Rebellious Facts About Elisabeth Marie, The Red Archduchess

September 6, 2023 | Miles Brucker

Rebellious Facts About Elisabeth Marie, The Red Archduchess

Even when she was a newborn, the world knew that Elisabeth Marie would make history. As the granddaughter of a powerful Emperor, little Elisabeth Marie held the title of Archduchess, only to live as a commoner and be buried in an unmarked grave. While her life contained great family tragedy, two world wars, and personal turmoil, Elisabeth Marie's fall from royalty wasn't due to bad luck. It was her choice. Uncover the startling, wholly unique life of Elisabeth Marie, the "Red Archduchess".

1. The Lone Heir

Born in 1883 as Elisabeth Marie Henriette Stephanie Gisela, the little Archduchess was the only child of Rudolf, the Crown Prince of Austria, and his wife, Princess Stéphanie of Belgium. But even though Elisabeth Marie entered life in the lap of luxury, she also entered a world of drama. At the urging of Rudolf's mother, who thought Stéphanie wasn't good enough for her son, Rudolf began to detest his bride. In time, Stéphanie returned the favor. When it comes to these guys, "unhappy family" is an understatement.

Crown Prince Rudolf facts

2. Unholy Union

Elisabeth's parents were notorious for not getting along with each other. Things were decent enough for them to have a child, but after Elisabeth was born, things began to turn sour for the royal couple. Rudolf's liberal views strained his relationship with just about everyone and Stéphanie wasn't exactly welcomed by her imperial in-laws. Unsurprisingly, both of them were having affairs.

Crown Prince Rudolf facts

3. The Pains of Sleeping Around

Elisabeth was an only child, but that didn't happen because it was her parents' intention. Instead, the reason was so much more sinister. After Elisabeth Marie's birth, her father Rudolf contracted gonorrhea...which he then gave to his wife. With that, the chances of Elisabeth having siblings officially ended. The gonorrhea led Stéphanie to become sterile. Little Elisabeth would have to endure her crazy family alone.

Crown Prince Rudolf factsWikipedia

4. Erzsi

Elisabeth's nickname was Erzsi, a diminutive for her Hungarian name, Erzsébet.

Elisabeth Marie FactsWikimedia Commons

5. Her Politics Ran Red

In history, Archduchess Elisabeth Marie isn't called Erzsi. Instead, she's more famously known as "The Red Archduchess," a nickname she gained due to her radical politics. Despite being born with the bluest blood possible, when Elisabeth grew up, she only saw red. The Archduchess made waves when she pledged her allegiance to the Austrian Social Democratic Party.

Elisabeth Marie FactsWikimedia Commons

6. Things Were ‘A Changing

To understand how radically things changed during Elisabeth Marie's lifetime, just look at the earth-shattering events that befell her homeland. When Elisabeth was born in 1883, she entered the Austro-Hungarian Empire. By the time of her passing in 1963, the same territory was called the new Austrian Republic.

Elisabeth Marie FactsWikimedia Commons

7. The Cooling Twilight

Of all the scandal and drama in her life, the defining arc of the Archduchess's time on earth was the decline and fall of the Hapsburg Empire...which also meant the collapse of her own family. One particularly ominous event occurred when little Elisabeth was only five years old. It would shape her life and foreshadow the doom that the imperial family, and soon all of Europe, would face.

Elisabeth Marie FactsWikimedia Commons

8. The Pact That Changed History

In late January, 1889, Elisabeth's father Rudolf and his young mistress Mary Vetsera went to Mayerling hunting lodge; Rudolf had arranged for a day of shooting. But when his valet went to rouse him that day, he found the door locked and the inner chamber silent. Knowing something was wrong, the man had to break down the door to open it. What he saw made his blood run cold.

Crown Prince Rudolf and Baroness Mary Vetsera both lost their lives from what is believed to have been a mortal pact. It is known to history as the Mayerling Incident.

Habsburg Empire FactsWikimedia Commons

9. Setting the Dominoes in Motion

The loss of Elisabeth's father had consequences for more than just the royal family—it also made an enormous impact on the course of history. First, it completely destabilized the country and caused growing strife. Moreover, with Rudolf gone, the Austrian crown had to scramble to find the male heir required for royal succession. As a result, the crown passed to Franz Joseph’s brother, and then to his eldest son, a man who would make history in the worst way possible.

