O, that Stieler. Could he not make a purse from a sow’s ear? And why did he not paint me?
It’s my party and I’ll whine if I want to. Today’s subject is the famous Hungarian Coronation dress, a frock voted most likely to beguile and perplex.
The official museum description of this Charles Frederic Worth gown lists this dress as made from:
white silk brocade, decorated with flower motives of silver thread; a velvet bodice with pearl lacings, white puffed sleeves of lace and black, diamond set bodice; around the neck, Hungarian diamond jewelry.
The Paired coronation cloak is purported to be constructed of:
blue velvet, lined with white duchesse silk
Apparently, there is some disagreement amongst the historical fashion experts as to the exact type of silk, whether or not there was any brocade,and the true purpose or even existence of pearl lacings and/or diamond settings, and so forth.
Plainly, there are myriad versions of me stuffed into this iconic gown, just feast your eyes on the variety of likenesses herewith! (Personally, I’m most fond of the Wikipedia version that appears last, the one that has me looking like a busty teenager, but I am a vain icon, after all.)
P.S. In case you might like your own replica, say, for your next imperial costume party, here’s some information on purchasing such a gown.
All right all you spring breakers, let’s get civilized, shall we? Before all you ladies (and I use the term broadly) bared your midriffs, shaved your privates, and boarded a plane bound for depravity, there was a much more elegant way to spend a holiday. It was known as the rest cure.
I’ve been much maligned for my tendency to slip away from Court during frigid or rainy weather to partake in the tepid waters off the coast of Corfu, or feel the sweet warm breeze from a Triestian turret. But I ask you. Is it fair to criticize a monarch for her forays into radical self-care? Would you rather see me pale and anemic, coughing up a lung whilst stuffed into one insufferable gown after another?
If it were up to the men, they’d rather we stay chained to the throne, as it were. Or if we do dash off on holiday, freshly Lipo-lifted and salon-bronzed, we must be available for their continual ogling. On display in a drenched t-shirt, or, heavens, with a strip of cloth bisecting our buttocks. This is not vacation, ladies.
I propose that we rethink this girls gone wild thing, and take back our holidays. Instead of parading about like a cow at auction, consider this age-old alternative. Yes, yes, sometimes there’s a bit of electroshock involved. And stiff Nurse Ratchet types administering to your bodily functions, but my particular version has a few more goodies. The “Sisi Rest Cure” has several components:
Really, ladies, would you rather shake your booty or awaken your inner goddess?
Case in point. As many of you know, I was betrothed to the Emperor when I was a wee 15 years of age. But what you may not know is that the auspicious engagement at Bad Ischl came on the heels of the death of my one true love. A count from Bavaria. He was a young man who went off to war and fell ill with some horrific disease (back in the 19th century, there were plenty of virulent bugs about. You caught a cold, and three days later, dead).
And even after my wedding, there were plenty of men who filled my heart with romance and intrigue, but, naturally, a Empress does not go around spreading her skirts willy nilly! No, I was a faithful, expectant wife–ever hopeful that my days would be appointed with favors and kindnesses, but woe and alas, marriage often leaves one hungry for love. On no other day of the year do the lovelorn feel more disheartened than on St. Valentine’s Day.
St. Valentine’s Day has a storied tradition of disappointment. Misunderstandings over how a hare should be properly boiled, or whether one’s summer holiday should be taken in the mountains or at sea. The Emperor, like many a husband, would forget all about the roses and chocolates–and scoot off for a hunting trip in middle of February. Heartbreak, ladies, is older than the hills.
Per chance you, too, are sitting alone on this day of love? As the adage goes,
misery loves company, so I submit to you, this charming collection of Vinegar Valentines collected by Birmingham Museum. Enjoy.
P.S. for you aficionados of modern love and all its complication, consider this ebook, UNKISS ME. 99 cents at Amazon.
