Category Archives: Austrian Royals

Princess Stéphanie of Belgium, Crown Princess of Austria

by Susan Flantzer

Photo Credit – Wikipedia

The wife of the heir to the Austrian throne who apparently committed suicide with his mistress, Princess Stéphanie of Belgium was born on May 21, 1864 at the Royal Palace of Laeken in Belgium.  Stéphanie Clotilde Louise Herminie Marie Charlotte was the second of the three daughters and the third of the four children of Leopold II, King of the Belgians and Archduchess Marie-Henriette of Austria.

Stéphanie had three siblings:

The marriage of Stéphanie’s parents started out unhappy, remained unhappy, and the couple lived mostly separate lives. King Leopold had many mistresses and he made no real attempt to have a successful marriage. Queen Marie-Henriette was cold and inaccessible. Stéphanie and her siblings had a difficult childhood. Their mother showed no interest in the children and their father, who was only interested in his business in the Belgian Congo, did not spend time with his daughters. In 1869, when Stéphanie’s only brother Leopold died, King Leopold blamed Queen Marie-Henriette for their son’s death. Little Leopold had fallen into a pond, caught pneumonia and died. Hoping for a crown prince because only males could inherit the throne, Queen Marie-Henriette became pregnant again, but the long-awaited crown prince did not materialize as the child was a girl, Clémentine. Stéphanie’s parents completely separated after the birth of Clémentine.

Rudolf and Stéphanie  – official engagement photograph, 1881; Photo Credit – Wikipedia

Stéphanie’s marriage was planned by the royal courts of Belgium and Austria. Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria, the only son of Emperor Franz Joseph I and his wife Elisabeth of Bavaria, was under pressure from his parents to marry. Stéphanie who was still a teenager and Roman Catholic, met the criteria of the Emperor although the Empress did not think Stéphanie was good enough for her son because the Belgian monarchy had existed only since 1830. Nevertheless, during a trip to Belgium in March 1880 at the invitation of King Leopold II, Rudolf proposed to Stéphanie to the great joy of her parents. Stéphanie was sent to Vienna to learn the etiquette of the imperial court, but within the month, her ladies-in-waiting realized that she had not yet reached puberty. Stéphanie suffered great humiliation as the wedding was postponed and she was sent back to Belgium. Eventually, the couple married on May 10, 1881, at the Augustinerkirche, the parish church of the Imperial Court of the Habsburgs, a short walk from Hofburg Palace in Vienna, Austria. Stéphanie was not quite 17-years-old and Rudolf was 22-years-old.

Augustinerkirche in Vienna; Photo Credit – Susan Flantzer

Stéphanie and Rudolf had one child:

Stéphanie and her daughter Elisabeth Marie; Photo Credit – Wikipedia

The marriage was happy at first, but shortly after the birth of their daughter, the relationship between Stéphanie and Rudolf began to deteriorate. It is likely that Rudolf infected Stéphanie with a sexually transmitted disease, causing her to be infertile and unable to provide a male heir for the Austrian throne. Both Stéphanie and Rudolf began affairs with other people in the following years and intermittently spoke of divorce.

On January 30, 1889, at Mayerling, a hunting lodge in the Vienna Woods which Rudolf had purchased, Rudolf shot his 17-year-old mistress Baroness Mary Vetsera and then shot himself in an apparent suicide plot. Stéphanie was widowed at the age of 24. Rudolf wrote in his farewell letter to Stéphanie: Dear Stéphanie! You are free from my presence and plague; be happy in your way. Be good for the poor little one, who is the only thing left of me. The custody of Stéphanie’s daughter Elisabeth Marie was taken over by her grandfather, Emperor Franz Joseph. Elisabeth Marie remained close to her grandfather until he died in 1916.

Stéphanie in 1890; Photo Credit – Wikipedia

After the shock of Rudolf’s death, Stéphanie traveled and spent a great deal of time with her sisters Louise and Clémentine. She avoided Vienna as much as possible and when at court, she was unable to completely fulfill her duties. Stéphanie’s father and Emperor Franz Joseph tried in vain to marry Stéphanie to Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the Emperor’s nephew and the heir to the Austrian-Hungarian throne, to disrupt Franz Ferdinand’s relationship with Countess Sophie Chotek von Chotkow und Wognin. Because Sophie was not a member of a reigning or formerly reigning family, she could not marry a member of the Imperial Family. Franz Ferdinand refused to give Sophie up and eventually the Emperor allowed the morganatic marriage. The assassination of Franz Ferdinand and Sophie in June 1914 was one of the causes of World War I.

Stéphanie and Count Elemér Lónyay, her second husband; Photo Credit –

After an unhappy first marriage, Stéphanie married for love. On March 22, 1900, she married Hungarian Count Elemér Lónyay de Nagy-Lónya et Vásáros-Namény. Following the marriage, Stéphanie’s daughter Elisabeth broke off all contact with her mother. Stéphanie lost her imperial and royal titles because the marriage was unequal and incurred the wrath of her father.

When her mother Queen Marie-Henriette died in 1902, Stéphanie traveled to Brussels to attend the funeral, but when she tried to say goodbye to the coffin, her father King Leopold II had her removed from the chapel. After the death of her father King Leopold II in 1909, Stéphanie and her sister Louise tried to claim their share of the billions their father had earned in the Belgian Congo, initially his private property, but they lost their case in court. In 1934, Stéphanie disinherited her daughter, who had divorced Prince Otto zu Windisch-Graetz and was living with (and later married) a Socialist, Leopold Petznek. Stéphanie published her memoirs “I was to be an Empress” in 1937.

Stéphanie in 1911; Photo Credit – Wikipedia

Until the end of World War II, Stéphanie and her second husband lived peacefully at Oroszvar Castle now in present-day in Slovakia. After the arrival of the Soviet Army in 1945, the couple left their castle to take refuge in the Benedictine Abbey of Pannonhalma in Hungary, where on August 23, 1945, Stéphanie died at the age of 81. Her husband Count Elemér Lónyay died in Budapest, Hungary on July 20, 1946. The couple was buried together at the Abbey of Pannonhalma.

Stéphanie’s tomb; Photo Credit –

Wikipedia: Princess Stéphanie of Belgium

Works Cited

  • (2017). Stephanie von Belgien. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 Sep. 2017].
  • (2017). Princess Stéphanie of Belgium. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 Sep. 2017].
  • (2017). Stéphanie de Belgique. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 Sep. 2017].

Princess Charlotte of Belgium, Empress Carlota of Mexico

by Susan Flantzer

Portrait by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1864; Credit – Wikipedia

Princess Charlotte of Belgium (Marie Charlotte Amélie Augustine Victoire Clémentine Léopoldine), who later became Empress of Mexico as the wife of the ill-fated Archduke Maximilian of Austria, Emperor of Mexico, was born at the Castle of Laeken in Belgium on June 7, 1840. She was the only daughter and the youngest of the four children of Leopold I, King of Belgians and his second wife Princess Louise-Marie of Orléans.

Princess Charlotte at age two by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1842; Credit – Wikipedia

Charlotte’s father was born Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld and first married Princess Charlotte of Wales, the only child of the future King George IV of the United Kingdom and the second in the line of succession to the British throne. Sadly, 21-year-old Princess Charlotte of Wales died in childbirth along with her son. Leopold named his daughter Charlotte after his first wife. In 1831, Leopold had become King of the Belgians after Belgium became independent from the Netherlands. King Leopold was the uncle of both Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert, and therefore his daughter Charlotte, Victoria, and Albert were first cousins. Charlotte’s mother was the daughter of Louis-Philippe I, King of the French, and Maria Amalia of the Two Sicilies.


