Elisabeth returns to Buda-Pest on 2 August 1866, to see her children. Emperor Franz-Josef, unhappy, immediately writes to her how much he is suffering from her absence. She replies glacially. And as she refuses to come back, pretexting that the Schonbrunn air is unhealthy at this time of the year, he lets his bitterness flow:
“I shall therefore resign myself and shall continue to patiently support my long solitude. I have already been put to the test on this subject but one finishes by getting used to it.”
Then, Sissi realises that she has been unjust and comes back to him. Franz-Josef’s traditional birthday – he is thirty-six – is celebrated in a tense atmosphere, but the Emperor has learnt to be happy with little. Sissi leaves again the next day. It can be seen that these two people, who are so different from each other and who persist in separating, spend an incredible time sending each other letters, telegrammes, notes. He cries out his distress:
“Try to be good to me… I am very sad, very lonely and I need joy.”
And, on 22 August:
“I miss you terribly, for you are the only one with whom I am able to talk and you bring me a little joy… even if you are rather nasty.”
He calls her his “treasure”. And this treasure is escaping him.
The following day, peace is signed in Prague. Despite his sadness, it’s a relief. Franz-Josef writes to his fugitive spouse:
“I love you with a love so great that it is indescribable.”
On 2 September, Sissi returns to Vienna.
Fatality continues to attack the Habsburgs. It is learnt that Charlotte, the wife of Maximilien, has debarked in France and called Napoleon III to her spouse’s aid. He is entangled in the Mexican hornet’s nest, and is thinking of abdicating in Mexico.
The Empress still hopes for the triumph of her Hungarian ideas. But upon his return from Bad Ischl, Franz-Josef chooses a Saxon as new Minister for Foreign Affairs.
Sissi’s bitterness is immense. She plunges back, tenacious, into the study of Hungarian. She takes a decision which starts gossip. A journalist in prison, Max Falk, a close friend of Andrassy, mentioned to her by Ida Ferenczy, is liberated to help perfect the Empress’ Hungarian lessons.
Falk will have a strong influence on Elisabeth. At the end of 1866, through her one-track mind, Sissi has succeeded in transforming the Hofburg into a veritable Hungarian Embassy. A lady companion, a professor, ladies-in-waiting, everyone speaks only Hungarian. Sissi is absolutely convinced that her efforts will soon arrive at a result.
1867. The reports from Mexico are alarming, and Charlotte, who has returned to Miramar, is suffering from a worrying persecution malady. It is stated that, during a stormy interview at the Vatican, she had thought that the Pope wanted to poison her by giving her a “bad” cup of chocolate. She is sinking into madness. But on 22 January, good news arrives from Bavaria. At last… King Louis II has just become engaged to Sissi’s youngest sister, Princess Sophia in Bavaria, aged twenty. In Munich, the news surprises some and reassures others. The King does not have a reputation for particularly appreciating feminine charms. Is he being reasonable in obeying the repeated wishes of his government which wants to consolidate the throne by giving it a lady sovereign? Or has Louis II romantically fallen in love with the young girl who has already ravaged a few hearts? The truth is elsewhere. When the young King was obliged to send away Wagner, only one voice was raised in defence of the musician, that of Sophia. And Sophia’s resemblance with Sissi did the rest. Louis II resumed his attraction:
“In supposing that I could get along with any woman, I could not do better than to choose one of the admirable Empress’ sisters.”
Louis II is making a transfer, which is already preoccupying. Unfortunately, the transfer is double, for the King considers that the young girl is a Wagnerian heroine. He courts her in bizarre fashion, which finishes by worrying Princess Ludovika, Duchess in Bavaria, Sophia’s mother. The announcement of the engagement reassures her. The King made his marriage proposal to Prince Maximilien, Duke in Bavaria, at seven o’clock in the morning – which is not usual – but the Duke is not a man to worry about such details.
Enchanted by the news of her little sister’s engagement, Sissi arrives in Munich. The King of Bavaria, who has caught cold, is shivering with fever when Sissi arrives at the station. He rises and, against all medical advice, goes to welcome the Empress. The two sisters, at the height of joy, embrace each other at length, and discuss the marriage which has been fixed for 25 August, the Feast of Saint Louis.
Elisabeth does not stay long. Another of her sisters, Mathilda, who is now Countess Trani, has just given birth to a daughter, in Zurich. Sissi, as usual, writes to Franz-Josef. And, in her letter, it can be seen that the negotiations on Hungary are still at the centre of her deepest preoccupations.
“I hope that you will not delay in advising me that the Hungarian question has been resolved and that we shall soon be going there. If you write to me that we are going there, my heart will be in peace, since the goal will then have been reached.”
Discussions are progressing. Franz-Josef receives an Hungarian delegation, led by Andrassy, at the Hofburg. The Emperor of Austria has put on his Hungarian Field-Marshal’s uniform and reads a speech where an “arrangement” is mentioned. On 8 February 1867, Sissi returns to Vienna, and on 18th, before the Hungarian Parliament, the reading of the text addressed by Franz-Josef consecrates all of Sissi’s efforts: Andrassy is named Prime Minister of Hungary. She has won…
From now on, Hungary is an independent kingdom of the Austrian Empire, but the two monarchies are tied by an hereditary union in the Habsburg posterity. Each of the two countries is in charge of its own internal affairs. Only foreign politics, military and financial questions are decided in common. Finally, the Head of State, Emperor in Austria, King of Hungary, accepts to be crowned apostolic sovereign in Buda-Pest. The Austrian Empire is over; this is now the time of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy for which Sissi has worked so hard.
Andrassy’s triumph is her triumph. Her popularity in Buda-Pest is considerable. In Vienna, it diminishes by the same amount. Archduchess Sophia of Austria’s entourage is completely crushed to see Franz-Josef bow to his spouse’s liberalism.
To be continued.