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Elisabeth of Austria-Hungary (Sissi / Sisi)

Short biography

 

Born on 24th December 1837 in Munich, Germany
Died on 10th September 1898 in Geneva, Switzerland

Known as ‘Sisi’, the Duchess of Bavaria and the “Tomboy from Possenhofen”, Elisabeth Amalia Eugenia married her cousin, the young Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria in 1854.

Not yet 17, Elisabeth had enjoyed a carefree childhood on the country estate in Possenhofen and suffered a great deal trying to cope with the Spanish rules of etiquette and the ceremonial constraints of the Viennese court. The Emperor was constantly occupied with government business, so she soon felt lonely. Sophie, her mother-in-law, took it upon herself to educate the young Empress. Elisabeth had to be instructed in deportment and conduct in order to represent the Habsburger court. The most rigorous discipline, sacrifice and obedience were demanded of her and she was barely allowed to see her own children. Her three daughters, Sophie, Gisela and Marie Valerie, and her son Rudolf were also subjected to a strict imperial upbringing.

But Elisabeth revolted against the constraints and impositions demanded by her role in her own way. She sought to keep her distance from the court by taking numerous journeys and cures at health resorts. She especially enjoyed residing in the Achillion Palace, which she had built for herself on the Greek island of Corfu. She increasingly withdrew from her duties as Empress and mother of her country, but Elisabeth did take on the role of intermediary in the matter of the Austro-Hungarian “Compromise”. After the Hungarian revolution in 1848, she successfully championed Hungary’s call for greater autonomy in relation to the other countries comprising the monarchy. Her efforts led to the imperial couple’s coronation with the Hungarian royal crown in 1867.

In addition to her restless travels and her daring exploits on horseback, Elisabeth devoted herself to the meticulous maintenance of her striking beauty. She subjected herself to fasts, put herself on strict diets and drove her ladies-in-waiting to distraction by embarking on forced marches for hours – but she developed new intellectual interests with equal passion. She hired Hungarian and Greek language instructors, expanded her knowledge of literature and became a passionate admirer of Heinrich Heine, whose style she emulated in writing her autobiography in poetic form: her “Poetic Diary”.

Elisabeth’s travels increased after the 1889 suicide of her son, Rudolf, who was heir to the throne. Her depression and disdain for the world around her increased. Ever more fearful, she hid her beauty behind fans and screens.

A tragic event ended her life. During a stay in Geneva, an Italian anarchist murdered her shortly before she was to board a steamship.

The public figure of Sissi represents a remarkable icon, a legend which fascinates people to this day and which has frequently been lucratively marketed and presented in film and musicals.