Monthly Archives: May 2017

Empress Elisabeth of Austria – Her Own Woman

What did a woman in history do when she had no control over her life? If strong and empowered, she rebelled. Sometimes in a big way, and sometimes as a detriment to herself. One such woman was Elisabeth, Empress of Austria.

Elisabeth as Empress of Austria, empowered woman
Elisabeth 1837-1898
Empress of Franz Josef of Austria (i.dailymail.co.uk)One such woman was Empress Elisabeth of Austria, also known as “Sisi.”

Born, Her Royal Highness Duchess Elisabeth Amalie Eugenie, in Munich, Bavaria 1837, Elisabeth grew up in the Bavarian countryside far from court life, riding horses and pursuing country sports. Her parents, Duke Maximilian Joseph and Princess Ludovika of Bavaria, saw little merit in rules for their four children. This liberal upbringing set the stage for Elisabeth’s constant quest for individualism in her adulthood. One that proved more and more difficult as she grew older.

And it started with marriage. Indulgent with their children’s freedom in childhood, the Duke and Princess of Bavaria could no longer defy the rules of royal life when their children became young adults. The Duke and his wife made arrangements with the Duke’s sister, Princess Sophie of Austria, for their eldest daughter, Helene, and Princess Sophie’s son, Franz Joseph, to wed. Fifteen-year-old Elisabeth accompanied her older sister and their mother to Austria to meet their cousin and his mother. However, Helene did not catch the young Emperor’s fancy, but Elisabeth did. Franz defied his mother and insisted he marry Elisabeth. Their betrothal was announced five days later.

Within the year, Elisabeth gave birth to the couple’s first child, Sophie. The Archduchess immediately whisked the child away from Elisabeth and put her in the control of her own nannies. The same followed suit with the next child, Gisela. The Archduchess never missed an opportunity to chide Elisabeth for not producing a son.

Eager to get away from her mother-in-law, Elisabeth implored her husband to let her and the two girls accompany him on a trip to Hungary in 1857. During the visit, both of the girls became ill with diarrhea. Gisela recovered quickly, but two-year-old Sophie succumbed to the illness, later diagnosed as Typhus. The death of little Sophie sank Elisabeth into a depression which would reoccur and haunt her for the rest of her life.

The sixteen inch waist - a woman needing to control her destiny
(foros.vogue.es)

Heart-broken, Elisabeth began a cycle of fasting, sometimes for days on end. She shunned her responsibilities at court, spent much of her time outdoors riding her horses, and also developed some disturbing phobias and obsessions. Her marriage, not a panacea to her troubles, started to show signs of stress.

Known as a great beauty, Elisabeth took much pride in her looks. Her appearance, one of the few things she had control over, became her primary obsession. Known for her elegant height of 5’8”, and her tiny waist, measuring 19 inches in diameter, Elisabeth went to dangerous extremes to control her weight. She eventually whittled her waist down to 16 inches. She weighed herself daily, and if the scales tipped above 110 lbs., the next several days called for a strict fast.

In addition to extreme dieting, Elisabeth also developed a rigorous and disciplined exercise routine.  She had gymnasiums built in every castle where the royal family resided. She had mats and balance beams and mirrors installed in her bedchamber so she could practice on them each day. She rode her horses often, sometimes three to five hours at a time.  Despite the toll on her health, in 1858, Elisabeth finally bore a son and heir, much to everyone’s relief.

Liberal and forward thinking, Elisabeth’s interest in politics grew. Having fallen in love with the Hungarian people during her visit there in 1857, she firmly placed herself on the Hungarian side in Austro-Hungarian negotiations. At one point, she demanded that her husband name Gyula Andrassy, a liberal Hungarian statesman, (and rumored to be her lover) Premier of Hungary or she would leave him. The emperor complied and Elisabeth stayed in an increasingly unhappy marriage.

In 1867, The Austro-Hungarian Compromise resulted in Andrassy becoming Prime Minister of Hungary, and  Franz Joseph and Elisabeth, King and Queen of Hungary.  The couple was gifted with a palace in Godollo, and set up a country residence there where Elisabeth built a riding school.

Elisabeth much preferred Hungary to Austria and rarely went back to Vienna. In 1868, she gave birth to another daughter, Archduchess Marie Valerie.  Determined to raise this child herself, she openly rebelled against her mother-in-law. Soon after, Archduchess Sophie died, forever losing the power to control her son, his wife and their children. But, too much damage had been done, and Elisabeth had no desire to be a doting wife. She took up a life of traveling, leaving her husband and children at home.

More sadness befell the estranged couple years later when their only son and heir, Rudolf, was found dead with his 17-year-old mistress, Baroness Mary Vetsera, in a supposed murder suicide pact. The death of Rudolf caused a lasting rift between Elisabeth and Franz, Hungary, and Austria. The line of succession  now passed to Franz Joseph’s brother, leaving Hungary out of the picture.

Elisabeth and her lady in waiting
Supposed last photo of Elisabeth one day before her death (foros.vogue.es)

In perpetual mourning, the Empress Elisabeth continued her travels. When her health prevented her from riding, she made her servants endure long hikes and walks with her. At fifty, she took up fencing with the same intensity as she had other sports. She also threw herself into writing, became an inspired poet, and wrote nearly five hundred pages of verse. She despised court life and would often travel in disguise, without her entourage, to avoid being recognized. Unfortunately, this decision ultimately led to her death.

