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TELČ

Unlike the facetious Countess Caroline Goess, the White Lady of Telč thought only of doing good. She had the unusual name Perchta. She had married a count of Liechtenstein, a namesake but entirely unrelated to the principality. He was a wicked, brutal man whose odious methods often forced her to seek refuge at her brother’s home.

She believed that a calming, a reconciliation would occur when her husband decided to construct a new castle at Telč. He already had a respectable number. It was entirely to the contrary; he oppressed and mistreated the workers. She, for her part, could think only of paying them better and feeding them better. Faced with her « weakness », her husband exploded with rage, but this time, she stood firm; she had learned her lesson. She was in pain, but she would not back down.

At Easter, she prepared a meal for all of the workers and those employed by the family. Her husband, for once, did not dare oppose her benevolence. She cooked the masterpiece of the lunch herself, a honey-based broth of incomparable taste. She invited everyone but her husband.

The feast was such a success that Countess Perchta decreed that, from now on, it would be repeated each year. Upon her death, she bequeathed a considerable sum to finance it. Her husband not only respected the wishes of the wife he had so mistreated while living, but also, as soon as she had disappeared, he too began to wither.

The castle stayed in the family and at the beginning of the 17th century belonged to Count Slavata. He had the honour of being one of two deputies of Emperor Ferdinand II

to be defenestrated from Prague’s royal castle by the Czechs revolting against imperial tyranny. As everyone knows, they didn’t die because they landed on a pile of manure at the bottom of the wall. The provocation nevertheless triggered the appalling Thirty Years’ War that ravaged Central Europe.

Protestant Swedes allied with Protestant Czechs captured the Catholic Telč. As the chronicler says, they drank Bohemian beer and Moravian wine; they stole, pillaged and teased the women. With Easter coming, the chatelain explained his ancestor’s custom to the Swedish commander. The occupier abruptly refused to allow the feast to take place. Instead, he imposed a fine of one gold ducat on each resident.

At midnight, on Easter night, a frightening storm suddenly arose. Thunder shook the windows, and whirlwinds of sand, coming out of nowhere, penetrated the halls, stunning and blinding. The lightening mingled with the storm, bringing down soldiers’ swords. All at once, the chimneys began spitting out clouds of soot, filling an invisible hand playing ball.

It was too much for the Swedes who fled in every direction, abandoning the castle of Telč to the elements. Only their commander, probably forced by alcohol, continued to snore through it. When morning came, he awoke in the empty, devastated castle to the irresistible scent of the honey broth prepared by the White Lady. Then, recounts the chronicler, the devil appeared, grabbed the Swede by the neck, and took him to hell. The fact is, the commander disappeared that morning without explanation and never again gave any sign of life.

Having developed an appetite by the success of her intervention, the good Countess Perchta made a habit of appearing from then on. She would leave through the door of a room on the first floor. The fact that she had been walled in since did not bother her one bit. She always wore the outfit she was painted in and in which she was buried; a heavy Renaissance dress of white brocade, with long sleeves, a high collar, and a cap embroidered with jewels.

She walked everywhere, keys in hand, through the grand staircases, the Italianate loggias, the rooms decorated with admirable Scafitis, the ballrooms with extraordinary, multi-coloured wooden ceilings, and the secret passages. From the ornate balconies, she contemplated her fair city of Telč, one of the most beautiful in the world, with its unusual square lined entirely with baroque houses.

Fortunately, like any good ghost, she was insensitive to temperature, for it was abominably cold in Telč, nicknamed the « Siberia of Moravia ». Her husband, too, made a few appearances, his moustache erect, grumbling offensive curse words. But Countess Perchta perfectly managed to limit his interventions. He was master of Telč while they lived, but she was Telč’s only mistress now. A typical woman, she disappeared shortly after midnight.

Many generations of chatelains, servants, and visitors have described her, and above all, her moods. When she sang or emitted a small laugh, it was an excellent omen. When she appeared with a veiled face, it meant difficult times were ahead. But worst of all was when she would stop appearing, that meant war was not far off.

Attached to her home and her descendants, she defended them tooth and nail, as she had done for her workers against her husband. Her ghost once slapped a conspirator and threw a paperweight at the head of a lazy, deceitful manager. Her favourite targets were the communists who, upon taking power in Prague, unlawfully expelled her family from Telč. She did not content herself with merely terrorising the guards of the castle-come-museum. She also played a thousand tricks on them, turning off their stoves in the middle of winter nights, cutting the electricity, locking them in, and other childish pranks.

The wife of the last owner of the castle, a direct descendant of the White Lady, Countess Lydia Podstatzki could have reclaimed the castle with her husband and taken the place of Countess Perchta. Yet, every attempt was met with a thousand difficulties. Forty years of communism did not fade away in a day, nor did those who profited from it.

Countess Lydia, who possessed a characteristic beauty inherited from her Russian grandmother, was fully aware of the responsibilities and problems she would have had had she taken possession of the castle in Telč. The White Lady thought it too. She would have liked to spare her descendants the pain, yet what joy would she not feel if they occupied the family home again, for then, the tradition of the Easter meal would finally be reborn.


par  Prince Michael of Greece

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