The Anorectic Empress: Elisabeth of Austria

Walter Vandereycken and Ron van Deth chart the life of an unhappy empress, from her eating disorders to extra-marital affairs.

On Christmas Eve 1837, Duchess Elisabeth of Bavaria, better known by her pet name Sisi, was born the third of eight children. Her father, Maximilian of Bavaria, belonged to the ducal branch of the Wittelsbachs in Munich. He was married to Duchess Ludovica, the younger sister by three years of the Austrian Arcduchess Sophia. Sisi married the son of the latter at the age of sixteen; her husband, Franz Joseph I, was then twenty-three years of age and, since 1848, Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary and of Bohemia. Four children were horn of this marriage, including their only son, Crown Prince Rudolph, who later took his own life, together with that of his lover, Marie Vetsera, at Mayerling in 1889. Sisi herself also succumbed to a violent death when she was stabbed in Geneva by an Italian anarchist on September 10th, 1898.

Right from the start of her marriage, Sisi's life was a succession of frustrations, setbacks and fruitless searches for inner peace and satisfaction. Coming from a fairly loving and rather bourgeois family in Bavaria, she became stranded in the rigidly orchestrated protocol of the imperial court of Vienna where her mother-in-law firmly pulled the strings. She was unable to reconcile herself with the decorative role of spouse of the emperor, seeking her own form of safety by escaping her obligations.

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