Tag Archive: Bavaria


Gaspard Hauser

Stephanie de Beauharnais passes her time trying to avoid her enemies’ traps, and giving five children to Grand-Duke Karl-Louis of Bade, who adores her – three daughters of marvellous health and three sons…  who die in infancy…

At the Palace, it is the wife of Grand-Duke Karl-Frederik who gives the orders.  When Stephanie enters this family, the Grand-Duke is seventy-eight years old.  Louise Geyer, his morganic wife, to whom he has given the title of Countess of Hochberg, has given him three sons who cannot succeed him.

But “the Hochberg”, as she is called, is madly cupid and ambitious.  Napoleon is not yet at Saint Helena when she obtains the legitimization of her sons.  Karl-Louis, who is weak, lets her…

The people of Bade, who don’t like the arrogant commoner, are asking questions.  Why did this little Prince, born in 1812, a real force of Nature, to whom Stephanie had given birth in great suffering, die so suddenly?  As well as her second son, four years later, who was just as vigorous?…

***

Gaspard Hauser

For Gaspard Hauser, the attempted murder of 1830 puts an end to his tranquillity.  It is bad enough that the Municipality of Nuremberg pays for him to do nothing, but if, now, he becomes the man by whom scandal arrives…!

Strange Lord Stanhope, who is in fact notoriously introverted, refuses to receive him.  He is entrusted to a certain Meyer, a brutal, suspicious teacher who holds him to be an imposter, to perfect his education.

His most constant protector, Feuerbach, dies, leaving him desperate.

***

On 14 December 1833, snow is falling heavily on the city.  As he does every day, Gaspard has gone for an outing, accompanied, this particular afternoon, by Pastor Fuhrmann whom he leaves, saying that he has a rendez-vous with a lady.

Half an hour later, he presents himself before Meyer, pale, ruffled, speaking with difficulty.  A stain of blood is spreading over his shirt.

He tells his host that a man had given him an appointment in the park at nightfall, to give him some decisive papers on his origin.

The stranger was dressed in a long cloak and a top-hat.  He held out a blue purse which he dropped.  While Gaspard was bending down to pick it up, the man knifed him and fled.

A few rare people file around Gaspard’s bed.  He is ordered to tell the truth.  He whispers:

“If only I knew who hurt me, I would willingly tell you!  Do you think that I gave myself the knife wound?  Ah!  Soon you will think differently!”

Two days after that, in the evening, he raises himself up on his bed and cries out in a pitiful voice:

“Mother!  Mother!…  Come!”

A few moments later, he calms down and murmurs:

“I am tired, very tired.  But I have such a big road to travel…”

He closes his eyes.  They think that he is asleep.  He is dead…

At the place where he was assassinated, there is still today a monument on which is engraved the following formula:

“Here an unknown man was killed by an unknown man.”

***

There have been hundreds of studies of Gaspard Hauser’s story.

Among the most serious of them can be cited those of Jean Mistler, Jacob Wassermann, Fritz Klee, or the articles of Alain Decaux and the admirable film of Werner Hertzog.

They opt for often contradictory theses, the first saying that Gaspard was an imposter.  Louis Pauwels, whose work I have translated, is of the opinion that an imposter of sixteen who manages to fool everyone for five years, while he is submitted to thorough medical and Police examinations, is not believable.

***

In the opinion of the Medecine of the time, as well as our psychoanalysts today, Gaspard was not at all mad, clinicly speaking.  His life is marked by no disturbing act, he is basically a peaceful being, preoccupied only with learning and finding the explanation of his origin…

***

 

Stephanie de Beauharnais, first cousin once removed of Empress Josephine, adopted daughter of Napoleon, and wife of the Grand Duke Karl-Louis of Bade.

The mystery of his origin has never been solved to everyone’s satisfaction.  Far from it.

It is certain, and has been proven, that he was not, as was said for a time, Napoleon’s son…

It would seem more plausible that he was that of Stephanie.  There are strong presumptions in favour of the hypothesis that her two male children had been poisoned, by order of the Hochberg.  Or rather that there had been a substitution in his cradle , in 1812, of the son of Karl and Stephanie by the cadaver of a child of low birth, who had even been believed to have been identified.

The little Prince would have been taken to Beuggen in the South of the Grand-Duchy where he was well treated at first.  In 1819, when one of the sons of the Grand-Duke mounted the throne, the child’s condition would have changed completely.  The Hochberg had obtained from the new sovereign, whose mistress she was, the promise that he would never marry and that the way to the throne would remain open for her own sons.

From then on, Gaspard became an object of blackmail, directed against the Grand-Duke, if he forgot his promise.  The surveillance around the child then tightened, and he was finally placed under the surveillance of a certain Richter, a guard in a castle where Gaspard occupied an attic.  Out of fear of seeing him run away, Richter locked him up in a prison cell, but only for a few weeks.  Terrified by his responsibility, Richter would have finally ridden himself of him in the way that we have seen.

The problem is that this thesis reposes on a series of hypotheses…  some of which are more than hazardous.

***

All the explanations given do not, in Louis Pauwels’ opinion, take enough into account Gaspard’s attitude, when he is discovered in Nuremberg.  All the testimonies agree that he is a completely disorientated being, totally untouched in intelligence, in sensitivity, even in behaviour…

He didn’t master language at all, had no experience of the most common objects, but it only took him a few months to learn to read, to speak, to play music.  The latest Science proves that a being maintained until his sixteenth year in this state of ignorance is condemned to definitive idiocy.  He hadn’t remained in either an attic or a prison cell either, for he would have rapidly died.

Louis Pauwels thinks that Gaspard’s brain was already “formed”, “programmed” as we say today.  That it was enough to give it an initial jolt for this intelligence, catapulted amongst men, to start functioning and to achieve adult performances of an above-average intelligence…

Gaspard was not a simulator and he didn’t commit suicide.  He was more likely the product of a mad scholar, a golem, one of those robots to whom life is temporarily given by attaching a verse from the Bible onto their foreheads.  A being who came from somewhere else, in any case, which was also confirmed by the first medical examinations.

The doctors were astounded to note that his skin was that of a very young girl and that the skin on the soles of his feet was so soft and so smooth that Gaspard must have really taken his first “human” steps in Nuremberg.

***

What killed him, was the incomprehension of men, the unsurmountable laziness of their hearts.  It is certain that Gaspard disturbed people, that he was different, totally unintelligible to his fellow men.

It takes less than that to throw the first stone…

Paul Verlaine, moved by what had happened to the mysterious adolescent, wrote “Pauvre Gaspard Hauser”.

