Privileged, precise, and punishingly beautiful, Elisabeth of Bavaria rose to become Empress consort of the Austrian Empire at the height of its powers, and has remained one of the nation’s most beloved figures. Yet behind her exquisite façade lies a lifetime of pain, violence, and an unimaginably tragic end. Dive into her chilling history and find out for yourself.
1. She Was A Christmas Miracle
Elisabeth Amalie Eugenie was born on Christmas Eve, 1837 to Maximillian and Ludovika of Bavaria. The little girl was supposed to have a charmed life: Her father was from an old German house, and her mother was the half sister of King Ludwig I of Bavaria. But the truth behind her “idyllic” family was much darker than all that.
2. Her Father Was Cruel
Elisabeth’s brood might have been rich, but they were miserable. Her parents had never been in love, and the Duke kept a string of mistresses he didn’t bother to hide. Indeed, every day at noon he was expressly unavailable…because he was dining with his two favorite illegitimate daughters. Really, it’s no wonder Elisabeth became so messed up.
3. Her Home Life Was Chaotic
Elisabeth’s father was a known eccentric obsessed with only two things: Himself and, more bizarrely, circuses. This had strange consequences. The little girl grew up watching her father perform feats in his own personal circus ring, and her unconventional home life encouraged country horse rides over formal education. In other words, she was going to be in for a rude awakening.
4. Her Mother Thought She Was Ugly
Today, Elisabeth is famous as one of the most beautiful women history ever produced, but it was a much different story when she was young. Nicknamed “Sisi” by her informal family, she was actually quite shy and plain. Her mother even worried she would never find a husband, and claimed her daughter had “no single pretty feature.” Well, that didn’t last.
5. She Turned Into A Striking Beauty
As Elisabeth grew, she shot up to an impressive 5 feet, 8 inches tall, which was very lanky for the time. The young woman also cut quite the figure throughout her adult life, famously keeping her weight at a trim 110 pounds no matter the circumstance or the decade. Still, as we’ll see, this self-control wasn’t actually a good thing.
6. She Had A Doomed First Love
When Sisi was barely a teenager, the dreamy girl fell deep in love with a man of her acquaintance named Count Richard. She was so serious, she harbored dreams of the dashing count whisking her away into matrimony. That’s not what happened. Her parents found out about her schoolgirl crush and sent the count away. And more heartache was around the corner.
7. She Was A Defiant Girl
Apparently, her parents’ disdain for Count Richard only made the headstrong Sisi all the more determined to love him. So when he finally returned to Bavaria, she was all set to seduce him with whatever meagre tools she had. Instead, he fell ill almost as soon as he came back, passing shortly after. Sisi’s response was both bizarre and extravagant.
8. She Suffered An Early Loss
Always a sensitive girl, Sisi took the news of Count Richard’s fate very hard. She locked herself in her room for days, crying endlessly and even writing humble little poems for her One Great Love. This teenage response was just a glimpse of the tender, tormented woman she would grow to be. It was also a date with destiny.
9. Her Mother Was Ambitious
For years, Sisi’s mother Ludovika had been angling to get her children into advantageous marriages. Most ambitious of all, she betrothed her oldest, prettiest girl Helene to their cousin Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria. Meanwhile, Elisabeth was supposed to marry the Emperor’s younger brother Karl Ludwig. But you know what they say about the best laid plains…
10. She Was A Pitiful Figure
In 1853, Helene and Ludovika were set to make a carriage journey to meet Franz Joseph for the first time and receive a formal proposal from him. At the last minute, the Bavarian matron decided to take Elisabeth along too, hoping to distract the lovelorn girl. It was a choice that almost everyone involved would come to regret.
11. She Wasn’t Supposed To Be Empress
Although Elisabeth was only 15 years old on that fateful carriage ride, she did enough damage to change the entire course of history. While it was Helene’s day to become Empress, legend has it that the 23-year-old Franz Joseph took one look at little Elisabeth and swore he would marry none but her. The real story, however, is more complicated.
12. She Had A Legendary Stroke Of Luck
According to lore, a wardrobe malfunction won Elisabeth the crown. Somewhere along their carriage journey, the coach carrying the women’s formal gowns disappeared. As it happened, the Bavarian family was in mourning for an aunt, and without a change of clothes, they had to wear their black widow’s weeds to the royal meeting.
Unfortunately for Helene, her coloring was sallow next to the dark cloth—but the black made Elisabeth’s pale complexion sing. Better luck next time, hon.