Charlotte’s family; Credit – Wikipedia

Charlotte had three older brothers:

When Charlotte was ten-years-old, her mother died from tuberculosis and a close family friend, Countess Denise d’Hulst, became Charlotte’s governess. Charlotte received religious instruction from Father Victor-Auguste-Isidor Deschamps, brother of the Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs and later Cardinal-Bishop of Mechelen. Before her sixteenth birthday, Charlotte had two suitors for her hand in marriage: Prince George of Saxony, the future King of Saxony, and Queen Victoria’s candidate King Pedro V of Portugal. However in May 1856, Charlotte met Archduke Maximilian of Austria, a younger brother of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria, and she fell in love with him. The couple married at the Royal Palace of Brussels in Belgium on July 27, 1857. Unfortunately, Charlotte and Maximilian had no children.

Charlotte and Maximilian during their first year of marriage; Photo Credit – Wikipedia

Emperor Franz Joseph appointed his brother Maximilian to the position of Viceroy of the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia, now part of Italy, but then part of the Austrian Empire. There the couple built Miramare Castle in Trieste.  In 1859, Emperor Franz Joseph, angered by his brother’s liberal policies, dismissed him as Viceroy. Shortly thereafter, Austria lost control of most of its Italian possessions and Maximilian and Charlotte then retired to Miramare Castle.

Miramare Castle; Photo Credit – By Valleo61 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

In 1859, Mexico monarchists had approached Maximilian with a proposal to become Emperor of Mexico which Maximilian did not accept. After the French intervention in Mexico in 1861, Maximilian changed his mind. At the invitation of Napoleon III, after the French capture of Mexico City and a French-staged referendum that supposedly confirmed the will of the people, Maximilian agreed to accept the crown. On April 10, 1864, in the great salon of Miramare Castle, a Mexican delegation officially informed Maximilian of the results of the referendum, without telling him that the French army had intimidated the voters. Maximilian declared to the Mexican delegation that he accepted the crown from the hands of the Mexican nation and swore to ensure by all means the well-being, prosperity, independence, and integrity of the nation.

The Mexican Delegation appoints Maximilian of Austria Emperor of Mexico by Cesare-Dell’Acqua, 1864; Credit – Wikipedia

Emperor Maximilian and Empress Carlota, as Charlotte was now called, landed at Veracruz, Mexico on May 21, 1864, and received a cold reception from the townspeople. Veracruz was a liberal town and the liberal voters were opposed to having Maximilian being their Emperor. He had the backing of Mexican conservatives and Napoleon III, but from the very beginning, he found himself involved in serious difficulties. The liberal forces led by Benito Juárez, the former president who had been deposed by the French, refused to recognize his rule. There was continuous warfare between the French troops and the forces of Juárez who wanted a republic.

After the end of the American Civil War, the French withdrew their troops from Mexico under pressure from the United States. After that, Maximilian could not hold out against the popular Juárez as his request for help from Europe remained unanswered. Charlotte traveled to Europe to ask for help from Napoleon III and Pope Pius IX, but the only hope she got was a promise from the Pope to pray for her and her husband. Maximilian then wanted to leave Mexico, but changed his mind after receiving a letter from his mother, which prompted him to stay.

Maximilian and his last troops barricaded themselves in the city of Queretaro, which fell after a siege on May 14, 1867. Maximilian was condemned to death by a court of war and on June 19, 1867, he was executed by a firing squad. Before the shooting, Maximilian assured the soldiers that they were only doing their duty, gave them gold coins, and asked them to aim precisely and spare his face, so that his mother could identify his body.

Édouard Manet’s Execution of Emperor Maximilian (1868–1869); Photo Credit – Wikipedia

Eventually, Maximilian’s remains were returned to Austria, where seven months after his execution, on January 18, 1868, they were buried in the Kaisergruft (Imperial Crypt) in the Capuchin Church in Vienna.

Tomb of Maximilian; Photo Credit – Susan Flantzer

After Charlotte’s unsuccessful visit to the Pope in 1866, her brother Philippe, Count of Flanders took her to Miramare Castle. There Charlotte began to have suspicions that everyone wanted to poison her and she was kept in the guest house at Miramare guarded by Austrian security agents. When Charlotte’s sister-in-law Queen Marie-Henriette of Belgium arrived at Miramare Castle, she found Charlotte in a such a state that she decided to bring her back to Belgium. Charlotte was examined by doctors who declared her insane. Today, it is impossible to determine the exact nature of her mental illness.

Charlotte in mourning, 1867; Photo Credit – Wikipedia

Charlotte spent the rest of her life at Bouchout Castle in Meise, Belgium where her brother King Leopold II oversaw her care. Over the years, her mental illness seemed to lessen and Charlotte developed a passion for collecting objects that had belonged to her husband. Charlotte died from pneumonia at Bouchout Castle on January 19, 1927 at the age of 86 and was buried in the Royal Crypt at the Church of Our Lady of Laeken, the burial place of the Belgian Royal Family.

Charlotte’s grave marker; Photo Credit –

Wikipedia: Carlota of Mexico

Works Cited

  • (2017). Charlotte von Belgien. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 Sep. 2017].
  • (2017). Carlota of Mexico. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 Sep. 2017].
  • (2017). Maximilian I of Mexico. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 Sep. 2017].
  • (2017). Charlotte de Belgique. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 Sep. 2017].

Luise of Austria, Crown Princess of Saxony

source: Wikipedia

Luise of Austria, Crown Princess of Saxony

Archduchess Luise of Austria, Princess of Tuscany, was the wife of King Friedrich August III, the last King of Saxony. She was born in Salzburg, Austria on September 2, 1870 and given the following names – Luise Antoinette Maria Theresia Josepha Johanna Leopoldine Caroline Ferdinande Alice Ernestine. Luise was the second child of Ferdinand IV, Grand Duke of Tuscany, and his second wife, Princess Alice of Bourbon-Parma. She had nine siblings and one half-sister from her father’s first marriage:

  • Archduchess Maria Antonietta (1858) – unmarried
  • Archduke Leopold Ferdinand (1868) – married (1) Wilhelmine Adamovicz, no issue; (2) Maria Magdalena Ritter, no issue; (3) Clara Hedwig Pawlowski, no issue
  • Archduke Josef Ferdinand (1872) – married (1) Rosa Kaltenbrunner, no issue; (2) Gertrud Tomanek, had issue
  • Archduke Peter Ferdinand, Prince of Tuscany (1874) – married Maria Cristina of Bourbon-Two Sicilies, had issue
  • Archduke Heinrich Ferdinand (1878) – married Maria Ludescher, had issue
  • Archduchess Anna Maria Theresia (1879) – married Johannes, Prince of Hohenlohe-Bartenstein, had issue
  • Archduchess Margareta (1881) – unmarried
  • Archduchess Germana (1884) – unmarried
  • Archduke Robert (1885) – unmarried
  • Archduchess Agnes (1891) – unmarried

Friedrich August. source: Wikipedia

In her youth, Luise was seen as a potential bride by several foreign royals, including the future King Ferdinand I of Bulgaria, and Prince Pedro Augusto of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, a grandson of Emperor Pedro II of Brazil. But the spoiled young Luise found no attraction to any of them. Then, in the summer of 1887, she met Prince Friedrich August of Saxony at Pillnitz Castle. He was the son of the future King Georg of Saxony and Infanta Maria Ana of Portugal. The two fell in love, and married in Vienna on November 21, 1891. They went on to have six children:

Luise and Friedrich August with some of their children, c1901. source: Wikipedia

From the beginning of her marriage, Luise was unhappy. She was unwilling to conform to the strict Saxon court which often caused conflicts with her father-in-law and others in the royal family. However, she was immensely popular with the Saxon people, and often overshadowed other members of the family which further added to their frustration with her. She sought refuge in several affairs, including her children’s French tutor, André Giron. Her affair with Giron was discovered when a telegram she sent him was intercepted.

