Elisabetta Amalia Eugenia of Wittelsbach, born Duchess in Bavaria, was Empress of Austria, Apostolic Queen of Hungary, Queen of Bohemia and Croatia, as consort of Francis Joseph of Austria.
Elisabetta Amalia Eugenia was born on December 24, 1837 in Munich, the fourth of ten children of Duke Maximilian Joseph in Bavaria and Ludwig of Bavaria, daughter of the Great Elector Maximilian of Wittelsbach, who later became king as Maximilian I Joseph of Bavaria. Both parents belonged to the Wittelsbach family, but the father descended from a collateral branch of the dukes "in Bavaria", while the mother belonged to the main branch of the royal family.
That of the parents was not a happy marriage. The Duke Maximilian, in fact, not particularly interested in family life, neglected his wife and had many illegitimate lovers and children. The Duchess Ludovica was the most "unfortunate" among her sisters, who had married princely houses: she was the only one who was married to a more modest party. He did not participate in the life of the Bavarian court, but preferred to remain aloof and personally take care of the education of his children, which is rather unusual for those times.
Elisabetta, however, spent her childhood peacefully in Munich in the family palace, while the summer months had passed in the castle of Possenhofen, a residence to which the young duchess, a lover of nature, was very attached. Of sensitive soul, grown with great simplicity so that it does not develop a proudly aristocratic character, since she was a child she was used to neglecting formalisms and to care for the poor and the sick.
At fourteen Elisabetta fell in love for the first time of a certain Count Richard, a salaried squire of Duke Maximilian, but since the boy was not a good party, he was removed from the palace and sent elsewhere with another job. When he returned to Munich, not long after, he was ill and in a short time he died. Elizabeth was shocked and closed in on herself, consoling herself by writing poems for her unfortunate love.
In the winter of 1853, negotiations were underway between the Duchess Ludovica and her sister, Archduchess Sophia, to marry the daughter of the former, Elena, with the son of the latter, Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria. The choice of the Archduchess Sophie fell on Elena after two failed projects with Prussian and Saxon princesses, since she wished to establish a German alongside her son, strengthening the role of Austria in the Germanic area. Although Elena was not a member of a royal family, she still represented a link with Bavaria, one of the German regions most loyal to Austria.
Ludovica and Sofia decided to have their children meet in Ischl, the emperor's summer residence, during the latter's birthday party and publicly announce their engagement. Ludovica decided to take Elisabetta with her, in the hope of tearing her away from the melancholy in which she had sunk and with the intention of sifting a possible engagement with Carlo Ludovico, the younger brother of Francesco Giuseppe.
The Duchess Ludovica and her daughters arrived in Ischl on 16 August 1853. In the afternoon there was a first meeting with Sofia, Francesco Giuseppe and Elisabetta di Prussia, another sister of Ludovica. Since that first formal meeting, it was evident to those present that Francesco Giuseppe was infatuated not with Elena, but with the younger and sour sister Elisabetta. Archduchess Sophia wrote about her sister, Maria of Bavaria: "She was radiant, and you know how her face lights up when she is happy with something. The dear little girl did not have the slightest idea of the impression she aroused in Franzi. Until the moment her mother spoke to her openly, Sissi was only intimidated and intimidated by the people around her. "
The next day Francesco Giuseppe told his mother that his choice had fallen on Elisabetta, despite the Archduchess Sofia preferred Elena. In the reception given that evening, the emperor danced the cotillon with Elisabetta, a clear sign for everyone, but not for the future bride. Even during the dinner on August 18th, the birthday of Francesco Giuseppe, Elisabetta was seated next to him. The following day Ludovica, on behalf of the emperor, asked Elisabetta if she was condescending at the wedding and obtained her consent, she communicated it in writing to her sister Sofia. From that time until August 31, the engaged couple spent a lot of time together and showed themselves publicly.
Meanwhile, negotiations with the Holy See began to obtain the necessary papal dispensation, since the spouses were first cousins. This close kinship, as usual for that time, was not taken into account, although several members of the Wittelsbach family had already shown the hereditary tares of their dynasty.