13. She Had A Fairy-Tale Courtship
Soon, Elisabeth walked into a whirlwind courtship, with Franz Joseph dancing with her in public and gifting her flowers as a sign of his affection—all while his brother Karl Ludwig looked on in jealousy and poor Helene took her lumps. All of a sudden, the quiet dark horse Sisi was the golden center of attention. But beware: This was no fairy tale.
14. Her Fiancé Was A Playboy
Lest you think Franz Joseph was some Prince Charming, think again. Just before meeting Elisabeth, Franz had actually been desperately in love with Princess Anna of Prussia before marriage negotiations fell through and he had to give her up. In many ways, Sisi was just his latest obsession. Not that she had any say in the matter…
15. She Was Forced Into Marriage
In truth, Sisi felt utterly “self-conscious” about the Emperor’s affections and cringed at the attention. To put it more plainly: She just wasn’t that into him. When her mother saw this, however, her response was disturbing. Making it clear Sisi needed to zip any complaints, she reminded her daughter pertly, “One does not send the Emperor of Austria packing.”
16. She Was A Child Bride
In Elisabeth’s first days as a fiancée, it became clear that she was nowhere near ready to be Empress of Austria. When Franz installed a play swing in her residence, she took to it gleefully like the child she was. Then, at her formal betrothal, she was so nervous that she could barely respond, and she wept throughout the ceremony. If only that was as bad as it got.
17. She Had Strange Tastes
Some of Sisi’s most childlike behavior contained a disturbing amount of her father’s eccentricities. As Franz Joseph’s fiancée, people showered the future Empress with gifts of gowns and jewels, but Sisi only had eyes for the strangest present of all: A parrot. It was enough to make the court uneasy, but the worst was yet to come.
18. She Had A Monster-in-Law
There are horrific mothers-in-law—and then there was the Princess Sophie of Bavaria, Franz Joseph’s legendarily domineering matron. An absolute force of nature, Sophie more than earned her nickname of “the only man in the Hofburg palace.” Unfortunately, her meddling would soon damage Elisabeth in more ways than one…
19. The Court Hated Her
If Sisi wasn’t sure about the Austrian court, the Austrian court was very sure about her, and not in the good way. Vienna was ultra-traditional, and Sophie ran the social calendar with an iron hand. Accordingly, many courtiers thought Elisabeth was an upstart, coming as she did from a “beggar’s household.” And then Sophie dealt Elisabeth the cruelest blow of all.
20. She Had One Secret Flaw
Obviously, Elisabeth was blossoming into an attractive young woman—but she had one embarrassing flaw. After the formal betrothal, Sophie of Bavaria sent a list of “suggestions” for Elisabeth to follow, including the need to “take better care of her teeth,” which, Sophie pointed out tactlessly, were grey and dirty. The trials didn’t end there.
21. She Had To Follow A Ridiculous Rule
When Elisabeth travelled to Vienna ahead of her nuptials, what she found shocked her. She knew the court valued pomp and circumstance, but nothing could have prepared her for reality of endless fittings and cold manners. Poor Sisi, used to running about the muck on the countryside, was even literally forbidden to wear the same pair of shoes twice.
22. People Thought She Was Stupid
Young, green, and reluctant in a court unwilling to accept her, Elisabeth gave a horrible first impression. Perhaps because of her insecurity about her teeth (Thanks a lot, Sophie) she often mumbled her words, and people assumed she was stupid. In actuality, she had a sharp wit and an active, curious mind. Perhaps too active…
23. Her Wedding Day Was Cursed
As Elisabeth’s wedding day fast approached, a bad omen nearly ruined everything. Emperor Franz Joseph had presented Sisi with an exquisite diamond crown inset with emeralds. Well, just days before the ceremony, someone dropped the crown and they had to hastily repair it. Even then, some called the mishap darkly prophetic.
24. She Had A Very Public Embarrassment
At last, Elisabeth’s big day dawned, and it began with a disaster. On April 24, 1854, just eight months after meeting Franz Joseph, the now 16-year-old Sisi got out of her carriage and, after catching her tiara on an edge, stumbled in front of all the dignitaries and her new family. Could this get any more embarrassing? The answer is yes.
25. She Burst Into Tears On Her Wedding
Every bride wants to look her best on her wedding day. Well, not Sisi. The teenager was so upset at the daunting future ahead of her, she spent the whole morning bawling her eyes out, and barely managed to hold the tears in for the ceremony. When it was all over, she was Empress of Austria…not that it helped her with the disaster of her reception.
