Elisabeth of Bavaria: Wikis


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Elisabeth of Bavaria
Elisabeth as the Queen of Hungary.
Empress consort of Austria;
Queen consort of Hungary and Bohemia
Tenure 24 April 1854 – 10 September 1898
Coronation 24 April 1854 ("Austria") 8 June 1867 (Hungary)
Spouse Francis Joseph I of Austria
Archduchess Sophie
Archduchess Gisela
Rudolf, Crown Prince of Austria
Archduchess Marie-Valerie
House House of Habsburg-Lorraine
House of Wittelsbach
Father Duke Maximilian Joseph in Bavaria
Mother Princess Ludovika of Bavaria
Born 24 December 1837(1837-12-24)
Died 10 September 1898 (aged 60)
Religion Roman Catholic

Elisabeth of Bavaria (24 December 1837 – 10 September 1898) was Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary, Croatia and Bohemia[1] as spouse of 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 an historical icon. Elisabeth was considered to have been a free spirit who abhorred conventional court protocol; she has inspired filmmakers and theatrical producers alike.


Duchess in Bavaria

The young Elisabeth (right) and her older sister Helene at Possenhofen Castle.

Elisabeth 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.

In 1853 Elisabeth accompanied her mother and her 18-year-old sister, Duchess Helene, on a trip to the resort of Bad Ischl, Upper Austria. [2] Her mother 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 15-year old Elisabeth, and the couple were married a year later in Vienna at St. Augustine's Church on 24 April 1854.

Queen and Empress

At sixteen years old, Elisabeth had difficulty adapting to the strict etiquette practiced at the Habsburg court. 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, later believed to be psychosomatic.[citation needed] She spent the winter in Madeira and returned to Vienna only after having visited the Ionian Islands. Soon after that she fell ill again and returned to Corfu.[citation needed]

Coronation of Francis Joseph and Elisabeth as King and Queen of Hungary and Croatia

In 1867, national unrest within the Habsburg monarchy caused by the rebellious Hungarians led to the founding of the Austro–Hungarian double monarchy. Elisabeth had always sympathized with the Hungarian cause. Reconciled and reunited with her alienated husband, she joined Francis Joseph in Budapest, where their coronation took place. Following the imperial couple's reconciliation, Elisabeth gave birth to their fourth child, Archduchess Marie Valerie (1868–1924). Afterwards, she took up her former life of restlessly travelling through Europe.[citation needed] Elisabeth was denied any major influence on her older children's upbringing; they were raised by her mother-in-law and aunt Princess Sophie of Bavaria, who often referred to Elisabeth as a "silly young mother."[3]"

Elisabeth with diamond stars in her hair, 1865, by Franz Xaver Winterhalter

Elisabeth embarked on a life of travel, and saw little of her offspring. She visited such locations as Madeira, Hungary, England and Corfu.[citation needed] At Corfu, after her son's death, she commissioned the building of a palace which she named the Achilleion, after Homer's hero Achilles in The Iliad. After her death, the building was purchased by German Emperor Wilhelm II.[citation needed] Later it was acquired by the nation of Greece and converted to a museum.

She became known not only for her beauty. Newspapers published articles on her fashion sense, diet and exercise regimens, passion for riding sports, and a series of reputed lovers.[citation needed] She paid extreme attention to her appearance and spent much time preserving her beauty.[citation needed] She often shopped at Antal Alter, now Alter és Kiss, which had become very popular with the fashion-crazed crowd.

Elisabeth followed a strict and draconian diet and exercise regimen to maintain her 20-inch (50 cm) waistline, wasting away to near emaciation at times. This was years before such symptoms could be classified as a classic case of Anorexia nervosa.

One of her alleged lovers was George "Bay" Middleton, a dashing AngloScot. He had been named as the probable lover of Lady Henrietta Blanche Hozier and father of Clementine Ogilvy Hozier (the wife of Winston Churchill). To a degree, Elisabeth tolerated her husband Franz Joseph's affair with actress Katharina Schratt.