Louis Pauwels thinks that the poet Verlaine had the best intuition of who Gaspard Hauser was.  In a ballad which was dedicated to him, he puts these words in his mouth [my apologies to those who love Verlaine – I am about to try to translate him into English]:

“I came, calm orphan

Rich only by my tranquil eyes

Towards the men of the big cities…

Was I born too early or too late?

What am I doing in this world?

Oh!  All of you, my suffering is deep

Pray for the poor Gaspard!”

***

Poetry is more and more indispensable to objective knowledge, as is shown by what is happening in the greatest American technological institutes which employ poets to contribute to the explanation and the representation of certain phenomena which are still inexplicable.

Louis Pauwels says that if you want a last argument, this one totally rational, know that the forensic doctors who practised Gaspard’s autopsy discovered that he didn’t have a human heart.  Or rather that he had a totally inverted heart, as far as it’s position and its circulatory flow are concerned…

***

Gaspard Hauser

On the following days, as Gaspard Hauser becomes accustomed to the little room that has been prepared for him in the West Tower, memories start coming back to him.

And these memories are quite astounding.

As far back as they go, they remind him only of the cold of an underground gaol lit by an inaccessible ventilation opening.  He still thinks to be wearing the short pants of humid leather that are never changed, to smell the straw of his plank bed, the roughness of which, through a simple unbleached shirt, has doubtless definitively curved his spine.  A basin, at the foot of his bed, mysteriously emptied at night, a jug of water and a piece of bread, are the only things that are familiar to this troglodyte.  And then there is the “Black Man” as he calls him, the Argus of his den, half torturer, half teacher, of whom he speaks in fear and who, in the last weeks of his reclusion, taught him to write his name and to mumble:  “I want to be a cavalier.”.  A few days before his liberation, he also taught him to walk, by pushing him and carrying him in his cavern.

Finally, on the Monday of Pentecost 1828, after having made him traverse a vast forest near Nuremberg, supporting him when he is too tired, the “Black Man” points to the faraway towers of the city, and says to him, before disappearing into the bushes:

“Go towards this great village.”

A few hours later, Gaspard comes across the two cobblers.

What do the good people of Nuremberg make of this extraordinary, romanesque story?

Most of them are convinced of its veracity, because of the impression of total frankness that its hero communicates.

Very few people who visit his room during the first months, to look at him as if he were a side-show in a fair, in an attempt to recognize him, have any doubts before his limpid eyes and that totally candid air.

The young man is given a sort of preceptor, the excellent Professor Daumer, in whose home he is soon placed, and the bourgmeister of the city, Herr Binder, goes to work with great generosity to facilitate anything that could contribute to the return of Gaspard to the society of men.  He has his theory on the child, assuring that he had been the victim of a kidnapping, and he sends out, urbi et orbi, notices to obtain information from all who have any knowledge of the kidnapping of a baby between 1810 and 1814.

He receives a pile of letters,  messages, testimonies, which suscitate a lot of others.  The progress of Gaspard, who now speaks fluently, and even prettily plays the clavecin, exacerbates the interest of the scholarly and grand worlds, which are sorting through the Gotha, hunting for an imitator of Louis XVII who could perhaps be “Europe’s orphan”.  Which is what the journalists and shopkeepers of the old continent are now calling him.

For, with the favourable conclusions of Feuerbach, President of the Royal Court of Justice and the most eminent criminologist of his time, along with the request from a great English aristocrat, Lord Stanhope, who wants to take Gaspard to England to give him a princely education, there are now, throughout Europe, innumerable subscribers to gazettes whom the story of Gaspard Hauser deeply moves.

Two years go by in this way, which the civilized world of the time uses to embroider on the myth of the good savage, incarnated by Gaspard.

Gaspard Hauser

The inhabitants of Nuremberg have become gradually used to the young man’s presence.  He is a model young man, discrete, affable and rather solitary.  His days are spent in outings to the city’s Orangerie, in philosophical conversations with Pastor Fuhrmann, in diverse reading, thanks to which he avidly reconstitutes this world which was missing to him for such a long time.

And then, one evening, he who is so punctual, is late for dinner.

Anguish takes hold of his tutor who starts to search for him in the garden and the surrounding streets.  Finally, he is discovered, lying on the last steps of the cellar.  He has a big wound on his forehead.

While he is being transported onto a bed, he regains consciousness and murmurs:

“The Black Man…  The Black Man…  the chimneysweep…”

Gaspard has been aggressed by a mysterious man, dressed in a black cape.  He saw his face in black too and that is why he thought he recognized a chimneysweep.

The “Black Man” had told him that he had to die, before hitting him.

News of the attempted murder spreads throughout Nuremberg and, from there, throughout the whole kingdom.

President Feuerbach exults and, before the ampleur of the controversy, Louis I of Bavaria, himself, orders an investigation with 500 florins reward “to whomever would provide information, a simple clue”.

Gaspard’s wound is not very serious.  Some therefore conclude that he is only a simulator…

Why this interest from the King, himself, in an affair which is, after all, a simple Police matter?

Of course, there is talk about an exceptional incident which has overflowed Bavaria’s borders.

There are also stories, and even a solidly argued thesis now, about Gaspard’s princely origin…  The great Feuerbach is the most zealous defender of this thesis, which the aggression by the “Black Man” permits to establish, according to him, more solidly than ever…

***

Stephanie de Beauharnais, first cousin once removed of Empress Josephine, adopted daughter of Napoleon, and wife of the Grand Duke Karl-Louis of Bade.

Stephanie de Beauharnais came into the world as, in Paris, the walls of the Bastille are collapsing.  The daughter of a first cousin to General de Beauharnais, Empress Josephine’s first husband, her early childhood is filled with flights and privations.

When Napoleon, on the eve of mounting the throne, learns of the existence of this cousin who is living obscurely, he becomes indignant and decides to adopt her as his daughter.

Soon she is a Highness, ranked above all the other Princesses, and even above Napoleon’s sisters.  The Emperor, putting in place a matrimonial politic which had so well succeeded with other sovereigns, intends to see her marry the Crown Prince of Bade.

He so wants her to sit on this throne that, when his nieces bully the young girl about etiquette, he sits her on his knee, telling her in front of the entourage:

“Come!  No-one will make you get up from here!…”

What a disappointment when the fiance appears at Court!

Karl-Louis of Bade has a rather ungracious face and, as well, he is not at all fashionably dressed.

With his powders and his long wig a marteaux, he looks as if he has escaped from the Old Regime.  And sad-faced as well.

He agrees to have his hair cut like Napoleon’s hussards.  Stephanie finds him even uglier.

The mariage takes place with a pomp which has to surpass, the Emperor says, that of the kings, and soon, pretty Stephanie enters the Grand-Ducal Palace of Karlsruhe – four hundred bedrooms lined up under the lugubrious Lead Tower, a poor man’s Versailles, with even less comfort – and what plotting goes on there!