26. Her Mother-In-Law Went Overboard
After the ceremony, Elisabeth’s mother-in-law Sophie controlled every aspect of the proceedings. She even designated whom she could talk to and whom she couldn’t at the reception, since the Viennese court had rules about that too. Indeed, since Elisabeth was now Empress, the rules were even stricter for her—but she wasted no time flouting them.
27. She Snubbed Her Family
Used to her cozy childhood, Elisabeth already felt stifled by Austria’s endless conventions. So when she spotted the familiar faces of her cousins in the reception crowd, she ran over to hug them. The response was swift and brutal. Sophie absolutely forbid her from doing any such thing, and forced the girl to only extend her hand for a chilly, reverent kiss.
Except if Sisi thought that was bad, her wedding night was ten times worse.
28. Her Wedding Night Was Bizarre
Apparently no one in the 19th century had heard of “personal space,” because when the time came for Franz Joseph and Elisabeth to retire for the evening, Mama Sophie personally led them right up to their marriage bed. Sisi, beyond mortified, hid her face, “as a frightened bird hides in its nest.” But she wasn’t getting off that easily.
29. Her Mother-In-Law Monitored Her Bedroom Life
Sophie had enough decency to leave the room before anything got going, but that didn’t stop her from asking an extremely private question. The next morning at breakfast, she interrogated her son about whether he had slept with his bride. She was then disappointed to find—shocker of all shockers—that Elisabeth hand’t been in the mood.
30. She Lost Her Virginity In The Worst Way
Instead of taking the hint to back off, Sophie only went full force on her bedroom meddling, watching Elisabeth’s every move and spying on her private conversations. So on the third night when the new couple finally consummated their union, Sophie knew almost the exact moment it happened. Yeah, real awkward…and she had more up her sleeve.
31. She Had To Kiss And Tell
The next day, Sophie forced Sisi into an excruciating act. The morning after they did the deed, the matriarch demanded that both Franz and Elisabeth “present” themselves to her at breakfast to discuss it. Sisi, like a sane woman, protested, but her husband—not wanting to upset mummy—pushed her along for The Most Mortifying Conversation Ever.
Look, everyone has strange in-laws, but I defy you to find one worse than Sophie of Bavaria. Need more proof? You better sit down for the next little bit.
32. She Had Psychological Problems
The stresses of her position took an enormous toll on Elisabeth’s physical and mental health. She was naturally a little reserved and introverted, and palace life made her anxious. Within weeks of moving into the royal castle, she developed frequent coughing fits and couldn’t even descend staircases without suffering panic attacks. Then the real bad news came.
33. She Got An Unpleasant Surprise
19th-century birth control was sorely lacking, which is exactly how a shocked Empress Elisabeth found herself pregnant almost immediately after her wedding. The teenager barely understood her new world, and now she had to worry about the horrors of childbirth. Actually, correction: Now she had to worry about “Grandma” Sophie…
34. The Court Objectified Her
To say Sophie got excited about her grandchild is like saying Van Gogh went a little bit crazy. Sophie went way overboard, and poor Elisabeth was right in the middle. Always so considerate of personal boundaries, the dowager even made the young Empress show off her pregnant belly to the court whenever she could. And then she took it up a notch.
35. She Had Household Drama
Somehow, Sophie found a way to make Elisabeth’s pregnancy all about her. Although the matron’s quadrant of the palace was far away from the Empress’s chambers, Sophie insisted on installing the nursery next to her rooms. As a cherry on top, she also demanded to be the one who decorated it. Oh boy, guys, Elisabeth’s baby wasn’t even born yet.
36. Her Labor Was Brutal
On March 5, 1855, the naïve teenaged Empress gave birth to a baby girl just 10 months after her wedding. It was supposed to be a happy time, but it was the beginning of another nightmare. Sophie of Bavaria went ahead and, without asking any permission, named the baby girl “Sophie” after herself. Then she added kidnapping to her repertoire.
37. Her Mother-In-Law Kidnapped Her Child
Dismissing Sisi as a “silly young mother,” Sophie all but stole the baby girl right out of the birthing room. She then refused for months to let Elisabeth see, breastfeed, or care for her newborn without her express permission, and later did the same with her second granddaughter Gisela. Though this tore Elisabeth apart, the matron wouldn’t budge.
Sadly, in the end, Sisi would have precious little time with baby Sophie.