Elisabeth Of Austria FactsWikipedia

10.  Tough Luck

That’s right, Rudolf's demise paved the way for Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the man whose assassination kicked off World War One. In this sense, Rudolf’s end wasn’t just the personal tragedy of a lovelorn man, but the end of the world as the Victorians knew it. It was into this unstable world that little Marie Elisabeth had to grow up, and without a father to boot.

Franz Ferdinand FactsWikimedia Commons

11. Under the Emperor's Watch

After the loss of Rudolf, his father Franz Joseph officially took over as the guardian to Elisabeth Marie. Thankfully, even though Stéphanie didn't get on with Elisabeth, her grandfather Franz absolutely adored the grieving little girl. To make sure she would stay close, he went to a disturbing extreme. He officially banned Elisabeth's mother Stéphanie from leaving Austria with her daughter in tow. If Stéphanie wanted to get out of town, she'd have to abandon her child.

Crown Prince Rudolf factsWikimedia Commons

12. Giving Up the Court

Erzsi's reputation as a firecracker only grew as she matured. Though her personality is what her grandfather, Emperor Franz Joseph, prized most about her, it is also what led her to question and interrogate foundational elements of Austrian society. Her inquisitive nature led her to question the Viennese court, and she quickly opposed its pomp. In other words, Elisabeth wasn't content with the status quo...and she wasn't afraid to show it.

Elisabeth Marie FactsWikimedia Commons

13. You're So Vain

While Elisabeth had a close relationship with her grandfather, her relationship with her grandmother was an entirely different story. Her grandmother was the tragic Empress Elisabeth, a woman whose great beauty netted her well as great vanity. Because the Empress did not want to identify herself as an old grandmother, she took out her insecurities on her grandchild. She did not maintain a close relationship with any of her grandchildren, including her own namesake, little Elisabeth.

Elisabeth Of Austria FactsWikimedia Commons

14. Hidden Love

Like her son Rudolf, Empress Elisabeth met a horrific end. When the anarchist Luigi Lucheni heard that Elisabeth was in town under a fake name, he devised a chilling plan. Lucheni found the Empress walking toward her ship, almost entirely alone. He went up, peered under her parasol, and struck her in the heart with a crude four-inch needle file. Within moments, she collapsed and perished. The Empress had been assassinated. But for little Elisabeth Marie, that was just the beginning of a jaw-dropping revelation.

Elisabeth Of Austria FactsWikimedia Commons

15. Surprise, You've Got Money

Even after Empress Elisabeth's shocking demise, the reluctant grandmother still managed to surprise her family. Despite being chilly and distant to her granddaughter Erzsi, the Empress bequeathed her nearly her entire inheritance.

Margaret Tudor FactsShutterstock

16. Starting the Renunciation Tradition

After her young daughter's father and grandmother had both passed in such violent ways, you'd think that Stéphanie would step it up in the mom department and try to mend things with Elisabeth Marie. But you'd be wrong! Instead, the Crown Princess Stéphanie focused her attentions on a controversial new suitor: The Hungarian Count Elemer Lonyay.

Elisabeth Marie FactsWikimedia Commons

17. 95 Theses Not to Marry a Protestant

In 1900, Stéphanie shocked the world by announcing that she would renounce her royal title to wed her new beau. The marriage caused a great controversy, and not just because it meant that Stéphanie was abandoning the crown. Not only was Elemer Lonyay significantly younger than his wealthy bride, he was also a Protestant. Many disapproved of their relationship, including Elisabeth, who felt that her mother was betraying her father by marrying the Count. In time, Elisabeth went to disturbing extremes to show her mother how deeply she disapproved.

Crown Prince Rudolf factsWikimedia Commons

18. Motherly Hate

Elisabeth and Stéphanie's already tense mother-daughter relationship started to devolve with snipes, fights, and distance. But by the time Stéphanie married her second husband, Elisabeth took things to the next level. She was so upset that she cut off all contact with her mother and refused to maintain any kind of relationship with her. In retaliation, Stéphanie would betray her own daughter with an utterly brutal gesture.

Crown Prince Rudolf factsWikimedia Commons

19. When One Inheritance Closes, Another One Opens

Elisabeth hurt her mother by cutting off contact, so Stéphanie fought fire with fire. She retaliated by heartlessly disinheriting her own daughter.