From her engagement until the wedding, Elizabeth underwent an intensive course of study, hoping to fill the many gaps in her lack of education. He had to learn French, Italian and especially the history of Austria as soon as possible. In the same period the bride's trousseau was set up quickly, paid almost entirely by the emperor and not by the bride's father, as it should have been. In March 1854 the wedding contract was officially signed and the dowry was fixed in 50,000 florins paid by the Duke Maximilian and 100,000 florins paid by the emperor.
On April 20, 1854, Elizabeth left her father's house in Munich. The journey lasted three days and on April 23 the future empress made her official entrance in Vienna, where she received a warm welcome. The wedding was celebrated with great pomp on the evening of April 24th in the Church of the Augustinians. After the numerous celebrations, the couple was led to the bedroom only by their respective mothers, contrary to the customs of the time which provided for the presence of numerous people. The wedding was consummated on the third night.
From her first entry into court, Elizabeth had to realize the difficulties that awaited her. Born and raised in a family of simple but noble customs, she found herself at the center of the rigid court of Vienna, still tied to a severe "Spanish ceremonial", to which the young empress had to undergo. Deprived of her affections and her habits, Elisabetta soon fell ill, accusing for many months a continuous cough, fever and anxiety, due to disturbances of psychic origin.
The Archduchess Sophie took the burden of turning her daughter-in-law into a perfect empress, but in acting in this way and remaining firmly attached to the label, she ended up antagonizing Elizabeth and appearing to her eyes an evil woman. Only later did Elizabeth realize that her mother-in-law had always acted for a good purpose, but in an imperious manner and by making sacrifices. Unlike Sofia, who was respected by the whole court, Elizabeth was criticized for her lack of education and her non-existent attitude to the life of society.
Not long after the wedding, Elizabeth became pregnant and on March 5, 1855, she gave birth to her first daughter, called Sophia as her grandmother. The Archduchess Sofia personally took care of the child, to whom she was very attached. The girl's rooms were set up next to hers and she chose the Hague (educator) and the nanny. Just over a year later, on July 12, 1856, Elizabeth gave birth to another girl, Gisella, also raised by her grandmother. Later Elisabetta expressed her regret for not having been able to take care of the children. In September of that year Elizabeth began to assert her rights as a mother and during a trip to Styria and Carinthia she became very close to her husband, usually complacent with Archduchess Sophie. The Empress understood that the state trips were a precious opportunity to be alone with her husband and assert his position as a bride and mother.
Elisabetta succeeded in getting her daughter Sofia to accompany her and her husband during their trip to Italy in the winter between 1856 and 1857. For the first time, the empress, always acclaimed by crowds of Austrian celebrities, realized that the the empire did not have the consent of all its populations. The Austrian militaristic regime had resulted in the contempt and hatred of the Italians against the Habsburgs. Elizabeth, usually ready to be absent from official engagements in Vienna, remained however beside her troubled husband for the entire travel program in Lombardy-Veneto. In Venice, Elisabetta, Francesco Giuseppe and little Sofia crossed St. Mark's Square, acclaimed only by Austrian soldiers, while the crowd of Italians remained silent. The English consul presently reported to London: "The people were animated by a single sentiment, by the curiosity to see the empress whose fame as a wonderfully beautiful woman also came here".
A few weeks after the return from Italy, another state trip took place in another restless province, Hungary. Among the Magyars it was already known that the young empress had a deep interest in their culture, thanks to the lessons given to her by Count Mailáth, and they hoped she would positively influence her husband. Also this time Elizabeth collided with her mother-in-law, managing to get the presence of her children for the trip. As in Lombardy-Veneto, even in Hungary the imperial couple was welcomed with coldness, although the beauty of the empress had its usual success. During the trip to the Hungarian provinces, little Sofia fell ill. The nineteen-year-old Empress wore for eleven hours on her daughter, who died on May 19, 1857. When they returned to Vienna, Elizabeth closed herself and herself in her own solitude, refusing to eat and appear in public. The empress, who had insisted on obtaining the presence of the girls during the trip, renounced her role as a mother, considering herself guilty of her daughter's death, and entrusted Gisella to her grandmother's education.
