Monday, November 7, 2011

Empress Elisabeth of Austria

Okay - I admit .. this is REALLY long... but it is so worth the read!!! Go get a cup of what ever is your pleasure, sit back, read and Enjoy!

Elisabeth of Austria
(24 December 1837 – 10 September 1898)

Born as Duchess of Bavaria

Born Her Royal Highness Duchess Elisabeth Amalie Eugenie in Bavaria on Christmas Eve in Munich, Bavaria, she was the fourth child of Duke Maximilian Joseph in Bavaria and Princess Ludovika of Bavaria.
Maximilian was considered to be rather peculiar; he had a childish love of circuses and traveled the Bavarian countryside to escape his duties. The family home was at Possenhofen Castle, far from the protocols of court. "Sisi" and her brothers and sisters grew up in a very unrestrained and unstructured environment, she often skipped her lessons to go riding about the countryside.

In 1853, Princess Sophie of Bavaria, the domineering mother of 23-year-old Emperor Francis Joseph, preferring to have a niece as a daughter-in-law than a stranger, arranged a marriage between her son and her sister Ludovika's eldest daughter, Helene. Although the couple had never met, Franz Joseph's obedience was taken for granted by the Archduchess, who was once described as "the only man in the Hofburg" for her authoritarian manner. The Duchess and Helene were invited to journey to resort of Bad Ischl, Upper Austria to receive his formal proposal of marriage. Fifteen year old Sisi accompanied her mother and sister from Munich. They arrived late as the Duchess, prone to migraine, had to interrupt the journey, and the coach with their gala dresses did not arrive at all. The family was in still in mourning for a death of an aunt so they could not change clothing before meeting the young Emperor; while black did not suit eighteen-year-old Helene's dark coloring, it made her younger sister's blonder looks more striking in comparison. Helene was a pious, and rather spiritless young woman, and she and Franz Joseph felt ill at ease in each other's company. Franz Joseph was instantly infatuated with Elisabeth as soon as he saw her, and he not only neglected to propose to her sister, he defied his mother and informed her that if he could not have Elisabeth he would not marry at all. Five days later their betrothal was officially announced. The couple were married eight months later in Vienna at St. Augustine's Church on 24 April 1854.

Queen and Empress

After enjoying an informal and unstructured childhood, Elisabeth, who was shy and introverted by nature, and more so among the stifling formality of Habsburg court life, had difficulty adapting to the Hofburg and its rigid protocols and strict etiquette. Her aunt, Archduchess Sophie, was an overbearing mother-in-law to the dreamy, romantic, and sensitive Elisabeth, and dominated her as much as she did her son, interfering in every detail of their lives. Within a few weeks, Elisabeth started to display health problems: she had fits of coughing and became anxious and frightened whenever she had to descend a narrow steep staircase. She was surprised to find she was pregnant and gave birth to her first child, a daughter, Archduchess Sophie of Austria (1855–1857), just ten months after her wedding. Sophie, who often referred to her as a "silly young mother", not only named the child after herself without consulting Elisabeth, she took complete charge of the baby, refusing to allow Elisabeth to breastfeed or otherwise care for her. When a second daughter, Archduchess Gisela of Austria (1856–1932), was born a year later, she took her away from Elisabeth as well.

The fact that she had not produced a male heir made Elisabeth feel more unwanted than ever in the palace. One day she found a pamphlet on her desk with the following words underlined:

...The natural destiny of a Queen is to give an heir to the throne. If the Queen is so fortunate as to provide the State with a Crown-Prince this should be the end of her ambition - she should by no means meddle with the government of an Empire, the care of which is not a task for women... If the Queen bears no sons, she is merely a foreigner in the State, and a very dangerous foreigner, too. For as she can never hope to be looked on kindly here, and must always expect to be sent back whence she came, so will she always seek to win the King by other than natural means; she will struggle for position and power by intrigue and the sowing of discord, to the mischief of the King, the nation, and the Empire...