Crown Prince Rudolf factsWikimedia Commons

20. Cream of the Crop

Elisabeth was a beautiful woman, with a rich background and a royal family at the head of one of the world's great Empires. Because of her wealth and social standing, she easily had a spot on the shortlist of the most desirable women in all of Europe. Many European princes considered making her their princess, but ultimately Prince Albert of Belgium chose her to be his bride. The two got married and lived happily ever after. Just kidding! Their flirtation was a huge catastrophe.

Olga Of Kiev FactsShutterstock

21. King Leopold Knew No Loyalty

After the fiasco with Elisabeth's cradle-robbing, crown-abandoning mother, Prince Albert's father King Leopold II–not known as the nicest man on Earth–rejected Archduchess Elisabeth. As though his dad's disapproval wasn't enough, Albert's sister, Henriette, also harshly criticized his bridal choice. Ultimately, Prince Albert's family forced him to drop the idea of marrying Elisabeth. The public rejection was a huge social scandal...but Elisabeth wouldn't give up.

King Leopold II factsWikimedia Commons

22. Reaching Out from the Cradle

At a court ball, Elisabeth met Prince Otto Weriand von Windisch-Gratz. Though she was ten years younger than him, she fell desperately in love with the older man. However, the odd couple had more to deal with than just their age difference. Otto was also significantly lower in rank than his new arm candy. As such, Elisabeth had to beg her grandfather Franz Joseph to give her permission to wed Otto.

This is where being Franz's favorite granddaughter came into play. He shocked Europe by permitting the unconventional marriage. But in the years to come, he'd wish he said no.

Crown Prince Rudolf factsWikimedia Commons

23. Keeping the Family Names

Soon after Franz Joseph gave his blessing to Elisabeth and Otto's union, Elisabeth Marie and her beloved Otto got married in 1902. They had four children, three sons, and one daughter. As an homage to Elisabeth's deceased father, she named one of her sons Rudolf. And then, in a heartbreaking gesture to her estranged mother, she named her only daughter Stephanie. Unfortunately, this gesture would go sour.

Caterina Sforza FactsPxHere

24. Continuing the Cycle

Don't go getting weepy about the whole Stephanie name too quickly. When Princess Stephanie grew up, she did not have a good relationship with her mother, Elisabeth. Sound familiar?

Elisabeth Marie FactsFlickr

25. Secret Wedding

To Elisabeth, she and Otto were a match made in heaven, but to Otto, things were a little less romantic. Otto didn't realize how serious young Elisabeth felt about him and not only that, it turns out that he was more than prepared to keep on living his life without her. He was already engaged to another woman, and it took a brutal gesture to make him leave his first choice to walk down the aisle with Elisabeth: Emperor Franz Joseph had to order Otto to marry Elisabeth. Sounds like a great start to a relationship.

Elisabeth Marie FactsWikimedia Commons

26. The Renunciation Games

Elisabeth's wish to marry Prince Otto did not come without any conditions. Because Otto came from a far less prestigious house than his 19-year-old bride, Emperor Franz Joseph agreed to the marriage under one condition. He told Elisabeth that she had to renounce her succession rights if she wanted to walk down the aisle with Otto. This meant that if she and Otto had children, they would never rule Austria. Head over heels in love, Elisabeth agreed to her grandfather's terms.

Elisabeth Of Austria FactsWikimedia Commons

27. You Can't Force Love

Elisabeth adored Otto, but then again, she wasn't the one who had been literally forced into the marriage. Otto was deeply unhappy with his royal bride, and soon enough, his eye began to stray. After only a year of marriage, Elisabeth discovered that Otto was cheating on her with a beautiful young actress in Prague. The girl's name was Louise Ziegler, and though she didn't know it, her days were numbered.

Halle Berry FactsShutterstock

28. Heat of the Moment

Upon finding out about the affair between Otto and his young actress girlfriend, Elisabeth became enraged and soon enough, utterly deranged. When she couldn't control herself anymore, Elisabeth took a golden pistol and burst into her husband's bedchambers. Otto's valet attempted to keep Elisabeth from entering the room, but when he saw her weapon, he realized he had no choice.

Superman factsPixabay

29. Seeing Red

At her wit's end, a frantic Elisabeth stormed into Otto's private quarters only to have her worst fears confirmed: Her husband wasn't alone. Louise Ziegler was in bed with him. At that point, Elisabeth saw red. She raised her pistol, shot her rival in the chest, and broke down into tears. The young actress passed on, and even though scandal erupted throughout the empire, Elisabeth never paid for her chilling actions. She literally got away with murder.