In December 1857 Elizabeth manifested the symptoms of a new pregnancy. On August 21, 1858, Archduke Rodolfo, crown prince of the Austrian Empire, was born. Childbirth was rather difficult: Elizabeth fell ill and her fever returned at a short distance; since her health conditions had not yet improved between autumn and winter, the duchess Ludovica and the family doctor of the Wittelsbach were summoned. The diagnosis of the latter remains unknown and in the diaries of the Archduchess Sofia there are only hints of symptoms: fever, weakness, lack of appetite. Elizabeth seemed to improve only when she was with someone from her Bavarian family and in January 1859 could enjoy the company of one of her younger sisters, Maria Sofia. The young woman had already married by proxy the crown prince of Naples, the future Francesco II of the Two Sicilies. Elisabetta, despite her poor health, accompanied Maria Sofia to Trieste, where she would embark for the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.
1859 was a particularly difficult year for Austria. Napoleon III and Cavour, who had already secretly agreed to Plombières, succeeded in declaring war on the Kingdom of Sardinia by Austria. Within a few days the last Italian autonomous Hapsburg monarchies fell and in Vienna the deposed Leopoldo II of Tuscany and Francesco V of Modena converged with all their relatives. The Austrian troops suffered a serious defeat at the Battle of Magenta (June 4, 1859), following which Francis Joseph decided to leave Vienna and personally command the army. Elizabeth accompanied her husband to Mürzzuschlag and at the moment of the farewell appealed to Count Grünne, the Austrian general: "You will certainly keep what you have promised and be very attentive to the emperor; my only consolation in these terrible times is that she will always do it in all circumstances. If I were not convinced, I would die of anguish. "
Elizabeth fell into a deep state of despair, crying continuously, to the point of asking the emperor to reach him in Italy, but getting a refusal. The empress then dedicated herself to drastic slimming treatments and exhausting rides; he deserted all the social engagements organized by the Archduchess Sophia, attracting the criticism of the court. Francesco Giuseppe wrote to her asking her to show herself in Vienna and to visit the institutes, to raise the morale of the population and gain the support of public opinion. On June 24th there was the decisive Battle of Solferino, which proved to be a winner for the Franco-Piedmontese. The consequences of the defeat fell on the emperor Franz Joseph, who had never been seen badly by the people as in those months: the criticism went so far as to demand the abdication of the sovereign in favor of his brother Maximilian. Meanwhile, a large number of wounded people were brought to Austria and the Empress herself organized a military hospital in the castle of Laxenburg, since the normal hospitals did not have enough seats. The war was officially ended with the armistice of Villafranca, which forced Austria to renounce Lombardy, one of the richest provinces of the empire.
Similarly to the political crisis of 1859-60, a private crisis of the imperial couple also developed, due to the usual contrasts with the Archduchess Sophia and the spread, for the first time in six years of marriage, of news concerning the infidelity of Francesco Giuseppe , which represented for her the only link with a court she did not love and this bond seemed to waver then. Elisabetta, mindful of her mother's unhappiness, was perhaps afraid of suffering the same fate as a woman betrayed and put to one side. The empress then reacted with a defiant attitude, insulting the court: she organized, in fact, numerous dances to which the scions of the Viennese high society were invited, but not their parents (something contrary to the custom and to the label) .
In addition to the delicate situation, in May 1860 came also the news of the imminent collapse of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, besieged by the Garibaldians. Although Francis Joseph and the Archduchess Sophie were in favor of helping the Bourbons, the economic conditions of Austria did not allow it; the concern for his beloved sister Maria Sofia had a negative influence on Elizabeth, also affecting her relations with her husband. In July, Elisabetta took Gisella with her, left the court of Vienna suddenly and headed for Possenhofen. However, to avoid a scandal, she had to return to Vienna for her husband's birthday on 18 August.