Back in the day, when I was the poor relation offered in marriage to the most powerful man in the world, like Lady Mary, I was often at the mercy of dowagers. In Lady Mary’s case, the quippy ladies (made delightfully acid-tongued by that genius, Mr. Fellowes), have the eldest Crowley daughter’s best interests at heart because she is, after all, their granddaughter.
Alas, would that that were true for yours truly.
The dowager in my life, my mother-in-law, was also my aunt–having been the Wittelsbach daughter who married most spectacularly. Archduchess Sophie was often referred to as, “the only man in the Hofburg.” Like the irrepressible Countess of Grantham, the Archduchess was ever-busy in the background at Court, pulling strings and making up for the passivity and laziness of the men who sat in power.
As a true model of strength, however, Sophie was a tad undercooked. Though she brokered deals and snapped the reins during the revolution of 1848, once she managed to finagle her darling and favorite son, Franzl, up on the throne, she threw all of her energies into the hand-wringing meddling of any overzealous mum, and set out to make a reasonable marital match for him.
Ah, she had such hopes that my woefully placid elder sister, Helene, would be the niece slash daughter-in-law of her dreams. Alas, her Franzl found Helene petulant and mild, and instead, set his sights on the fifteen-year-old brat kid-sister. Me.
I have often wondered, lo these three seasons of Downton, if our story were a series, who would play the Archduchess? Do we even have a Bavarian Maggie Smith? An über Frau with a big stick?
I relish the thought of such scenes as Sophie snapping my babies off my breast and installing them instead to a nursery in the center of her apartments at the Hof. Or standing at the end of the bed I shared with her son on our wedding night schimpfing about my duties as an heir-producer. Or presiding over the insufferable 13-course Sovereign Court Table when her dear Franzl was off on state business. Or banning my animals–the monkey, the hunting dogs–from the Imperial apartments.
Perhaps, once Downton runs its course, the world will be open to exploring the juicy lives of the Habsburgs. What do you think?
175 years ago today, not in a manger, but in something similar, Her Royal Highness Duchess Elisabeth Amalie Eugenie, the fourth child and second daughter of Duke Maximilian Joseph and Princess Ludovika of Bavaria was born.
Christmas Eve, naturally, is my favorite day of the year. Nothing says “over the top” quite like a Bavarian Princess birthday party, and combined with alpine snow and a little Schnapps, well, does it get any better?
Maybe next year you will plan a trip to Bavaria? Shop the market, ski the slopes, visit the castle? Try a pint of our finest? (fyi, according to the Bavarian Beer Purity Law of 1516–still enforced today–the only ingredients that can be used in the production of beer are water, barley and hops. None of that fancy spice or special yeast.)
I’ll be there, of course. Sitting on my virtual throne, dancing with the Emperor, and alighting my spirit upon all things Yule.
Prost, and good health.
The gold and crackle of fall is at hand, which, for most of my life meant one thing: the mountains. As a girl, when I was not on horseback, I climbed the hills surrounding my summer home, Possenhofen. But once I reached adulthood and found myself being forced into one after another poufy ensemble, I made it a point (much to the dismay of the Archduchess) to scurry about the alps whenever I could command a coach to take me away from Court.
I had my favorite climbs: The Schmittenhohebahnen, The Katrin alpine (shown in the picture above), and other Saltzkammergut vistas.
Of course, my retinue found this habit taxing. After all, my ladies-in-waiting were a phlegmatic lot. Ascending a palace staircase was often the extent of their daily exercise–they were not about to go traipsing along hill and dale. We found an amenable solution. I would have the ladies gathered up and placed in a carriage, so they might gossip and fiddle with their handwork as they bumped along the lanes beside me as I hiked.
In rain and snow, in the heat of summer, off I went. And when the road grew too narrow or rutty for the carriage, I bid it adieu and marched along with whichever escort drew the short straw until the poor companion begged that her gout or boils were getting the better of her and could we please, please turn back.