Unsolved Mysteries FactsShutterstock

30. Let's Open This Thing Up, Honey

As though actual murder didn't give it away, Otto and Elisabeth were far from a happy couple. Even so, they were part of the upper crust and so they had to keep up appearances by maintaining their deranged marriage. Eventually, they figured out a way to remain married and stay sane: They agreed to let each other enjoy other people's company, if you know what we mean. Even though Elisabeth had a ring on her finger, she was ready to enjoy the perks of being a single woman.

Elisabeth Marie FactsShutterstock

31. That Wasn't Fun While It Lasted

While Franz Joseph lived, Elisabeth Marie and Otto had little choice but to keep up the charade of their marriage. But when he passed on, all bets were off. With the dissolution of the Austrian monarchy in 1918, Elisabeth's entire world changed. She was now free from the monarch and could finally explore the rebellious intellectual circles she was interested in. As she explored her country's new social movements, she entered her most rebellious phase yet.

Elisabeth Marie FactsWikimedia Commons

32. Das Kapital

In 1921, Elisabeth began the stage of her life that would define her legacy. She shocked the world by officially renouncing her royal lineage and joining the left-wing Social Democratic Party. With this rebellious shift, the papers renamed Elisabeth Marie. Say goodbye to the high-spirited Habsburg royal and the tempestuous, pistol-toting wife. Elisabeth was now "The Red Archduchess".

Elisabeth Marie FactsWikipedia

33. Is This What Happiness Looks Like?

When Elisabeth attended one of the Social Democratic election meetings, she met a man who would change everything. She and Leopold Petznek, who was the president of the party's auditing office, struck up a relationship that would last for the rest of their lives. Finally, after generations of dysfunction, a woman in the Austrian royal family would finally enjoy a stable relationship. However, Elisabeth and Petznek's love story wasn't all sunshine and roses.

Elisabeth Marie FactsShutterstock

34. You Always Want What You Can't Have

Just like before, Elisabeth fell in love with a man who had baggage, and that's putting it lightly. Petznek didn't just have another woman in his life. He was fully married with a child, and to make matters even more messed up, his wife was deeply ill and had to be institutionalized in a psychiatric hospital. When she eventually passed on, Elisabeth and Petznek were free to make things official...but first, Elisabeth had to do something forbidden in the royal world: Get a divorce.

Robert Redford factsShutterstock

35. Leaving the Craziness Behind

After living her entire life under royal confines, Elisabeth was happy to live like a regular woman. But in order to shed the last vestiges of her old live as an archduchess, she had to officially split with her husband Otto. Unsurprisingly, their divorce was incredibly tumultuous. The bitter exes engaged in a long, drawn out custody battle over their four beloved children, Franz Joseph, Ernest, Rudolf, and Stephanie.

Gloria Vanderbilt FactsShutterstock

36. Just Don't Mess with Her Children

When Elisabeth heard the court's ruling over her custody battle, her heart broke. The law had decreed that she would only retain custody of her two eldest sons. Furious and devastated, Elisabeth refused to abide by the ruling without a fight. She is said to have intimidated Prince Otto into allowing her to retain custody of all her children. According to rumors, she either sent armed socialists to Otto's house or threatened to take her own life. Whichever method, it worked. Elisabeth got her children.

Elisabeth Marie FactsFlickr

37. No Mommy Dearest

Elisabeth was happy to have custody over her children, though that doesn't mean it led to having a great relationship with them. Two of her sons left Elisabeth to be with their father, but compared to what happened with her daughter Stephanie, abandonment is nothing. When Stephanie grew up, she married her first husband solely because she knew her mother despised him. As the wedding approached, Stephanie and Elisabeth publicly feuded over whether or not Stephanie had invited Mommie Dearest to the wedding.

Ruined Wedding factsFlickr

38. Putting Your Kids to Work

When her son Rudolf was a child, Elisabeth wasn't content with him attending school. By then, she was a staunch socialist and believed he would gain more by working in a factory. Accordingly, she pulled him out of school and put him to work.

Madonna FactsShutterstock

39. Some Like it Haughty

Elisabeth joined the Social Democrat circles and fit in seamlessly. Her partner Leopold Petznek was also popular, or he was in the right social circles. Petznek became the President of the Lower Austrian parliament, and the public was generally supportive of the leftist couple. However, aristocratic circles never welcomed the ex-archduchess' beau. Ironically, they said it was because Petznek was too "haughty". Pot, meet kettle.

