Ludovika was a dutiful mother to Sisi and her seven siblings, and her attempts to improve her children’s prospects looked to have paid off when her daughter Helene (pictured left with her younger sister) was chosen as a suitable bride for the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph - whose mother Sophie was also Ludovika’s sister.
However the best laid plans and all that... Franz Joseph fell in love with fifteen year-old Sisi at first sight (even though she had only travelled to accompany her mother and sister). Their engagement was announced the following day, and the couple married in Vienna in April 1854.
Seemingly, Elisabeth rarely posed for pictures with her children, but here she is with Rudolf and Gisela.
Her children were taken into the care of her mother-in-law and the relationship between the pair deteriorated quickly as a result. For his part, Franz Joseph spent a lot of time away from his family and, although he was kind-natured, he was paradoxically both a reserved man and an arrogant womaniser.
By 1860, rumours of her husband’s affairs surfaced and feeling both betrayed and unwell (due to a mystery illness that was passed off as tuberculosis, but was more likely to have been sexually transmitted), Sisi left Vienna and travelled widely over the years that followed.
Sisi had a strong affection for Hungary – partly because her mother-in-law didn’t! – and when a political crisis in Austria resulted in the formation of a joint monarchy with Hungary in 1866, Elisabeth played a major part in supporting the arrangement which ultimately led to her husband being crowned King of Hungary in 1867.
Her appearance, and undeniably privileged life hid a great deal of sadness however. Her daughter Sophie died aged just two years old. A decade later, her brother-in-law Emperor Maximillian of Mexico was assassinated, and his wife went insane; and then one of her closest friends, King Ludwig II of Bavaria mysteriously drowned after also suffering from mental illness. But it was the murder-suicide of her (at the time estranged) son Rudolf and his mistress Mary Vetsera in 1889 that had the greatest emotional impact on the Empress.
The misfortune continued when her sister Sophie was killed in a fire at a charity bazaar in 1897, and Sisi’s anguish and increasing loneliness manifested itself through her poetry, in which she revealed her innermost thoughts and feelings.
I wander lonely in this world
Delight and life long time averted
No confidant to share my inner self
A matching soul never revealed
Tragically destiny was to intervene one final time when Sisi was stabbed and mortally wounded by a French-born anarchist Luigi Lucheni in Geneva on this day in 1898. Lucheni’s misguided ambition was to kill a member of what he saw as the elite and oppressive upper class. His intended target was Phillippe, Duke of Orleans, but when his itinerary was changed at the last minute, Lucheni turned his attention to the other royal who happened to be in Geneva: “I struck the first crowned head that crossed my way,” were his reported words during interrogation. “I don’t care. I wanted to make an example, and I succeeded.”
The assailant ran off, and Elisabeth went aboard the vessel, genuinely believing she was unhurt. The truth was that her corset had temporarily contained the bleeding, and it was only when it was removed that the full extent of her injury became obvious. The weapon had pierced the sixty year-old’s heart... and from that moment, her demise was inevitable.
Elisabeth had almost everything anyone could have wanted from life – except the two things that her elevated position and wealth could never buy: love and happiness. A desperately sad story... and perhaps a salutary lesson to those (like me) hoping for that lottery win...