38. She Learned To Despise Her Husband
Throughout this turmoil, Elisabeth’s husband was the opposite of a comfort. She begged Franz to change Sophie’s mind, but the Emperor was no match for his mother. Although never completely in love with Franz, Elisabeth now began to disdain him as a dull, unimaginative, and stale man pinned right under mommy’s thumb. Show me the lie.
39. She Had A Bizarre Effect On People
Around this time, Elisabeth became an honest-to-God sensation. At balls, the Empress’s incredible beauty became the talk of the entire room, and nobles would clamor to get closer, touch her hand, or catch a glimpse of her face. As one gala attendee recalled, “the people here acted insane. I have never seen anyone having such an effect before.” If only they knew the truth…
40. She Buried Her Child
In 1857, Elisabeth endured a mother’s worst nightmare. Her two daughters Gisela and Sophie became ill with diarrhea, and while Gisela slowly got better, Sophie only got worse. Eventually, the two-year-old girl fell victim to a terrible end, probably from typhus. Elisabeth was still a teenager, yet she was already mourning her baby. It didn’t get better.
41. She Had A Breakdown
Even the smallest moments hit the sensitive Elisabeth right in her heart, and she was nearly driven mad with grief over the loss of her little girl. She refused to eat almost anything, and spent her days in total desolation, unwilling to distract herself from her all-consuming sadness. Soon enough, it began to have an outsized effect on the rest of her life.
42. She Was A Distant Mother
Little Sophie’s passing threw the already neurotic and fragile Elisabeth into the throes of a deep depression that would haunt her for the rest of her years. Sadly, that was far from the worst part. Elisabeth even began to withdraw from her daughter Gisela, neglecting the girl when she needed her mother most. The pair were never close again.
43. She Had Boy Problems
By 1856, Empress Elisabeth had borne Franz Joseph two daughters, but no sons. In an empire obsessed with male heirs, this was a big cause for concern, and the court began to isolate Sisi even more, blaming her for not doing her duty properly. As always, the head of this hate committee was her mother-in-law, and she didn’t mince words…
44. She Got A Cruel Letter
One day, Empress Elisabeth walked into her study at the palace, and immediately made a chilling discovery. On her desk was a small pamphlet with some choice, cruel passages that someone had underlined. “The natural destiny of a Queen is to give an heir to the throne,” it read, “If the Queen bears no sons, she is merely a foreigner in the State.”
The suspected source of this obscenely vicious broadside? I’ll give you three gue—Sophie. It was totally Sophie.
45. She Was A Mean Girl
Elisabeth wasn’t a woman to take insults lying down, and she slapped Sophie right back. Eventually, she took to throwing so-called “orphan balls,” debauched soirees where she only invited young couples and refused to invite any mothers. Of course, this mean that she could strictly exclude Sophie of Bavaria from attending. Take that.
46. She Had A Compulsive Habit
Empress Elisabeth was a horse girl to end all horse girls, and was one of the very best horseback riders in the world during her heyday. Indeed, Elisabeth insisted on riding for hours upon hours every day, a habit that shocked both Sophie and Franz, who were afraid it would harm her precious fertility. False fears or not, Sophie and Franz did have something to fret about.
47. She Earned A Cool Nickname
Elisabeth took her obsession with horse riding to literally suicidal levels. She had a coterie of male friends who she went hunting with, and she more than kept up with the boys, earning the nickname “Queen Riding to Hounds.” However, she also had a reputation for recklessness. On at least one occasion, she got into a horrific accident and lost consciousness—and then the situation got really worrying.
48. She Had A Death Wish
This notorious drive to go harder, faster, and longer while riding was rooted in a chilling desire. Sisi wanted to escape palace life by any means possible, even death. After one hunting jaunt, she exclaimed on her return to Vienna, “Why must I return to my cage? Why could not I have broken all my bones, so as to put an end to it—everything!” Yes, Elisabeth was on a downward spiral.
49. She Was Utterly Neurotic
Indeed, the Empress despised Vienna and her royal life so much, many historians believe her frequent coughing fits and panics were partly psychosomatic. It got so bad that she stayed away from the capital for a full two years. Then, the moment she returned, Elisabeth experienced a migraine in the carriage and puked four times—all on the way there.
50. She Developed A Disorder
Elisabeth’s next response to Vienna’s constant demands was quietly devastating. As we know, she insisted on keeping a trim figure even through her pregnancies, and this compulsion contained a dark secret. Unable to control anything else in her life, Elisabeth strictly controlled her food intake and her exercise, and most historians now believe she had an eating disorder.