***

To be continued.

Gaspard Hauser, as he appeared to the two cobblers.

On this Monday of Pentecost 1828, all is calm is Nuremberg, where two cobblers are returning home, drunk from all the beer that they have consumed.  At the precise moment when the bell of the old cathedral finishes ringing its five chimes, the two companions suddenly stop.  In front of them, leaning against a house which is already in the shadow of the two cathedral towers, they can see a very strange creature…  One of them, Weichmann, firstly asks himself if it is not an old mannequin that a junk collector has placed there to signal his business.  The other, Beck, follows the person who is now dragging himself ahead of them, looking more and more tired.  He catches up to him and sees a young man around fifteen, covered in mud, with bushy hair under his old flat hat, and wearing scarecrow clothes.  When he sees the two men, he jumps and turns a bewildered face towards them.  Moved, as much by the beer as by this spectacle, Beck asks the child if he is ill and where he comes from.  His only answer is a painful sigh.  Beck shakes him by the arm before thinking to search his pockets.  He takes out a crushed letter which he holds out to Weichmann.  It is addressed to Captain von Wessnich, Commander of the 4th Light Horse Squadron, at Nuremberg.

Beck asks whether the Captain is related to the boy and receives a grunt in reply.  Weichmann is beginning to find this meeting a nuisance.  Beck decides that they can’t leave the child there and proposes to take him to the officer’s home.

Only the Captain’s wife is at home.  A good woman, who comforts the child, sits him down on a chair and asks him all sorts of questions…  He endlessly replies in such strange German that the woman takes a long time to understand what he means:

“I want to be a cavalier.”

She renounces questioning him because he appears so tired, and gives him a piece of roast meat, with a glass of beer.  The adolescent turns his head away in disgust.  On the other hand, he accepts some dry bread and swallows several glasses of water.

Nuremberg, where on 26 May 1828, two cobblers saw an unknown adolescent staggering down the street.

It is clear to see that it is mostly sleep that he needs and Frau von Wessnich decides to take him to the stable.  The child lets himself fall into the straw and immediately goes into a deep sleep.

The Captain soon returns home and reads the letter, which says this:

“Honoured Captain, I send you a boy who wants to serve the King in the Army.  He was left at my home on 7 October 1812.  I am only a working-man, employed by the day.  I have ten children of my own;  I have enough to do to raise them.  The mother abandoned this child to me.  But I don’t know who she was and I didn’t contact the Police;  I raised him as a Christian.  Since 1812, he has not been outside the house.  No-one knows where he has been raised and he, himself, does not know the name of the town, nor where my house is;  you can question him about it as much as you want, he will not be able to answer you.  I taught him to read and write a bit, and when he is asked what he wants to do, he says that he wants to be a soldier like his father.  I have taken him as far as Neumarkt;  he has to make the rest of the way alone.

Good Captain, don’t beat him to make him say where he has come from, since he doesn’t know.  I took him away at night, and he will not be able to find his way back,  If you don’t want to keep him, you can kill him or hang him in your fireplace.”

A note written on the same type of paper, coming from the child’s mother, it says, indicates:

“The little one has been baptised under the name of Gaspard.  Give him a Surname and deign to take care of him, whoever finds him.  When he is seventeen, send him to Nuremberg, to the 6th Cavalry Regiment, his father was a soldier there.  He was born on 30 April 1812.  I am an unfortunate girl and cannot keep him.  His father is dead.”

These letters, written in the same hand by someone who has made an awkward attempt at disguising his writing, seem to be fakes.  The Captain, who doesn’t want to be taken advantage of, goes to shake the sleeper.  Here is our vagabond at the Post of Police where he is again assailed with questions.  Once more, he says his litany, then pulls his head into his oversized jacket, with an infinitely distressed air.  He looks so pitiful that the public servants renounce tormenting him any more.  One of them however slips a pencil into his hand.  He is mocked by his colleagues who say that this miserable child can’t know how to write since he doesn’t even know how to speak!…  We’ll see tomorrow!  Just put the poor dog in one of the city’s towers and let him sleep!

But as soon as he sees the pencil, the child appears to be delighted.  He takes it and slowly writes with great application these two words:  Gaspard Hauser.  It’s probably his name, decide the policemen, who notice that, although the letters are not well drawn, like those traced by children in kindergarten, the name is perfectly spelt.  Unfortunately, Gaspard’s science stops there and, when he is asked to write also where he comes from, he mumbles lamentably.

What is Gaspard Hauser’s physical aspect?  He is fairly tall, he has fine skin, a fair complexion, very blue eyes and his hair is so blond that it appears silvery.  Above all, there is something in his allure that appears to be perplexity, hesitancy, constraint, as if he has just, at that moment, fallen from another planet…

To be continued.

Elisabeth and Franz-Josef at Cap Martin in 1894.

Franz-Josef writes to the actress Katherina Schratt:

“I love my wife, and I want to abuse neither her confidence nor her friendship for you.  As I am too old to be a fraternal friend, allow me to remain your paternal friend and treat me with the same goodness and the same candour as you have until now.”

The Emperor also wants to render justice to Elisabeth (Sissi):

“The Empress has spoken of you several times, with the greatest goodness and kindness, and I can give you the assurance that she likes you a lot.  If you could learn to know this remarkable woman a little better, you would certainly have the same feelings.”

Only this frank correspondence allows us to measure the complicity which surrounds the amorous friendship between Franz-Josef and Katharina Schratt.

In July 1887, Sissi returns to Bavaria.  She is very relaxed, a stunning fifty-years-old, although she is tormented by religious questions, particularly since the death of her favourite cousin King Louis II of Bavaria.

Franz-Josef’s fifty-seventh birthday is celebrated in Bad Ischl with the family.  The Emperor raises his glass to his son’s health.  Elisabeth whispers to her spouse that they can also celebrate the birthday of Archduke Francesco-Salvator of Tuscany, Maria-Valeria’s suitor.

Elisabeth, who is certain that Maria-Valeria will marry the young man – she is right – gently objects to their youth.  He is only twenty-one, she is only nineteen.

“You must see each other a lot more yet.  One never knows the other enough.  Do not believe, like a lot of people, that I want to make you marry Maria-Valeria to keep her near me.  Once married, if she leaves for China or remains in Austria, it’s all the same…”

And, immediately, she promises never to be a frighful, invasive mother-in-law.  More than thirty years after her beginnings as a young bride, Sissi is unable to forget Archduchess Sophia’s eagle claws crushing her happiness..

***

Crown Prince Rudolf, Archduke of Austria.

