Elizabeth - Empress of Austria - George Upton
Both Franz Joseph and Elizabeth were very proud of their only son, whose winning ways and kindness of heart had made him wonderfully popular with all classes. He had inherited his mother's impatience of restraint as well as her literary and artistic tastes, and, like her, cared little for people of his own rank. His own intimate circle was composed of poets, artists, and journalists, and he had an enthusiastic friend and teacher in the celebrated naturalist, Brehm. According to the custom of Austrian princes, he had been required to learn some trade and chose that of printing, but he possessed a marked talent for writing and published several books of real merit. He adored his mother, and the relation between them was one of the closest confidence and intimacy, but Elizabeth's love for her son did not blind her to his faults, and she fully realized that he had all his father's youthful susceptibility and love of pleasure. Both she and the Emperor were agreed as to the necessity of his marrying early, not only to insure the succession, but also because they hoped it would steady the rather wild and headstrong young prince. Franz Joseph, however, had political advantages most in mind in the choice of a wife for his son, while Elizabeth was chiefly concerned as to his prospects of domestic happiness. She felt the importance of his marrying some one with sufficient beauty and intelligence to restrain his somewhat errant fancy and win his respect as well as affection.
There were but few marriageable princesses in Europe at that time (Rudolf was then in his twentieth year), and the Emperor's choice was far from satisfactory to Elizabeth, for it fell on the Belgian princess Stephanie, a seventeen-year-old girl of very ordinary mind and not at all attractive in appearance. Elizabeth had no liking either for King Leopold Second of Belgium or his wife, an Austrian archduchess, who played rather an unenviable role at her husband's court, and bitterly opposed the match; but the Queen's sister, the Archduchess Elizabeth (mother of the Queen Regent of Spain and a favorite cousin of the Emperor's) brought all her influence to bear in her niece's favor, and the Empress' objections were overruled, Rudolf himself, meanwhile, seeming to regard the whole affair with perfect indifference.
The wedding took place May 10, 1881. All through the festivities that preceded the great event Elizabeth played her part perfectly as mother of the bridegroom, though her cold and distant manner toward her future daughter-in-law as well as the King and Queen of Belgium was only too evident. Part of the ceremonies consisted of a state procession through the streets of the capital, and during the whole progress she hardly spoke once to Queen Henriette, who rode beside her, but sat erect, bowing continuously in acknowledgment of the cheers of the populace, with a look almost of absent-mindedness on her lovely face. In the middle of the marriage ceremony her self-control gave way completely, however, and she burst into a violent fit of weeping. This was her last public appearance in Vienna.
Gay, frivolous, and fond of admiration, Stephanie was a princess to please the taste of the Viennese. Her arrival at court was hailed with delight, and when on the third of September, 1883, a daughter was born to the young couple, the public enthusiasm was a proof of their popularity. A change in the relations of Rudolf and his mother after his marriage was inevitable. Though he continued to make her his confidante, she was not long in discovering that he was far from happy in his marriage. Wretched over this unfortunate state of affairs and feeling less at home than ever in the Hofburg, she now rarely visited Vienna, sometimes spending only a few weeks there in the winter.
CROWN PRINCE RUDOLF.
