Sisi, the Hungarian Champion

Austrian empress Sisi, a great friend of Hungary


The Austrian Empress Sisi (nickname for Elisabeth) captivated hearts as a figure of inspiration, revered for her athleticism, fashion sense, wanderlust, poetic talents, and charity work. Even in the modern era, her legacy continues to evoke admiration and spark artistic expression. Sisi is well-known in Habsburg history. Austria and the world consider her a beautiful and legendary symbol. Her popularity is still strong, as seen in the many museums and souvenir shops dedicated to her. Sisi had a close connection with the Hungarian people. They admired her for supporting their independence during Austria-Hungary’s formation.

Sisi's waist was the object of admiration

Sisi’s waist was the object of admiration

Sisi captivated people with her tall and slender figure. Her unique personal style inspired many people, both inside and outside of the empire. Her slim waist, which measured between 40 and 50 cm in circumference, stemmed from her use of corsets and tightlacing techniques. Maintaining her slim figure was difficult. The Empress gained renown for following 19th-century food trends with her strict diet. Additionally, she employed steam baths to aid in weight loss and indulged in olive oil baths to keep her skin supple. Sisi was highly conscious of her weight and would weigh herself up to three times a day. On the rare occasions when she approached 50 kg, she would resort to crash diets to regain her slender physique. Exercise helped maintain her beauty. All her homes had gyms!

All of Sisi's residences had exercise equipment installed.

All of Sisi’s residences had exercise equipment

Apart from her famous waistline, the Austrian Empress Sisi took great pride in her voluminous chestnut tresses as well. She cherished her long locks so much that she never dared to trim them, allowing them to grow all the way down to the floor. However, managing such lengthy hair became quite a cumbersome task, especially when it came to combing. Washing her hair proved to be an even more laborious endeavor, occupying an entire day every three weeks. She wanted to stay in control, so she relied on her hairdresser to make fancy braided hairstyles.

Empress Elisabeth, Sisi, one of the most beautiful women of the era

The Austrian Empress Sisi, one of the most beautiful women of the era

Sisi possessed a free-spirited nature that made it difficult for her to conform to the strict protocols of the Habsburgs. Despite her daily hair care routine, walks, and horseback rides, she still found it difficult to meet her ceremonial duties. The court’s lofty expectations often resulted in health complications, prompting her to take frequent trips abroad to recover. In 1860, she suffered from severe respiratory issues, which kept her away from the court for a span of two years. First, she sought solace in Madeira before finding respite in Corfu. The empress started taking trips to avoid court duties, often blaming her health. She traveled to many places, including the British Isles, Hungary, and the Mediterranean region.

Sisi had exceptional horseback riding skills

Sisi had exceptional horseback riding skills

The Austrian Empress Sisi was a brave adventurer, famous for her amazing horseback riding abilities. She became known as one of the best horse riders of her time. Between 1876 and 1882, she often visited the British Isles. Sissi’s fervor for fox and stag hunts became widely recognized, as she maintained multiple stables in the area.

The dual monarchy agreement was very important. It made Hungary and Austria equal. Empress Sisi played a pivotal role in achieving this agreement. She grew close to Hungary, learning the language and making Hungarian friends. Even though many court members opposed her, Hungary gained autonomy because of her persistent advocacy. Franz Josef and Elisabeth became the King and Queen of Hungary in Budapest on June 8, 1867. Gyula Andrássy, a close friend of Sisi, became the Prime Minister of the Kingdom. This strengthened her victory. The royal couple won and got Gödöllő palace as a sign of their victory. Empress Elisabeth loved it and used it as a getaway.

Royal Palace in Godollo

Royal Palace in Godollo

Elisabeth, a young mother at the age of 17, encountered a difficult situation with her first three children, Sophie, Gisela, and Rudolf. Elisabeth wanted to raise her children, but her mother-in-law, Archduchess Sophie, sidelined her. Archduchess Sophie expected Elisabeth to focus on her ceremonial duties. So, Elisabeth had limited authority over the upbringing of the imperial heirs. Although she suffered when her two-year-old daughter Sophie fell ill and passed away, Elisabeth struggled to maintain her interest in her remaining children. But Elisabeth’s instincts returned when she had her youngest child, Marie Valerie, in Budapest. This happened just 10 months after she became queen. The Empress raised the “Hungarian child” herself, always going out of her way to spoil her.

Sisi with her husband and children

Sisi with her husband and children

Following the tragic double suicide of Crown Prince Rudolf and his mistress, Mary Vetsera, Sisi was left shattered and burdened with guilt. This profound loss compelled her to withdraw from court life completely. Clad in somber black attire, she embarked on a series of soul-searching journeys, traversing vast lands in her private rail car and indulging in luxurious sea cruises aboard imperial yachts throughout the Mediterranean. Her deep affinity for the ocean even led her to permanently ink an anchor on her shoulder blade. With only a small retinue accompanying her, she abstained from official visits and public appearances, preferring to immerse herself in long hikes, the art of poetry, and the acquisition of new languages. In order to alleviate her husband’s loneliness during her prolonged absences, she encouraged him to cultivate a close bond with Katharina Schratt, a beloved actress from the Burgtheater, with whom he maintained a devoted relationship until his passing in 1916.

Italian anarchist Luigi Lucheni stabbed Sisi with a sharpened needle file

Italian anarchist Luigi Lucheni stabbed Sisi with a sharpened needle file

In 1898, tragedy struck the wandering Empress as she made her way to board a ferry bound for Montreaux on the shores of Lake Geneva. Accompanied only by one attendant, she fell victim to an anarchist named Luigi Lucheni. Lucheni used a sharp needle file to attack her, surprising everyone, even the Empress. Unaffected by the assault, she continued onto the ship, unaware of the grave danger she was in. Yet, moments after the ship set sail, she lost consciousness. The captain turned the ship around, rushing her back to her hotel, but all efforts to revive her were in vain. At the age of 60, the Empress passed away. Later, a physician revealed that the tiny wound inflicted on her had pierced her heart. Her corset was tightly laced, restricting her movement and hiding her serious injury. Her fate became inevitable only when her corset was loosened.

Young Franz Josef and Sisi

Franz Josef and Sisi

The entire nation grieved when news spread of the Empress’s passing. Although she was shy, the Austrian Empress Sisi was loved for her beauty, kindness to the poor, dislike of rules, and help with charities. Franz Josef already carried a heavy burden. His son died by suicide, and his brother died tragically in Mexico. This heartbreaking event added to his burden. The news of his wife’s departure devastated him, leading him to exclaim, “I am spared nothing!”