In the night of 19 to 20 October, Crown Prince Rudolf, Archduke of Austria, who has just renovated a ravishing hunting pavillion in the heart of the Viennese forest, makes his first stay there.  The place is called Mayerling…

In January 1888, the family is getting over a double fright with Rudolf:  firstly, while stalking a deer, he wounds a gamekeeper;  secondly, he is thrown to the ground in a carriage accident.

The Crown Prince alarms his spouse, for he disappears for whole nights, with unfitting companions, drinks too much and, according to the Police, amuses himself in a regrettable manner.  He also worries his entourage, for it is said that he has secret contacts with political men from the Hungarian Opposition.  And with foreigners:  Clemenceau comes to Vienna, where Rudolf receives him at midnight, at the Hofburg, in a climate which resembles that of conspiracy.  In fact, Rudolf, who is curious and has an open mind, likes to keep himself informed.  He learns of a project for a Franco-Russian alliance, and he listens to Clemenceau who criticises imperial politics.

On 12 November, Sissi is at Corfu when she receives a message which panics her:  her father has just had an attack of apoplexy.  She telegraphs the Emperor, announcing that she is leaving as soon as possible.  But, on 15th, another telegramme arrives, from Franz-Josef, telling her that her father is dead.  Sissi is in deep mourning.  It is another adieu to her childhood, but it is the most serious one, for the joyful Duke Max, who disappears at the age of eighty, embodied all the fantasy in the world.  A poet of life has gone, but, unlike his daughter, he had been always gay.  Once more, the Empress dresses in black, the colour of fatality.

***

On 2 December, the fortieth anniversary of Franz-Josef’s reign, the gathered family learns two pieces of news, one happy, the other surprising.  The first is that Maria-Valeria announces her intention of becoming engaged to Archduke Francesco-Salvator, which her mother had always forseen.  Laughter, emotion.  The other is that Sissi admits that she has had a blue anchor tatooed on her shoulder.

On Christmas Eve, the Empress turns fifty-one and deep happiness surrounds the imperial family…  for forty-eight hours.  The day after Christmas, Elisabeth leaves again for Munich without anybody being able to criticise her:  she is going to spend a few days with her mother, whom she hasn’t seen since her father’s death.  Franz-Josef, who has remained in Vienna, sends a tender letter to Sissi:

“My best wishes to all, but particularly to you, my golden angel.  May all your wishes, which are realizable and don’t cost me too much, come true.  Keep for me your love, your indulgence and your goodness.”

Before returning to Vienna in the middle of January, Sissi, a slender, black silhouette, visits Louis II’s tomb.  The Seagull has not forgotten the Eagle.

Everything would be almost perfect if Rudolf’s state weren’t more and more alarming.  Exactly what ill is eating away at the Crown Prince?  It is the first mystery of an immense tragedy which sows incredible confusion among the imperial family, among the families of millions of men and women throughout the Empire and, if the truth be known, will rattle the world with an ineffacable traumatism.

Great prudence must therefore command the most objective examination possible of the causes, the circumstances and the consequences of this blow to the House of Austria by what must be called fatality.

On Sunday 27 January 1889, the German Ambassador is holding a reception in honour of Wilhelm II’s birthday.  Franz-Josef, the Court and High Society are present.  Sissi asks her daughter-in-law to represent her, for she does not feel like “harnessing herself”.  Rudolf appears crushed and sad.  His complexion is livid.  Tuesday 29th, a dinner gathers the family at the Hofburg, for Sissi and Franz-Josef are leaving two days later for Hungary.  Rudolf asks his father to excuse him at five o’clock in the afternoon, for he feels as if he has a bad cold.  He also informs his spouse that he will not be present at dinner.  The Crown Prince is already in his Mayerling pavillion for a hunt which is to begin the following day.  He hopes to have recovered by then.

To be continued.

Elisabeth and Franz-Josef at Cap Martin in 1894.

It is in Bavaria that Empress Elisabeth (Sissi) learns terrible news, feared by all the family:  King Louis II has just been arrested in his Neuschwanstein Castle, by order of a Medical Commission presided by a famous Munich psychiatrist, Doctor von Gudden.

A heated discussion erupts between the Empress and her mother Princess Ludovika, Duchess in Bavaria.  Sissi does not believe in her cousin’s dementia.  Of course, he is extravagant, wasteful to the point of having plunged his country into a debt of several million marks.  Ludovika no longer knows what to think about her daughter Sophia’s former fiance.

Sissi and her daughter Maria-Valeria settle into a little hotel in Feldafing, opposite Berg Castle where the King is interned.  Does she want to keep herself informed about the treatment that will be inflicted on her unhappy cousin or is she seeking to protect him, help him and possibly even organize his flight?

On Sunday 13 June, Pentecost, a lady-in-waiting observes that Elisabeth is very pale and that she has been crying.  Messages leave for Emperor Franz-Josef and Crown Prince Rudolf.  Sissi can’t keep still, walking along the bank of the lake despite very threatening weather.

The next day, Sissi and Maria-Valeria are finishing their breakfast when Gisela arrives, shattered:

“The King has thrown himself into the lake!”

All day, Sissi swings between tears and anger.  The Government has killed the King of Dreams!  Louis II’s uncle, given the task of assuring the Regency, is an assassin!  In the evening, while the news is spreading throughout astounded Bavaria, Sissi throws herself on the floor of her bedchamber and says:

“Jehovah!  You are great!  You are the God of revenge, you are the God of grace, you are the God of wisdom.”

It has been affirmed that the Empress, informed by a domestic who had remained faithful to the King, may have tried to help him escape.  Traces of a carriage in front of the gates of Berg Castle were in fact seen, printed in the mud wet with rain.  This hypothesis, very romantic and worthy of the two cousins, is unfortunately not substantiated by any proof, apart from the traces of this closed carriage.

Louis II of Bavaria in his youth.

However, it can be established today that the King, whose very calm attitude after his internment contrasted with his bizarreries, had wanted to escape by approaching the lake during a walk with his doctor.  He had strangled Doctor von Gudden and headed for the centre of the lake, doubtless to flee, but an attack, in the middle of the digestion of a heavy meal, had struck him down.  He did not die from drowning, but from cardiac arrest.  Destiny had been faster than his willpower, which excludes suicide.

