Born in Moravia in 1799, Countess Crescence Seilern-Aspang came from a family of wealthy nobles who moved within the magnetic circle of the Court, but were not counted among the highest echelon of the aristocracy.
After attending a convent school, she was introduced to society in Vienna. In 1819, she married Count Zichy Károly, a man twice her age, to become his third wife. She ”inherited” one child from his first wife, and six children from his second. And she bore Count Zichy seven children!
In August of 1824, Széchenyi fell madly in love with her. He realized the hopelessness of the situation, and took a solemn oath before God and his friend Wesselényi Miklós, that he would not tempt Crescence to infidelity. Nevertheless, he did try to be around her as much as he could, meeting her at the theater and in other public places. Of course all this was not unobserved, and sent tongues wagging all over Vienna. He sensed that she too was drawn to him, although she behaved with utmost correctness, avoiding him as much as possible and returning his letters, an example of total marital fidelity. Her principles greatly influenced Széchenyi, who realized that she expected the same type of self-control from him. She became the standard by which he measured himself.
This went on for 12 years, when Count Zichy died. They observed the customary year of mourning, and then were married at the Krisztinavárosi templom in Buda in February of 1836. This was followed by the most happy, balanced days of his life.
Three children were born to them: Béla who became an explorer in the Far East; Ödön who made a name for himself by organizing the fire department of Pest-Buda and of Constantinople (see June 2013 issue of Magyar News Online); and a daughter Julia who lived only two short weeks.
”Crescence’s angelic purity became the life-giving fountain, giving him strength for the (political) battles he had to face. At her side, he felt he was unbeatable and indestructible. He believed he owed her eternal gratitude for all this, that he would not be able to express in words.”
With her husband, Crescence became Hungarian. She who did not speak a word of Hungarian now learned the language, and became more and more determined to support her husband’s causes. When, with the approaching revolution of 1848, Széchenyi wanted to send her to safety from Buda, she declared she was willing to die a martyr’s death if that was what staying with him meant. He finally convinced her to go to Cenk with the children (see Magyar News Online, February 2016), promising to follow soon, although he knew that would not happen.
Crescence remained faithful to him even through the years he spent in the sanatorium in Döbling, Austria. She moved to Vienna then to be closer to him, to visit and care for him. She responded to his letters and was in constant contact with those around him.
Upon the death of Széchenyi, Crescence mourned him for 15 years until she herself died, faithful ”for better and for worse”. She provided him with the emotional background and the continuity he needed, making it possible for him to work and fight untiringly for the betterment of his nation.
(based mostly on ”Budapest múltja: Seilern Crescence, a hitves” by Lipusz Zsolt, and ”Gabriella : 1836 – Gróf Széchenyi István esküvője Seilern Crescence grófnővel, Budán, a Krisztinavárosi templomban”)