Her mother-in-law is generally considered to be the source of the malicious pamphlet. The accusation of political meddling referred to Elisabeth's influence on her husband regarding his Italian and Hungarian subjects. When she traveled to Italy with him she persuaded him to show mercy toward political prisoners. In 1857 Elisabeth visited Hungary for the first time with her husband and two daughters, and it left a deep and lasting impression, probably because she found in Hungary a welcome respite from the constraints of Austrian court life. It was "the first time that Elisabeth had met with men of character in Franz Joseph's realm, and she became acquainted with an aristocratic independence that scorned to hide its sentiments behind courtly forms of speech... She felt her innermost soul reach out in sympathy to the proud, steadfast people of this land..." Unlike the Archduchess, who despised the Magyars, Elisabeth felt such an affinity for them that she began to learn Hungarian; the country reciprocated in its adoration of her.

This same trip proved tragic as both children became ill with diarrhea. While Gisela recovered quickly, two-year-old Sophie grew steadily weaker, then died. It is generally assumed today that she died of typhus. Her death pushed Elisabeth, who was already prone to bouts of melancholy, into periods of heavy depression, which would haunt her for the rest of her life. She turned away from her living daughter, whom she neglected and their relationship never recovered.

In December 1857 Elisabeth became pregnant for the third time in as many years, and her mother, who had been concerned about her daughter's physical and mental health, hoped that this new pregnancy would help her recover.

Anorexia Nervosa

At 5 feet 8 inches, Elisabeth was unusually tall (she topped her husband by an inch or two), yet even after a total of four pregnancies she kept her weight at almost 110 pounds for her entire life. She achieved this through fasting and excessive exercise. Today her actions would be recognized as classic signs of the eating disorder anorexia nervosa. There are a several elements in Elisabeth's life that fit common patterns seen in anorectic patients. She was strongly attached to her parents, especially to her mother, and was still a child in search of an identity of her own when an adult role with unusual obligations and restrictions was imposed upon her. She had no control in her new life and was unable to identify herself as both the spouse of the emperor and a young mother. As a result she attempted to recreate her childhood with its lack of obligations. The only quality for which she felt herself appreciated, and over which she had control, was her physical appearance, so she started cultivating this as the primary source of her self-esteem. Obsessively achievement-oriented and almost compulsively perfectionistic in her attitudes, she became a literal slave to her own beauty and image.

Here is one of her court dresses with a 19" waist!

In deep mourning after her daughter's death, Elisabeth refused to eat for days; a behavior that would appear in later periods of melancholy and depression. Whereas she previously had supper with the family, she now began to avoid this; and if she did eat with them, she ate quickly and very little. Whenever her weight threatened to exceed fifty kilos, a "fasting cure" or "hunger cure" would follow, which involved almost complete fasting. Meat itself often filled her with disgust, so she either had the juice of half-raw beefsteaks squeezed into a thin soup, or else adhered to a diet of milk and eggs.

Elisabeth emphasised her extreme slenderness through the practice of "tight-lacing". During the peak period of 1859-60, which coincided with Franz-Joseph's political and military defeats in Italy, her sexual withdrawal from her husband after three pregnancies in rapid succession, and her losing battle with her mother-in-law for dominance in rearing her children, she reduced her waist to 16 inches in diameter. Corsets of the time were split-busk types, fastening up the front with hooks and eyes, but Elisabeth had more rigid, solid-front ones made in Paris out of leather, "like those of Parisian courtesans", probably to hold up under the stress of such strenuous lacing, "a proceeding which sometimes took quite an hour". The fact that "she only wore them for a few weeks" may indicate that even leather proved inadequate for her needs. Elisabeth's defiant flaunting of this exaggerated dimension angered her mother-in-law, who expected her to be continuously pregnant.

Although on her return to Vienna in August 1862, a lady-in-waiting reported that “she eats properly, sleeps well, and does not tight-lace anymore”, her clothing from this time until her death still measured only 18 1/2 - 19 1/2 inches at the waist, which prompted the Prince of Hesse to describe her as “almost inhumanly slender.”[13] She developed a horror of fat women and transmitted this attitude to her youngest daughter, who was terrified when, as a little girl, she first met Queen Victoria.

In her youth Elisabeth followed the fashions of the age, which for many years were cage-crinolined hoop skirts. But when fashion began to change, she was at the forefront of abandoning the hoop skirt for a tighter and leaner silhouette. She disliked both expensive accoutrements and the protocol that dictated constant changes of clothing, preferring simple, monochromatic riding habit-like attire. She never wore petticoats or any other "underlinen", as they added bulk, and was often literally sewn into her clothes, to bypass waistbands, creases and wrinkles and further emphasize the "wasp waist" that became her hallmark.