This was the last straw for her father-in-law, who threatened to have her committed to a mental asylum. With the help of two of her maids, Luise – pregnant with her youngest child – fled Dresden and headed toward Lake Geneva where she met up with her brother, Leopold Ferdinand, before reconnecting with Giron. As news of the scandal reached Saxony, Luise’s in-laws were hurt and embarrassed… and most of all, mad. Almost immediately, King Georg established a special court in order to end the marriage between Luise and Friedrich August. Meanwhile, Luise and Giron stayed in Geneva, often being seeing in public. Their relationship ended just a few days before her divorce was announced on February 11, 1903.

When her daughter Anna Monika Pia was born several months later, the child’s paternity was questioned. After an examination by a maternity doctor from Dresden, he stated that the baby was in fact the child of the Crown Prince. Friedrich August willingly acknowledged the child as his own. In July 1903, King Georg granted Luise an allowance and the title Countess of Montignoso. In exchange, he demanded that the child be brought back to Dresden to be raised with the other children. Luise, of course, refused.

Over the next year, Luise moved frequently, living in France, England, Switzerland and then Italy. She soon tried to negotiate an increased in her allowance in exchange for returning her daughter. However, at the last minute she changed her mind.

In September 1907, Luise married for a second time. Her new husband was Enrico Toselli, an Italian musician 12 years her younger. They had a son, Carlo, born in May 1908. Soon after this marriage, her first husband found their daughter and had her brought back to Dresden. She also separated from her second husband, and they were divorced four years later.

Luise caused even more of a scandal in 1911 when her memoirs were published, detailing her time in Saxony, her marriage, and her fall from grace. She cast the blame primarily on her father-in-law and the Saxon courtiers who feared her influence when she became Queen. She claimed that the royal family were jealous of her popularity – a fact which is without question. As Crown Princess, Luise was immensely popular with the Saxon people, partially because she refused to conform to the strict etiquette and protocol of the Court. While her book brought her much sympathy and support, it also brought her further rejection. Many – particularly amongst royal circles – felt that she brought disgrace to the monarchy by airing her dirty laundry in such a way.

After World War I, Luise found herself virtually penniless. She had lost all of her Austrian titles and assets upon her second marriage, and with the end of the Austrian Empire, lost the little financial support that she had continued to receive from a few relatives. She spent some time living in Spain with an uncle before moving to Belgium where she spent the remainder of her life.

Church of the Redeemer, Hedinger Monastery, Sigmaringen. photo by Andrzej Otrębski – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

The former Crown Princess Luise of Saxony, Archduchess of Austria and Princess of Tuscany died in Brussels on March 23, 1947. At the time, she was working as a flower seller to survive. Her urn was placed in the Hedingen monastery in Sigmaringen, the traditional burial place of the House of Hohenzollern.

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Maria Karoline of Austria, Crown Princess of Saxony

source: Wikipedia

Maria Karoline of Austria, Crown Princess of Saxony

Maria Karoline of Austria was the first wife of the future King Friedrich August II of Saxony. She never served as Queen, as she died before her husband’s accession. She was born Maria Karoline Ferdinande Theresia Josephine Demetria in Vienna on April 8, 1801, one of twelve children of Franz II, Holy Roman Emperor (later Emperor Franz I of Austria) and Maria Theresa of the Two Sicilies. Maria Karoline was named for an elder sister who had died as a child.

Maria Karoline (center, holding a basket) with her parents and siblings, painting by Josef Kreutzinger c1805. source: Wikipedia

Maria Karoline had eleven siblings:

Her mother died when she was just six years old, and her father went on to remarry twice.

Friedrich August of Saxony. source: Wikipedia

At the age of 18, Marie Karoline married Prince Friedrich August of Saxony on October 7, 1819, in Dresden. He was the son of Prince Maximilian of Saxony and Princess Caroline of Parma. At the time, he was third in line to the throne of Saxony. The couple had no children.

From all accounts, the marriage was not a happy one. The Princess suffered from epilepsy, often plagued with seizures which more or less left her incapacitated for long periods of time. She became Crown Princess in 1830 when her father-in-law relinquished his rights to the throne in favor of Friedrich August, who was also proclaimed Prince Co-Regent with his uncle, King Anton.

Dresden Cathedral. photo By Lupus in Saxonia – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

After much suffering, Crown Princess Marie Karoline died at Schloss Pillnitz, in Dresden, on May 22, 1832. She is buried in the Wettin Crypt at the Dresden Cathedral, formerly known as the Katholische Hofkirche (Catholic Church of the Royal Court of Saxony).

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Maria Theresia of Austria, Queen of Saxony

by Scott Mehl

source: Wikipedia

Maria Theresia of Austria, Queen of Saxony

Queen Maria Theresia was the wife of King Anton of Saxony. She was born Archduchess Maria Theresia Josepha Charlotte Johanna of Austria, on January 14, 1767, the eldest child of Leopold I, Grand Duke of Tuscany (later Leopold II, Holy Roman Emperor) and Infanta Maria Luisa of Spain. She had fifteen younger siblings:

Maria Theresia and her siblings were raised by their parents as opposed to a household of servants and governesses – something quite unusual for the time. Despite their father’s position, they were brought up very simply, and kept away from the pomp and ceremony of court. As she grew up, she became a very private person, and enjoyed a simple and religious home life.

Anton of Saxony. source: Wikipedia

On October 18, 1787 in Dresden, Maria Theresia married, as his second wife, Prince Anton of Saxony. They were previously married by proxy in Florence on September 8. At the time, Anton was heir-presumptive to his brother, the Elector of Saxony, who later became King Friedrich August I of Saxony. However, it was assumed that Friedrich August would have children, and Anton would not inherit the throne – something which pleased the very private princess. The couple had four children, none of whom lived past infancy:

  • Maria Ludovika (1795) – died in infancy
  • Friedrich August (1796) – died at birth
  • Maria Johanna (1798) – died in infancy
  • Maria Theresia (1799) – died at birth

After the death of her sister-in-law, Princess Caroline of Parma (married to Prince Maximilian of Saxony) in 1804, Maria Theresia helped to raise Caroline’s children.

Dresden Cathedral. photo By Lupus in Saxonia – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Upon her brother-in-law’s death on May 5, 1827, Maria Theresia and her husband became King and Queen of Saxony. Sadly, her tenure as Queen was short-lived. Just six months after her husband’s accession, Queen Maria Theresia died in Leipzig on November 7, 1827. She is buried in the Wetting Crypt at the Dresden Cathedral, formerly known as the Katholische Hofkirche (Catholic Church of the Royal Court of Saxony).