In October 1860 the health of the empress suffered a collapse due to numerous nervous crises and slimming cures. Dr. Skoda, a specialist in lung diseases, advised a cure in a warm-climate country: in his opinion, the sovereign would not have managed to overcome the winter in Vienna. Madeira was recommended, perhaps at the behest of Elisabetta herself: the Portuguese archipelago, in fact, was not a renowned place for the treatment of lung diseases, as was for example Merano.
Most likely the empress chose a place so far to avoid too many contacts with Vienna and the emperor. Although the official diagnosis of Skoda was that of a very serious lung disease, there are still many doubts about the true nature of Elizabeth's illness. Very healthy in her youth, she began to feel badly in contact with the environment of the imperial court and to compensate for her many nervous crises, she underwent drastic diets and intense gymnastic exercises. In the diaries of the Archduchess Sophia there are no indications about the mysterious illness of the daughter-in-law, as well as in the letters of the Duchess Ludovica. The Viennese court was indignant at the departure of the sovereign as much as in the rest of the world there was a general concern for the empress "nearing death" (Queen Victoria made available for her private yacht Victoria and Albert for Elizabeth). In all probability Elizabeth's physical complaints were due to a psychic disorder: the historic Brigitte Hamann hypothesizes that the Empress of Austria suffered from a form of anorexia nervosa, which involves restlessness, rejection of food and sex. This could also explain the fact that Elizabeth seemed to recover immediately as soon as she left Vienna and the Emperor. In those years he had a long friendship with his cousin Ludwig II of Bavaria, who when he ascended the throne convinced him to get engaged with his younger sister Sofia.
The crowning of Queen of Hungary took place on 8 June 1867 in Buda, the capital of Hungary. Later the couple obtained their residence in Gödöllő where Elizabeth lived most of the time. The last daughter, Maria Valeria, Elizabeth's favorite, was born in 1868. She was deliberately born in Budapest, a tribute by the Queen of Hungary to her favorite subjects. In addition, Elizabeth personally took care of her upbringing, which she had not done with the other three children.
In Mayerling, in 1889, his son Rodolfo, the heir to the throne (Kronprinz), died perhaps suicide together with his lover, Baroness Maria Vetsera. Passionate about Greek culture, she built the Achilleion in Corfu, a residential building (later a museum) erected in neoclassical style on the theme of the mythological hero Achilles.
In September 1898, the empress went incognito to Geneva taking accommodation at the Hotel Beau-Rivage, on the Geneva lakefront, where she had already stayed the previous year. On 10 September 1898 the Empress, always dressed in black after the suicide of her son Rodolfo, hid her face behind a veil - or an umbrella - and it was difficult to recognize. He had to take the boat to Montreux at 1:35 pm on that day accompanied by Countess Irma Sztáray, when the Italian anarchist Luigi Lucheni, informed about the address of the Empress and on her appearance by Giuseppe della Clara, stood on the quai du Mont -Blanc, behind a horse-chestnut tree, armed with his file hidden in a bouquet of flowers; at the passage of the Empress he stabbed her in the chest, with a single precise stroke, then trying to escape. He was arrested by four passersby, not far from the scene of the attack. The commissioner who questioned him asking him the reason for his gesture, apparently replied: "Because I am an anarchist. Because I'm poor. Because I love the workers and I want the death of the rich ".
The empress who was running towards the boat (the siren of the departure had already played) collapsed as a result of the impact, but got up and resumed the race, apparently not feeling any pain. It was only arrived on the boat that paled and passed out in the arms of Countess Stáray. The boat reversed and the Empress was returned to her hotel room; he expired an hour later, without having regained consciousness. The autopsy performed by Dr. Mégevand showed that the file had pierced the left ventricle, and that Elisabetta had died of internal bleeding. His tomb is in Vienna, in the Imperial Crypt next to her husband and son.
In 1998 the poetic diary of the Empress was published, from which it emerged that Elizabeth did not at all love her aristocratic condition nor did she share the Habsburg policy, so much that she wished to die "suddenly, quickly and if possible abroad"; in a certain sense, therefore, one can say that his intimate desire to abandon life has been fulfilled.