The Empress developed extremely rigorous, almost Spartan, exercise habits. Every castle she lived in was equipped with a gymnasium: the Knights' Hall of the Hofburg was converted into one, mats and balance beams were installed in her bedchamber so that she could practice on them each morning, and the imperial villa at Ischl was fitted with gigantic mirrors so that she could correct every movement and position. She took up fencing in her 50's with equal discipline. A fervent horsewoman, she rode every day for hours on end, becoming probably the world's best, as well as best-known, female equestrian. When due to gout she could no longer endure long hours in the saddle, she substituted walking, subjecting her attendants to interminable marches and hiking tours in all weather.

In the last years of her life, Elisabeth became even more restless and obsessive, weighing herself up to three times day. She regularly took steam baths to prevent weight gain; by 1894 she had wasted away to near emaciation, reaching her lowest point of 95.7 lbs. This is even more disturbing since some of that weight was undoubtedly due to fluid retention; at her death she was found to have suffered from starvation edema. She was tormented by hunger but if pressed to eat more, she became very tense and irritable.

There were some aberrations in Elisabeth's diet that appear to be signs of binge eating, a hallmark of bulemia, a binge/purge eating disorder that is closely associated with anorexia nervosa. On one occasion in 1878 the Empress astonished her travelling companions when she unexpectedly visited a restaurant incognito, where she drank champagne, ate a broiled chicken, an Italian salad, and finished with a "considerable quantity of cake". She may have satisfied her urge to binge in secret on other occasions; in 1881 she purchased an English country house and had a spiral staircase built from her living room into the kitchen, so that she could access it in private.

The Cult of Beauty

In addition to her draconian exercise regimes Elisabeth practised what could be called a true beauty cult, but one that was highly ascetic, solitary, and prone to bizarre, eccentric and almost mystic routines. Daily care of her abundant and extremely long hair, which in the time turned from the dark blonde of her youth to chestnut brown, took at least three hours. Her hair was so long and heavy that she often complained the weight of the elaborate double braids and pins gave her headaches. Her hairdresser, Franziska (Fanny) Feifalik, was originally a stage hairdresser at the Wiener Burgtheater; responsible for all Elisabeth's ornate hairstyles, she always accompanied her on her wanderings. Faifalek was forbidden to wear rings and required to wear white gloves; after hours of dressing, braiding and pinning up the Empress' tresses, the hairs that fell out had to be presented in a silver bowl to her reproachful Empress for inspection. When her hair was washed with special "essences" of eggs and cognac once every two weeks, all activities and obligations were cancelled for that day. Before her son's death Feifaluk was tasked with tweezing gray hairs away, but at the end of her life her hair was described as "abundant, though streaked with silver threads."

Elisabeth used these captive hours to learn languages; she spoke fluent English and French, and added modern Greek to her Hungarian studies. Her Greek tutor described the ritual:

“Hairdressing takes almost two hours, she said, and while my hair is busy, my mind stays idle. I am afraid that my mind escapes through the hair and onto the fingers of my hairdresser. Hence my headache afterwards. The Empress sat at a table which was moved to the middle of the room and covered with a white cloth. She was shrouded in a white, laced peignoir, her hair, unfastened and reaching to the floor, enfolded her entire body.”

Photo taken in circa 1852.

Unlike other women of her time, Elisabeth used little cosmetics or perfume, as she wished to showcase her "natural" beauty, but she tested countless beauty products produced in the court pharmacy, or prepared by a lady-in-waiting in her own apartments, to preserve it. Although one favorite, "Crème Céleste", was compounded from white wax, spermaceti, sweet almond oil and rosewater; she attached far less importance to creams and emolients, and experimented with a wide variety of facial tonics and waters from which she apparently expected more results. Elisabeth slept without a pillow on a metal bedstead, all the better to retain her upright posture, with either raw veal or crushed strawberries lining her nightly leather facial mask. She was heavily massaged and often slept with cloths soaked in either violet- or cider-vinegar above her hips, to preserve her slim waist and wrapped her neck with cloths soaked in Kummerfeld-toned washing water. To further preserve her skin tone, she took both a cold shower every morning (which in later years aggravated her arthritis) and an olive oil bath in the evening.