Sissi is in pieces.  She had always felt close to this cousin who resembled her.  She and he fled the world, she in her voyages, he in his dreams of stone.  He had saved Wagner, he had maintained Bavarian identity within the German union, he had given work to painters, architects, decorators, he had encouraged the Red Cross.  And how could Elisabeth not remember the roses, the hundreds of roses that he had sent to his cousin?  And those letters signed the Eagle and the Seagull, hidden in a drawer?  Tortured by pain, Sissi sends a crown and a sheath of flowers, but she does not have the strength to bow over the body of the monarch, who has at last found peace.  She gives only one order:  that a branch of jasmin, the flower that he so loved, be placed on his breast.  A last gift from the wounded Seagull to the fallen Eagle…

Rudolf is delegated by his father to attend Louis II’s funeral in Munich.  On the way, he stops to see his mother, whose state worries him a lot, and displays sudden pain for her.  She repeats:

“I have reflected so much on Providence’s unsoundable secrets, on time and eternity, on punishment and reward, and I realize now that one must be humble and place one’s confidence in God…”

Before leaving Bavaria, Sissi opens her exercise-book and writes a few desperate lines:

Adieu, my lake.

Today I throw my country

To the bottom of your waters

And I leave without rest to travel the world

In quest of new horizons.

Bavaria suddenly horrifies her.  The Empress was the only one who understood Louis II.  Their dialogue has been interrupted forever.  She feels that she is alone to carry the burden of existence.  The King had the privilege of living his fantasies and had died because of it.  A fabulous romantic story ends in tragedy.

The disappearance of the King, betrayed and misunderstood, more or less destroys Sissi’s equilibrium within her disequilibrium.  The Eagle will fly no more.  All alone, the Seagull will circle around in the sky, lost, beating the air in despair.  She will often say:

“I would like to leave this world like a bird who flies away.

Elisabeth will never recover from this shock.  She has not however finished suffering.

***

In the Spring of 1887, she goes to Mehadia, an admirable site in the South of Hungary.  The Romans had installed the Baths of Hercules there, canalising hot water which spouted up between 41 and 62 degrees Centigrade.  The Summer heat is also exhausting, and the hotel managers recommend prudence for “there are a lot of scorpions under the stones”…  This will in no way stop Sissi from walking in the forest, the better to communicate with Nature.

Opening her window to the moonlight, the Empress dreams in the heart of the admirable Central European forest.  All would be perfect if there weren’t any snakes.  They are the only things that frighten her, but she sends one to the Schonbrunn menagerie…

Back in Vienna, Sissi notices that there is a lot of talk about Franz-Josef’s interest in the actress Frau Schratt.  Elisabeth goes to visit the actress, thereby displaying her support for the friendship solicited by the Emperor.  Franz-Josef writes to the actress:

“Your honour and your reputation are sacred to me above all else and I would like to say to you that I absolutely want to let our friendship appear to the world, exactly as it is, as I see nothing which can be reproached in it.”

Franz-Josef’s happiness appears to be simple:  it is enough for him to be near his wife.  Solitude pushes him to see Katharina Schratt, whose conversation is gay and distracting.  In her little house, not far from Schonbrunn, she is a perfect bourgeois hostess.  Her hot chocolate is unctuous, her delicatessen meats well smoked, and she is not obsessed with her weight.  Blonde Frau Schratt is appetising.  Nothing in their correspondence, however, permits us to say that their relationship was really physical, despite a tenacious legend about it.

To be continued.

Elisabeth of Austria

Franco-Prussian relations are degrading.  Napoleon III turns to Austria.  Franz-Josef weighs the pros and cons of military engagement beside France.  The idea of revenge on Prussia is still attractive, but Franz-Josef wants peace.  He writes again to Napoleon III that he will remain neutral.  It should be said that the Tsar has made it known, through his Ambassador to Paris:

“If Austria leaves its neutrality, we will too.”

As for Bavaria, Louis II, from the depths of his immense blue silk bed, reluctantly mobilises against France.  He is convinced that Prussia will be victorious, and it is better to respect the treaties of alliance.  This sensible decision again leads to a rupture in the Bavarian family:  Sissi’s brothers and brothers-in-law will be fighting while Austria waits.

After the Battle of Sarrebruck, a French victory, Elisabeth says:

“It’s a good start for France.  If this continues, it won’t be long before the Prussians return to Berlin.”

But, little by little, the Prussians progress towards the French interior, beating them at Wissemburg, Forbach and Gravelotte.  Franz-Josef is floored by this “insolent” Prussian victory.  But after Sedan and the proclamation of the Republic, Archduchess Sophia of Austria is perhaps the person at Court who is the most affected by the collapse of the French Empire.  She is thinking of the future of the Monarchy that she had had so much trouble saving twenty-four years before.  The future is called Rudolf.  The Prince has just turned twelve, and war has again diminished Austria’s role opposite Prussia…

During Summer 1871, Franz-Josef and Wilhelm I of Prussia meet.  The Emperor of Austria is not enthusiastic about this interview, but Bismarck absolutely wants to make it known that, if Austria and Prussia become allies, they will fear no other enemy.  The meeting ends in burlesque fashion.  Some chairs, freshly painted, leave appalling criss-crossing on the guests’ uniforms.  In fact, Franz-Josef’s thoughts are more absorbed by interior politics than by foreign affairs resulting from the war.  The Czech exigencies are becoming clearer, and Andrassy is displaying at least as much determination to counter them as Franz-Josef.  On 9 November, Count Andrassy is named Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  Public opinion, to which Franz-Josef always listens, is very divided after this decision, which is widely discussed.  It is true that Andrassy is clever, stubborn, attractive.  Because he had wanted – and obtained – that the Czechs not be favourised, he has Bismarck’s estime.  The Iron Chancellor is wary of the broadening of the Habsburg’s zone of influence and secretly opposes any transformation of the double monarchy and triple kingdom.  In Vienna, official milieux bitterly note that Austrian external politics have been entrusted to an Hungarian.  Barely veiled emotion spreads around the Hofburg.  And, the responsibility for this decision is immediately imputed to the Empress.  Upon hearing the news in a villa she had rented in Maran, the former capital of the Tyrol, Sissi can consider that it is a personal victory after four years of effort.

Franz-Josef asks her what she would like for her birthday.  The answer is astounding:

“You ask me what would give me pleasure?  Well!  I would like either a young royal tiger (there are three in the Berlin Zoological Garden) or a medallion.  But what I would prefer to any other thing, is a mental asylum.  Now, you have a choice…”

The Emperor will choose the medallion…

Sissi, who at last returns to Vienna, learns something completely unexpected:  her daughter Gisela is engaged.  She is sixteen.

“It is much too soon,”

says her mother, remembering her own wedding which was just as unexpected as it was premature.

The fiance is Prince Leopold of Bavaria, cousin to Sissi and King Louis II of Bavaria.  Franz-Josef justifies this marriage:

“The idea of marrying Gisela so early comes from the fact that there are at the moment so few Catholic princes that we looked to assure ourselves of the only one among them to whom we could give Gisela with peace of mind.”

