The last vestiges of the German aristocracy normally keep a low profile, but this week, they were front-page news. The royal house of Hanover – which once ruled over Britain – is in uproar. The aristocratic patriarch Prince Ernst August and his son, also named Ernst August, are at loggerheads over the family’s main estate. The fairytale Marienburg Castle, a neo-Gothic pile in the state of Lower Saxony, is the object of their rivalry.
Although the family can trace its origins to the eigth century, the castle is fairly modern, erected only in 1859. The last King of Hanover, who was blind, is said to have had a scale model built, so he could use his sense of touch to feel the new building.
The castle is now at the heart of a dispute between Ernst August father and son, which threatens to derail restoration plans and even tear the family apart. In 2004, Ernst August senior gave the bastion, along with several other properties and some works of art to his scion, who also bears the titles Crown Prince of Hanover and the Duke of Braunschweig and Lüneburg.
The two have been fighting ever since. Ernst August senior, whose colorful life has made him a gossip-column regular, feels betrayed by his son. He now wants back the properties that he gifted his offspring. However, Ernst August junior arranged for Marienburg to be sold to the state of Lower Saxony for the symbolic sum of €1 ($1.13).
The patriarch says his son approached the state government behind his back. He wants to stop the sale, arguing that would save Lower Saxony’s taxpayers the unnecessary burden of maintaining the castle.
A 32-page legal letter written by Ernst August senior’s lawyers was sent last week to government headquarters. For his part, E.A. junior says he simply cannot afford the upkeep of the premises, which needs renovating to the tune of €27 million.
The senior Hanoverian aristocrat is especially annoyed that his son has apparently been negotiating in secret since 2010 to dispose of the castle. Last week, a copy of the report was sent to Stephan Weil, state premier of Lower Saxony. Weil would prefer not get caught up in the family dispute, but may have little choice. For now, Lower Saxony has suspended its purchase until these issues are resolved.
In a particularly anachronistic touch, one article of the document passing on the castle to Ernst August junior touches on his marriage plans: If he fails to wed, or his marriage is seen to be unsuitable, the decision could be reversed and the place returned to his father. Likewise, if the younger Ernst August dies without an heir, the property would also revert to his father.
As it happens, in summer 2017, the younger Ernst August married a Russian fabric designer, Ekaterina Malysheva, against his father’s will. The older Ernst August couldn't stop the marriage, but could prevent any children from inheriting the full royal fortune, Schloss Marienburg included. The scandal could even cost the family its distant place in the line of succession to the British throne.
The dispute also threatens to drag in another one of Europe’s ancient royal families. Ernst August senior blames Prince Michael of Liechtenstein, an economist who may have advised the son on the donation of Marienburg to Lower Saxony. The younger Ernst August defended the role of the Liechtensteinian prince.
Until these matters are clarified, the castle's handover has been blocked by the Lower Saxony government.
Christian Rickens is a Handelsblatt editor at the Düsseldorf headquarters. Brían Hanrahan adapted this story into English for Handelsblatt Today. To contact the author: [email protected]