Owing to poor dental care in her youth, her teeth were remarked on as being "the sole flaw in her beauty" and either malnutrition or the possible effects of bulemia caused a striking deterioration in their appearance. This, combined with the roughened skin that was the inevitable result of hours in the saddle, exposed to sun and wind, caused her to hide her face behind a small leather fan. After age 32, she did not sit for any more portraits, and would not allow any photographs of her to be taken, so that her public image of the eternal beauty was not challenged. The few pictures that were taken without her knowledge show a woman that was “graceful, but almost too slender”.

Troubled Marriage, Separate Life

Franz Joseph was passionately in love with his wife, but she did not reciprocate his feelings fully and felt stifled by the extent of his obsession for her. He was an unimaginative and sober man, a political reactionary who was still guided by his mother and her adherence to the strict Spanish Court Ceremonial (“Spanisches Hofzeremoniell”) regarding both his public and domestic life, whereas Elisabeth inhabited a different world altogether. Restless to the point of hyperactivity, naturally introverted and emotionally distant from her husband, she fled him as well as her duties of life at court, avoiding them both as much as she could. He indulged her wanderings and spoiled her, but constantly and unsuccessfully tried to tempt her into a more domestic life with him.

Elisabeth slept very little and spent hours reading and writing at night, and even took up smoking, a shocking habit for women which made her the further subject of already avid gossip. She had a special interest in history, philosophy and literature, and developed a profound reverence for the German lyric poet and radical political thinker, Heinrich Heine, whose letters she collected.

After she gave up the life of a famous horsewoman, she tried to make a name for herself by writing Heine-inspired poetry. Referring to herself as Titania, Shakespeare's Fairy Queen, Elisabeth expressed her intimate thoughts and desires in a large number of romantic poems, which served as a type of secret diary. Most of her poetry relates to her journeys, classical Greek and romantic themes, and ironic commentary on the Habsburg dynasty. Her wanderlust is defined by her own work:

O'er thee, like thine own sea birds
I'll circle without rest
For me earth holds no corner
To build a lasting nest.

Elisabeth was an emotionally complex woman, and perhaps due to the melancholy and eccentricity that was considered a given characteristic of her Wittelsbach lineage (the most notorious member of the family being her favorite cousin, the mad Ludwig of Bavaria), she was interested in the treatment of the mentally ill. In 1871 when the Emperor asked her what she would like as a gift for her Saint's Day, she listed a young tiger and a medallion, but: "...a fully equipped lunatic asylum would please me most".

An Heir and a New Empire

On August 21, 1858, Elisabeth finally gave birth to an heir, Rudolf (1858–1889). The 101-gun salute announcing the welcome news to Vienna also signaled an increase in her influence at court. This, combined with her sympathy toward Hungary, made Elisabeth an ideal mediator between the Magyars and the Emperor. Her interest in politics had developed as she matured; she was liberal and forward-thinking, and placed herself decisively on the Hungarian side in the increasing conflict of nationalities within the empire.

Elizabeth was a personal advocate for Hungarian Count Gyula Andrássy, who was also rumored to be her lover. Whenever difficult negotiations broke off between the Hungarians and the court, they were resumed with her help. During these protracted dealings, Elisabeth suggested to the Emperor that Andrássy be made the Premier of Hungary as part of a compromise, and in a forceful attempt to bring the two men together, strongly admonished her husband:

I have just had an interview with Andrássy. He set forth his views clearly and plainly. I quite understood them and arrived at the conclusion that if you would trust him - and trust him entirely - we might still be saved, not only Hungary, but the monarchy, too.... I can assure you that you are not dealing with a man desirous of playing a part at any price or striving for a position; on the contrary, he is risking his present position, which is a fine one. But approaching shipwreck, he, too, is prepared to do all in his power to save it; what he possesses - his understanding and influence in the country - he will lay at your feet. For the last time I beg you in Rudolph's name not to lose this, at the last moment... ...If you say 'No,' if at the last moment you are no longer willing to listen to disinterested counsels. then... you will be relieved forever from my future... and nothing will remain to me but the consciousness that whatever may happen, I shall be able to say honestly to Rudolph one day; "I did everything in my power. Your misfortunes are not on my conscience."