As the years wore on, it reached startling proportions.
51. She Ate Gruesome Meals
Never a prodigious eater, Elisabeth eventually developed a total disgust for meat. She avoided animal flesh at all costs, and would often go without meals rather than eat any. Still, she was conscientious about her nutrient intake, and to get protein, the Empress often just squeezed steak juice into her soup and called it a day. Oh, this gets weirder.
52. She Wanted An Invisible Waist
Elisabeth’s obsessive trimness also manifested in an infatuation with “tight-lacing,” where women wore their corsets so tight that it made them wasp-waisted. The young Empress outsourced special rigid corsets all the way from Paris—used specifically by courtesans—to achieve the sucked-in look. Yet this habit was also a secret revenge.
53. She Defied Her Mother-In-Law
Although Elisabeth generally hated waiting around to get dressed up in court finery, she had no problem at all when it came to tight-lacing, which often took an hour to achieve the proper effect. Why? Probably because it defiantly showed off to her mother-in-law Sophie that nope, she wasn’t pregnant with a son yet. But not for long…
54. She Finally Had A Boy
On August 21, 1858, Elisabeth finally shut her mother-in-law’s mouth and gave birth to a baby boy, the Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria. The happy news came with a 101-gun salute and the blossoming of Elisabeth’s full political power at court. Sisi probably hoped this would be a turning point into happiness, but she was very, very wrong.
55. Her Son Was Painfully Sensitive
Like all of her children up to that point, Sophie let Elisabeth have no say in Rudolf’s upbringing. Yet the biggest betrayal came from her husband. Franz Joseph had been more ecstatic than anyone that he had finally had a boy, but as Rudolf grew up into an emotionally vulnerable child, the Manly Man Emperor was aghast…so he embarked on a ruthless mission.
56. Her Husband Harmed Her Son
With Elisabeth at a forced distance from Rudolf, the Emperor tried to drill manhood into her son behind her back, hiring a Major-General to take over the boy’s education. The soldier would wake poor Rudolf up with pistol shots in the middle of the night and force him to train in extreme weather conditions. When Elisabeth found out, it came to a bitter climax.
57. She Gave The Emperor A Furious Ultimatum
One day, Elisabeth returned from a lengthy stay away, and witnessed a chilling sight. After his cruel lessons, Rudolf was on the brink of insanity. Elisabeth immediately demanded that Franz stop her son’s “training.” Luckily, the Emperor gave in…but the damage was done. This near-mental collapse might explain Rudolf’s infamous actions in later years.
58. Her Beauty Regime Was Punishing
Though Elisabeth loved her children in her own way, she also became dangerously self-obsessed. The Empress was famous for her incredibly long chestnut brown hair, and she would schedule an entire day off every two weeks just to wash her locks in a special egg mixture. She also hired a personal hairdresser…and her demands were unhinged.
59. She Was A Harsh Mistress
When Elisabeth hired Franziska Feifalik to attend to all her mane needs, it was no cushy position. Feifalik had to wear white gloves without any rings when she worked the Empress’s royal locks, and when she completed the hairdo, Elisabeth forced the servant to present her with the comb while she critically examined any strands that had fallen out.
Obviously, Elisabeth’s supreme unhappiness was leading her down dark paths. She would only go further.
60. She Loved Rebels
One of Elisabeth’s biggest strains in conservative Vienna was her liberal-minded beliefs. One day, she found a surprising outlet. She became obsessed with Hungary, one of Austria’s unruly territories at the time. Sisi felt an affinity with its staunch independence hidden under a placid interior…but there might have been a more scandalous reason for her ardor.
61. She Had A Secret Crush
When Elisabeth became one of Hungary’s key supporters, many whispered it was because she was in love with the handsome Hungarian Count Gyula Andrassy. Andrassy was a dashing, vain, and infamous playboy who was nonetheless whip-smart—AKA everything Elisabeth wanted and everything her husband Franz wasn’t. She was treading on dangerous ground.
62. She Had A Romeo And Juliet Story
Elisabeth and Andrassy corresponded constantly in Hungarian, passing letters back and forth through clandestine routes. Yet the pair met a bitter fate. Although most historians believe they were in love, they also believe that Elisabeth could have never acted on her desires, and that the two never consummated their passions.
63. She Controlled Her Husband
Although Elisabeth might not have been able to have Count Andrassy for herself, she made darn sure Emperor Franz Joseph gave her everything else she wanted. Sisi even pushed her husband to make Andrassy the Premier of Hungary, once threatening him in a letter, “If you say ‘No,’ you will be relieved forever from my future.”
