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Empress of Austria Elisabeth de Wittelsbach (1837-1898) was the wife of Franz Joseph I, ruler of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Made world famous in the cinema under the guise of Romy Schneider, she is represented there as the icon of a Vienna vibrating to the rhythm of the waltz. But the personality of "Sissi" was much more complex. Drawn to classical culture and poetry, Elisabeth of Austria was a shrewd and lucid mind, who understood long before those around her that an era was drawing to a close. After the tragic death of her son Rudolf, heir to the Crown, in the Mayerling hunting lodge, she was assassinated by an Italian anarchist on September 10, 1898.
Elisabeth, Empress of Austria
Born December 24, 1837 in Possenhofen, second daughter of the Duke of Bavaria Maximilian II and Ludovica of Bavaria, Elisabeth married Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria in April 1854. This marriage had political significance: it was a demonstration of the emperor's determination to highlight his status as German prince and head of the German confederation. (Her mother, Sophie of Bavaria, was not only the sister of Duchess Ludovica but also of the Queen of Prussia and two successive queens of Saxony.)
Elizabeth, for her part, played a brief political role in favoring the Austro-Hungarian compromise of 1867 which reconciled the reigning elite of Hungary and the king-emperor. His passion for everything to do with Hungary (Sisi was diligent in learning the Hungarian language and appointed several Hungarians as members of his retinue) reflected his earlier loathing towards the rigid protocol of the Vienna court and of the omnipresence of Sophie, her aunt and stepmother.
An anti-conformist at the court of Vienna
Accustomed in her childhood to the relaxed atmosphere of her parents' country residence in Possenhofen on the Starnberger See, infatuated with the romanticism of the poet Heinrich Heine, Elisabeth was by temperament in a whole different world from her husband, unimaginative and preoccupied with his duty ; the marriage was happy in the first years, giving three daughters and Crown Prince Rudolf.
In the years that followed, Elisabeth's aversion to court ceremonial led her to multiply and prolong her absences from Vienna and even Budapest: towards the end of the 1870s, she developed a passion for hunting with hounds. in Ireland ; by the end of the 1880s she had learned Greek and spent a lot of time visiting archaeological and mythological sites, eventually purchasing Villa Achilleon in Corfu.
Her relationship with her husband grew increasingly distant as she lost all hope in the monarchy as an institution and transferred her personal fortune to Switzerland. The mental instability of his son, who committed suicide in 1889, intensified his melancholy. It was during one of her many trips that she fell victim to an Italian anarchist in Geneva who had initially intended to assassinate the Count of Paris.
- Elisabeth of Austria, biography of Brigitte Hamann. Fayard, 1985.
- François-Joseph and Sissi, by Jean Des Cars. Perrin, 2017.
- Le Journal poétique de Sissi, by Elisabeth of Austria. Editions du feline, 2009.