Elisabeth Marie FactsWikimedia Commons

40. Up at the Villa

In 1929, Elisabeth undermined her usually socialist views and lived the high life one last time. She bought herself the big ol' villa that would become her and Leopold Petznek's new home. Elisabeth and her beau would live here for 20 happy years, until a cataclysmic event changed everything, not just for Elisabeth and Petzneck, but all of Europe. In 1939, World War II began.

Timur FactsGetty Images

41. The Right Side of History

When Hitler rose to power, Elisabeth immediately knew what she thought of him. She said that he was an abhorrent dictator and warned that he would create a world where "hatred reigns".

Evil People Who Made History QuizFlickr, Recuerdos de Pandora

42. Cool Hand Leopold

While Elisabeth was furiously denouncing Hitler, her beau Leopold Petznek had his own fair share of run-ins with the brutal regime. In 1933, the ruling Austrian government imprisoned him. Then, in 1944, things got even worse. The Nazis captured Petznek and put him in the Dachau concentration camp for seven horrific months. Miraculously, he survived life in Dachau and was able to return to Elisabeth afterward.

Elisabeth Marie FactsPixabay

43. Putting the Money on Red

As WWII raged, Elisabeth was fighting in more ways than one. Not only was her husband captured by the Nazis, her dramatic divorce from Otto continued with a seemingly endless series of court battles. In 1934, one particular accusation marked a new low in the couple's drawn-out split. Otto and one Elisabeth's sons accused her of frivolously wasting the profits from the family's sold estate on donations to the Social Democrats. They eventually dropped the motion, but it shows the contempt that Elisabeth held for the imperial class.

Memorable Stranger FactsShutterstock

44. No-Fuss Marriage

In 1948, Elisabeth and Otto officially divorced, and shortly thereafter, she married Petznek. This marriage was a quiet one. The couple never had much time for pomp and circumstance and their nuptials were no different. They did not even hold a service, instead deciding to make their bond official with some simple paperwork in the Vienna registry office.

Jean Seberg factsPexels

45. Coming Home

Even after WWII ended, Vienna remained occupied for many years. For Elisabeth and Petznek, this meant that they were barred from their beloved villa. It was occupied first by Soviet boots on the ground and then by French General Bethouart. It would take until 1955 for the couple to finally be allowed to return home. Sadly, by that point, they didn't have much time left. Petznek passed on in 1956.

Elisabeth Marie FactsFlickr

46. The Dog Whisperer

In her final years, Elisabeth had gout and needed a wheelchair. She is said to have grown reclusive and shied away from social life, instead spending her time breeding German Shepherds. Even though this sounds like a fine way to enjoy your twilight years, Elisabeth became eerily fixated with her dog hobby...and in time, she would take her passion to disturbing extremes.

Elisabeth Marie FactsPxfuel

47. A Girl with No Name

In March of 1963, Elisabeth passed on quietly at 79 years of age. While she was still alive, she made a jaw-dropping request, considering her royal background. Elisabeth didn't want any pomp and circumstance accompanying her to the next life. Instead, she asked to be buried in an unmarked grave near the Vienna house that she had shared with her beloved Leopold. Her family respected her wishes, and they buried her next to her one true love.

Merle Oberon FactsPxfuel

48. Putting the Dogs to Sleep

Elisabeth had specific requests regarding her possessions, not just her own body after she passed on. Most of them made sense, but one of them was downright disturbing. She specifically requested that her dogs be put down after her burial. Apparently, this was so that she could keep them from suffering at the hands of any trainers besides herself. Um, Elisabeth...if you don't want them to suffer, maybe don't kill them?

Elisabeth Marie FactsPixabay

49. Where There's a Will, There's a State

Elisabeth had a great many imperial possessions, and she did not want anything to happen to them after she was gone, nor for anybody to profit from their worth. So she came up with a plan: Elisabeth willed over 500 Hapsburg Imperial family heirlooms to the Republic of Austria. As for her collection of art and books, she asked for them to "be put back in their former places".

Elisabeth Marie FactsWikimedia Commons

50. Namaste

Elisabeth's villa is still intact and has been owned and operated by the Japanese Buddhist community, Soka Gakkai, since 1995.

Elisabeth Marie FactsShutterstock

Sources:  1, 2, 3, 4, 5

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