Empress Elisabeth is murdered


by Katharina Mölk

In September 1898, Elisabeth travels to Switzerland for several weeks. In Geneva, she stayed at the Hotel Beau Rivage. Through an indiscretion, the next day the newspaper published the news that the Empress of Austria was staying at this hotel.

This is also experienced by the anti-monarchist Luigi Lucheni, who was in Geneva at the time to assassinate the Prince of Orleans. In doing so, he wanted to shock the hated aristocrats. However, since the latter changed his travel plans, Lucheni looked around for another victim.

On September 10, 1898, the empress left the hotel at about 1:30 p.m. with her lady-in-waiting Irma Sztáray to continue her journey on the ship Genève to Caux.

Lucheni was already waiting for them and gave Elisabeth a stab wound in the region of her heart with a sharpened file.

Lucheni was detained by passers-by and handed over to the police.

At first Elisabeth thought that he had only pushed her down and boarded a steamer on Lake Geneva with her lady-in-waiting Countess Irma Sztáray. But on board the collapsed and it was realized that she had been stabbed. With eau de cologne and a piece of sugar dipped in ether, the empress was briefly brought back to consciousness. She straightened up once more, thanked them and asked, “What has happened to me now?” Then she sank back into unconsciousness and the ship turned back; the dying empress was taken back to the hotel room.

When Elizabeth’s death was reported at about 2:50 p.m., Lucheni shouted triumphantly, “Long live anarchy! Long live the anarchists!”. He was sentenced to life imprisonment (the death penalty had been abolished in the canton of Geneva), where he was found hanging by a belt in his cell in 1910.

Elisabeth’s youngest daughter Marie Valerie records in her diary, “Now it has come as she always wished, quickly, painlessly, without medical consultation, without long, anxious days of worry for her loved ones..”

Porträt der Kaiserin Elisabeth von Österreich, ©jakatics

When Emperor Franz Joseph receives the news from his wing adjutant, his words are: “You do not know how I loved this woman.”

Before the transfer to Vienna, Elisabeth’s body was autopsied: “The skin was still lukewarm, rigor mortis had not yet set in. Pale yellow complexion. The hair is chestnut brown. Gray-blue eyes. Good dentition. Subcutaneous fat is poorly developed with a thickness of 1.72 centimeters. There are old pearly stretch marks on the abdomen. In the site of the wound, at the deepest point of the wound, one can see indications of the onset of rigor mortis.”

Her wish to find her final resting place “by the sea, preferably in Corfu” was not granted. Elisabeth’s body was laid out in the Vienna Castle Chapel until the funeral on September 17. By the way, the funeral procession to the Capuchin crypt was described by Marc Twain.

Her sarcophagus stands today next to those of Franz Joseph I and Crown Prince Rudolf.

Her violent death gave rise to the myth of Sisi.

Although the empress made an impression on people by her appearance alone, she was not popular. She was too absent-minded and did not care about the people around her. After her death, the people’s pity was directed at the emperor. Count Kielmannsegg remarked, “Few tears were shed after her.”

Skulptur der Kaiserin Elisabeth von Österreich und Ungarn, ©gilmanshin

But the image of the lonely, unhappy and eternally beautiful empress developed as early as the beginning of the 20th century. The romanticizing “Sissi” film trilogy by Ernst Marischka from the 1950s made the empress famous worldwide and shaped the image of Elisabeth for a long time. This image was revised when the empress’s poetic diary, which she had deposited in Switzerland, was examined. In it, she criticized her contemporaries, life at the Viennese court and the ills of her time.

But Sisi’s life is still fascinating today. Even a musical has been dedicated to her: this tells of the empress’s perpetual longing for death (Michael Kunze and Sylvester Levay, Vereinigte Bühnen Wien.).

Elizabeth’s lady-in-waiting Irma Sztáray wrote about the mysterious empress: “If she had passed by like a rare star in the sky for a single night, the profane, the curious and the simple-minded would not have disturbed the legend with fantastic tales. But its wandering was long and seeing the apparition again and again, people tried to interpret it and – misinterpreted it. The golden ship of the legend dragging along a clumsy ballast: the confused talk. But could it be otherwise?

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