convent of St. Teresa de Tortosa near Barcelona, but it was not meant to be. The Spanish Civil war started, and the convent was attacked. The nuns were forced to flee, and those who hadn’t taken their vows yet were advised to go back to their families – Assunta was one of them.

Back at her family’s home, she had time to think and re-assess her life, and in the 1930s, one of her brothers introduced her to a Polish Jewish doctor, Joseph Hopfinger. He fell in love with the beautiful girl who wanted to become a nun and convinced her to marry him despite the opposition of Infanta Blanca who would have liked to see her daughter making an aristocratic marriage.

The young couple didn’t have much time to enjoy their life together as Joseph was called into the service of the army until the fall of France. The First World War stole Assunta’s happy childhood life and her royal status in Austria; now another war was threatening to destroy her marriage. When they heard that the Russians had killed his parents in Ukraine, Assunta and Joseph decided to leave Europe. Assunta’s brother Leopold and Franz Joseph were already in the United States and managed to help the young couple emigrate to New York. Joseph quickly found work as a doctor, and their second daughter was born there. Maria Teresa and Juliet Elisabeth Maria Assunta brought happiness to their family, but couldn’t prevent their parents’ divorce in 1950. Assunta’s family believed that Joseph was after her fortune and when he realised that his wife didn’t possess any, he became disenchanted with the marriage.

Assunta never remarried. She lived all her life in the United States and was an active member of the Catholic Church working tirelessly for its charities. She died at the age of 90 on 24 January 1993.

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