Will we ever know?
A prince had been born.
At last Grand Duke Karl and his wife Grand Duchess Stephanie had a son.
An heir who one day would be Grand Duke himself and rule over the Duchy of Baden, in what is today the south of Germany.
But the celebrations at the Grand Duke’s palace were short-lived.
Less than two weeks later, the baby prince died. Before his parents had even decided on his name.
A personal tragedy. And a political one, too.
The Grand Duke no longer had a successor.
It meant that following his death six years later in 1818, the throne ended up in the hands of his distant relatives.
After that, the tragedy of the baby prince was all but forgotten.
Until one day in 1828.
A young man was found wondering the streets of the picturesque Duchy…a man who claimed to be the baby prince who’d died 16 years before.
The young man was dressed in rags and had no shoes. His feet were blistered, and he didn’t seem to know where he was going.
He didn’t know where he’d come from, either.
His name was Kaspar Hauser.
And although he didn’t speak much, he told the local schoolmaster who’d agreed to take care of him he’d spent all his life in a dark cell.
Kaspar didn’t know who’d kept him prisoner. Or why.
Or even how he’d come to be released.
He was roughly 16 years old. And short – just 4ft 9. Perhaps as the result of malnutrition.
The schoolmaster cooked him some sausages. But Kaspar spat them out, as if he’d never tasted them before.
He refused all food except bread and water.
When the schoolmaster came to help Kaspar into some fresh, clean clothes, he made a startling discovery.
Kaspar had a vaccination mark at the top of his arm.
And back in 1828, that could mean only one thing.
Kaspar Hauser had been born into a very rich family, perhaps even the aristocracy itself. No one else could afford such medial treatment.
Was Kaspar Hauser the prince and rightful heir of the Grand Duchy of Baden?
The prince had died. He’d been buried.
But all the same, the people of Baden started to talk.
Because even though the death of the prince had been a tragedy, there was one person who’d benefited from it.
Louise Caroline, the Countess of Hochberg.
If Grand Duke Karl died without an heir, Louise Caroline’s son Leopold would come to power.
So when an heir was born, she acted fast.
The theory goes that she performed a swap. A switch.
The healthy baby prince for the dying baby of a peasant couple.
The poor baby had died in the palace and been mourned as if he were the prince. While the prince had been taken off to be killed.
Louise Caroline was close to Stephanie. She had opportunity. And she also had motive.
But her plan had gone wrong.
Because whoever she’d trusted to kill the prince had decided instead to keep him alive.
The prince had been brought up in a cell as Kaspar Hauser. Kept alive, perhaps, because his captor hoped to use him to blackmail Countess Louise Caroline.
But that, too, was a plan that had backfired.
Louise Caroline died.
There was no fortune to be made from Kaspar Hauser anymore. So his captor had thrown him out.
An ambitious Countess, babies swapped at birth, the return of a rightful heir…it reads more like a fairytale than reality.
Except that from the moment Kaspar Hauser appeared in rags on the streets of Baden, it seems someone wanted him dead.
The first attempt on his life came when an unknown man broke into the house where he was staying and tried to stab him.
Kaspar managed to get away.
Had someone wanted to kill Kaspar to keep Louise Caroline’s secret? To make sure the truth was dead and buried?
Some believe Kaspar was lying about the attack.
There were, after all, no witnesses.
And if Kaspar were lying, could that mean he was an imposter? Someone pretending to be the rightful heir?
But then, whoever wanted Kaspar Hauser dead eventually succeeded.
He was stabbed to death while out walking in a local park. Just five years after he’d first turned up on the streets of the Grand Duchy of Baden with no shoes.
The killer was never caught.
And the mystery of Kaspar Hauser was never solved.
He was buried at the Stadtfriedhof cemetery.
On his tombstone the words, ‘Here lies Kaspar Hauser, riddle of his time.’
In 2002, nearly two centuries after his death, scientists tried to solve the riddle of Kaspar Hauser.
DNA taken from a lock of Kaspar’s hair and bloodstains on his clothes was compared to a living descendant of Grand Duchess Stephanie.
The DNA sequences were not identical. But they were similar. A relationship between the two could not be ruled out.
Science had failed to solve the riddle.
Imposter or rightful heir…
Kaspar Hauser isn’t ready to give up his secrets just yet.
What happened to the Duchess?
Grand Duchess Stephanie was the adopted daughter of Napoleon Bonaparte, and niece to his wife, Josephine. It’s said that when she heard about Kaspar Hasuer she burst into tears and begged to meet him. The meeting never took place. Stephanie outlived her husband the Grand Duke by 42 years, dying a widow in 1860.