But when Elisabeth was still blocked from controlling her son's upbringing and education, she openly rebelled. Due to her nervous attacks, fasting cures, severe exercise regime and frequent fits of coughing, the state of her health had become so alarming that in October 1860 she was reported to suffer not only from "green-sickness" (anemia), but also from physical exhaustion. A serious lung complaint of “Lungenschwindsucht" (tuberculosis) was feared by Dr. Skoda, a lung specialist, who advised a stay on Madeira. During this time the court was rife with malicious rumors that Franz Joseph was having a liaison with an actress named Frau Roll, leading to speculation today that Elisabeth's symptoms could have been anything from psychosomatic to a result of venereal disease.

Elisabeth seized on the excuse and left her husband and children to spend the winter in seclusion. Six months later, a mere four days after her return to Vienna, she again experienced coughing fits and fever. She ate hardly anything and slept badly, and Dr. Skoda observed a recurrence of her lung disease. A fresh rest cure was advised, this time on Corfu, where she improved almost immediately.

If Elisabeth's illnesses were psychosomatic, abating when she was removed from her husband and her duties, her eating habits were causing her actual physical problems. In the spring of 1862 she had not seen Vienna for a year when her family physician, Dr. Fischer of Munich, examined her and observed serious anemia and signs of "dropsy" (edema). Elisabeth's feet were sometimes so swollen that she could walk only laboriously and with the support of others. On medical advice, she went to Bad Kissingen for a cure. Elisabeth recovered quickly at the spa, but instead of returning home to assuage the gossip about her absence she spent more time with her family in Bavaria. In August 1862, after a two-year absence, she returned shortly before her husband's birthday, but immediately suffered from a violent "migraine" and vomited four times en route, which supports the theory that her primary complaints were stress-related and psychosomatic.

Rudolph was now four years old, and Franz Joseph hoped for another son to safeguard the succession. Dr. Fischer claimed that the Empress' health would not permit another pregnancy, and she would regularly have to go to Kissingen for a cure. Elisabeth fell into her old pattern of escaping boredom and dull court protocol through frequent walking and riding, using her health as an excuse to avoid both official obligations and sexual intimacy. Her successful avoidance of further pregnancies would have been a natural reaction to having been assigned the role of an Imperial brood mare, bearing a child a year only to have it taken away from her, but the importance of preserving her youthful appearance was an important influence in her decision:

"Children are the curse of a woman, for when they come, they drive away Beauty, which is the best gift of the gods".

She was now more assertive in her defiance of her husband and mother-in-law than before, openly opposing them on the subject of the military education of Rudolph, who, like his mother, was extremely sensitive and not suited to the life.

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

The Hungarian Child and the Loss of An Heir

After having used every excuse to avoid pregnancy, Elisabeth now decided that she wanted a fourth child. Her decision was at once a deliberate personal choice and a political negotiation: by returning to the marriage, she ensured that Hungary, with which she felt an intense emotional alliance, would gain an equal footing with Austria.

The Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867 created the double monarchy of Austro–Hungary. Andrassy was made the first Hungarian prime minister and in return saw that Franz Joseph and Elisabeth were officially crowned King and Queen of Hungary in June.

As a coronation gift, Hungary presented the royal couple with a country residence in Gödöllő, twenty miles east of Buda-Pest. In the next year, Elisabeth primarily lived in Gödöllő and Buda-Pest, leaving her neglected and resentful Austrian subjects to trade rumors that if the infant she was expecting were a son, she would call him Stephen (the patron saint of Hungary). The issue was avoided when she gave birth to a daughter, Archduchess Marie Valerie (1868–1924). Dubbed the "Hungarian child", she was born in Buda-Pest ten months after her parents' coronation and baptised there in April.

Determined to bring this last child up by herself, Elisabeth finally had her way. She poured all her repressed maternal feelings on her youngest daughter to the point of nearly smothering her. Meanwhile, Archduchess Sophie's influence over Elisabeth's children and the court began to fade; she died in 1872.