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Maria Ludovica of Austria, Empress of France

by Susan Flantzer

painted by Jean-Baptiste Isabey, c1810. source: Wikipedia

Maria Ludovica of Austria, Empress of the French

Archduchess Maria Ludovica Leopoldina Franziska Therese Josepha of Austria was the second wife of the French Emperor Napoleon, and later Duchess of Parma, Piacenza and Guastalla in her own right. She was born on December 12, 1791 at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna, the eldest child of Franz II, Holy Roman Emperor (later Emperor Franz I of Austria), and Maria Teresa of Naples and Sicily. She had 11 siblings:

Maria Ludovica (far right) with her parents and siblings, painted by Josef Kreutzinger, c1805. source: Wikipedia

Maria Ludovica spent her childhood living at Hofburg Palace and Schönbrunn Palace, and was her father’s favorite daughter. She did not, however, have a close relationship with her mother, who showed little affection for her children. She received a traditional education at court, with much focus on religion and languages, becoming fluent in at least six. From a young age, she had developed a dislike for all things French. This was greatly influenced by her grandmother a sister of the French Queen Marie Antoinette who was killed during the French Revolution when Maria Ludovica was just a toddler. She lost her mother in 1807, but became close to her step-mother, Maria Ludovika of Austria-Este, who was very close in age.

The marriage of Napoleon and Maria Ludovica, painted by Georges Rouget, 1810. source: Wikipedia

By the end of 1809, the French Emperor Napoleon was searching for a new bride who could bear him an heir and set his sights on the leading royal families of Europe. When his focus turned toward a Russian Grand Duchess, the Austrian Prime Minister, Count Metternich, encouraged the Austrian Emperor to suggest his own daughter, Maria Ludovica. Ending his quest for a Russian bride, Napoleon began negotiations to take Maria Ludovica as his wife. A marriage contract was signed in February 1810, and the couple was married by proxy on March 11, 1810, at the Augustinian Church in Vienna. The young Maria Ludovica became Empress of the French and Queen of Italy, taking on the French version of her name, Marie Louise.

After leaving Vienna, she arrived in France and met her husband for the first time on March 27, 1810 in Compiègne. A civil wedding was held on April 1, 1810 in the Grand Hall of the Château of Saint-Cloud, and the following day, the couple made their grand entrance into Paris, arriving at the Tuileries Palace. They then made their way to the Louvre Palace, where their religious ceremony was held in the Salon Carré.

Marie Louise settled in quickly to her role as Empress, although she wasn’t always welcomed by those in the French court. Too recent memories of the last Austrian consort – Marie Antoinette – had many wary of their new Empress. She was also very timid and reserved and didn’t speak much publicly, which didn’t help to reassure many people that she was any different from her great-aunt. But the Emperor went out of his way to make her as comfortable as possible, and appears to have developed quite a love for his second wife. Soon, the couple had their only child:

Empress Marie Louise with her son, painted by François Gérard, 1813. source: Wikipedia

On a trip to Austria in 1812, just before France invaded Russia, Marie Louise met Count Adam Albert von Neipperg for the first time. Little did she know at the time that their paths would cross again in a few years, in a much different manner. After disastrous results against Russia, Napoleon soon saw the collapse of his empire. Prussia and the United Kingdom soon joined forces with Russia, declaring war on France. Marie Louise tried to get her father to join forces with France, but Austria, too, soon joined the coalition against Napoleon.

On March 29, 1814, with her husband leading his troops to try to stave off an invasion, Marie Louise and her court left Paris and moved to Blois. Days later, the French Senate deposed the Emperor, and he formally abdicated on April 11, 1814, at the Château of Fontainebleau. Under the terms of the Treaty of Fontainebleau, Marie Louise retained her rank and style and was granted the duchies of Parma, Placentia, and Guastalla, with her son as her heir.

Dissuaded from joining her husband, Marie Louise soon returned to Vienna, taking up residence at Schönbrunn Palace. Several months later, she planned a visit to the spas in Aix-les-Bains. In order to keep her from trying to join her husband in Elba, her father sent Count von Neipperg to accompany her. The two soon fell in love, and von Neipperg became her Chamberlain and represented her at the Congress of Vienna. The news of this romance caused quite a bit of scandal, both in France and in Austria.

Count Adam Albert von Neipperg. source: Wikipedia

Following Napoleon’s escape and return to power in 1815, Marie Louise remained in Austria, asking that her husband agree to an “amicable separation”. After his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo and exile to Saint Helena in October 1815, the two had no further contact. Meanwhile, the Congress of Vienna modified the decisions of the Treaty of Fontainebleau. Maria Louise remained Duchess of Parma, Piacenza, and Guastalla, but only for her lifetime, and she was prohibited from bringing her son to Italy. She also lost her title as Empress and was then styled as Her Majesty Archduchess of Austria, Duchess of Parma, Piacenza, and Guastalla. Accompanied by Count von Neipperg, she arrived in Parma in early 1816. Despite still being legally married to Napoleon, she and von Neipperg had three children:

Following Napoleon’s death, Marie Louise and von Neipperg were married morganatically on August 8, 1821, before their third child was born. The Count died several years later – on February 22, 1829 – leaving Marie Louise devastated.

In 1831, Marie Louise found herself caught up in the uprisings spreading around Italy against the Austrian-appointed Prime Minister. Initially prevented from leaving Parma, she managed to escape to Piacenza. She asked her father to replace the Prime Minister, but he instead sent Austrian forces to suppress the rebellion. The following year, Marie Louise traveled back to enna, and was at the bedside of her son when he died of tuberculosis in July 1832.

Count Charles-René de Bombelles. source: Wikipedia

Soon, Marie Louise would marry for a third time. In the summer of 1833, the Austrian court sent Count Charles-René de Bombelles to Parma to serve as head of the court. Six months later, on February 17, 1834, Bombelles and Marie Louise were married.

Daguerreotype of Marie Louise, 1847. source: Wikipedia

As Duchess of Parma, Marie Louise supported many causes, with much of her efforts going toward improving medical care and treatment. She established a childbirth hospital and a training school for nurses, as well as a hospital for those with mental illness. She worked toward ensuring that the Duchy was as prepared as possible for potential outbreaks of disease, and her efforts helped to minimize the number of deaths in a cholera outbreak which came to Parma in 1836. She also promoted the establishment of roads and bridges, and was a great supporter of music and theater. Having established a new Ducal Theater in the 1820s, she made sure that tickets were made available at prices which would allow the less-fortunate to attend. She established the Conservatory of Parma, and supported numerous artists, including famed composer Giuseppe Verdi. She also brought libraries, museums and art galleries to Parma, and founded several schools and colleges.

Tomb in the Imperial Crypt. source: Wikipedia

In early December 1847, the Duchess fell ill and her condition worsened quickly. She died on the evening of December 17, 1847 in Parma. Her remains were returned to Austria, where they were interred in the Imperial Crypt in Vienna.

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Maria Antonia of Austria, Queen of France (Marie Antoinette)

by Scott Mehl

Marie Antoinette, painted by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, c1783. source: Wikipedia

Marie Antoinette, painted by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, c1783. source: Wikipedia

Maria Antonia of Austria (Marie Antoinette), Queen of France

Queen Marie Antoinette of France was born Archduchess Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna of Austria, Princess of Hungary and Bohemia, on November 2, 1755 at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna. Her parents were Empress Maria Theresa and Franz I, Holy Roman Emperor. Maria Antonia had 15 siblings:

Educated privately at home, Maria Antonia was not a very good student, especially in comparison to her siblings. However, she did become an accomplished musician, playing the flute, harp and harpsichord. She was particularly close to her sister Maria Carolina who was just three years older.