Then again, Andrassy wasn’t Elisabeth’s only flirtation.
64. She Liked Younger Men
One of the Empress’s favorite hunting companions was the rough, crude, and excessively talented horseman Bay Middleton, who was nine years her junior. Elisabeth harbored feelings for Bay, and loved to make him jealous by flirting with her other horsey boys. As with Andrassy, however, Elisabeth and Bay could look but not touch. Never a recipe for healthy affection.
65. She Sent Clandestine Letters
Eventually, Middleton grew so romantically frustrated, he quit Elisabeth’s riding company and found himself a nice, calm fiancée he could caress. With Bay gone, Elisabeth gave up riding entirely…but she didn’t give up Bay. She kept up a secret correspondence with him for years and even met him again a handful of times incognito. It didn’t end well.
66. Her Lover Met A Violent End
Bay Middleton was a vicious daredevil, just like everyone else in Elisabeth’s riding set. But the Empress’s lover paid a high price for his daring. In 1892, Middleton was gunning along in a horse race when he slammed to the ground, breaking his neck and perishing almost instantly. It was almost like Elisabeth was cursed to be unhappy.
67. She Refused To Do One Thing
Not content to boss Emperor Franz Joseph around, Elisabeth also dealt him a cruel blow behind bedroom doors. Partly because she loathed the idea of being pregnant again and ruining her figure, and partly because she had zero hots for him, Sisi refused to let the Emperor sleep with her. Like, ever. And her chilliness went beyond that.
68. She Played A Cruel Joke On The Emperor
The Empress insulted her husband in other ways, too. A passionate devotee of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Elisabeth had a bedroom in one of her palaces done up like a fantasy set for the play. In a mean joke, she also had the bed of state depict the Faerie Queen Titania with a donkey, as if she were the legendary beauty and Franz the mule. Ouch.
69. She Was In A Love Triangle
The Empress was an unconventional woman, but most people didn’t know her most racy act. Since she very well didn’t want sleep with Franz, she actively encouraged him to take actress Katharina Schratt as his mistress. When the Emperor, still gaga over his wife, protested, Elisabeth put her foot down and insisted. Not that she was actually nice to the poor woman…
70. She Made Fun Of Other Women
When a visiting dignitary saw Emperor Franz’s apartments as a part of an official tour with the royal couple, Sisi showed him a private portrait of Katharina Schratt and asked him if he liked it. The dignitary responded right away, “She looks horribly common,” causing Elisabeth to burst into laughter right in her husband’s face.
Eventually, though Sisi did go back to her husband’s bed. She just did it on her terms.
71. She Manifested A Pregnancy
Elisabeth only conceived a fourth child when she wanted a fourth child. That is, after Hungary and Austria finally reached an agreement, and she and Franz Joseph became King and Queen of Hungary. Once that happened, Sisi knew it would be politically advantageous to birth an heir in Budapest, and that’s exactly what she did.
Little Marie Valerie was born in the Hungarian metropolis in 1868. Only, it didn’t go how Elisabeth planned.
72. She Smothered Her Child
This time, Empress Elisabeth demanded that she actually take care of her child personally for once. The plan backfired horribly. Deprived of her maternal instinct for years, the once emotionally withdrawn Empress now smothered her youngest daughter. People at court snidely called Marie Valerie “The Only Child” because of how much Elisabeth doted on her.
73. She Played Favorites
Unfortunately, Elisabeth’s other children felt the full force of her favortism. While Elisabeth claimed Marie Valerie could marry “a chimney sweep,” she forced her eldest daughter Gisela into marriage with Prince Leopold of Bavaria. To add insult to injury, Sisi showed up to the wedding in her top-notch finery, as if she wanted to outshine her plainer daughter.
74. She Ghosted Queen Victoria
As Elisabeth matured, she didn’t give a darn who she offended—but one day she insulted one of the most powerful women on Earth. While visiting England, Elisabeth busted into Queen Victoria’s residence for lunch much earlier than she was expected, interrupting the monarch at Church. And then the Empress really did her worst.
Victoria hastily left Church, met the Austrian ruler, and was just about to set up the lunch Elisabeth was apparently so desperate to chow down on. Well, Sisi then suddenly decided she actually didn’t want refreshment anymore, and left the palace after a mere 45 minutes and a whole lot of trouble. Guess what? Her next move was even odder.