At the beginning of May, while Sissi is in the Tyrol, a message recalls her urgently to Vienna, without her having any way of pretexting the impossiblity of her return:  since 10 May, the Archduchess has been confined to her bed at Schonbrunn.  After a performance at the Court theatre, the Emperor’s mother had caught cold.  Since then, her strength has been declining.  She is a resistant woman and she is only sixty-seven-years-old, but her will to survive has gone.  The death of her son Maximilien has weakened her inside, although, as usual, she has suffered her pain with exemplary dignity.

Princess Sophia, Archduchess of Austria.

Her daughter-in-law hastily returns to Vienna.  It had taken five days to realise the gravity of her condition:  it is pneumonia.  Very worried, Franz-Josef has straw spread on the square under his mother’s windows to muffle the sound of horses and carriages.  She whom the Palace personnel still calls “our Empress” asks that all the family be gathered.  She gives a bit of advice to each of them and wants to say goodbye.  Lucid, she knows that death awaits her and that her agony is imminent.

At half-past-eleven in the evening of 26 May 1872, Sissi, who has spent the day beside the dying woman’s bed at Schonbrunn, returns to the Hofburg to rest a little.  She has scarcely arrived than a breathless lackey tells her that Franz-Josef is calling her urgently.  The coachman whips the horses and Sissi rushes back.  The Archduchess is unconscious.

At seven o’clock in the morning, breakfast is served for the family and the members of the Imperial Household.  Sissi does not want to absent herself for even an instant.  She has been fasting for around ten hours, but doesn’t care.  In these ultimate moments, she feels the irresistible need to be near the woman who had made her suffer so much.  It is a pathetic, desperate tete-a-tete, where Sissi can only ask herself questions which will remain unanswered.  Her tears are more of contrition than affection.  Why so many affrontments?  Why so much hate?  Why did this woman, who was estimed throughout Austria by a whole people, constantly place herself between the two spouses, forcing her son to choose between his mother and his wife?  And she, Elisabeth, who had never ceased to provoke protocol and shake convenances, why this permanent revolt?  Perhaps to give herself the impression of existing…

To be continued.

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

Princess Sophia in Bavaria dissolves into tears when King Louis II of Bavaria puts an end to their engagement.  Her parents pass from anger to relief.  When she learns that her sister will not be Queen of Bavaria, Empress Elisabeth (Sissi) writes to her mother:

“My indignation is at its height, as is that of the Emperor.  There are no words to qualify such conduct…  But I am pleased that Sophia is taking it so well.  God knows that she would never have been happy with such a man.  And I wish for her now to find a very kind one.  But whom?”

During November, a rumour is circulating at Court:  the Empress is thinking of giving birth in Hungary and if the child is a boy, she would call him Etienne, after the patron saint of the Hungarians…

The rumour is founded.  After the return of Maximilien’s body from Mexico, Sissi and her spouse leave for Buda-Pest.  Sissi feels that her mission will only be complete with the birth of the child, in Spring.  And Franz-Josef is starting to agree with his wife.  He understands – a little late – that the Hofburg’s suffocating atmosphere has effectively thrown Elisabeth toward more humane milieux.  Sissi is grateful to the Hungarians for having accepted her when her mind was drifting toward certain depression.  And she wants to give them this child, who is just as much that of newfound tenderness, as of her passion for a liberal, just cause.

On 22 April, Sissi gives birth to little Maria-Valeria.  The child’s sex provokes a muffled polemic.  The Hungarians would have preferred a boy, for a future male sovereign would have permitted, in the long term, a kingdom that was independent from Vienna.  The Austrians rejoice.  A girl will be less threatening for the unity of the Empire.  In secret, it is murmured that the beautiful Andrassy is the child’s father…  This is only a calomny which will totally collapse when the resemblance between Franz-Josef and the little girl becomes evident.

The Emperor is very happy.  He describes his paternal joy to his son Rudolf, who has remained in Vienna, and gives him a first portrait of his little sister:

“She is very pretty, she has big, dark blue eyes, a nose still a little fat, a tiny little mouth, and dark hair.  She is very strong and kicks vigorously.”

Immediately, Maria-Valeria will hold a place apart in her mother’s heart.  She will be her favourite child.  With Gisela and Rudolf, Sissi had passed from painful frustration to exaggerated authority.  When she had recovered her natural rights over them, their education had been modified, along with their entourage.  Passing from one extreme to another, all of them regrettable, Sissi had multiplied the teachers.  There were almost fifty of them.  The lessons given to Rudolf, to the point of saturation, had however developed his precocity.  When the little boy obtained only average marks on a piece of homework, he was greatly affected.  His governor having told him that his bad result would deprive him of going hunting with his father, Rudolf had answered:

“It is not for the reward that I try so hard.  I do it because it is my duty.”

He was nine-years-old…

The study of languages was very important, for the Heir to the Throne had to be fluent in German, Hungarian, Czech, Croatian, English and French, and read them with ease.  At a very early age, Duty had been presented to him as a rule for life, along with application to work.  The child had his mother’s sensitivity, but had self-control that had always been absent in her.

For Sissi, the traumatism of the first years had been too much.  The children had only been partially hers.  Maria-Valeria will escape Archduchess Sophia of Austria’s influence.

“I now know the happiness of having a child”,

the Empress says to a lady-in-waiting.

Louis II of Bavaria.

Sissi is very tired.  On 9 June, she leaves directly for Bad Ischl, without passing through Vienna.  One month later, she returns to her cherished Bavaria, for her whole family is asking her to intervene with Louis II to reconnect the family relations which had been interrupted after the scandal of his broken engagement.  The strange King is very agitated.  He has announced his intention of rebuilding the old castle in ruins near his Hohenschwangau residence, on a spur backed up against the peaks along the Austrian border.  In full mediaeval delirium, the King has given his orders:

“I don’t want a symmetrical construction, but something with picturesque variety.”

Picturesque, the result will also be grandiose under the name of Neuschwanstein.  Louis II is inaugurating a series of fantastic castles in a dream of stone which still astonishes and fascinates us today.

Franz-Josef joins Sissi on the day that Louis II, barely embarrassed, comes to visit his favourite cousin.  The reconciliation takes place, but the ducal family is wondering about the sovereign’s spectacular caprices.  One certainty:  Sophia has escaped a bizarre existence…  Sissi’s sister has just become engaged to a grandson of Louis-Philippe, Prince Ferdinand de Bourbon-Orleans, Duke of Alencon.  Less than a year after her misadventure with the King, she is getting married.

The ceremony takes place at Possenhofen and Sissi appears, radiant.  Louis II thinks it indispensable to be present.  He leaves after a few minutes declaring:

“I was mortally bored.”