The marriage of Marie Antoinette and Louis-Auguste, 17xx. source: Wikipedia

The marriage of Marie Antoinette and Louis-Auguste, 1770. source: Wikipedia

After establishing peace with France, Empress Maria Theresa agreed to a marriage between Maria Antonia and Louis-Auguste, Dauphin of France (the future King Louis XVI). Maria Antonia was just 13 when the engagement was announced on June 13, 1769. The couple married by proxy on April 19, 1770, at the Augustinian Church in Vienna. She took the French version of her name, becoming Marie Antoinette, Dauphine of France. The following month, she arrived in her new country and met her husband for the first time. Two days later, on May 16, 1770, she and Louis-Auguste were married in a grand ceremony held in the chapel of the Palace of Versailles. They went on to have four children:

As the new Dauphine of France, Marie Antoinette received a mixed reception.  Well-liked by the common people, particularly due to her beauty and warm personality, she was distrusted by those who still held resentment over the country’s contentious relationship with Austria.  Upon becoming Queen upon the death of King Louis XV in May 1774, she found that she had little influence on her husband, often finding her requests being blocked by two of his ministers.  Perhaps as a means of appeasing her, King Louis XVI gave her an estate – the Petit Trianon – on the grounds of the Palace of Versailles.  The Petit Trianon was originally built by King Louis XV to be a home for his mistress, Madame de Pompadour.  However, she died before its completion, and it became the home of her successor, Madame du Barry (with whom Marie Antoinette had a very tense relationship).  The chateau became the Queen’s retreat, where she could escape the immense pressure and judgment which she faced in the French court.

She also had a small hamlet built within the grounds of the Petit Trianon, known as the Queen’s Hamlet (Hameau de la reine) in 1782-1783.  The hamlet contained numerous buildings, including the Queen’s House, a mill, a dairy and a farm.  It was here that the Queen truly found her privacy, allowing only her closest friends and family to visit her there.

Just two years later, the King purchased, from Louis Phillipe I, Duke of Orleans, the Château de Saint-Cloud for his wife.  The Queen felt that the clear air outside of the city would be better for her children.  As she had done with the Petit Trianon, Marie Antoinette quickly began to transform her new home, expanding the building and decorating it with lavish furniture commissioned specifically for the chateau.

Marie Antoinette in court dress, c1788. Painted by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun. source: Wikipedia

Marie Antoinette in court dress, c1788. Painted by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun. source: Wikipedia

As Queen, Marie Antoinette was often criticized for her spending – indulging in lavish gowns and other luxuries while the country was in the midst of financial crisis.  This would contribute to a growing animosity from the French people toward their Queen, as well as from the “old guard” within the French court.  She introduced new styles in clothing and hairstyles, and indulged herself in her personal interested in music in theater.  Over time, she began to exert more political influence, encouraging her husband to replace several of his older ministers, and prodding him to become involved in the American Revolution.  Along with gaining the support of Russia and Austria in efforts to block Great Britain’s attack, she also pushed strongly for the appointments of several ministers who helped in the American defeat of the British.

By the mid 1780s, The Queen was the subject of endless gossip and character attacks from the French people.  Rumors abounded that the Queen’s second son was not fathered by her husband, that she was treating the French treasury as her own bank account, and that she held Austrian interests ahead of those of France.  In 1785, she was falsely accused in the Diamond Necklace Affair, which further damaged her reputation.  Attempting to improve her image, she began to focus more publicly on the upbringing and education of her children, and spending more time in her public role and duties as Queen.  However, the tides of revolution were soon to come to the shores of France.  By 1789, the King had lost much of his absolute power to the National Assembly, and the majority of the French people saw no benefit of retaining the monarchy.

Marie Antoinette facing the mob at the Tuileries Palace, June 1792. source: Wikipedia

Marie Antoinette facing the mob at the Tuileries Palace, June 1792. source: Wikipedia

After a failed attempt to escape Paris in 1791 ended what little support was left for the monarchy, the royal family were held under house arrest at the Tuileries Palace.  On June 20, 1792, a mob broke into the Palace, threatening the Queen’s life.  Spared this time, her luck would not be so good several months later when another mob stormed the palace on August 10, 1792.  This time, the family sought refuge at the Legislative Assembly, but were arrested several days later, and imprisoned at the Temple.  On September 21, 1792, France official abolished the monarchy and became a Republic.  Marie Antoinette, her husband and their family were stripped of their titles and honors, becoming known simply as Monsieur and Madame Capet.

The King was soon separated from his family and charged with undermining the French Republic.  He was tried, found guilty and sentenced to death.  The former King Louis XVI was executed by guillotine on January 21, 1793.

Marie Antoinette while a prisoner at The Temple, painted by Alexandre Kucharski c1792. source: Wikipedia

Marie Antoinette while a prisoner at The Temple, painted by Alexandre Kucharski c1792. source: Wikipedia

While held as a prisoner in the Temple, Marie Antoinette and her children were the source of much debate, as the National Convention tried to determine what should be done with the former Queen.  While some argued she be put to death, others suggested holding her for ransom from the Holy Roman Empire, exchanging her for French prisoners of war, or exiling her to America.  In July 1793, her son was taken from her, with the intent of turning him against his mother.  Weeks later, on August 1, she was taken from the Temple and placed in a small cell in the Conciergerie. The once Queen of the French was now known as ‘Prisoner No. 280’.

On October 14, 1793, Marie Antoinette was tried by the Revolutionary Tribunal.  Among other things, she was charged with organizing orgies at Versailles, sending millions in French treasury money to Austria, planning the massacre of the National Guards, and there were also charges of incest with her son (who made this charge himself).  Two days later, she was found guilty of the main charges and sentenced to death.

Execution of Marie Antoinette, source: Wikipedia

Execution of Marie Antoinette, source: Wikipedia

Just after noon on October 16, 1793, Marie Antoinette was executed by guillotine in the Place de la Révolution (now the Place de la Concorde). She was buried in an unmarked grave in the Madeleine Cemetery. In 1815, her remains, along with those of her husband, were re-interred at the Basilica of Saint Denis.

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Auguste of Austria, wife of Luitpold, Prince Regent of Bavaria

source: Wikipedia

Archduchess Auguste Ferdinande of Austria, wife of Luitpold, Prince Regent of Bavaria

Archduchess Auguste Ferdinande of Austria, Princess of Tuscany, was born in Florence, Italy on April 1, 1825. She was the second of three daughters of Leopold II, Grand Duke of Tuscany and Princess Maria Anna of Saxony. Her sisters were Maria Caroline born in 1822, and Maria Maximiliana, born in 1827, both of whom died before the age of 20.

Auguste’s mother died in 1832, and the following year her father remarried to Princess Maria Antonietta of the Two Sicilies. Ten more children were born, including:

From all accounts, Auguste was a very intelligent child, interested in the arts and science from a young age. Raised with a strict Catholic background, it was expected that she would marry into one of Catholic ruling families in Europe. This came to be on April 15, 1844, in Florence, when she married Prince Luitpold of Bavaria, a younger son of King Ludwig I of Bavaria and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. The King had initially opposed the marriage, as Auguste was already showing signs of the pulmonary tuberculosis which would later take her life. However, he soon relented and allowed the couple to marry. Over the next eight years, they had four children:

source: Wikipedia

Because of her health, Auguste found it difficult to adjust to the Bavarian climate. A few years after marrying, she and her husband built a home on Lake Constance, which they used as a summer residence. She was a devoted mother to her four children, speaking to them only in Italian, as well as a strong supporter of her husband and the Bavarian monarchy. In 1848, she publicly criticized her father-in-law, King Ludwig I, for his relationship with his mistress, Lola Montez, and the negative effects it was having on the monarchy. The King soon abdicated, and Auguste made many public appearances encouraging support for the new King Maximilian II (her brother-in-law).

