Elisabeth of Austria
Elisabeth was born on 24th December 1837 in Munich, Germany, to Duke Maximillian, and Ludovica of the house of Wittelsbach ('mad' King Ludwig was a cousin). Her family home was at Possenhofen, Bavaria, which she called 'Possi'. Elisabeth soon became known as "Sisi". Duke Max wasn't a very important Duke, he was rather eccentric, and used to go wandering. Sometimes Elisabeth would join him, and they would pretend to be a circus acts, or gypsies.
Ludovica's sister Archduchess Sophie had done rather better - she was married into the Hapsburgs, who ruled the Austrian Empire, and manoeuvered her son Franz Josef into the role of Emperor. He was 18 when he took office, in what was a turbulent time for Austria. Both Ludovica and Sophie had marriage plans for Franz Josef to Elisabeth's elder sister Helene ("Nene"). However when the family met at Bad Ischl to cement the plans, Franz Josef chose Sisi, who had never been prepared for such a role.
They were married on 24th April 1854 in the Vienna Augustine Church. However, the marriage soon ran into difficulties. Sisi could not adapt to the strict court etiquette, and soon immersed herself in rigourous exercise and horse riding, in order to avoid her frequent arguments with Archduchess Sophie.
There were children, Sophie, who soon died, and Gisela, but no male heir to the Hapsburg throne, until Rudolf in 1858. Elisabeth had done her duty. Now she resumed her wandering life. She travelled all over the world, and set up a palace in Corfu. Franz Josef was always writing to his beloved Sisi, but she rarely came home for long.
Elisabeth did take an interest in Hungary, then ruled by Austria, and strongly disapproved of the strongarm tactics used to quell the rebellion against Austrian rule. She learned Hungarian, and began to take an interest in the rebellion. Through her efforts a settlement was found, and this led to the historic joint monarchy of Austro-Hungary. She and Franz Josef were crowned in Budapest on June 8th 1867. The Hungarian people took her to their heart, and her tomb is always covered in Hungarian colours.
She, however, remained unhappy, and toured more with her youngest child, Valerie. She never really got to know her son, Rudolf. Had he known a real mother, perhaps he would never have shot himself, and his lover, Mary Vetsera at Mayerling in 1889.
Sisi was too old to have another child, and the Archduke Ferdinand became the heir to the Hapsburg throne. By now, Franz Josef had other liasons, as did she, but he still longed for her to come home, as did the Viennese people. Still she kept wandering.
A senseless death
It was a time of revolutions, and assassinations. The Tsar of Russia was murdered, and other royals were distinctly insecure. It was against such a backdrop that Elisabeth was touring in Switzerland in 1898. She was staying at the Beau Rivage hotel in Geneva. She had just left the hotel on 10th September 1898 to catch a steamer, when she was stabbed by an anarchist, Luigi Lucheni. He had planned to murder the Prince of Orleans, an Italian noble, but the Prince didn't come as planned. Elisabeth was the next best choice.
She died within an hour in the room she had just left. The funeral in Vienna was a massive affair. She is buried with all the other Hapsburgs in the Emperor Vault, in Vienna. Had Franz Josef not had so much tragedy, would he have let loose World War I, after the assassination of his hated heir Archduke Ferdinand?- we can only guess.