Elisabeth as Queen of Hungary, by Raab (1867).

The crowning of the sovereigns in Hungary now has to be prepared.  Upon learning this news, Elisabeth becomes twice as passionate, deepening even more her linguistic knowledge with her lady companion and the journalist Falk, whose liberal influence displeases more and more at the Hofburg.  Hungary is a veritable revenge for the bullied, downtrodden Empress.  By seeking to suffocate her personality, the Court has pushed her toward a more favourable climate, and Elisabeth, seduced by it, absorbs herself in the game.

The couple leaves for Ofen on 8 May 1867.  Sissi’s welcome is an immense cry of love from the Hungarians for their most prestigious partisan.  Baron Jozsef Eotvos, former Leader of the Opposition, writes:

“There was only one chance remaining to us, that is that a member of the House of Austria love our nation from the depths of his heart.  Now that we have found that, I no longer fear the future.”

The future is called Erzsebet, Elisabeth in Hungarian, an angel who has known how to listen and speak.  Her only worry is that Kossuth, who is talking of treason, might attempt some violent action against herself or Emperor Franz-Josef during the Coronation.

Emperor Franz-Josef of Austria by Winterhalter (1865).

On 29 May, a telegramme informs Franz-Josef and his mother that the former lawyer of Indian origin, the Republican Benito Juarez, has captured Maximilien at Queretaro, a town North of Mexico City.  Worry turns to anguish.  What is going to happen?  What is happening?  The telegramme has taken fourteen days to arrive from Mexico…  Franz-Josef, very affected, is however unable to delay the Coronation.

An old tradition dictates that the lady sovereign must herself perform the needlework necessary to repair and alter the mantel that the sovereign is to wear during the ceremony.  She must also adapt the royal crown to the dimensions of his head by garnishing it with a velvet lining.  Soon, it is learnt that Sissi will be crowned at the same time as Franz-Josef, when it is customary to have a second ceremony for the lady sovereign.  This is a supplementary gesture to honour the angel who has been so devoted…

Saturday 8 June 1867.  At seven o’clock in the morning, the Ofen Palace’s mass is already whitening in the sunshine.  An admirable day is beginning.  A long cortege forms with, at its head, Franz-Josef on horseback in the uniform of an Hungarian Field-Marshal.  He is followed by the carriage, drawn by eight horses, that Sissi and Franz-Josef had used for their wedding.  Behind its windows, the Empress has never been so sublime, in a gown of brocade and silver made in Paris, by the House of Charles-Frederic Worth.  Sissi is wearing a black velvet bodice and a diamond crown.  Surrounded by guards in embroidered costumes garnished with fur, wearing headgear where coloured feathers wave, the cortege climbs the streets of the old Buda quarter.  The carriage stops on the grand Trinity Square between the Town Hall and the Church of Saint Etienne.

Assisted by the Hungarian Primate, Andrassy acts as Viceroy.  His is the honour of placing the crown on Franz-Josef’s head.  The scene is astonishing.  Nineteen years after having been condemned to death by Franz-Josef, Andrassy now has all his confidence.  Elisabeth’s charm has brought about this event.

The crown has the form of a skullcap in fine gold incrusted with pearls and stones.  It is surmounted by a latin cross and decorated with very beautiful enamels.  In the XIth Century, it was soldered to an open crown of Byzantine style.  The whole, which has a bizarre aspect, weighs one-and-a-half kilos.  The Saint Etienne mantel, in blue-green satin, is very heavy.  With the heat and his uniform, Franz-Josef is perspiring copiously.  His spouse is seated on a velvet bench under a crimson baldaquin.  Then, according to custom, the crown is placed on Sissi’s right shoulder, a gesture which differentiates the spouse of a king from a reigning queen, who is crowned on the forehead.  The great organs play a vibrant Messe du couronnement composed by Franz Liszt.  The Hungarian composer, who lives in Rome, has come for the Coronation.  In this solemn moment, Sissi is emotional like a fiancee, and it could be said that she is marrying the Hungarian nation.

Upon leaving the Cathedral, the enthusiastic crowd cries out, several times:

Eljen Erzsebet!  Long live Elisabeth!”

In her thirtieth year, the Bavarian Princess who had become Empress of Austria, is now Queen of Hungary.  Trembling with emotion, she is able to savour the result of her patience.  Liszt will write to his daughter Cosima, Wagner’s future second wife:

“I had never seen her so beautiful.  She appeared like a celestial vision within the unfolding of barbaric splendour.”

On his white horse, Franz-Josef unsheaths his sabre and brandishes it in the air in the form of a cross.  The blade is pointed alternatively toward the four points of the compass;  this “salute to the cross by the sword” symbolises the defence of the Magyar country against its enemies.

Franz-Josef has become Ferenc Jozsef.  Thousands of gold coins are distributed to the crowd by the Finance Minister.  In the scramble, two horses bolt and throw two bishops to the ground.  Two coffers, each containing one hundred thousand ducats in gold, a gift to the couple, are given by the sovereign to orphans, widows and the poor.

While this is happening, Elisabeth returns to the palace and changes, happy to remove her gown weighed down by a train. In a tulle crinoline, she crosses the Danube on a little steamboat and watches the rest of the ceremonies from a flowery balcony.  In her honour, the flowers are blue and white to recall the Bavarian colours.  It is midday.  A banquet is served.

Over nearly five days of rejoicing, one thousand people are fed with goulasch.  Night festivities succeed those of the first day and an extraordinary parade of living animals gives a country tone to the national joy.  This is accentuated even more by a general amnesty and the restitution of confiscated goods.  The exiled revolutionaries will return swearing obedience to the crowned King and to the laws of the country.  Kossuth alone will refuse.

To be continued.

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