The Empress wrote poetry (such as the "Nordseelieder" and "Winterlieder", both inspirations from her favorite German poet, Heinrich Heine). Shaping a fantasy in poetry, she referred to herself as Titania, Shakespeare's Fairy Queen. Most of her poetry relates to her journeys, classical Greek and romantic themes, and ironic commentary on the Habsburg dynasty. In these years, Elisabeth intensively studied both ancient and modern Greek, immersing herself in Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. Numerous Greek lecturers, such as Marinaky, Christomanos, and Barker, had to accompany the Empress on 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.

Elisabeth 1864
by Franz Xaver Winterhalter

In 1889, Elisabeth's life was shattered by the death of her only son. Thirty-year-old Crown Prince Rudolf and his young lover Baroness Mary Vetsera were found dead; an investigation suggested it was murder-suicide by Rudolf. The scandal was known as The Mayerling Incident, after Rudolf's hunting lodge in Lower Austria, where they were found.

Rudolf's sensational death increased public interest in Elisabeth, and the Empress continued to be an icon, a sensation in her own right, wherever she went. She wore 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 the curious. Only a few snapshots of Elisabeth in her last years were taken, by photographers lucky enough to catch her unaware.

Elisabeth spent little time in Vienna with her husband. Their correspondence increased during their last years, however, and their relationship became a warm friendship. On her imperial steamer, Miramar, Empress Elisabeth travelled through the Mediterranean. Her favourite places were Cap Martin on the French Riviera, where tourism had started only in the second half of the 19th century; Lake Geneva in Switzerland; Bad Ischl in Austria, where she would spend her summers; and Corfu. The Empress also visited countries to which no other northern royal went at the time: Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Algeria, Malta, Greece, Turkey and Egypt. The endless travels became an escape for the Empress from herself and her misery.


On 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". When attacked, she had been walking along the promenade of Lake Geneva about to board the steamship Genève for Montreux with her lady-of-courtesy, Countess Sztaray. She boarded the ship, unaware of the severity of her condition. Bleeding to death from a puncture wound to the heart, Elisabeth said, "What happened to me?" The strong pressure from her corset had contained the bleeding back until the garment was removed.

Reportedly, her assassin had hoped to kill a prince from the House of Orléans and, failing to find him, turned on Elisabeth instead. Lucheni afterwards 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. For centuries it has served as the Imperial burial place.


Arms of Empress Elisabeth of Austria

In 1988, historian Brigitte Hamann wrote The Reluctant Empress, a biography of Elisabeth, reviving interest in Franz Joseph's consort (see bibliography). Unlike 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 and mental disorders. She was seen to have searched for happiness, but died a broken woman who never found it. Hamann's portrayal explored new facets of the legend of Sisi, as well as contemplating the role of women in high-level politics and dynasties.

Tourists have visited places made famous by Elisabeth, both in Austria and abroad. Apart from the usual souvenirs such as T-shirts and coffee mugs, visitors are eager to see the various residences Elisabeth frequented at different points in her life. These include her apartments in the Hofburg and the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna; the imperial villa in Ischl, the Achilleion in Corfu, Greece that she built in 1890, soon after her son's death; and her summer residence in Gödöllő, Hungary.

Elisabeth loved Hungary far more than Austria and surrounded herself with Hungarian ladies-in-waiting; she was particularly close to Marie Festetics and Ida Ferenczy. She insisted that her attendants speak Hungarian, which she spoke fluently. One of her closest friends was Count Andrássy, who later became Emperor Franz-Joseph's Foreign Minister. Elisabeth's attachment to Hungary benefitted the Empire because it encouraged the support of the Hungarian people, but at the same time, she alienated the Viennese and the Czechs of Bohemia. Several sites in Hungary are named after her: two of Budapest's districts, Erzsébetváros and Pesterzsébet; and Elisabeth Bridge.

