Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Tragic Beauty

While in an art museum, I saw a portrait of such a stunningly beautiful and elegant woman, I determined to find out more about her when I returned home. (The portrait I saw is on the left.)

She was Elisabeth Amalie Eugenie (1837-1898), Empress of Austria and Queen Consort of Hungary. To her family and friends, she was called "Sissi." Even though her father was a Bavarian Duke, Elisabeth and her siblings grew up some distance from the royal court and the strictures of court life.

Elisabeth was 15 years-old, when 23 year-old Austrian emperor, Franz Joseph, came calling on her older sister, Helene. He didn't know Helene and came at the insistence of his domineering mother. However, when the emperor saw Elisabeth, he disobeyed his mother and insisted on marrying Elisabeth. (Helene on left, Sissi on right)

With the marriage, Elisabeth was immersed into the Austrian royal court and her mother-in-law's, Archduchess Sophie, domination. Elisabeth would have 4 children - all taken from her at birth - to be reared under Sophie's rule. Elisabeth wasn't even allowed to nurse. It was among Elisabeth's many sorrows.

Without the tending of her children, Elisabeth turned her attention to two things: her appearance and her adopted country.

Elisabeth was beautiful. She never wore any makeup and yet her inherent beauty was evident in all her portraits. Her hair was so abundant and long that it took 2-3 hours every day just to style it. Her daily cares involved dieting and exercising. She was adored by her adopted countrymen for her beauty as well as her kind demeanor.

She often used the ear of the her emperor-husband to generate clemency for war prisoners or to help the Hungarian cause leading to the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867. Through all, she dealt with many personal tragedies.

First and most important would be the death of each of her children. This would be followed by the deaths of her mother, father, sister and her best friend. It was all too much and at age 52, she chose only to wear black. She also contrived to be away from the royal court as much as possible.

Historians consider that her poor health was psychosomatic as she always felt better when she traveled elsewhere. It was while on her way back from a vacation with her lady-in-waiting that she would meet Luigi Lucheni.

Elisabeth's departure was reported in the news and Lucheni was, in his words, "looking for a royal to assassinate" to gain prominence for his anarchical cause. After identifying her, Lucheni stabbed her once and the wound penetrated her heart. (photo shows her day before assassination)

Her death and funeral were the equivalent of the modern-day response to Princess Diana's death. In the end, all the royal court pomp and ceremony that Elisabeth tried to resist were visited on her.


  1. It seems that any women who is a celebrity because of her beauty is either dismissed as she ages or dies while still young and is memorialized. J.

  2. Very fascinating, RA. I wonder about the price Luigi Lucheni paid for taking her life, and also the background on her MIL and the reasons for her weirdness.
    Thank you, great post!

  3. I don't know about the Empress' MIL, but here's the paragraph re: her murderer from Wikipedia: "Lucheni was declared to be sane, but was tried as a common murderer, not a political criminal. Incarcerated for life, and denied the opportunity to make a political statement by his action, he attempted to kill himself with the sharpened key from a tin of sardines on February 20, 1900. Ten years later, he hanged himself with his belt in his cell on the evening of October 16, 1910, after a guard confiscated and destroyed his uncompleted memoirs."

    It seems he really hoped he'd be put to death as a martyr. Glad you liked the blog. R.

  4. Sad tale,
    Better not to be beautiful. And, check out your mother-in-law before you get married. JH