In 1898, Elisabeth and her lady-in-waiting left a hotel on the shore of Lake Geneva on foot to catch a steamship for Montreux. Wanting to avoid recognition, she ordered her servants to travel ahead by train. Luigi Lucheni, an Italian anarchist, happened to be in town to kill the Duc D’Orleans. Failing to find him, Lucheni learned that a woman traveling under the name “Countess of Hohenembs” had exited the hotel. Determined to kill a sovereign, Lucheni stabbed her under the breast with a hand-made needle file.

Defying the rules to the end, but beloved by her people, Empress Elisabeth of Austria became an historical icon. Her limited, though significant, influence on Austro-Hungarian politics temporarily soothed a troubled empire. Although unable to completely escape the binds of royal life, she will always be remembered as a liberal non-conformist who valued freedom and the rights of the individual above anything else.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 5 Mysteries of Boudica – Warrior Queen

History.net

Much of the history of Boudica, the warrior Queen of the Iceni, is shrouded in mystery. The Iceni were an ancient Celtic tribe or kingdom that lay on the eastern shores of England. Sources agree that Boudica was born in AD 25 to a royal family. They also agree that she rose to power and she was named Queen after the death of her husband, Prasutagus. She was probably 18-25 years old at the time. She is most known for her military cunning and prowess as she felled Londinium (now called London) and Verulamium (now called St. Albans) in AD 60 or 61. It is estimated that 70,000 to 80,000 Romans and British were killed by her armies.

Two primary sources have recorded the events of her life. Tacitus, the most important Roman historian of the time, had access to Boudica’s uprising in Britain as his father-in-law, a military tribunal, served there for three years. Cassius Dio, another Roman historian and statesman, also wrote about the life and great battle of Queen Boudica. Cassius Dio published more than 70 volumes of history on Ancient Rome, however, he was born almost 100 years after Boudica’s crusade. The two stories of Boudica have some similarities, but also differ, giving mystery and some ambiguity about the life and times of this empowered woman.

Mystery #1 Her name.

The warrior Queen has been known by many versions of her name, including Boadicea, the Latin version, and Buddug the Welsh interpretation. Raphael Holinshed, an English Chronicler in the 1500’s, referred to her as Voadicia, and English Poet of the 1500’s, Edmund Spenser, calls her Bunduca from a Jacobean play called Bonduca.

Boudica’s history had been long forgotten until the Victorian era, when her story became popular again. It was then determined that her name comes from the Celtic word “victorious” and that the correct spelling is Boudica. It was said that Queen Victoria of the 19th and 20th  century was named after the warrior Queen, thus her rise in popular culture once again.

Mystery #2 Her appearance and dress.

Wikipedia

Cassius Dio described Boudica as a tall and imposing woman with tawny (reddish brown) hair that hung to her hips, a “piercing gaze and a harsh voice.” Other reports say her hair was fair, or blond, and hung to her knees. Cassius Dio records that she wore a multi-colored tunic and a heavy cloak fastened with a bronze brooch—typical dress of a wealthy Celtic woman. He also claims she wore a gold torque around her neck. The torque, a metal band of twisted gold strands, worn as a choker, was the symbol of an ancient Celtic warrior chieftain. The torque symbolized a warrior’s readiness to shed blood for the good of his people—and was never worn by women.  If this is true, it just goes to show how fierce and empowered this woman appeared to her people.

Mystery #3 Her reason for sacking London.

Tacitus claims that when Boudica’s husband Prasutagus, died, he left his kingdom to his daughters in order to retain Iceni independence from Rome. However, under Roman law when a chief or king died, the estate was left to the emperor. When the Roman procurator, Decianus Catus arrived at Prasutagus’ court to take inventory, Boudica strongly objected and the procurator had her flogged and her daughter’s raped. In revenge, she then set out to destroy the Romans in Britain.

Cassius Dio claims that at Prasutagus’ death resulted in the confiscation of monies and goods from the rich Britons. Also, any loans they had received—many were forced to take out loans from the Romans—were now due.

Mystery #4 Her religion.

Boudica may have been a druid. Before she set out to lead her troops into battle, it is said that the warrior Queen evoked the British goddess of victory, Andraste. She then released a hare from the folds of her cloak and determined by which direction the hare ran, either on the side of the Romans or the side of the Britons, which army would win. When the hare ran in the direction of the Britons, the people cheered. Boudica then raised her hand to heaven and praised Andraste. A demonstration like this gives historians reason to believe she may have had some druidic training.

Mystery #5 Her death.

Boudica, in a fearsome looking chariot with her daughters by her side, led her troops into battle. Tacitus claims she gave a short speech claiming she did not wish to fight as a rich aristocrat who lost everything to the Romans, but as an ordinary person avenging her lost freedom, her battered body, and her raped children. She, as a woman, was resolved to win or die.

She first sacked Camulodunum (Colchester), a Roman colony. When she reached Londinium, she killed everyone who crossed her path–men, women and children. Noble Roman women were stripped and strung up. Their breasts were cut off and sewn to their mouths. Then they were impaled on sharp skewers running lengthwise through their bodies. Boudica then went on to Verulamium, slaughtering more people. The Roman General, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, regrouped his forces and met Boudica head on somewhere in the West Midlands and eventually proved victorious.

According to Tacitus, Boudica poisoned herself to avoid capture, torture, and death at the hands of the Romans, but Cassius Dio claims she later fell ill and died, and was given a glorious funeral.

Given that Dio wrote Boudica’s history almost a century after the battle, it can be said that he read Tacitus and decided to change the story.

Either way, one thing is clear; Boudica was a ferocious leader who set out to avenge her family and her people from the burden of Roman occupation.