Elizabeth - Empress of Austria - George Upton
Again the Archduchess Sophie's schemes for the house of Hapsburg proved disastrous, and Franz Joseph's eyes were opened at last to the fact that her sway had been as unfortunate for the country as it was fatal to his domestic happiness. In these bitter days of defeat and humiliation he learned to value the Empress at her true worth. She now became his real companion. In the latter years of her life he often consulted her in regard to affairs of state, and she might have exercised a much greater power in politics had she so desired. But the only matter of government in which she ever cared to have a voice was in regard to Hungary, in whose welfare she always felt the deepest interest. After the Austrian losses in 1866 she once said to Count Julius Andrassy:
"It distresses me to have things go wrong in Italy, but if anything were to happen to Hungary it would kill me!"
One Summer while visiting some climbed a nearby mountain on the baths, she summit of which a small chalet had been built. As they entered, her companion, seeing a visitor's book on the table, wrote in it "Elizabeth, Empress of Austria." Thereupon her mistress drew off her gloves and, taking the pen, added in Hungarian, "Elizabeth,
Queen of Hungary." This mutual attachment proved a valuable safeguard during the war of 1866, when the Prussians threatened to advance on Vienna. It was thought safest for Elizabeth and the little Crown Prince to retire to Budapest, where she was received with an enthusiasm little short of Maria Theresa's memorable reception. There is no doubt that the devotion of the people to the Queen was largely instrumental in bringing about a better feeling between Austria and Hungary, while still another proof of this devotion was their special request that she might be crowned together with the King, an event that had never before occurred in the history of the country.
It was not until the eighth of June, 1867, however, that the coronation took place. The ancient city of Pressburg had been the scene of all former coronations, but on this occasion the ceremonies were to be held for the first time in Ofen and Pesth, or Budapest, as it is now called, which had been made the capital in 1848. The city is one of the most beautifully situated in all Europe. On an almost perpendicular rock stands the royal castle, an imposing structure of great antiquity, and at its foot, surrounding it on three sides, lies Ofen. The flat and more modern town of Pesth is to the left, and beyond it extend boundless plains.
Both cities were in gala attire to welcome the sovereigns. In every direction as far as the eye could reach was a sea of waving flags and pennants, and on the spire of the Rathshaus gleamed a huge crown of St. Stephen. The evening before the ceremony was to take place Franz Joseph and his wife made a visit to the cathedral, which had been magnificently decorated for the occasion, and were greeted everywhere with the wildest enthusiasm. As they were about to leave the church an old man fell from a ladder on which he had perched himself in order to obtain a view of "the good Queen of Hungary." Elizabeth, who saw him fall, hastened at once to his assistance,—an act that called forth renewed cheers when it reached the ears of those outside.
The town was crowded with Magyars from all parts of the kingdom, and sixty thousand troops lined the streets from the railway station to the royal castle, a distance of six kilometres. It was a most brilliant sight as the procession wound slowly down from the castle and crossed the bridge. Franz Joseph made a stately and imposing figure in his crown and coronation robes, but Elizabeth was the centre of all eyes. The sides of the coach were of glass so that she could be seen from all directions. It was surmounted by a large crown and drawn by six magnificent white horses, their long manes and tails interwoven with gold. Elizabeth at this time was in the prime of her majestic loveliness, having not yet reached her thirtieth year, and was considered the most beautiful princess in the whole civilized world. Deafening "Eljens "greeted her all the way to the cathedral, cannon thundered, and white-clad maidens showered roses in her path.
Immediately behind the Queen followed a mounted escort of two hundred young nobles in the gorgeous costume of the Hungarian magnate, covered with gold and precious stones. Their reins and stirrups were similarly adorned, and over the left shoulder they wore a leopard skin. The King and his suite had already taken their places in the cathedral when the Queen entered. She wore a dress of white brocaded satin and a black velvet bodice covered with diamonds. The coronation robe was also of black velvet, bordered with white satin. About her neck was a Hungarian necklace of diamonds, and on her head she wore the Hapsburg coronet that had been made originally for Maria Theresa. It is composed entirely of pearls and diamonds and is valued at three million gulden. While the King was being crowned, she remained seated with clasped hands absorbed in prayer, after which she in turn went through her part of the ceremony. As she resumed her place upon the throne beside the Emperor with orb and sceptre in hand, the whole assemblage joined in a mighty Te Deum which re-echoed from the vaulted roof of the old church.
The coronation ceremonies and the enthusiasm with which she was everywhere received made such an impression upon Elizabeth that she could never afterward speak of them without emotion and always regarded the occasion as one of the happiest times of her life.