In September, the Empress wants to leave again for Hungary.  She stops at Vienna but only spends a few hours there.  Anger erupts at Court.  Too late:  the unseizable Empress has already left for Godollo Castle, near Buda-Pest, a personal gift from the grateful Hungarian people, that she wants to consider as her real residence, apart from the Bavarian homes.  The truth becomes evident:  Sissi is only happy in the universe of her childhood or in that of her psychological and political blossoming.  Godollo has been decorated to her taste.  She lives there according to a protocol, of course, but a protocol adapted to life in the country, among horses and game.

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

Her spouse appreciates Godollo too, as well as family life far from Viennese jealousies.  Further, he treats his rhumatism there.  At Godollo, good humour, simple joys and etiquette reduced to a minimum are, for Elisabeth, a real cure.  It could be said that, at the end of 1868, her character has more or less stabilised in disequilibrium…  The unhappiness which already ravages her cousin Louis II’s mind, is, in hers, combated by an energy which, for once, has given results.  From reception to reception, Sissi plays her role.  She is able to assume these worldly duties because she is devoted to a goodwill mission.  She has been totally adopted by her new country.  The Queen of Hungary is also the Queen of the Hungarian People.

It is a real struggle for her to return to Vienna.  She arrives there on 24 December, her birthday.  The Austrians’ gift for her thirty-first birthday is bitter.  The Press publishes a precise calculation of the Empress’ stays in Austria and in Hungary during the year:  Sissi has spent nearly two-thirds of 1868 in Hungary, far from Vienna.

As a child, Sissi’s mother repeated to her, and to all her daughters, one sentence in French:

“Princesses must learn to be bored gracefully.”

It was a sacred principle.  Sissi has completely destroyed it, sweeping away the boredom, but retaining the grace.

***

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

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.

***

Louis II of Bavaria.

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.

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

On 29 January 1866, accompanied by a dazzled Emperor Franz-Josef, Elisabeth (Sissi) begins a decisive voyage in what the sulky Viennese call “her new country”.  However, the hardest part is yet to be done, for numerous families have not been able to forget the repression of 1848 and 1849.  When, on 1 February, Franz-Josef addresses the parliamentarians in delegation, he leads them to understand that he cannot fulfil all their hopes.  The reception is rather cold.  But when Sissi says to them, in Hungarian, that they must content themselves with “realizable wishes”, which amounts to the same thing, the delegation is impressed.  That is Sissi’s magic, to be able to warmly pronounce rather restrictive words;  the goodwill that she inspires also carries affection.

Two days later, a request is addressed to the Emperor, clear and audacious;  the Hungarians want an independent government for Hungary.  He refuses, and disappointment is profound.

Count Andrassy, although a rather offhand collector of feminine hearts, is himself under the daily charm of the young sovereign.  Before leaving the royal palace of Ofen, the Empress suddenly says to Andrassy:

“I have confidence in you.  So I shall say to you what I would not say to everyone.  If the Emperor’s affairs go badly in Italy, it upsets me.  But if it is the case in Hungary, it kills me.”

On 5 March, the couple boards the imperial train which will take it back to Vienna.  All the Hungarians, starting with Andrassy, notice that the Empress has tears in her eyes.  She sighs:

“I hope to be able to come back soon to my beloved Hungary.”

This trip is a decisive step toward an indispensable comprehension, even if Franz-Josef is still deaf to certain requests. 

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

The Emperor’s hesitations can be explained by worries more serious than the Hungarian revendications.  In fact, the European crisis that Prussia has been cultivating over the last few months is on the point of exploding.  Conscientiously, diabolically, Bismarck has been poisoning Prussia’s relations with Austria.  He wants to eliminate Austria from German affairs, and impose Prussian predominance.  When Wilhelm I makes demands, Franz-Josef protests and the situation, untenable, is evolving exactly according to Bismarck’s calculations.  Bismarck is also carefully neutralizing Italy, at least for three months, by signing a commercial treaty with her which hides a military alliance and will rapidly display its true nature.  Twenty-four hours later, Bismarck deposes a motion before the Frankfurt Diet, which aims at constituting an elected German Federal Parliament, without Austria.  Vienna refuses.  So, Bismarck loudly clamours that this is a flagrant violation of their agreement.  Playing the victim, Prussia invades Holstein, which is under Austrian administration.  All around Austria, Hanover, Saxe, Wurtemberg and Louis II’s Bavaria prepare to enter into war against Prussia.  The King of Bavaria, torn from his dreaming, pertinently notes:

“It’s a civil war.”

The Tsar and Napoleon III have in fact assured Bismarck of their neutrality, leaving the Germans of the North and those of the South to mutually destroy each other.  Panicked, Elisabeth returns to Bad Ischl with Gisela and Rudolf, reflecting on the attitude of the Hungarians in this crisis.  Kossuth, exiled, negotiates with Bismarck for the creation of an Hungarian Legion which would fight beside Prussia against Austria.  Hungary against Austria?  It is unthinkable that all her efforts be annihilated.

On 14 June, Austria obtains that the federated States respond to Prussia, by nine votes to six.  There is no longer a Confederation, there is only the North against the South.  That same night, Bismarck extracts a declaration of war from Wilhelm I and armed conflict begins.

From Bad Ischl where she is staying, Elisabeth decides that her place is beside Franz-Josef.

“I do not want to leave the Emperor alone when war is at the door”,

she had written to her mother, on 1 May.  Now, war is here and the Austrian troops are marching.  Sissi leaves Gisela and Rudolf at the Kaiservilla.  The little boy, very grave at the announcement of these events, says a prayer:

“By your grace, dear Father who is in Heaven, in this hour of trials, let my dear Papa be supported by your love and your supreme power.  Preserve him from danger and remove all sadness from his path.  Pour joy and consolation into his heart by a happy conclusion to the war.”

Elisabeth has not forgotten that she was once Princess in Bavaria.  Her brothers are fighting in Louis II’s army.  Very worried, she returns to Vienna.  Four days earlier, at Custozza, near Verona, Austrian troops had beaten the Italians.  The same day that Sissi arrives at her spouse’s side, the Hanoverian troops are eliminated by Prussia, in Saxe.  The Prussians are equipped with modern weapons.  They have received the famous breech loader to replace the old guns loaded by the cannon.  The multiple ethnicities of the Empire are also a serious handicap.  Further, fearing a desertion by the Italian contingents, the Austrian High Command has integrated them into the Hessian and Bavarian troops.  But, despite being commanded by Austrian officers, many detachments pass to the enemy.

Elisabeth maintains her role with grandeur.  She is “of admirable calm” at her husband’s side and, when he is meeting with his generals, she visits the wounded.  A Bohemian who needs his right arm amputated is refusing the operation, which is urgent.

