Sisi - Her Tragedies
A cursory examination of the Empress Elisabeth's life would lead one to wrongly surmise that she was a woman who had everything - wealth, beauty and an enviable social position. Nothing could be further from the truth, as her life was one of recurring tragedy. Only three years after her marriage to Emperor Franz Joseph, her first daughter, Sophie, on whom she doted, died as the result of what is thought to have been scarlet fever, during the imperial couple's first state visit to Hungary. Elisabeth's mother-in-law never forgave Elisabeth for taking the child with her on this visit and went out of her way to ensure that Sisi had little contact with her following two children, Gisela and Rudolf, and brought them up as her own.
Elisabeth's brother-in-law, the handsome and talented Archduke Maximilian, was persuaded by Napoleon III of France to accept the vacant throne of Mexico and to become a puppet ruler. After only a few short years, however, Maximilian's dreams were shattered, when Mexico revolted against him under the guerrilla leader Benito Juarez, and Napoleon withdrew his support for Maximilian's regime. Finally, Maximilian was captured by Juarez's forces at the Mexican town of Queretaro and, after a mockery of a trial, he was executed by a firing squad on the ironically named "Hill of the Bells". His mutilated body was eventually returned for interment in the Capucin crypt in Vienna, the final resting place of his Habsburg ancestors. The shock of his death was too much for his Belgian wife, Charlotte, who had been lobbying the rulers of Europe for support for her husband. She became insane and was finally incarcerated in the gloomy castle of Laaken outside Brussels, where she died in 1927 at the age of 86.
One of the most traumatic experiences in Elisabeth's life was the tragic and mysterious death of her cousin, the so-called "mad" King Ludwig II of Bavaria. Like Sisi, Ludwig was not of this world, preferring the solitude and isolation of the Bavarian mountains, where he built his fantastic fairytale castles and worshipped his hero, the composer Richard Wagner. Eventually, Ludwig was deposed by members of the Bavarian government and died mysteriously by apparently drowning in the cold and dark waters of the Starnberg Lake, near the castle of Berg. After his tragic death, Elisabeth, who had been extremely close to her cousin, became haunted by ghostly images of the tragic King, which even her religious fervour could not dispel.
On the 30th of January 1889, Elisabeth's only son, the handsome and talented heir to the throne, Crown Prince Rudolf, murdered his beautiful seventeen year old mistress, Baroness Maria Vetsera, at his hunting lodge of Mayerling, south of Vienna, and then shot himself. Many reasons have been put forward as to why he committed this horrendous act, but most of the evidence was destroyed on orders from Franz Joseph himself. After Rudolph's suicide, Elisabeth lost her will to live and her life went into decline and she yearned for death herself. She had not the strength to attend Rudolf's hastily arranged funeral, but, on the night after, she visited his tomb alone and, in a state of total mental collapse, called out his name, in a vain attempt to call him back from the grave. Her earlier neglect of her son, in his youth, perhaps instilled in her a profound sense of guilt, and she perhaps blamed herself for his tragic and untimely death.
Even Elisabeth's own end was tragic in the extreme. At the age of 60, she was holidaying in the placid and charming Swiss lakeside town of Geneva. She was a guest at the Hotel Beau Rivage on the Quai Monte Carlo. Intending to board the lake steamer in company with her lady in waiting, she was stabbed with a sharpened file by the deranged Italian anarchist, Luigi Lucheni. He had originally intended to kill the French Duke d'Orleans, the pretender to the French throne. However, due to one of those quirks of fate with which history is peppered, he changed his plans and did not go to Geneva. Lucheni learned of Elisabeth's presence in Geneva by the simple expedient of reading the local newspaper which, thanks to the over-zealous hotel manager in an attempt to promote his establishment, had broadcast the fact that the Empress was a guest in his hotel. After Lucheni stabbed her, Sisi appeared to recover, and boarded the lake steamer, but then she collapsed and was taken back to the hotel, where she died twenty minutes later.