austrian empress

Sisi was only 16 years old and woefully unprepared for married life. Traumatized by the consummation of the marriage on the wedding night, she remained secluded in her bedroom for three days, refusing to come out. Afterward, she struggled to adapt to the Habsburg court life with its rigid expectations and practices and stringent etiquette. Before long, she fell ill, but her illness turned out to be her first pregancy.

Sisi was a trendsetter. She didn’t subscribe to the heavy makeup popular at the time, and women were inspired by her natural look. Her waspish waist became her trademark. Suddenly women were tightening their corsets or, if they could afford it, ordering the newest versions from bespoke shops and other countries. Sisi tried boned fabric styles, leather styles…and the women she ruled followed suit.

Franz Xaver Winterhalter, Empress Elisabeth of Austria in County Gala Dress with Diamond Stars, 1865, oil on canvas, Hofburg Palace, Vienna. Source

I’ve just finished reading Daisy Goodwin’s ‘The Fortune Hunter’, which was inspired by Empress Elisabeth, or ‘Sisi’, of Austria. She was known for her beauty and obsession with youthfulness, spending several hours a day receiving treatments designed to maintain her looks. In Winterhalter’s portrait, Sisi wears dazzling diamond stars in her hair.

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“The True Story of the Austrian Empress”
*except fictionalized because her depression is personified as Death: the character.
“And her struggle against-”
Depression?
“Conviction, Etiquette, Politics, Betrayal, Indifference, and-”
Depression…
“- Cruelty.”

“[…] could not afford to show love-”
You mean depression. She had depression. Why did we even personify Death seducing her for an entire musical if you’re gonna leave that out.

“She danced with the world… but the last dance, was saved for Death.”
Der letze Tanz plays in the background while I cry quietly.

Empress Sisi had a slim figure (her waist was only 19 inches/50cm) and was very proud of it. And she went to great lengths to keep it that way. She hardly ate anything all day and exercised a lot. While walking was a common, even recommended, exercise for women at the time, she went for very long walks, which could last up to 10 hours. The protests of those exhausted people who had to accompany her on such walks never stopped her from walking so much, only physical pain or illness did.

With her Greek tutor, Konstantinos Christomanos, a great admirer of ancient Greece, Sisi becomes not only perfect in the language, but she is also introduced to Greek mythology. The home of mythology becomes the “home of Sisi’s soul.” The ancient world is highly regarded at this time not only by the restless Empress, but is generally quite popular. Classical virtues greatly influence the mature empress’ worldview.