75. She Was A Bad Girl
As Elisabeth grew more and more miserable in Vienna, her behavior grew more erratic. She was hyperactive and often suffered from insomnia—and to combat it, she took up a scandalous habit. The Empress of Austria started the very manly pastime of smoking to make the wee hours pass by, which absolutely shocked Viennese polite society at the time.
76. She Got Into A Cat Fight
One day, the gorgeous Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III, was visiting court, and a jealous Elisabeth eyed her up for all she was worth. Later on during the day, an attendant accidentally stumbled upon the two Empresses in a room together, taking measurements of each other’s waist, hips, and calves. Ladies, ladies, you’re both hot.
77. She Developed An Odd Fixation
Elisabeth had gone through a cycle of gripping fixations in her life, and in her later years she took to walking everywhere. While this sounds ho-hum, this is Elisabeth we’re talking about—so it was actually vicious and tormenting. Beginning in the wee hours of dawn, she would range over mountains on day-long hikes, never stopping for food. And that wasn’t all.
The Empress’s “walking” pace was so vigorous, her ladies-in-waiting insisted on having a carriage trail them so they could periodically collapse into it and recover their senses. An unsuspecting officer even once stopped her entourage—out roaming in the dark of the night—and asked if they were fleeing pursuers, they were going so fast.
78. She Ignored Her Son
If Elisabeth’s relationship to her husband was out of whack, her relationship to her son Rudolf was downright destructive. When the Empress forced him into a loveless union with Princess Stephanie of Belgium, Rudolf grew more and more dissatisfied. Soon, he became hugely depressed and sought comfort in the arms of mistresses—not that Elisabeth noticed.
79. She Passed On Her Bad Genes
Elisabeth and Rudolf were eerily alike in many ways. Just like her, the Crown Prince was stubborn, introverted, depressive, and largely uninterested in artifice. Moreover, he departed from his father’s conservative political views, taking up Elisabeth’s more liberal beliefs instead. Yet thanks to the catastrophe ahead, they never really knew each other.
80. She Was In The Middle Of A Bloodbath
On January 30, 1889, Elisabeth suffered her worst blow yet—and tragedy doesn’t even begin to cover it. After years of depression, her only son Rudolf committed suicide, taking his teenage mistress Mary Vetsera with him in a so-called “love pact.” The event, now known as the Mayerling Incident, sent shockwaves through Austria…and changed Elisabeth’s life forever.
81. She Broke Devastating News To Her Husband
Rudolf’s heartbreaking decision to end his life not only threw the line of succession into a tailspin, it also broke his mother’s heart. Elisabeth was one of the first people to find out, and had the weighty task of breaking the news to Emperor Franz Joseph. Never one for public emotion, she sent Katharina Schratt in to comfort him immediately after—but inside, Elisabeth was falling apart.
82. She Tried To Raise Her Son From The Grave
For her short remaining years, Elisabeth could never let go of her son’s tragedy. She tried to establish contact with his ghost in a séance, and even visited the family crypt to be nearer to him. In her outdoor life, she also almost exclusively wore black, and used a fan and a parasol to cover her face from prying eyes, unwilling to be part of the world again.
83. She Became A Recluse
A life in the spotlight as the most celebrated beauty of her age twisted Elisabeth in tragic ways. She began to believe it was her “duty” to be beautiful. After she turned 32, she absolutely refused to sit for any more photos or portraits, preferring to live in an eternal, youthful glow in the public’s imagination. Yeah, she had it bad.
84. She Was Suicidal
Rudolf’s end undeniably broke the Empress, and what little luster she saw in life began to fade quickly. Her melancholy was so intense, even her family, who were used to her mood swings, began to seriously worry. As her daughter Valerie once confessed about her mother, “She envies Rudolf his death.” Yet fate had a much crueler twist in store.
85. She Had A Horrific Decade
As it turned out, the late 1800s were brutal to Empress Elisabeth. In the four-year span from 1888 to 1892, she lost her father, her mother, her sister, her only son, Bay Middleton, and also her beloved Gyula Andrassy. Upon Andrassy’s passing, the broken Elisabeth reportedly cried out, “My last and only friend is dead.” Tragically, she was next.
86. She Was In Fatal Danger
Just before the turn of the 20th century, Elisabeth’s informality doomed her to a gruesome end. In 1898, she was traveling anonymously through Geneva, Switzerland. Despite hearing reports of assassination plans, she decided to catch a ship to a nearby city without any entourage. After all, this was right before WWI, and political tensions were at an all-time high.
