Elisabeth: a dreary empress
Elisabeth was born on Christmas Eve, 1837, in Munich, Kingdom of Bavaria. She was the second of two daughters of Duke Max Joseph and his wife Ludovika, a daughter of the Bavarian king Maximilian I.
In her youth, Elisabeth had no obligations at the Bavarian court and spent a happy time in their castle at Lake Starnberg, where she enjoyed playing and riding in the country. Elisabeth’s nephew was the young Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph. His mother, Archduchess Sophie of Austria, was his advisor in his political as well as in his personal life, and thus in fact the real ruler of the Empire. When Franz Joseph was 23, Sophie arranged a marriage with her nice Helene, Elisabeth’s older sister. The family was invited to come to Bad Ischl in Austria, so that Franz Joseph could propose to Helene, although the two had never met before. Helene and Franz Joseph didn’t feel comfortable in each other’s presence, but Franz was immediately attracted to the fifteen-year-old Elisabeth. And so this would be the first time that Franz Joseph would disobey his mother: he wanted to marry Elisabeth, otherwise he would not marry at all. His mother was infuriated, but accepted his wish – at least he would marry a niece, and that was what she wanted in the end. But Elisabeth had not been prepared to be an Empress as Helene; she had lived her free, informal life until that moment, and she would never be able to fully adapt the royal way of life with all its rules and etiquette.
Her life at the court was unhappy. She was not allowed to raise her children: instead they were put under Sophie's strict and guiding hand. Elisabeth was not even allowed to see the often, which put her in a state of depression and illness. She started to write poems to flee from her everyday life and took a cure in Madeira, Corfu and her home country Bavaria. After a two year break from court, she became politically involved. She was the main reason for an improvement of the relationship between Austria and Hungary by becoming Queen of Hungary in 1867. Thanks to her splendid beauty she was a very popular queen, adored by the Hungarians, whom were in turn loved by her.
But she became obsessed by her beauty and especially by the fear of losing it. She hardly ate anything, and spent hours doing exercises in order to keep her perfect figure and used special masks to keep her complexion soft and silky. Her long, thick hair was her jewel, it was washed with a special treatment of brandy and egg-white, and after each brush she would count the number of strands that had fallen out. If it were too many, she would be depressed.
Although the people of Hungary loved her, the Austrians disliked her and reproached her of neglecting her imperial duties. She began to hate showing herself in Vienna and found herself in a state of increasing paranoia: she felt accusing looks on her everywhere. Therefore, she hid herself beneath dark, heavy veils and parasols. When she grew older, the obsession with her beauty had grown so strong that she never showed her face anymore: people were to remember her how she looked when she was at the summit of her beauty. Ever wondered why there aren't any pictures of the older Elisabeth? She detested aging and wanted that only the memory of her younger self would stay alive.
At the age of 60, Elisabeth was stabbed in the heart by the anarchist Luigi Lucheni. He hadn't intended to murder her, but as his original victim hadn't showed up, he just killed another royal. She was walking along the promenade at Lake Geneva when Lucheni attacked her. She had felt something at her chest, but if she was asked if she was injured, she said she had not. She boarded her ship, not suspecting the severity of her injury; her corset had absorbed the blood and the wound was first seen when it was removed after she passed out. She was brought to the hospital, but already passed away on the way.
Elisabeth died a tragic death after a tragic life. She had lost her happiness by marrying a man she didn't love and giving away her freedom. She had lost her children to her mother-in-law, her son and crown-prince Rudolf had committed suicide suffering from the same depression as his mother. Elisabeths cousin Ludwig II, king of Bavaria, had been declared insane and had drowned himself; her sister Sophie had died in a fire in Paris. She was convinced that her family was cursed; and her own assassination must have secured her belief.