After having achieved this victory, Elisabeth did not stay to enjoy it, but instead embarked on a life of travel, and saw little of her children. “If I arrived at a place and knew that I could never leave it again, the whole stay would become hell despite being paradise”. 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.Later it was acquired by the nation of Greece and converted to a museum.

Newspapers published articles on her passion for riding sports, diet and exercise regimens, and fashion sense. She often shopped at Budapest fashion house Antal Alter (now Alter és Kiss), which had become very popular with the fashion-crazed crowd. Newspapers also reported on a series of reputed lovers.[citation needed] Although there is no verifiable evidence of her having an affair one of her alleged lovers was George "Bay" Middleton, a dashing Anglo-Scot. 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.

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.

Elisabeth never recovered from the tragedy; she sank ever deeper into melancholy. Within one year, she had lost her mother, her father, her sister and now her son; after Rudolph's death she dressed only in black for the rest of her life. To compound her losses, Count Gyula Andrássy died a year later, on February 18, 1890.

"My last and only friend is dead," she lamented. Marie Valerie declared, "...she clung to him with true and steadfast friendship as she did perhaps, to no other person." Whether their personal relationship was an intimate one or not, her feelings for him were ones she also felt for his country, and that she knew were wholeheartedly reciprocated by the Magyars.

The Mayerling scandal increased public interest in Elisabeth, and she continued to be an icon, a sensation in her own right, wherever she went. She wore long black gowns that could be buttoned up at the bottom, and carried a white parasol made of leather in addition to her concealing fan to hide her face from the curious.

Elisabeth spent little time in Austria's capital 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 the imperial couple would spend the summer; 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.


In 1898, despite warnings of possible assassination attempts, the sixty year old Elisabeth traveled incognito to Geneva, Switzerland. She stayed at the Hotel Beau-Rivage, where she had been a guest the year before.

At 1:35 pm on Saturday, September 10, 1898, Elisabeth and Countess Irma Sztáray de Sztára et Nagymihály, her lady in waiting, left the hotel on the shore of Lake Geneva on foot to catch the steamship Genève for Montreux. Since the Empress did "not like processions," her servants had already been ordered to leave by train for neighboring Territet.

Last photograph taken of Elisabeth th Switzerland the day before her death at Territet,

They were walking along the promenade when the twenty-five year old Italian anarchist Luigi Lucheni approached them, attempting to peer underneath the Empress' parasol. According to Sztaray, as the ship's bell announced the departure, Lucheni seemed to stumble and made a movement with his hand as if he wanted to maintain his balance. In reality, in an act of "propaganda of the deed", he had stabbed Elisabeth with a 4-inch long sharpened needle file (used to file the eyes of industrial needles) that he had inserted into a wooden handle.

A former mason, railway laborer and former valet to the Prince of Aragon, Lucheni originally planned to kill the Duc d'Orleans, but the Pretender to France’s throne had left Geneva earlier for the Valais. Failing to find him, the assassin selected Elisabeth when a Geneva newspaper revealed that the elegant woman traveling under the pseudonym of "Countess of Hohenembs" was the Empress Elisabeth of Austria.

"I am an anarchist by conviction...I came to Geneva to kill a sovereign, with object of giving an example to those who suffer and those who do nothing to improve their social position; it did not matter to me who the sovereign was whom I should kill...It was not a woman I struck, but an Empress; it was a crown that I had in view."

After Lucheni struck her, the Empress collapsed. A coach-driver helped her to her feet and alerted the Austrian concierge of the Beau-Rivage, a man named Planner, who had been watching the Empress' progress towards the Geneve. The two women walked roughly 100 yards to the gangway and boarded, at which point Sztaray relaxed her hold on Elisabeth's arm. The Empress then lost consciousness and collapsed next to her. Sztaray called for a doctor, but only a former nurse, a fellow passenger, was available. The boat’s captain, Captain Roux, was ignorant of Elisabeth's identity and since it was very hot on deck, advised the Countess to disembark and take her companion back to her hotel. Meanwhile, the boat was already sailing out of the harbor. Three men carried Elisabeth to the top deck and laid her on a bench. Sztaray opened her gown, cut Elisabeth's corset laces so she could breathe. Elisabeth revived somewhat and Sztaray asked her if she was in pain, and she replied, "No". She then asked, "What has happened?" and lost consciousness again.

