Wednesday, September 10, 2014

ELISABETH of AUSTRIA Assassinated September 10, 1898

Elisabeth of Bavaria (24 December 1837 - 10 September 1898) was Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary as spouse of Emperor Francis Joseph I. From an early age, she was called “Sisi” by family and friends.

While Elisabeth's role and influence on Austro-Hungarian politics should not be overestimated (she is only marginally mentioned in scholarly books on Austrian history), she has undoubtedly become a 20th century icon. Elisabeth was considered to be a free spirit who abhorred conventional court protocol; she has inspired filmmakers and theatrical producers alike.

She was born in Munich, Bavaria as Duchess Elisabeth Amalie Eugenie in Bavaria. She was the fourth child of Duke Maximilian Joseph in Bavaria and her mother was Princess Ludovika of Bavaria. Her family home was Possenhofen Castle.

Elisabeth accompanied her mother and her 18-year-old sister, Duchess Helene, on an 1853 trip to the resort of Bad Ischl, Upper Austria, where they hoped Helene would attract the attention of their maternal first cousin, 23-year-old Francis Joseph, then Emperor of Austria. Instead, Francis Joseph chose the 16-year old Elisabeth, and the couple were married in Vienna at St. Augustine's Church on 24 April 1854.

Queen and Empress

Elisabeth had difficulty adapting to the strict etiquette practiced at the Habsburg court. Nevertheless, she bore the emperor three children in quick succession: Archduchess Sophie of Austria (1855–1857), Archduchess Gisela of Austria (1856–1932), and the hoped-for crown prince, Rudolf (1858–1889). In 1860, she left Vienna after contracting a lung-disease which was presumably psychosomatic. She spent the winter in Madeira and only returned to Vienna after having visited the Ionian Islands. Soon after that she fell ill again and returned to Corfu.

Unrest within the Habsburg monarchy caused by the rebellious Hungarians led, in 1867, to the foundation of the Austro–Hungarian double monarchy. Elisabeth had always sympathized with the Hungarian cause and, reconciled and reunited with her alienated husband, she joined Francis Joseph in Budapest, where their coronation took place. In due course, their fourth child, Archduchess Marie Valerie was born (1868–1924). Afterwards, however, she again took up her former life of restlessly travelling through Europe. Elisabeth was denied any major influence on her older children's upbringing, however — they were raised by her mother-in-law Princess Sophie of Bavaria, who often referred to Elisabeth as their "silly young mother"

Elisabeth embarked on a life of travel, seeing very little of her offspring, visiting places such as Madeira, Hungary, England and Corfu. At Corfu she commissioned the building of a palace which she called the Achilleion, after Homer's hero Achilles in The Iliad. After her death, the building was purchased by German Emperor Wilhelm II.

She became known not only for her beauty, but for her fashion sense, diet and exercise regimens, passion for riding sports, and a series of reputed lovers. She paid extreme attention to her appearance and would spend most of her time preserving her beauty. She often shopped at Antal Alter, now Alter és Kiss, which had become very popular with the fashion-crazed crowd, as described by the famous 19th-century writer Richard Rado:

“Everyone, from the most wealthy, to the upper middle class… almost every woman visited the shop. The shop's name even extended beyond the country’s borders… Elizabeth of Austria-Hungary (Sisi), wife of Francis Joseph I and Queen of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, was also among its clients."

Her diet and exercise regimens were strictly enforced to maintain her 20-inch (50 cm) waistline and reduced her to near emaciation at times (symptoms of what is now recognised as anorexia).[citation needed] One of her alleged lovers was George "Bay" Middleton, a dashing Anglo–Scot who was probably the father of Clementine Ogilvy Hozier (the wife of Winston Churchill). She also tolerated, to a certain degree, Franz Joseph's affair with actress Katharina Schratt.

The Empress also engaged in writing poetry (such as the "Nordseelieder" and "Winterlieder", both inspirations from her favorite German poet, Heinrich Heine). Shaping her own fantasy world in poetry, she referred to herself as Titania, Shakespeare's Fairy Queen. Most of her poetry refers to her journeys, classical Greek and romantic themes, as well as ironic mockery on the Habsburg dynasty. In these years, Elisabeth also took up with an intensive study of both ancient and modern Greek, drowning in Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. Numerous Greek lecturers (such as Marinaky, Christomanos, and Barker) had to accompany the Empress on her hour-long walks while reading Greek to her. According to contemporary scholars, Empress Elisabeth knew Greek better than any of the Bavarian Greek Queens in the 19th century.

In 1889, Elisabeth's life was shattered by the death of her only son: 30-year-old Crown Prince Rudolf and his young lover Baroness Mary Vetsera were found dead, apparently by suicide. The scandal is known by the name Mayerling, after the name of Rudolf's hunting lodge in Lower Austria.

After Rudolf's death, the Empress continued to be an icon, a sensation wherever she went: a long black gown that could be buttoned up at the bottom, a white parasol made of leather and a brown fan to hide her face from curious looks became the trademarks of the legendary Empress of Austria. Only a few snapshots of Elisabeth in her last years are left, taken by photographers who were lucky enough to catch her without her noticing. The moments Elisabeth would show up in Vienna and see her husband were rare. Interestingly, their correspondence increased during those last years and the relationship between the Empress and the Emperor of Austria had become platonic and warm. On her imperial steamer, Miramar, Empress Elisabeth travelled restlessly through the Mediterranean. Her favourite places were Cap Martin on the French Riviera, where tourism had only started in the second half of the 19th century, Lake Geneva in Switzerland, Bad Ischl in Austria, where she would spend her summers, and Corfu. More than that, the Empress had visited countries no other Northern royal went to at the time: Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Algeria, Malta, Greece, Turkey and Egypt. Travel had become the sense of her life but also an escape from herself.


10 September 1898, in Geneva, Switzerland, Elisabeth, aged 60, was stabbed in the heart with a sharpened file by a young anarchist named Luigi Lucheni, in an act of propaganda of the deed. She had been walking along the promenade of Lake Geneva about to board steamship Genève for Montreux with her lady-of-courtesy, Countess Sztaray, when she was attacked. Unaware of the severity of her condition she still boarded the ship. Bleeding to death from a puncture wound to the heart, Elisabeth's last words were "What happened to me?" The strong pressure from her corset kept the bleeding back until the corset was removed. Only then did her staff and surrounding onlookers understand the severity of the situation. Reportedly, her assassin had hoped to kill a prince from the House of Orléans and, failing to find him, turned on Elisabeth instead. As Lucheni afterward said, "I wanted to kill a royal. It did not matter which one."

The empress was buried in the Imperial Crypt in Vienna's city centre which has for centuries served as the Imperial burial place.


In the 1980s, historian Brigitte Hamann wrote The Reluctant Empress, a biography of Elisabeth, again fuelling interest in Franz Joseph's consort (see bibliography). Unlike the previous portrayals of Elisabeth as a one dimensional fairy tale princess, Hamann portrayed her as a bitter, unhappy woman full of self-loathing and various emotional & mental disorders, who spent her entire life searching for happiness, but in the end dying a broken woman who never found it, which opened up various new facets to the legend of Sisi.
Image &

I visited Sisi's private chambers in the Hoffburg and Schoenbrunn palaces six years ago last February, when I accompanied Chanticleer on it's mid-winter concert tour of Central Europe. They were fascinating, particularly her exercise ladders.

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Titian in the Frari (Venezia)