Wrath of the Ancients was the first novel from Catherine Cavendish that I read and I’m kicking myself for not checking out her work earlier. Cavendish offers up atmospheric Gothic horror stories that effortlessly blend history and the supernatural to create unsettling stories that are sure to satisfy those who enjoy the genre. While leaning a bit more toward quiet horror territory, there are plenty of hair-raising scenes that draw from the steadily growing dread Cavendish creates over the course of Wrath of the Ancients. I’m a fanatic when it comes to horror novels that weave in bits of history, and that is why I am so excited to share this guest post from Catherine. This post focuses on a particular curse that plagued the Hapsburgs and influenced the writing of Cavendish’s latest novel, Waking the Ancients.
The Eagle and the Serpent – The Curse of Hapsburgs
By Catherine Cavendish
To be more precise – one of the curses of the Hapsburgs, for there have been a number. The ‘eagle’ and the ‘serpent’ of the title can be found on the flag of Mexico, at the time when Austrian Emperor, Franz Josef’s, brother, Archduke Maximilian ruled briefly as Emperor. The eagle motif – in a different context – would be familiar to Max as the double headed eagle was a symbol of his country’s ruling family – the Hapsburgs. Familiar it might have been, but any sense of comfort that might have brought was to be short-lived as Archduke Max, Emperor of Mexico in its Second Empire, ruled for only three years before dying in a hail of bullets – assassinated by rebel forces.
The particular curse I am concentrating on concerns some highly valuable treasure and jewels looted by Count Hermann of Hapsburg in the sixteenth century from the Burmese Temple of Rama. The Count and his men took everything of value, stripping the holy place and causing the high priest to enter a period of seven days meditation. At the end of this week, he made his pronouncement. It was a lengthy one. Beginning at dawn on the eighth day, he continued with it, not stopping until noon. Every kind of misfortune and tragedy imaginable was to be visited on anyone who ever came into contact with any of the treasure and jewels.
Perhaps appropriately, Count Hermann was the first to suffer the curse. On his return to Vienna, his family confiscated the treasure and had him committed to an insane asylum. Following that, every member of the Hapsburg family who had anything to do with the treasure suffered violent death or hideous tragedy. So much tragedy in fact that the name ‘Hapsburg’ became synonymous with ‘bad luck’. It was even said that some of the items were possessed by evil spirits. They were given away or destroyed and some members of the family gave up their ill-gotten wealth and titles and became poor commoners simply to escape the curse.
Emperor Franz Josef did not believe in curses and pooh-poohed the rumour concerning the artefacts. He did however give his share of it away to his brother, Max, who had listened to the legends and was more ready to believe them. Max was married and when his wife, Charlotte, saw the jewels she went into raptures. She had to have them. Max relented and allowed her to do so. It was the first in a disastrous series of decisions he took, largely fueled by his ambitious spouse.
Jealous of Franz Josef’s beautiful and enigmatic wife Elisabeth, Charlotte was swept away with French Emperor, Napoleon III’s plan to sit her husband on the throne of Mexico. The republican Mexican government under Suarez owed millions to the French government and had no means of repaying their debt. Napoleon III decided that this gave him carte blanche to go in and take over – with Max as his puppet Emperor and Charlotte – now to be known as Carlota- as Empress. She even wore the cursed jewels on the day they entered their palace in Mexico City
Almost immediately it became clear that Max and Carlota would never be welcome in their adopted country. They were resented and plotted against and civil war soon broke out. They pleaded for help from Napoleon but to no avail. They were on their own. Max did not even have status in his home country as he had been forced to renounce any claim to the Hapsburg throne when he left Austria for Mexico.
Max died bravely in front of a firing squad, while Carlota – now Charlotte once more, a Princess of Belgium in her own right, spent the rest of her days in the Castle of Bouchout not far from Brussels, convinced Max was alive and ruling Mexico. She believed herself to still be his Empress. The poor, demented Princess lived a further sixty years, dying in 1927 at the age of 86.
As for the jewels, the next ruler of Mexico, President Porfirio Diaz, claimed them for himself, and when things became difficult for him, loaded them onto a chartered steamer headed for France. For some unaccountable reason, the steamer was lost at sea, sinking at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay with the loss of all hands. Every attempt since to salvage the ship has ended in disaster.
Rid of the burdensome jewels, the curse seems to have bypassed Diaz who died peacefully in Paris in 1915.
The same cannot be said for Dr. Emeryk Quintillus…
Waking the Ancients
Legacy In Death
University student Lizzie Charters accompanies her mentor, Dr. Emeryk Quintillus, on the archeological dig to uncover Cleopatra’s tomb. Her presence is required for a ceremony conducted by the renowned professor to resurrect Cleopatra’s spirit—inside Lizzie’s body. Quintillus’s success is short-lived, as the Queen of the Nile dies soon after inhabiting her host, leaving Lizzie’s soul adrift . . .
Paula Bancroft’s husband just leased Villa Dürnstein, an estate once owned by Dr. Quintillus. Within the mansion are several paintings and numerous volumes dedicated to Cleopatra. But the archeologist’s interest in the Egyptian empress deviated from scholarly into supernatural, infusing the very foundations of his home with his dark fanaticism. And as inexplicable manifestations rattle Paula’s senses, threatening her very sanity, she uncovers the link between the villa, Quintillus, and a woman named Lizzie Charters.
And a ritual of dark magic that will consume her soul . . .
Praise for Waking the Ancients
“Every bit as captivating as Wrath of the Ancients, Waking the Ancients is sure to carry the reader off into the clutches of Dr. Quintillus, and a historical fiction novel that may challenge your own beliefs on what events might have contributed to shaping the life of one of the most famous Egyptian figures of all time.” Horror After Dark
“The plot of Waking the Ancients is unique, combining the real history of Cleopatra with a fictional story about the supernatural.” – Little Miss Zombie
“Catherine Cavendish can unfailingly be counted on to scare readers senseless as simultaneously we find ourselves totally engrossed with her realistic characters.” – The Haunted Reading Room
You can find Waking the Ancients here:
Following a varied career in sales, advertising and career guidance, Catherine Cavendish is now the full-time author of a number of paranormal, ghostly and Gothic horror novels, novellas and short stories. Cat’s novels include the Nemesis of the Gods trilogy – Wrath of the Ancients, Waking the Ancients and Damned by the Ancients, plus The Devil’s Serenade, The Pendle Curse and Saving Grace Devine. She lives with her long-suffering husband, and a black cat who has never forgotten that her species used to be worshipped in ancient Egypt. She sees no reason why that practice should not continue. Cat and her family divide their time between Liverpool and a 260-year-old haunted apartment in North Wales.
You can connect with Cat here: