Monday, January 15, 2018

The Tragic Empress

A biography of Elizabeth, Empress of Austria, from History:
After a nervous collapse in 1862, Sisi spent as much time as she could away from the “prison fortress” of Vienna’s Hofburg palace (today her life is chronicled in the Sisi Museum there), frequently traveling to Greece, England, Ireland, Switzerland and Hungary. “I want always to be on the move,” she wrote, according to Hamann. “Every ship I see sailing away fills me with the greatest desire to be on it.”

Early in her reign, Sisi developed a deep interest in Hungary, then a rebellious part of her husband’s empire. She believed the Hungarian people deserved greater freedoms and respect, and collaborated with her close friend, the dashing Hungarian statesman Gyula Andrássy, to advance the Hungarian cause. She further alienated the Viennese aristocracy by filling her personal staff with Hungarian nationals.

In 1867, Hungary became an equal partner in the Austro-Hungarian empire. Franz Joseph was crowned King of Hungary and Sisi became queen. Hungarians were given new freedoms, and Franz Joseph was allowed back into the royal bed (the couple’s last child, Marie Valerie, was born in Budapest in 1868). For her part in the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, Sisi was beloved by the Hungarian people.

Sisi reveled in her role as comforter of the empire’s “common” people, and often arrived at hospitals and charity wards unannounced, with only a lady-in-waiting in tow. Here she displayed surprisingly down-to-earth behavior for a royal: holding hands with the dying, and speaking to patients about their needs. “Truly like an angel of mercy she went from bed to bed,” lady-in-waiting Marie Festetics wrote of one such visit, as recorded in The Reluctant Empress. “I saw the tears trickling down the faces of the men.”

The empress was fascinated with new innovations in the treatment of the insane, and even toyed with the idea of opening her own psychiatric hospital. “Have you not noticed,” she once asked, “that in Shakespeare the madmen are the only sensible ones?” (Read more.)

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