Emperess Elizabeth


Figure 1.--This painting is Elisabeth "Sissi" (Wittelsbach) and her younger brother Karl Theodor "Gackel". It looks to have been done about 1847. I'm not sure who the artist is. They were grandchildren of Max Joseph I, children of his daughter Ludovica. Elizabeth married Franz Josef and became the Austrian Emperess. Karl Teodor was the father of Elisabeth, future Queen of Belgium. Notice Elisabeth's long pantlettes, still very popular in the 1840s.

The one moderating factor in Francis Joseph's court was his beloved wife, the Emperess Elizabeth or "Sisi" as she was known. She was by all accounts an especially beautiful and intelligent woman of liberal disposition. She grew up in the relative freedom of rge liberal and often excentric Bavarian court. Dhe married Franz Josef when she was only 16 years old. She thus at this very young age was thrust into perhaps Europe's most conservative and formal court. Her youth and desire for independence affected her view of the Austrian court. Later as she developed political ideas, her democratic and liberal views further estraigned her from the restrictions of the Court and her role as Empersss. She has been criticized, however, for her lack of warmth as a mother. This is not just a family matter. Her son Rudolfis a man, who if he had become emperor, night have been able to stop World War I.

Parents

We know very little about Princess Elizabeth's father, but we have some information on his mother.

Duke Maximilian (1808-88)

We have been able to find no information on Bavarian Duke Maximilan at thos time.

Princess Ludovica (1808-92)

We know little about Princess Ludovica herself, but she is important in European dynastic terms as her daughter Elizabeth married Austrain Emperor Franz Josef.

Siblings

Princess Ludovica and Duke Maximilian had eight children. At this time we have only limited inforation about many of them. We know vurtualy nothing about their oldest son Ludwig. Their oldest daufgter Helene was suposed to marry the Austrian Emperor Franz Josef, but her beautiful and engaging younger sister attracted the young Emperor's attention. Helene eventually married Maximilian Anton Lamoral, Prince of Thurn & Taxis. It was Elizabeth who married Fraz Joseph and became Emperess of Austria. The relationship between Elizabeth and Franz Joseph was one of the great love stories of European royalty and ended tragically. Karl Theodor was known as "Gackel". He married Princess Maria Josepha (de Bragança) of Portugal. Princess Ludovica and Duke Maximilian also has a grandchild that became Queen of Belgium.

Childhood

Elizabeth grew up in the relative freedom of the liberal and often excentric Bavarian court.

Education

We have few details on Elizabeth's education. She and her siblings were tutored at home. She had a governess at the time she met Franz Josef. She spoke several languages. Some of them she learned at home from tutors.


Figure 1.--This painting is Elisabeth "Sissi" as a teenager. I'm not sure just when this portrait was painted and by who, but it woukd have been just a few years before she married Franz Josef.

Franz Josef

The love story of Emperor Francis Joseph I. and the Bavarian princess began in 1853 at the Upper Austrian spa town Bad Ischl, the summer retreat of the 23-year old Emperor. Francis Joseph was meant to be introduced to his fiancée-to-be, Princess Helen of Bavaria, at this scenic Salzkammergut town. However, the Emperor defied his mother's marriage plans and fell in love with Helen's sister Elisabeth, then only 15 years old, who had accompanied the party rather accidentally. Already one day after their first encounter Francis Joseph and Elisabeth celebrated their engagement.

Marriage

Emperor Francis Joseph and Bavarian Princess Elizabeth on April 24, 1854 married at Vienna's Augustinerkirche. They were the most beautiful and richest couple in the world. Because of her natural charm, the public adored her like a fairy-tale figure. In her private life, however, she was soon confronted with problems. The Empress had exchanged a carefree country life with the strict etiquette of the Imperial Court and could hardly adapt to it. Francis Joseph loved his wife dearly, but he ruled over an empire of 50 million people and had little time to be with "Sisi" who felt lonely. "I wish he were no emperor", she confided her former governess.

Charitable Works

Elisabeth was also concerned for the poor and sick. Although she disliked official public functions, she often visited hospitals and asylums, and was interested in new treatments and cures for paitents. The normal man on the street saw her as the mother empress comforter of the poor.

Liberal Influence

Her youth and desire for independence at first affected her view of the Austrian court. As a young woman, the Empress Elizabeth had little interest in the "profession" of her husband. Later as she developed political ideas, her democratic and liberal views further estraigned her from the restrictions of the Court and her role as Empersss. She gradually became more poltically active influencing the Emperor. With her liberal and progressive political ideas she supported the Hungarians in their struggle for indepence and contributed considerably to Hungary's equalized status with Austria in 1867.

Life Style

Elizabeth saw herself as a modern woman. She often left Vienna with all imperial Habsburg restrictions. She was athletic as a young woman, loving to ride and sail. Her rides were often no placid, sedate affairs. The Court was much concerned to see the Emperess careening about ata gallop whioch many thought exceeding dangerous. She came to much admired in Vienna for her equestrianship. She specialized in haute école, circus-style stunt riding. Vienna is still renowned for the white Lip??? horses and their styilized performances. She also loved the hunt. This continued well into middle age. One contemprary observer wrote, when se was 44 years of age, "... she looked like an angel and rode like the devil". [Haslip, p. 325.] She finally had to give up riding horses in 1882. This did not mean she adopted the sedate life common among the women of the Court. She began taking long, hikes in the country by herself. She also participated in swimming, gymnastics, and fencing. In addition, Emperess Elizabeth also loved poetry. [Haslip] She also loved to travel and did so a good deal.

Children

The Emperess Elisabeth gave birth to four children, three in quick order after marriage. She was not, however, a very engaged mother. She has been criticized, however, for her lack of warmth as a mother. This is not just a family matter. Her son Rudolfis a man, who if he had become emperor, night have been able to stop World War I. The Empresses' motherly role may have been affected by her treatment at Court. She was only 16 when she was married and very innocent. Her initail intinmate realtions with her husband appear to have been unpleasant. When the children arrived, Franz Josef's mother the Archduchess Sophia constantly interfered. She prohibited Elizabeth, for example, from breast feeding the children. She ccame to dislike, she used the term "loath" the idea of having children. After the first three children, even though her health was excellent, she insisted to her husband that they have no more children. This proved to be decission if enormous political consequence when their only son, Rudolf committed suiside. This showed a very strong turn of mind for a young woman in the mid-19th century. She in fact encouraged Franz Josef to find a mistress so as not to have further intimate relations with him. This rejection was a considerable scandal in court circles and very painful to Franz Josef as he was so attached to her.

Elizabeth Assasinated

Emperess was asassinated by an Italian anarchist in Geneva on one of her many trips during 1898. She died in her hotel room a few hours after the attack.

Sources

Haslip, Joan. The Lonely Empress: Elizabeth of Austria.







HBRC








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Created: January 28, 2003
Last updated: 12:19 PM 12/8/2006