She had never liked the Hofburg nor Schonbrunn, where the Emperor always spent the spring months, and now determined to have a residence of her own somewhere in the neighborhood of the capital. The spot chosen was the beautiful park of Lainz, hidden from the public gaze by high stone walls and further protected by a thick, impenetrable hedge surrounding the gardens. During the two years that "Waldesruhe," as she called the Schloss, was being built it was rigidly guarded from intrusion of any kind, and even after it was finished no one but the servants and the family were allowed to enter the park or gardens. The building itself is in the style of the Renaissance, the facade adorned with balconies and terraces which in the Empress' time were always a mass of flowers. A wide marble staircase covered with red velvet carpet led to the first floor, which contained the apartments of the Emperor and Empress, connected by a great salon or reception hall. Elizabeth's spacious sleeping chamber was on the corner, with two windows to the east and two tall ones to the south, giving upon a balcony. The bed was placed in the centre of the room, protected at the head by a large screen, upon the reverse side of which was a painting of the Virgin Mary. A figure also representing the Blessed Virgin stood in one corner, holding in her hands a magnificent antique rosary. Opposite the bed was an exquisite statue of Niobe, the pedestal buried in growing plants and lighted with green incandescent lamps so arranged that as the Empress lay in bed she could see no light in the room but the green glimmer that fell on the Niobe. Breakfast was served on the balcony, which was like a flower garden. Here too in later years she placed a favorite work of art, a small reproduction of the marble statue of Heine made by the Danish sculptor Hasselriis for her villa Achilleon at Corfu. Adjoining her bedchamber and also giving upon the balcony was the Empress' study, filled with photographs of her family and friends, and a picturesque litter of casts, sketches, bronzes, souvenirs of travel, and porcelain vases filled with flowers. Over the great square writing-table hung a striking portrait of her cousin King Ludwig Second of Bavaria. A fire was always burning on the wide hearth, and the Emperor and Empress used often to sit there together in the evenings watching the glowing logs and talking over the events of the day. The guest chambers and apartments of the Arch-duchess Marie Valerie were on the floor below, as was the Empress' gymnasium. Physical exercise was so necessary to her that she always had a room fitted up in this way wherever she happened to be staying.
Another favorite retreat of Elizabeth's was Miramar, the Emperor Maximilian's palace, where for several years after his death she used to make frequent visits. Built of the purest white marble, it stands on a rocky promontory overlooking the sea, and near by is the pavilion used as a residence by the Empress Charlotte when she returned from Mexico a widow and hopelessly insane.
At the time Elizabeth was first sent to Corfu to recuperate, the beauty of the country made a deep impression upon her, and her love for the shores of Greece after repeated visits in later years decided her to build a villa upon the island, the planning and furnishing of which should reflect her own individual taste. Near the idyllic village of Gasturi accordingly there rose the masterpiece of architecture which she called Achilleon. It stands on a hill facing the sea, the slopes of which are covered with olive and lemon trees and laid out as gardens on wide terraces. The house contains one hundred and twenty-eight rooms, filled with treasures of Greek and Pompeian art, and there are accommodations in the stables for fifty horses. All the rooms are filled with classic treasures. The Empress' own apartments were entirely apart from the rest of the building, with a private entrance so that she could come and go at will. She used to rise at five and after her bath would go for a walk, usually alone, with a book under her arm. The mornings were devoted to study, the afternoons to long rambles. She knew every road for miles about, but loved best to explore the steepest and most dangerous mountain paths, the silent grandeur and beauty of the heights seeming to soothe for a time the restless cravings of her spirit. At nine she would retire after another bath in the marble basin which was brought from the Villa Borghese in Rome. Heine's Book of Songs was always under her pillow, and often she would rise in the middle of the night, unable to sleep, and wander about through the dark avenues. At Achilleon, as elsewhere, she was most anxious to escape observation, and a high wall of marble with a screen of olive trees hid the palace from the public gaze. It was not people, however, that she disliked so much as being the object of their curiosity.
"All I ask of people," she often said, "is that they will leave me in peace."
She was always kind and gracious to the poor, and the peasants used to kneel in the dust before her when she approached, calling aloud in their melodious language, "O Queen of Beauty, may God bless thine every step!" All heads were uncovered when she passed, and the children who watched for her coming would run to meet her with their hands full of blossoming orange and almond boughs. On the heights above Achilleon stood a monastery where she often used to go and talk with the monks. She asked one of them once if he ever went to the village.
There is always the marketing to do," he answered. "Man is but human, and the body suffers from cold or hunger; but except for that, what should one do in the village? It is far better and more beautiful up here."
"That is true," said the Empress; "undoubtedly you have chosen the better part."