Photo © Susan Flantzer

Photo © Susan Flantzer

Sadly, on April 26, 1864, Princess Auguste died from the effects of tuberculosis she had suffered with for many years. She is buried in the crypt of the Theatinerkirche in Munich.

Years later, her husband would be named Prince Regent of Bavaria, due to the mental incapacity of his two nephews, King Ludwig II and King Otto. Following Luitpold’s death, the couple’s son, Ludwig, assumed the regency and went on to formally depose his cousin, King Otto, and take the throne himself as King Ludwig III.

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Zita of Bourbon-Parma, Empress of Austria

by Susan Flantzer

Photo Credit – Wikipedia

Princess Zita of Bourbon-Parma ((Zita Maria delle Grazie Adelgonda Micaela Raffaela Gabriella Giuseppina Antonia Luisa Agnese) was born on May 9, 1892 at the Villa Pianore in Lucca, Tuscany (Italy). She was the daughter of the deposed Robert I, Duke of Parma and his second wife, Maria Antonia of Portugal, daughter of the deposed King Miguel I of Portugal and Adelaide of Löwenstein-Wertheim-Rosenberg. Duke Robert I of Parma had a total of 24 children, 12 children with his first wife Princess Maria Pia of Bourbon-Two Sicilies and 12 children with his second wife, Zita’s mother. Zita was the 17th of her father’s 24 children. Six of the children from Duke Robert’s first marriage were mentally disabled. Zita’s half-sister Marie Louise married King Ferdinand I of Bulgaria. Zita’s full brother Felix married Grand Duchess Charlotte of Luxembourg and the present Grand Ducal family descends from them. Another full brother René married Princess Margrethe of Denmark, daughter of Prince Valdemar of Denmark, youngest son of King Christian IX of Denmark. René and Margrethe’s daughter Anne married King Michael I of Romania. Four of Zita’s full sisters became nuns.

Zita had 11 siblings:

  • Maria della Neve Adelaide (1885 – 1959), Benedictine nun at the Monastery of Solesmes, France
  • Sixtus (1886 – 1934), married Hedwige de La Rochefoucauld, had issue
  • Xavier, Duke of Parma (1889 – 1977), married Madeleine de Bourbon-Busset, had issue, the Carlist claimants to the Spanish throne descend through this line
  • Francesca (1890 – 1978), Benedictine nun at the Monastery of Solesmes, France
  • Felix (1893 – 1970), married Grand Duchess Charlotte of Luxembourg, had issue
  • René (1894 – 1962), married Princess Margrethe of Denmark, had issue including Anne who married King Michael I of Romania
  • Maria Antonia (1895 – 1937), Benedictine nun at the Monastery of Solesmes, France
  • Isabella (1898 – 1984), nun
  • Luigi (1899 – 1967), married Princess Maria Francesca of Savoy, had issue
  • Henrietta Anna (1903 – 1987), unmarried, was deaf
  • Gaetano (1905 – 1958), married and divorced Princess Margarete of Thurn and Taxis, had issue

From her father’s first marriage to Maria Pia of the Two Sicilies, Zita had 12 half-siblings. Six of the siblings were mentally disabled and two died in infancy. The twelfth child was stillborn and Maria Pia died in childbirth at the age of 33.

  • Marie Louise (1870 – 1899), married Tsar Ferdinand I of Bulgaria, had issue including Tsar Boris I of Bulgaria
  • Ferdinando (born and died 1871) died in infancy
  • Luisa Maria (1872 – 1943), unmarried, mentally disabled
  • Enrico, Duke of Parma (1873 – 1939), unmarried, mentally disabled, Titular Duke of Parma 1907-1939, his brother Elias took up the role as regent and head of the family
  • Maria Immacolata (1874 – 1914), unmarried, mentally disabled
  • Giuseppe, Duke of Parma (1875 – 1950), unmarried, mentally disabled, Titular Duke of Parma 1939-1950, his brother Elias continued the role as regent and head of the family
  • Maria Teresa (1876 – 1959), unmarried, mentally disabled
  • Maria Pia (1877 – 1915), unmarried, mentally disabled
  • Beatrice (1879 – 1946), married Pietro Lucchesi-Palli, had issue
  • Elias, Duke of Parma (1880- 1959), married Archduchess Maria Anna of Austria, had issue; Head of the Ducal Family of Parma (1950–1959)
  • Maria Anastasia (born and died 1881), died in infancy
  • Stillborn child (September 22, 1882), Maria Pia died in childbirth

The family of Robert I, Duke of Parma in 1906, From left to right, first row: Immaculata, Antonia, Isabella, Duke Robert, Henrietta, Luigi, Gaetano, Duchess Maria Antonia, Renato, Zita (sitting on the far right). From left to right, second row: Francesca, Pia, Luisa, Adelaide, Teresa, Joseph, Xavier, Henry, Sixtus, Felix; Photo Credit – Wikipedia

Despite losing his throne due to the unification of Italy, Zita’s father Robert of Bourbon-Parma Robert was considerably wealthy, traveled in a private train and owned castles at Schwarzau am Steinfeld near Vienna and Villa Pianore in northwest Italy, and the magnificent Château de Chambord in France. Zita grew up in a multi-language home. French was the main language spoken at home, but Italian and English were also spoken. Zita’s mother spoke Portuguese and German because her father was Portuguese and her mother was German. Zita’s German was perfected when she attended the school for aristocratic girls at the Salesian Sisters convent in Zangberg, Bavaria (now in Germany) from 1903 – 1908. The convent school followed the Bavaria Gymnasium curriculum, and Zita studied math, geography, history, natural history, and music. Zita then ended her formal education at Benedictine Abbey of St. Cecilia on the Isle of Wight in England where Zita’s grandmother Adelaide of Löwenstein-Wertheim-Rosenberg was the prioress. Here Zita studied theology and philosophy and perfected her English. She was also introduced to Gregorian chant and began playing the organ.

A young Zita; Photo Credit – Wikipedia

Zita’s maternal aunt Maria Teresa of Portugal had married a younger brother of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria, and because of this, Zita and her future husband, then Archduke Karl of Austria, met as children. Karl was under pressure to marry and produce an heir because his uncle and the current heir, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, had married morganatically and children from that marriage were excluded from the succession. Zita and Karl married on October 21, 1911 at Schwarzau Castle in Schwarzau am Steinfeld, Austria. Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria and his heir Archduke Franz Ferdinand were among the prominent guests at the wedding.


Both Zita and Karl were devout Catholics and on the day after their wedding, Karl told Zita, “Now, we must help each other to get to Heaven.” Zita gave birth to eight children in less than 10 years. When Karl died in 1922, Zita was only 29 and pregnant with her eighth child. She never married again and wore black for the 67 years of her widowhood.