Because of her decision to forgo any pomp or circumstance, Elisabeth only had one lady-in-waiting with her when the Grim Reaper came knocking.
87. Her End Was Quick And Dirty
The anarchist Luigi Lucheni heard Elisabeth was in town, and quickly devised a chilling plan. Lucheni found her walking on a promenade 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, Sisi collapsed and was weaving in and out of consciousness.
88. Her Last Words Were Tragic
Elisabeth’s last moments on Earth were full of confusion. After her collapse, attendants tore open her bodice laces but could only see a minuscule incision above her left breast. Then, right before her end, Elisabeth regained consciousness for one last time. As she did, the once sharp woman was reduced to fear and confusion in the chaos.
Her rescuers asked her if she was in pain, and she replied “No.” Instead, her final words broke their hearts. The royal meekly asked as she ran out of breath, “What happened?” They pronounced her passing at 2:10 pm on September 10, 1898. She was 60 years old, and had ruled the Austrian empire for 44 years. Still, the aftermath was even more devastating.
89. Her Autopsy Revealed The Truth
The Empress’s official autopsy revealed heartbreaking findings. Lucheni’s aim was deadly accurate, with the needle penetrating over three inches into Elisabeth’s thorax, fracturing her rib, puncturing her lung, and then piercing her heart. Notably, her tight corset prolonged her life for a precious few minutes by stymieing the internal hemorrhage.
90. Her Family Thought The Worst
When Emperor Franz Joseph and the rest of Elisabeth’s family heard the news, they were nearly on their knees in pain. But a more unsettling thought occurred to them. Because of Elisabeth’s chronic melancholy, when Franz and the children first found out about Elisabeth’s sudden end, they were afraid that it had been a suicide, just like Rudolf.
91. Her Assassin Showed No Remorse
When all of Austria and Hungary discovered their beloved ruler’s fate, the nations hurled themselves into a bottomless state of mourning. To those on the outside, Elisabeth’s informality and isolation from court had made her a champion of the common people. Thus, many citizens wondered why Lucheni had targeted her at all…but he had his reasons.
Though Lucheni’s assassination plot was senseless to many of Elisabeth’s mourners, he knew exactly why he did it. He was desperate to kill any political figure he could; Elisabeth was merely tragic collateral. As he said, “I came to Geneva to kill a sovereign…It was not a woman I struck, but an Empress; it was a crown that I had in view.”
92. She Got Poetic Justice
In the aftermath of Empress Elisabeth’s brutal passing, the courts sentenced Lucheni to life imprisonment—a fact that enraged the devoted anarchist, since he hoped for capital punishment and to go out with a bang. Eventually, Lucheni got his wish by other means. On October 16, 1910, he succeeded in ending himself in his cell.
93. Hungary Fought For Her
Elisabeth had a triple coffin: two crypts of lead, and one ornate bronze exterior casket with clawed feet. The original inscription simply read “Elisabeth, Empress of Austria,” but this outraged her utterly loyal Hungarians. They demanded the final version also read “Queen of Hungary.” Her tomb lies in Capuchin Church in Vienna.
94. She Had Bizarre Laughing Fits
Elisabeth’s misery certainly had a self-destructive streak, but it also took on more eerie forms. She was vulnerable to strange fits, with one of her daughters once recalling, “Mama had a very strong bath, and when I went in to her, she could not stop laughing.” As it happened, these insidious mental health issues were deep rooted in her family tree.
95. Her Family Tree Was Twisted
Elisabeth may have come from a respectable family, but her father’s circus obsession was only the tip of the iceberg when it came to their eccentricities. Her grandfather Duke Pius was mentally feeble, and she was cousins and close friends with none other than the notoriously unstable King Ludwig II of Bavaria. Indeed, she also developed a pathological fixation…
96. She Wanted To Be In An Insane Asylum
Elisabeth took a nearly indecent interest in the mentally ill, and frequently visited asylums to prod patients with questions and watch procedures like hypnotism take place. One day, when her husband asked her what she wanted for a gift, she replied brightly and seriously: “What I would like best of all is a fully equipped insane asylum.”
97. She Thought Her Children Were Ugly
Sisi wasn’t a great mother—yet somehow, she was a worse grandmother. Always image-conscious, Elisabeth was acutely aware that her daughter Gisela lacked beauty, and she never fully forgave her for it. When Gisela gave birth to a granddaughter, Elisabeth’s response was appalling. “Gisela’s child is of a rare ugliness, “ she said, “it looks exactly like Gisela.”