F Heritage History | Elizabeth - Empress of Austria by George Upton

Elizabeth - Empress of Austria - George Upton




King Ludwig Second of Bavaria

Through all her sorrows and troubles Elizabeth never lost her love for her Bavarian home or for her own family, with whom she corresponded regularly. For many years she was in the habit of spending part of every summer at Possenhoffen, revisiting the scenes of her childhood and going about among her peasant friends, who always spoke of her as "our Empress," forgetful of the fact that this title properly belonged to the Queen of Prussia.

The years had brought many sorrows and misfortunes to Duke Max Joseph and his wife. Their oldest son married an actress of doubtful reputation. The Princess of Thurn and Taxis early lost her husband and oldest child and was left with the burden of managing the vast family estates. The third daughter, Marie, like Elizabeth, was elevated to a throne at the age of seventeen, by becoming the wife of Francis Second, King of the Two Sicilies; but barely a year later Garibaldi's freelances robbed her unworthy husband of his crown and made her a queen without a country. A scarcely happier fate befell her sister Mathilde, who was married at eighteen to Count Louis of Trani, a broken-down roué  who afterward died by his own hand. Neither of these Princesses had seen their husbands before their marriage.

Sophie, Duchess d'Alencon, the youngest of the five sisters, was very beautiful and resembled the Empress Elizabeth in appearance, though not at all in disposition, for those who knew her as a young girl describe her as being full of animation and vivacity. She became engaged to her cousin Ludwig Second of Bavaria a year after his accession to the throne, and the betrothal met with general approval. He was a strikingly handsome young man of twenty at this time, and so desperately in love with his cousin that he had a bust made of her by a famous sculptor and placed in his winter garden where he could always look at it. Just before the wedding was to take place, however, he suddenly broke the engagement without a word of preparation or explanation, because he suspected that she was untrue to him. There is no doubt that the Princess was the victim of a deliberate plot to rob her of the King's affection, but Ludwig made no attempt at reparation of any kind and his behavior made a breach between him and Duke Max's family which was never healed.

Ludwig himself, fed by continual flattery and admiration and with a morbid idea of his own dignity, was deeply injured by the supposed faithlessness of his fiancée. In the first transports of his rage he seized the bust of the Princess and flung it out of the window, dashing it to pieces on the stones of the courtyard. Even at the beginning of his reign he had shown signs of mental unsoundness, but from this time he began to shun the society of his fellow creatures and lived a solitary life. He would have nothing more to do with women, and except for a few chosen companions would see no one. Even when obliged to receive his ministers, he would hide behind a screen. The only exception he made was in favor of his cousin Elizabeth, with whom he was a great favorite in spite of his erratic ways, and who also was devoted to him until his death. They were much alike in temperament as well as in appearance, and he always looked forward to her arrival each summer at Feldafing, near which was one of his favorite retreats, "Roseninsel," a small island shut in by dense shrubbery and lofty trees. In olden times it had been the site of a heathen temple which was replaced later by a Roman Catholic chapel. The gardens, which were laid out by King Maximilian Second, were greatly enlarged and beautified by his son Ludwig and are said to contain sixteen thousand of the choicest varieties of roses, the perfume of which is wafted far out across the lake. The Hermitage, a small villa in the Italian style, and the gardener's cottage are now the only buildings left in this wilderness of flowers, so overgrown that it is almost impossible to approach the little wharf where King Ludwig used to land from his yacht Tristan. Here he collected all his favorite authors and spent long happy days dreaming over them or working in the garden, and here too he and Elizabeth would meet and pour out their hearts to each other, alone and undisturbed.

After all, who can say with certainty where human reason ends and insanity begins?" I am not sure," the Empress once said, in speaking of Shakespeare's Hamlet, "that those persons who are called mad are not the really wise ones." King Ludwig's eccentricities became so pronounced, however, that in 1886 he was forced to resign the government and was sent to Schloss Berg on Lake Starnberg under the care of a physician. One June evening they went out to walk together as usual, and when, after waiting in vain for their return, a search was made, the bodies of both were found at length at the bottom of the lake. Elizabeth happened to be staying at Feldafing when the catastrophe occurred and was deeply affected by the King's tragic death. She hastened at once to the castle, and entering the room where his lifeless body lay, requested to be left alone with it. For an hour her attendants waited, and at length, alarmed at the delay, ventured to enter the apartment, where they found their mistress stretched upon the floor, apparently lifeless. It was only with the greatest difficulty that she was restored to consciousness, and when at last she did open her eyes, she stared wildly about her for some moments, then cried in a shaking voice: "For God's sake, release the King from the mortuary chapel! He is not dead—he is only pretending to be so, that he may be left in peace and not tormented any longer."

Ludwig's body was carried back to Munich, where he lay in state, the bier heaped about with wreaths and floral offerings, but on the breast of the dead King lay a simple spray of jasmine, Elizabeth's last gift to her friend and kinsman.