The German equivalent of showing The Sound of Music every christmas is the Sissi Trilogy starring a young Romy Schneider.
I learned about these films in high school. My mom told me how they would also show them in Peru and she loved the costumes (my mom is a huge fan of period pieces). I managed to find them on ebay back in the day and I was able to join in watching them with her.
Who is Sissi? What the hell does Die Junge Kaiserin mean?
Die Junge Kaiserin in German means the young empress. Sissi was the nickname of Empress Elizabeth of Austria. Whilst the English speaking world is familiar with monarchs such as Henry VIII, Elizabether I and II, and Queen Victoria….the German speaking world knows very well about the once Princess of Bavaria.
Her story has been highly romanticized especially with the Sissi Trilogy by Ernst Marishka. It tells the story of a young Sissi who was an independent wild child in Bavaria who had to travel to Austria with her mother (Ludovica) and elder sister (Helene – called Nene) to visit their cousin Emperor Franz Josef of Austria.
You see, Franz’s mother, Archduchess Sophie (also the sister of Ludovica) had decided that her son should marry. She also decided that the bride would be Nene because:
1. She was beautiful, graceful, and submissive
2. She was family and Sohpie did not like the idea of her son marrying a stranger
She also kjnew that Franz Josef was not only a 23-year-old Emperor…..he was also a mama’s boy who always followed her advice. This was a power she wielded quite often when it suited her. This could also be a third reason for her wanting Franz Josef to marry Nene….together they could both be controlled by Sophie.
Unfortunately for Sophie, Franz Josef saw the 16-year-old Sissi and was starstruck in love with her. He also decided to grow a pair when he told his mother that he would marry Sissi or not marry at all. Sophie had no choice but to accept this turn of events but she did not care for her neice. But she still tried to hold her power whever she could.
On the other hand, Sissi did not do very well in the Austrian court. She was too wild and rebellious and her Aunt/Mother-in-Law belittled her for everything. She also took Sissi’s children away, believing that she would be a better fit in raising them (she also had the audacity of naming Sissi’s first child after herself without consulting the mother). As a result, Sissi became more withdrawn from court-life and began to focus on both her looks and her figure since they were the only things she had true control over.
“Empress Elisabeth of Austria, 1864” by Franz Xaver Winterhalter – http://www.gogmsite.net/empress_elisabeth_of_austri/1864_empress_elisabeth_en_d.html. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
She maintained her weight at about 110 lbs (even after 4 children). She also had insanely long hair which took about two hours to groom. But she never stayed idle. During those two hours she would study. She was fluent in English and French and also studied Greek and Hungarian (which came of much use later).
As she grew older (and finally had a son), she managed to gain more power in court and tried her best to be a philanthropist – especially for the mentally ill (when Sophie was not trying to constantly outmaneuver her at every turn). One year when Franz Josef asked her what she wanted for her birthday, she expressed that what would please her the most was an aslyum for the mentally ill.
She also loved Hungary. She felt that the country and its people resonated with her on a level she had not felt since she lived in Bavaria. Because of this love, she worked tirelessly to mend the ties between Hungary and Austria. The Hungarians also recognized her efforts and loved her for it. They even wanted her to be crowned their queen, which happened in 1867.
While you read all of this, you must be wondering: did she even love Franz Josef?
Yes, not as much as he did her but it also wasn’t enough.
Her life in Austria was so miserable that her love of Franz Josef could not keep her there for long. So she traveled. A lot.
“Ferenc József koronázása Budán” by Edmund Tull – Szalay József–Baróti Lajos: A magyar nemzet története (1895). Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Sissi and Franz Josef maintained a large chunk of their marriage apart and through letters. In fact, as the years wore on their correspondence grew up until the day she died on September 10, 1898.
Her death was tragic. She was assasinated in Switzerland by an Italian anarchist named Luigi Lucheni. He stated after his arrest that he only killed her because:
1. He wanted to kill a sovereign
2. His original target had left Switzerland the day before.
How needless, no?
Don’t worry, there is a lot more to her story and there will be other posts including her. The Empress traveled a lot in her lifetime and left footprints.
One perfect example: When Thorsten and I were in Venice last year we took a tour of the one of the palaces only to find that she and Franz Josef had lived there for a time (little known fact – there was a time when Venice was a part of Austria)