I’m such a Sisi

there's that apfel-cheeked karlheinz boehm crowning "me" empress

No, not “Sissi,” though the films about me starring Romy Schneider (that sad, sad gorgeous harlot–I mean, starlet), would beg to differ. We have Ernst Marischka, the film’s director, to thank for the blunder, but it’s an honest mistake, because Sissi is often the nickname for Elisabeth in Austria.

Here’s the real story on my various names. I was born Elisabeth Amalie Eugenie Wittelsbach.  My Papa called me Lisi, but everyone else in my family bellowed Sisi! when I misbehaved.  I was never one for sitting about with my lessons, so shortcuts-are-me, even if that meant eliminating an extra letter.  And, frankly, Sisi looks better on paper than Sissi.  Tougher, leaner.

In our day, we had multiple names and titles, and partly this was to distinguish ourselves from the many other people in our family with the same given name. For instance, my mother’s real name was Marie, but shortly after birth her parents started calling her by her middle name, Ludovika, and promptly named a younger sister Maria.  My little sister was also named Marie, so it would have been quite confusing to have so many Maries running around, yes?  Of course we kinder all called our mother, the Princess of Bavaria, Mummi, and Papa called her, well, we shan’t go there.

Then there’s the whole Elizabeth versus Elisabeth conundrum.  We have the Americans to blame for that!  They often bastardize (bastardise?) good words by inserting the unwholesome “z” in place of the British “s” in –ise words, (e.g. organise/organize, recognise/recognize, realise/realize).  I propose that Microsoft adopt the Oxford spelling spellcheck as default in their next Windows upgrade, in order to right the wrongs done on behalf of the free Colonial world. But then again, I’m royalty, so of course I feel this way!

why my sister did not become empress (a reprise)

Yes indeed, we’re flashing back to a popular post (originally penned over a  year ago). If you feel you’ve read this before, you have! But there are several new readers, so I am offering this post, yet again.

nene and sisi

after my engagement, my sister grew grumpier yet

Alas, poor Nené, my humorless sister.  As the eldest daughter in an inbred family full of loons, she was the only sane one and for all of her sanity, she very nearly became an old maid.

As you all know, I was “that little monkey” who was dragged to Bad Ischl as an afterthought that day in August, 1853.  The Emperor was not supposed to pay me any mind–I was a mere child, just fresh from the nursery.

My sister’s likeness preceded her introduction in the form of many a studio shot: sitting in a brocade parlor chair with lips pinched; gazing into space, sporting a fresh heart-shaped coif; on horseback with the strong, straight back our father demanded of us, but an expression that merely said, “this corset is digging into my ribs.”

In photographs, my sister’s face always looked sour and stern.  Her eyes squinted under heavy brow bones, her mouth, well, someone should have recommended more of a smile–(though, in her defense, none of us Wittelsbach woman ever smiled with teeth showing for our family curse included a mouthful of unsightly brown). And yet, had Helene been bubbly and animated in the flesh, she may still have been able to charm the young Emperor.  But, it was not the case.

Now, here’s where I came in.  Franz Joseph’s mother, the ever-meddling Archduchess, had decided that her son, the heir, would marry her sister Ludovica’s daughter, period. No one was more surprised than she (except, maybe, me) when he chose “the little monkey” instead of the more turned out, well-behaved elder girl.

Years later the Emperor shared his disappointment in how plain and stern my sister looked when first they met.  “No youth!  No joie de vivre!  You’d think, at eighteen, she was forty!”


Nené, looking glum, glum, glum

Elisabeth of Bavaria

I was rather fetching...

It is true, Emperor Franz Joseph robbed the cradle by plucking a fifteen-year-old child from her nursery, but things were quite different back then.  For one, not only was I a child, I was also the Emperor’s cousin.  Ah!  But there was no child protective police in 19th Century Europe, so off to the Hofburg I went, leaving my elder, jilted sister to sulk for years to come–until she finally married a wealthy prince named Prince Max at the ripe old age of 24.

But here is the irony. My sad-faced sister was the only one among us to have a happy marriage in the end.  Go figure.

more about mad cousin ludwig

he wore it well, my dear ludwig, god rest his crazy soul.

Word on the Strasse is that my beloved cousin, King Ludwig II, was murdered as he tried to escape deposition for mismanagement of funds during a particularly harrowing bout of madness. The company line is that he tragically drowned in Lake Starnberg alongside his psychiatrist.  Some say suicide; some say natural causes.  Whatever the circumstance, my poor, dear Ludwig was entirely manic at the time, as I myself reported in an earlier entry on The Mad Men and Women of Bavaria.

Ludwig was definitely among the most eccentric of our clan. Even as a boy, he was fascinated with building fairy castles.  We’d pop over to his father’s palace for tea, and there he’d be, in his velvet tails and short pants, lying amidst the dust bunnies with his blocks, stacking them against all the laws of physics until they tumbled to the floor. Again and again and again he would do this until the nurse yanked him up by his frilly cuff and dragged him off to an elocution lesson (or a whipping).

the king and i, we were the et and mj of our day!

Ludwig and I were quite close. I was Elizabeth Taylor to his Michael Jackson.  We understood the trappings of celebrity.  The demands.  He adored me almost as much as he adored my son, Rudolph–his favorite of my children.

But yes, he was odd. While he was passionate for Wagner, he rebuffed my sister Sophie, to whom he was briefly engaged, even though of us all, Sophie sang like a sparrow. In fact, after my father, Duke Max, gave Ludwig the ultimatum (set the date or set her free), my cousin wrote,

Sophie written off, the somber picture scattered; I long for freedom, I thirst for freedom, for a return from the tormening nightmare.

That written, he flung a sculpted bust of my sister out the window of his fairy castle!

He was a handful, that Ludwig.  His only brother, Otto, was already in an asylum for the insane, so with Ludwig’s precarious walk on the sanity tightrope, the whole Bavarian monarchy was in peril.

But on the note that he drowned? I reject the notion entirely.  My cousin loved the water.  He was a strong swimmer.  Why, I remember this one time I brought my beloved blackamoor, Rustimo, on a boat trip with the king. It was just the three of us, and Rustimo sang and played the guitar so sweetly, Ludwig placed a ring upon his finger. He was impulsive, that way.

the breathtaking neuschwantstein castle is but one of king ludwig's creations

We all knew, of course, that my cousin generally preferred the company of men to women, (as did I!).  It seemed that distressed his mother, Queen Marie, more than having two crazy sons.  This I found more than odd. Perhaps there is something in the Bavarian water that we may blame for all this lunacy? Until we know for sure, I’ll take solace in the good king’s legacy.  The wondrous castles he built in the Alpine foothills of my homeland.