Sissi- The death of an Empress

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As a young man I was forced to watch the most boring movies about a young empress called Sissi, usually the movies would be on around Christmas time.

Not only were they boring, they were also extremely long and it was a trilogy.They were made between 1955 and 1957.

The movies were all idyllic and dripping with sweetness. However the real life of the Empress Elisabeth of Austria,was far from sweet and idyllic.

Elisabeth was born on December 24, 1837, from an early age she was called ‘Sisi’ (in the movies they added an extra s to the name)by her family. Elisabeth was never meant to be Empress. That honor was supposed to go to her sister Helene, who had been trained since birth to be an Empress. The marriage was meant to make up for the marital misalliance of her mother, Ludovica, the daughter of Ludwig I of Bavaria. While her sisters had made grand marriages, Elisabeth to the Prussian Emperor and Sophie to the Crown Prince of Austria, Ludovica had married her first cousin, Duke Max, who wasn’t even a Royal Highness until he was elevated to that title.

When she was 15, Elisabeth, her mother, and her sister Helene went to Bad Ischl to stay with their cousin, the Emperor Franz Joseph, so that he could have a look at Helene. Instead, the young emperor fell in love with Elisabeth instead. Although not as beautiful as her sister, Elisabeth had almond shaped brown eyes, and  auburn hair which fell to her knees when unbound.

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She was shy and awkward around the Emperor but he was entranced. At a ball, he not only gave her a dance bouquet but all the flowers that were meant for all the other ladies. The next day, her mother told her that the Emperor wanted to marry her. Despite her own misgivings about her fitness for the role she was about to undertake, Elisabeth couldn’t dare refuse the honor. And she was fond of Franz Joseph.

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As a Bavarian princess who enjoyed a happy and unstrained childhood, the extremely strict court life in Vienna was a burden Elisabeth never got used to. She started to travel and wrote melancholic poems, and after the tragic death of her only son Rudolf she disappeared nearly completely from the Austrian court.

When Elisabeth was sixty years old, she followed an invitation from the Rothschild family to Geneva. Together with her lady-in-waiting, the Hungarian Countess Irma Sztáray, she walked the short distance between the hotel and the pier without her entourage, despite warnings of possible assassination attempts.

Luigi Lucheni, a poor man full of rage for the upper nobility, ran towards them as they walked by on the promenade and stabbed Elisabeth directly into her heart with a self-made weapon composed of a small sharp file. But neither the empress nor her lady-in-waiting realised what really happened. Thinking of a robbery attempt, they went on boarding the ship. A few minutes later, Elisabeth lost consciousness and died on September 10 1898

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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; 82 sovereigns and high-ranking nobles followed her funeral cortege on the morning of 17 September to the tomb in the Capuchin Church.

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The last movie called “Sissi-the Fateful years”did not address the assassination of the empress.

The actress Romy Schneider who played her also had a tragic end, she committed suicide on May 29 1982.

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