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Murdered Royals: Empress Elisabeth of Austria

(Public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Empress Elisabeth of Austria was born as Duchess in Bavaria in 1837. She enjoyed an informal upbringing before marrying her first cousin Emperor Franz Joseph I at the age of sixteen.

Empress Elisabeth was recognised as one of the most beautiful women in Europe and always attracted attention wherever she went. She was obsessed with her appearance, and she implemented some bizarre beauty techniques. She seldom ate meat, living mostly on dairy and eggs. Her regimen included daily workouts with gym equipment as well as equestrian and fencing exercises.

Coronation of Franz Joseph and Elisabeth as Apostolic King and Queen of Hungary. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Her marriage with Franz Joseph was not a particularly good one, and she often spent time away from Vienna. The death of her only son and his mistress Mary Vetsera in a murder-suicide at his hunting lodge at Mayerling in 1889 was a blow from which Elisabeth never recovered. She withdrew from court duties and travelled widely, unaccompanied by her family.

The murder on the Empress. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

On 10 September 1898, while Empress Elisabeth was preparing to embark a ship, she was approached and stabbed by a young anarchist with a sharpened needle file. Though the Empress initially did not know what happened due to her corset stopping the flow of blood, her condition rapidly deteriorated, and she died shortly after being brought back to her hotel.

A few days after the murder, Empress Elisabeth’s body was carried back to Vienna aboard a funeral train. The entire Austro-Hungarian Empire went into deep mourning; 82 sovereigns and high-ranking nobles followed her funeral cortege on the morning of 17 September to the Imperial Crypt.

Franz Joseph’s coffin with Elisabeth to the left and their son to the right. (Photo by Moniek Bloks)

The murderer, Luigi Lucheni, was caught and sent to the Geneva’s Évêché prison. He was harassed in prison and his notebooks were stolen. He was found hanged in his cell on 19 October 1910. It was never investigated whether he took his own life. Modern historians have argued that it was more likely that he was hanged by the other prisoners, who were royalists.

The assassination of Empress Elisabeth resulted in an international conference by 21 nations to discuss the rise of anarchism as terrorism. Empress Elisabeth’s death was yet another devastating blow to the ageing Emperor and to a Europe that was beginning to look like a powder keg. The royal assassinations of the late 19th and early 20th centuries shook Europe and made it obvious that the political foundations on which the continent had been resting were becoming increasingly unsettled.

About author

Senior Europe Correspondent Oskar Aanmoen has a master in military and political history of the Nordic countries. He has written six books on historical subjects and more than 1.500 articles for Royal Central. He has also interview both Serbian and Norwegian royals. Aanmoen is based in Oslo, Norway.