Empress Elisabeth and the Austrian Western Railway named after her were recently selected as a main motif for a high value collectors' coin: the Empress Elisabeth Western Railway commemorative coin.

In literature and drama

In the German-speaking world, Elisabeth's name is often associated with a trilogy of romantic films about her life directed by Ernst Marischka and starring a teenage Romy Schneider:

The three films, newly restored, are shown every Christmas on Austrian, German and French TV. They have done much to create the myth surrounding Elisabeth. A condensed version dubbed in English was released in 1962 under the title Forever My Love. In 2007, the three German films were released with English subtitles as The Sissi Collection.

Schneider loathed the role, claiming, "Sissi sticks to me like porridge (Griesbrei)." Later she appeared as a much more realistic and fascinating Elisabeth in Luchino Visconti's Ludwig, a 1972 movie about Elisabeth's cousin, Ludwig II of Bavaria. A portrait of her in this film was the only one from her roles which Schneider displayed in her home.

Ava Gardner played the Empress in the 1968 film Mayerling. (Omar Sharif and Catherine Deneuve played her son and his lover.)

Monument of Elisabeth of Austria-Hungary (Sisi) in Szeged, Hungary.

Elisabeth was the subject of a 1991 German movie called Sisi/Last Minute (original Sisi und der Kaiserkuß, (Sisi and the emperor's kiss). The movie starred French actress Vanessa Wagner as Sisi (the original spelling of her name was used), Nils Tavernier as Emperor Franz Joseph and Sonja Kirchberger as Nene.[4]

In 1974, Elisabeth was portrayed in the British television series Fall of Eagles. Diane Keen played the young Elisabeth, and Rachel Gurney acted Elisabeth at the time of Prince Rudolf's death.

In 1936, Columbia Pictures released The King Steps Out, a musical comedy inspired by Elisabeth. The film was directed by Josef von Sternberg, with music by Fritz Kreisler and starring the opera diva Grace Moore and Franchot Tone.

Her story inspired the children's book series; The Royal Diaries: Elisabeth, The Princess Bride.

Elisabeth's heavily fictionalised younger years are portrayed in a 1997 children's series, Princess Sissi.

She appears as a significant character in Gary Jennings' 1987 novel Spangle. The novel concerns (in part) a circus traveling through Europe at the close of the 1800s. It portrays the historical Elisabeth's interests in circuses and daredevil riding.

In one of the episodes of the Austrian TV series Kommissar Rex, (1994) about a police dog who solves his police-inspector owner's cases, the myth of Sissi is shown. This episode, the thirteenth of Season 5 of the show (and the last from that season), is called "Sissi".

In 2007, German comedian and director Michael Herbig released a computer-animated parody film based on Elisabeth under the title Lissi und der wilde Kaiser (lit.: "Lissi and the Wild Emperor"). It is based on his Sissi parody sketches featured in his TV show Bullyparade.

In December 2009 a two-part mini-series premiered on European television, produced by a German, Austrian and Italian partnership, starring Christiana Capotondi as Sissi and David Rott as Emperor Franz Joseph. The film also falls victim to the romantic mythology surrounding the unhappy marriage of Elisabeth and Franz Joseph, but the political problems of that time are illustrated much better in this one than in the Romy Schneider Sissi trilogy.

In dance and music

Fritz Kreisler composed a comic operetta Sissi, which premiered in Vienna in 1932. The libretto was written by Ernst and Hubert Marischka, with orchestrations by Robert Russell Bennett.[5]

In 1992, the musical Elisabeth premièred at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna, Austria. Written by Michael Kunze (libretto, lyrics) and Sylvester Levay (music), this is most likely the darkest portrayal of the Empress' life, portraying Elisabeth bringing a physical manifestation of death with her when she joined the imperial court, thus destroying the Habsburg dynasty. The leading role in the premiere was played by Pia Douwes of the Netherlands.