Zita, Karl, and their children in 1921; Photo Credit – Wikipedia

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914 in Sarajevo made Karl the heir to the Austrian throne. Emperor Franz Joseph was almost 84 years old, and Karl and Zita would become Emperor and Empress decades earlier than previously thought. The two were now under constant public attention. During the early days of World War I, Karl was often away with the army. For security reasons, Zita and her children stayed with Emperor Franz Joseph at Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna. During this time the Emperor expressed his deep pessimism about the future of the monarchy to Zita. Emperor Franz Joseph died on November 21, 1916 and 29-year-old Karl was now Emperor of Austria, King of Hungary and Croatia, and King of Bohemia.

Funeral Procession for Emperor Franz Joseph, in front: Zita and Karl with their oldest son Otto; Photo Credit – Wikipedia

Austria was on the losing side of World War I and at the end of the war, the armistice required that the Austrian-Hungarian Empire allow for autonomy and self-determination of government of its various ethnic populations. The various areas proclaimed independence and by October 1918 there was not much left of the empire. On November 11, 1918, the same day as the armistice ending World War I, Karl issued a proclamation in which he recognized the rights of the people of the empire to determine their form of government and released his government officials from their loyalty to him. Karl did not use the term “abdicate” in his proclamation and would never admit that he abdicated.

On March 23, 1919, Karl and his family left for Switzerland. On April 3, 1919, the Austrian Parliament passed the Habsburg Law which forbade Karl or his wife Zita from returning to Austria. The law also prevented other Habsburgs from returning to Austria unless they renounced all intentions of claiming the throne and accepted the condition of living as ordinary citizens. On the same day, all noble titles were abolished. In 1921, Karl returned to Hungary twice in attempts to regain the throne of Hungary. After the second attempt, the Council of Allied Powers decided to exile Karl and his family to the Portuguese island of Madeira.

In March of 1922, Karl caught a cold which developed into bronchitis and further developed into pneumonia. After suffering two heart attacks and respiratory failure, Karl died on April 1, 1922 at the age of 34. Due to the Habsburg Law, Karl could not be buried in the Imperial Crypt in Vienna. He was buried at Church of Our Lady of Monte on the island of Madeira in Portugal. His heart was buried at the Muri Abbey, a Benedictine monastery dedicated to Saint Martin of Tours, near Basel, Switzerland. When Karl’s wife Zita died in 1989, she requested that her heart be buried with her husband’s. Two of their sons, Rudolf and Felix, are also buried at Muri Abbey. On October 3, 2004, Pope John Paul II beatified Karl and he is known as Blessed Karl of Austria. Beatification is the third of four steps toward sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church.

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Many churches in Austria have portraits of Blessed Karl of Austria. This altar dedicated to him is in the Augustinerkirche in Vienna, the parish church of the Austrian Imperial Family; Photo Credit – Susan Flantzer

The years following Karl’s death were difficult financially and Zita and her family moved often. They lived in Spain, Belgium, the United States (two of Zita’s sons served in the US Army during World War II), and Canada. In 1952, Zita moved back to Europe, living in Luxembourg and Switzerland. One of her daughters died in Austria in 1971 and Zita could not attend the funeral. The restrictions on the Habsburgs entering Austria had been rescinded, but only for those Habsburgs born after April 10, 1919. In 1982, the restrictions were eased and after 63 years Zita could return to Austria for visits. Zita had large family birthday celebrations for her 90th and 95th birthdays. Her health had been failing since her 90th birthday and the former Empress Zita died on March 14, 1989 at her home in Zizers, Switzerland at the age of 96.

Zita with eight of her children in 1962, Standing in the back from left to right: Archdukes Carl Ludwig, Rudolf and Robert, In the middle: Archduchesses Adelheid, Elisabeth and Charlotte with Archduke Felix, In the front Empress Zita and Archduke Otto; Photo Credit – Wikipedia

The government of Austria allowed the funeral to take place in Austria provided that the Habsburg family pay the cost. The funeral mass was held at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. At least 200,000 people had filed past her coffin during the two days it lay in state at the cathedral. Zita’s casket was borne to the Capuchin Church, where the Imperial Crypt is located, by the same coach she had walked behind during the funeral of Emperor Franz Joseph I in 1916. Over 200 Habsburg and Bourbon-Parma family members along with 8,000 other guests attended the funeral. Zita was buried in the Crypt Chapel of the Imperial Crypt. Her husband’s remains are still interred at the Church of Our Lady of Monte on the island of Madeira in Portugal, but their hearts were buried together at the Habsburg Crypt in the Loretto Chapel at the Muri Abbey near Basel, Switzerland. On December 10, 2009, Yves Le Saux, Bishop of Le Mans, France, opened the diocesan process for the beatification of Zita. Zita spent several months each year in the diocese of Le Mans at St. Cecilia’s Abbey, Solesmes, where three of her sisters were nuns.
New Liturgical Movement: Cause of Beatification of Empress Zita Opened
A Visit to the Kaisergruft (Imperial Crypt) in Vienna
YouTube: Beerdigung Ihrer Majestät Zita (Funeral of Her Majesty Zita)
People: Europe’s Heads, Crowned and Otherwise, Bury Zita, the Last Habsburg Empress
New York Times: Hapsburg Grandeur Is Dusted Off for Burial of ‘Our Sister the Empress Zita’

Tomb of Empress Zita; on the right is the tomb of her son Karl Ludwig; Photo Credit – Susan Flantzer

Wikipedia: Zita of Bourbon-Parma

Elisabeth of Bavaria, Empress of Austria

by Susan Flantzer

Photo Credit – Wikipedia

Elisabeth Amalie Eugenie, Duchess in Bavaria, known as Sisi, was born on December 24, 1837 at Herzog-Max-Palais (Duke Max Palace) in Munich, Bavaria (now in Germany). Today the palace is the Munich headquarters of the Deutsche Bundesbank, formerly the State Central Bank of Bavaria, and there is a plaque on the building commemorating Sisi’s birth.

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Plaque on the Deutsche Bundesbank in Munich commemorating the birth of Elisabeth, Empress of Austria; Photo Credit – Susan Flantzer, August 2012

Sisi’s father was Maximilian Joseph, Duke in Bavaria, from a junior branch of the House of Wittelsbach.  Maximilian Joseph did much to promote Bavarian folk music. He played the zither, which is the national instrument of Bavaria, and composed music for it.

Maximilian Joseph, Duke in Bavaria playing the zither; Credit – Wikipedia

Sisi’s mother was Princess Ludovika of Bavaria, the daughter of Maximilian I Joseph, King of Bavaria and his second wife Caroline of Baden.

Ludovika of Bavaria; Credit – Wikipedia

Although the family had a home in Munich, Herzog-Max-Palais (Duke Max Palace), Sisi’s parents had no obligations with the Bavarian royal court and their nine children spent much time living a carefree, unstructured, unrestrained childhood at Schloss Possenhofen on Lake Starnberg.  Sisi had a close relationship with her father, and he allowed her to stay away from classes to spend time with him. Her hobbies included horseback riding, drawing and writing poems.