Countess Sztaray noticed a small brown stain beneath the Empress' left breast. Alarmed that Elisabeth had not recovered consciousness, she informed the captain of her identity, and the boat turned back to Geneva. Elisabeth was carried back to the Hotel Beau-Rivage by six sailors on a stretcher improvised from a sail, cushions and two oars. Fanny Mayer, the wife of the hotel director, a visiting nurse, and the Countess undressed Elisabeth and removed her shoes, when Sztaray noticed a few small drops of blood and a small wound. When they then removed her from the stretcher to the bed she was clearly dead; Frau Mayer believed the two audible breaths she heard the Empress take as she was brought into the room were her last. Two doctors, Dr. Golay and Dr. Mayer arrived, along with a priest, who was too late to grant her absolution. Dr. Mayer incised the artery of her left arm to ascertain death, and found no blood. She was pronounced dead at 2:10 p.m. Everyone knelt down and prayed for the repose of her soul, and Countess Sztaray closed Elisabeth's eyes and joined her hands. No matter how reluctant or resentful she was of the title, Elisabeth had been the Empress of Austria for 44 years.

When Franz Joseph received the telegram informing him of Elisabeth's death, his first fear was that she had committed suicide. It was only when a third message arrived, detailing the assassination, that he was relieved of that notion. The telegram asked permission to perform an autopsy, and answer was that whatever procedures were prescribed by Swiss Law should be adhered to.

The autopsy was performed the next day by Dr. Golay, who discovered that the weapon, which had not yet been found, had penetrated 3 1/3 inches into Elisabeth's thorax, fractured the fourth rib, pierced the lung and pericardium, and penetrated the heart from the top before coming out the base of the left ventricle. Because of the sharpness and thinness of the file the wound was very narrow and, due to pressure from Elisabeth's extremely tight corseting, the hemorrhage of blood into the pericardial sac around the heart was slowed to mere drops. Until this sac filled, the beating of her heart was not impeded, which is why Elisabeth had been able to walk from the site of the assault and up the boat’s boarding ramp. Had the weapon not been removed, she would have lived a while longer, as it would have acted like a plug to stop the bleeding.

Dr. Golay photographed the wound, but turned the photograph over to the Swiss Procurator-General, who had it destroyed, on the orders of Franz-Joseph, along with the autopsy instruments.

As Geneva shuttered itself in mourning, Elisabeth’s body was placed in a triple coffin: two inner ones of lead, the third exterior one in bronze, reposing on lion claws. On Tuesday, before the coffins were sealed, Franz Joseph's official representatives arrived to identify the body. The coffin was fitted with two glass panels, covered with doors, which could be slid back to allow her face to be seen.

On Wednesday morning, Elisabeth's body was carried back to Vienna aboard a funeral train. The inscription on her coffin read: “Elisabeth, Empress of Austria”. The Hungarians were outraged and the words: “and Queen of Hungary” were hastily added. The entire Austro-Hungarian Empire was in deep mourning; eighty-two sovereigns and high-ranking nobles followed her funeral cortege on the morning of September 17 to the tomb in the Church of the Capuchins. Elisabeth, who fled protocol all her life, was unable to escape it in death. Like all fifteen Hapsburg Empresses before her, her body was buried in the crypt, but her heart was sent to the Augustinian Church, where she was married, and her internal organs were placed in the crypt of the Metropolitan Church of Saint Stephen.


Michelle said...

Wow, definitely an interesting read!!

Hayley said...

Body image disorders, like anorexia, have a very interesting link to addictive personalities and obsessive-compulive disorders. Basically these people 'take everything too far' - dieting, tightlacing, exercising.

And even 'reformed' anorexics usually have transferred their obsession with dieting onto something else. But what you said about being able to control her image being her only freedom... sadly true, especially today. Many anorexics also have 'control' issues.

Fascinating to see such a modern problem played out so long ago.

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I often reflect, with infinite compassion, on the life and qualities of this lovely and dignified woman. May she rest in peace. - Valerie, NZ.

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GINGI said...


GINGI said...