In the film version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera, the character Christine is wearing a gown inspired by a portrait of Elisabeth of Austria-Hungary by Franz Xavier Winterhalter.

French ballerina Sylvie Guillem appeared to great acclaim at the Paris Opera Ballet in a piece titled Sissi Impératice, choreographed by Maurice Béjart.

Kenneth MacMillan in his ballet, Mayerling, portrayed Elisabeth in a pas de deux with her son Prince Rudolf, the central character in the ballet.

Dutch singer Petra Berger's album Eternal Woman includes "If I Had a Wish", a song about Elisabeth.

In 2009, the Scottish folk band Washington Irving wrote a song titled 'Sisi' which describes some of the major incidents in Elisabeth's life from the perspective of a jealous lover. They recorded a live version of this song in November 2009. [6]


Children Birth Death Notes
Sophie Friederike Dorothea Maria Josepha 5 March 1855 29 May 1857 Died in childhood.
Gisela Louise Marie 12 July 1856 27 July 1932 Married, 1873 her second cousin, Prince Leopold of Bavaria; had issue.
Rudolf Francis Charles Joseph 21 August 1858 30 January 1889 Died in the Mayerling Incident
Married, 1881, Princess Stephanie of Belgium; had issue.
Marie Valerie Mathilde Amalie 22 April 1868 6 September 1924 Married, 1890 her second cousin, Archduke Franz Salvator of Austria-Tuscany; had issue.

See also


  1. ^ Britannica Online Encyclopedia
  2. ^ AEIOU - Das österreichische Kulturinformationssystem
  3. ^ Martyrdom of an Empress, (C) 1899 Harpers
  4. ^ Sissi und der Kaiserkuß at the Internet Movie Database
  5. ^ "Orchestrator on His Own", Time, 12 December 1932.
  6. ^ www.myspace.com/washingtonirvingband


Sissi's desk at the Achilleion
  • Nicole Avril: L'impératrice, Paris, 1993
  • Konstantin Christomanos: Diaries (Tagebuchblätter, several editions in Modern Greek, German, French)
  • Barry Denenburg: The Royal Diaries: Elisabeth, The Princess Bride
  • Brigitte Hamann: The Reluctant Empress: A Biography of Empress Elisabeth of Austria (Knopf: 1986) (ISBN 0-394-53717-3) (410pp.).
  • Brigitte Hamann: Sissi, Elisabeth, Empress of Austria (Taschen America: 1997) (ISBN 3-8228-7865-0) (short, illustrated).
  • Ann Nibbs: The Elusive Empress (Youwriteon.com: 2008) (ISBN 978-1849231305) (372pp).
  • Matt Pavelich: Our Savage (Shoemaker & Hoard: 2004) (ISBN 1-59376-023-X) (270pp.).
  • Matteo Tuveri: Elizabeth of Austria: A Beauvoirian perspective, Simone de Beauvoir Studies, Volume 24, 2007-2008, Published by the Simone de Beauvoir Society (CA - U.S.A.)
  • Matteo Tuveri: Sissi: Myth and history, Journal Eco delle Dolomiti, Pinzolo (TN), Italy.
  • Matteo Tuveri: Sissi becomes Lissy, L'Unione Sarda, 6 gennaio 2009, p. 40, Cagliari
  • Matteo Tuveri: Specchi ad angoli obliqui. Diario poetico di Elisabetta d’Austria, Aracne Editrice, Rome, 2006 (ISBN 88-548-0741-9)
  • Matteo Tuveri: Tabularium. Considerazioni su Elisabetta d'Austria, Aracne, Rome, 2007 (ISBN 978-88-548-1148-5)

External links


Elisabeth of Bavaria
Born: 24 December 1837 Died: 10 September 1898
Austro-Hungarian royalty
Title last held by
Maria Anna of Sardinia
Empress consort of Austria
Queen consort of Hungary
Queen consort of Bohemia

1854 – 1898
Title next held by
Zita of Bourbon-Parma

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