Equestrian portrait of Sisi at Schloss Possenhofen, 1853; Credit – Wikipedia

Sisi’s eight siblings:

Sisi and her brother Karl Theodor; Credit – Wikipedia

In 1848, Emperor Ferdinand of Austria abdicated and his 18-year-old nephew Franz Joseph succeeded him. The feeling in the Imperial Court was that the young emperor should marry and produce heirs as soon as possible. Franz Joseph’s domineering mother, Princess Sophie of Bavaria was the sister of Sisi’s mother. Sophie considered several princesses as the future empress, however, Sophie wanted to forge a relationship with her familial House of Wittelsbach of Bavaria and the House of Habsburg-Lorraine. She arranged for a match between Franz Joseph and Helene, Duchess in Bavaria, Sisi’s eldest sister. In 1853, Helene traveled with her mother and her younger sister Sisi to the resort of Bad Ischl, Upper Austria to meet her first cousin Franz Joseph with the hopes that she would become his bride. Instead, Franz Joseph fell in love with the 15-year-old Sisi. Franz Joseph told his mother that if he could not marry Sisi, he would not marry at all. Five days later their engagement was officially announced.

Franz Joseph in 1853; Credit – Wikipedia

Sisi in 1855; Credit – Wikipedia

Franz Joseph and Sisi were married at 4 PM on April 24, 1854 at the Augustinerkirche, the parish church of the Imperial Court of the Habsburgs, a short walk from Hofburg Palace in Vienna, Austria. It had taken an hour for the wedding procession to walk through the palace corridors and courtyards and down the street to the church. The ceremony was conducted by Cardinal Joseph Othmar Rauscher, Archbishop of Vienna with 1,000 guests in attendance including 70 bishops.

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Augustinerkirche in Vienna, Austria; Photo Credit – Susan Flantzer, August 2012

Wedding of Franz Joseph and Sisi; Credit – Wikipedia

Sisi, who had been brought up in a relaxed atmosphere, was bored and tired after the wedding, but her duties were not yet done. After the wedding, the newlyweds proceeded down a 50-yard carpet back to the Hofburg Palace where for two hours they received their wedding guests. When dinner was finally served at 10 PM, Sisi had no appetite. The strict and formal reality of the Habsburg court’s protocol had astonished her. When her family left Vienna to return to Bavaria, Sisi’s father told her that he could not tolerate the Vienna court etiquette and that she would have to visit him at Schloss Possenhofen. Her sister Helene expressed her relief that Franz Joseph had not chosen her as his bride.

The couple had four children:

Sisi with her two eldest surviving children, Gisela and Rudolf in 1858; Credit – Wikipedia

Sisi’s youngest child, Marie Valerie in 1870; Credit – Wikipedia

The marriage was not a happy one for Sisi. Although her husband loved her, Sisi had difficulties adjusting to the Austrian court and did not get along with Imperial Family members, especially her controlling mother-in-law. Sisi felt emotionally distant from her husband and fled from him, as well as her duties at court, by frequent traveling. In 1885, Franz Joseph began an affair with an actress, Katharina Schratt, which would last the rest of his life. His wife tolerated the affair and even seemed to encourage it.

Empress Elisabeth of Austria in Courtly Gala Dress with Diamond Stars by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1865; Credit – Wikipedia

In 1860, Sisi suffered from severe coughing. The diagnosis of lung disease and the recommendation of a cure in Madeira, Portugal was used by Sisi as a pretext to escape from court life and take her first trip alone away from Vienna. When Sisi returned to Vienna, she suffered a severe relapse. The doctors diagnosed pulmonary consumption and Sisi escaped to the Greek island of Corfu in the Ionian Sea. Sisi quite liked Corfu and in 1889-1891, she had the Achilleion Palace built there. Sisi’s travels to escape the life at court continued for the rest of her life.

Achilleion Palace in Corfu, Greece; By Marc Ryckaert (MJJR) – Own work, CC BY 3.0,

Sisi had very rigorous exercise habits. Besides riding every day for hours, she had a gymnasium with wall bars, a high bar, and rings in the frame of a door. When she was in her 40s, Sisi began to suffer from sciatica and could not ride anymore. She then increased her gymnastic routines and began fencing lessons. In addition, she took long walks, sometimes walking 20 miles a day.

Sisi_dressing and exercise room

Sisi’s dressing and exercise room at Hofburg Palace; Photo Credit –

Franz Joseph kept his heir Crown Prince Rudolf away from all state affairs. Under pressure from his father, Rudolf married Princess Stephanie of Belgium, daughter of King Leopold II of the Belgians. The couple had one child, Elisabeth Marie. On January 30, 1889, at Mayerling, a hunting lodge in the Vienna Woods which Rudolf had purchased, in an apparent suicide plot, Rudolf shot his 17-year-old mistress Baroness Mary Vetsera and then shot himself. Crown Prince Rudolf had no sons, so the succession would pass to Emperor Franz Joseph’s brother, Archduke Karl Ludwig and his eldest son, Archduke Franz Ferdinand. In a matter of days, Archduke Karl Ludwig renounced his succession rights in favor of his son Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose assassination in 1914 sparked World War I.

Crown Prince Rudolf; Photo Credit – Wikipedia

After Rudolf’s death, Sisi spent little time with her husband, preferring to travel. However, a warm and friendly correspondence between the couple existed. In 1898, despite being warned about possible assassination attempts, Sisi traveled incognito to Geneva, Switzerland. She stayed at the Hotel Beau-Rivage, where she enjoyed a meal of timbale de volaille, crème glacèe à l’Hongroise and iced champagne. She asked her lady-in-waiting Irma, Countess Sztáray to send the menu to Franz Joseph because she had enjoyed the meal so much. Afterward, Sisi visited the aviaries, aquarium, and conservatories, and bought presents for her grandchildren.

Last photograph taken of Sisi and her lady-in-waiting the day before her death; Photo Credit – Wikipedia

The next day, September 10, 1898, Sisi was due to take a ferry across Lake Geneva to the town of Territet. As Sisi and her lady-in-waiting were walking to the ferry’s landing, the Italian anarchist Luigi Lucheni rushed at her and stabbed her in the heart with a pointed file. The puncture wound was so small that it was initially not noticed and it was thought that Sisi had just been punched in the chest. Sisi thanked all the people who had rushed to help and conversed with her lady-in-waiting about the incident. Only on board the ferry did she finally collapse and then the severity of her wound came to light. The ferry captain ordered the ferry back to Geneva and Sisi was taken back to the hotel on an improvised stretcher. A doctor and a priest were summoned. The doctor confirmed that there was no hope and the priest administered the Last Rites. Sisi died without regaining consciousness.


File that was used to stab Sisi on display at the Hofburg Palace; Photo Credit –

An artist’s rendition of the stabbing of Sisi by the Italian anarchist Luigi Lucheni; Credit – Wikipedia

Luigi Lucheni originally wanted to assassinate Prince Philippe, Duke of Orléans, but the duke had left Geneva earlier. He then selected Sisi as his victim when a Geneva newspaper revealed that the woman traveling under the pseudonym of “Countess of Hohenembs” was Empress Elisabeth of Austria.  Lucheni was sentenced to life imprisonment, and in 1910 he hanged himself with his belt in his prison cell.

Franz Joseph never fully recovered from his wife’s death. Sisi was buried in Franz Josephs Gruft (Franz Joseph’s Crypt) in the Imperial Crypt in Vienna, Austria where her son Rudolf had been buried. When Franz Joseph died in 1916, his tomb was placed between the tombs of his wife and son.

Emperor Franz Joseph at Sisi’s coffin in the Imperial Crypt

Sisi’s tomb on the left, Franz Joseph’s tomb in the middle and Rudolf’s tomb on the right; Photo Credit – Susan Flantzer, August 2012

Wikipedia: Empress Elisabeth of Austria