As for hiking “couture,” I adapted the boots, dark, practical skirts and close-fitting jackets from my extensive collection of hunting habits. In fact, I do believe I could take some credit for an entire fashion trend. Especially the large leather umbrella I hoisted above my head (not only did this protect me from curious onlookers and the horrid sun, but offered the extra benefit of keeping the flab off the arms).
When I required a bit of a break and some refreshment, I would pop into a country inn, choosing always the most remote corner, and there I would have my glass of milk.
Occasionally, the carriages were not available, in which case I went walking without them. But I was not able to convince the Court that I could manage solo. Ah, my poor, loyal Lady Festetics, the little butter ball. After a couple of hours chasing me around the black forest, she begged for a ham, or even a sweet roll. My forced marches were entirely too much for the Countess. Once, when out rather late on an excursion, we were racing against sunset, necessitating a bit of a jog back to the summer castle in Bad Ischl. A policeman became alarmed, seeing such a sight, convinced that an evildoer was in hot pursuit!
Though history finds it odd that an Empress would choose to get sweaty and march about in boots rather than sit like a pampered cat on a velvet cushion, but for me, it was my lifeline to earlier days–when I was free to explore at will, rather than be kept in the proverbial gilded cage to grow dusty and fat.
From time to time, the gossips speculate as to which of my four sisters was most beautiful. They will go on at length, discussing hair, teeth, face and figure. Feet. Ears. They will even, Lord help us, rank the beauty of my sisters’ souls.
It is no secret that I come from a family of hotties. My mother, before going cuckoo with her cuckoo clocks, was also thought a striking young lady in her time. Alas, many births, her brother’s romantic follies, her husband’s infidelities, and her tendency to micromanage her children’s affairs at the expense of a good hair brushing, saw her looks plummet, until Dear Mama quite resembled Whistler’s Mother in her latter years. Pity, that.
Her daughters, however, fared more favorably. Despite their impetuous natures and clandestine love foibles, my sisters, I’ve been assured, were easy on the eyes.
I submit the following for your scrutiny and pleasure. Tell me, which of these girls most strikes your fancy? Or, in the parlance of the day, Hot, or Not?
O, but it has been too long my dears. What with all the rest cures and the Olympics and renovations at the Hof.
I think you all deserve something pretty to look at, as well as a little parlour game to keep you amused, so I will post a series of my favorite frocks herein. Some of these you’ll recognize, as they are part of formal portraiture. Can you match the outfits with their purpose? Here are the categories:
A. the Hungarian coronation gown
B. the Winterhalter gala gown
C. the Polterabend kleid frock
D. a mourning riding habit
Now, mix and match, and offer your answers in the comment section (e.g. A = ONE and so on–though that is not the correct answer!). Winner will receive one of my favorite books of the year: The Lost Girl by Sangu Mandanna.
You have the entire weekend to think this through. I shall choose my winner randomly (as long as the answers are correct), and post the results on Tuesday August, 28th.
Good luck, and happy viewing!
Unfortunately, I had to give up riding in middle age, due to arthritis. My brittle bones and sore joints. My many aches that even the prolonged rest cures could not fix.
Before that time, however, I delighted in the speculation that I would one day be thrown. That during a hunt, my mount might stumble and send me bustle-over-sidesaddle, hurling to the earth. My Lady, Marie Festetics, used to pray, “God grant that my beloved Empress return home safe and sound.” Which I always did.
In my halcyon days, there was even a ballad celebrating my exploits:
The bright star of Europe’ her kingdom has left,
And Austria mourns of its Empress bereft.
Firm seat in the saddle: light hands on the reins,
As e’er guided steed over Hungary’s plains:
She has come–with her beauty, grace, courage and skill
To ride with our hounds, from old Shuckburgh Hill.
It is with bitter dismay, I must admit, that I never had the chance to perform at the Olympic games. Sidesaddle jumping–I would have been a shoe-in for the gold!