“If Your Majesty stays for the operation, I’ll consent to it…”

Elisabeth, very pale, forces herself to agree.  And seated beside his bed, she holds his valid hand.  When the wounded man awakes, Elisabeth is there.  Sissi never backs away from these dramas.

Bad news keeps accumulating.  On 3 July, the decisive battle takes place in Bohemia, less than one hundred kilometres to the North-East of Prague.  Forty thousand Austrians are killed, wounded or taken prisoner.  It is finished:  in seven weeks, Prussia has eliminated Austria from the North of Germany, and the Empire appears to be in danger.  The road to Vienna is open…  That same day, the Bavarians capitulate at Kissingen.  Sissi and her mother-in-law, drawn closer by adversity, let their anger explode against the fantasque Louis II who had been unable to galvanise his army.  They estime that their country has abandoned them.

To be continued.

Empress Elisabeth of Austria with Shadow.

1864.  A year of upheavals, questions and romantic dreams.  On 10 March, news comes from Bavaria.  King Maximilien, suffering from a kidney problem, dies, leaving the throne to a nineteen-year-old prince who considers that “affairs of State are only stupidities of State”.  He is tall, beautiful and strange.  He takes the title of Louis II of Bavaria.

Sissi likes this cousin a lot.  He is younger than she by eight years, and sometimes came to Possenhofen when he was a child.  She had been seduced by the Prince’s perpetually raised head, as if he were trying to rise above the mountain crests.  In Vienna, the new King’s inexperience causes anxiety.  Emperor Franz-Josef of Austria is also worried about the incredible campaign, led by Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie, with London and Madrid, to install his brother Maximilien on the Mexican throne.  If the Archduke accepts, he must renounce his rights to Austria’s throne.  Is the French proposition really compensation for the loss of Lombardy?  Isn’t the project senseless?  So many delicate questions.

Like all her family, Elisabeth remains perplexed.  Mexico, so far away…  An empire?  Isn’t it an unsustainable charge?  Her conversations with her sister-in-law Charlotte are frank but tinged with sincere cordiality.  On the other hand, Elisabeth is witness to a very violent scene between Franz-Josef and his brother, white with rage, about the renunciation of his rights to the Austrian Crown that the Emperor is imposing on the Archduke.  But ambition is stronger.  On 14 April, Maximilien and Charlotte leave for Mexico.  It is the first act of a tragedy fomented by pride, ambition, ignorance and blindness.

Sissi goes back to Bad Kissingen for her annual cure.  Apart from her health, which still preoccupies her, she is very curious to meet her cousin Louis II of Bavaria, a sovereign who, in three months, has already caused a lot of talk.  The King on the Munich throne’s sole political programme is to find a musician of genius, who has been insupportable almost everywhere, Mr Richard Wagner.  Wagner, fleeing, covered in debt, pursued by creditors, jealous husbands and policemen, had launched this cry to a lady friend:

“Only a miracle can save me!”

This miracle is called Louis II.

Louis II of Bavaria.

At Bad Kissingen, Europe is taking the cure.  A veritable thermal congress, where the Tsar rubs shoulders with the German princes.  When Sissi sees her royal cousin, she is seduced by his allure.  One metre ninety, with very dark, curly hair, very blue, interrogative eyes, the King of Bavaria is the youngest ruler in the European Courts.  Strange rumours are already circulating about him.  Some judge him to be supremely intelligent.  He is.  Others find him original.  He is that too.  Between Elisabeth, twenty-seven, and Louis, nineteen, an immediate bond is formed.  Both of them detest protocol, they read poetry, they love impromptu things, horseracing and, more than anything, their country, luminous Bavaria.  The young King, whose taste for women is inexistent, had announced that he would remain at Bad Kissingen only a few days.  Under Sissi’s charm, he stays a month.  Louis II’s strange character fascinates Elisabeth, the Empress’ radiant beauty subjugates the King.

This beauty is rising to the zenith.  On 10 October, a very great artist finishes the sketch of a work which will become a famous painting.  He is called Franz Winterhalter.  German, he has become the great illustrator of the European Courts.  Invited to Vienna, he will paint Sissi several times.  Franz-Josef admires the painter’s work and recognizes:

“These are the first portraits which truly resemble her.”

In February 1865, Sissi goes to Dresden for the wedding of her favourite brother Karl-Theodore and Princess Sophia of Saxe.  When Sissi appears in a violet gown embroidered with sliver clover leaves, covered by a coat in silver lace, her hair woven with diamond stars, each one of them with a ruby in its centre, given to her by Franz-Josef for Christmas, the Empress of Austria, twenty-eight, eclipses her new sister-in-law, aged twenty.  The Queen of Saxe confides to a lady friend, four days later:

“You cannot imagine the enthusiasm that the beauty and amiability of the Empress have suscitated here.”.

On 15 February, as her special train is leaving Dresden for Vienna, Sissi asks one of the members of her suite:

“Could you tell me the time?”

With no hesitation, the man, dazzled like all men, affirms:

“One minute after sunset, Your Majesty.”

Sissi is compared to the sun which is disappearing from Saxe as she leaves it…  However, although such notoriety can content Sissi and calm her anxieties, she regrets having to leave her children, in particular Rudolf, who is a fast learner, and with whom she already speaks several languages, but mostly Hungarian.

She is hardly back, than she leaves for Munich.  She arrives there at the time when a platonic love affair of her cousin, the King, with Wagner is unleashing anger in the whole of Bavaria.  It should be recognized that the musician has a gift for antagonizing.  His inextinguishable debts, his liaison with Cosima, the daughter of Liszt and wife of his orchestra conductor, as well as his progressist ideas, displease.  Sissi is curious to see the King again.  His comportment is enigmatic, divided between puerile crushes and romantic obsessions.  On 29 February, Sissi receives her cousin.  His arrival is singular:  it is raining, and the King, in Austrian uniform, is under an umbrella, but holding his hat in his hand so as not to mess up his hair which he has had curled.  He alights from his carriage, drawn by four horses and escorted by pike-bearers and equerries, dashes to Sissi and kisses her hands so many times that the Empress’ mother asks herself if he won’t wear them out.

Louis II’s visit leaves a tenacious memory:  he had inundated himself with Cyprus perfume.  Elisabeth is torn between uncontrollable laughter and worry.  The King is passionate, but his bizarreries are harming the Crown’s prestige.  Despite the comments which run on his manners, she judges him with indulgence and tenderness.  She admires him almost.  He has arrived at the same result as she.  Without travelling far, he escapes to dreams of a world where Art is the only reason for living and reigning.

***

To be continued.

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