There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact. — Mark Twain

Elizabeth - Empress of Austria - George Upton




Birth of Crown Prince Rudolf

Not only the Emperor and his family but the whole nation were anxious for an heir to the throne, and the disappointment was great when on May 5, 1855, the Empress gave birth to a daughter, who was called Sophie Dorothea, after the Emperor's mother. Elizabeth was too young and inexperienced to understand this, though she could not fail to read the evidences of it in the faces of those about her. Still greater dissatisfaction greeted the birth of a second daughter, Gisela, in July, 1 856. This daughter was married in 1873 to Prince Leopold of Bavaria, second son of the present Prince Regent.

The Empress looked forward to her maternal duties with the greatest happiness, and asked nothing more than to devote herself to her children. But even this was not to be allowed her. The Archduchess Sophie had the little girls removed almost immediately to a remote wing of the Hofburg, leaving the young mother alone in her splendid apartments, where she had always felt herself so much a stranger. Involuntarily she compared her lot with that of her mother, the mistress of Possenhoffen, whose busy life was filled with work and noble sacrifices for her flock of children, while the Empress of Austria had nothing left her but to preserve her beauty and exhibit her toilettes. The importance of providing the Empire with an ,heir was impressed upon her so constantly that she was puzzled and asked her own mother once in a moment of confidence:

"If I should have no son, do you suppose that Franz would follow Napoleon's example and cause our marriage to be annulled?"

"Do not think of such things, my child," replied the Duchess. "You know that Franz loves you devotedly." Then she continued: "There are two sorts of women in this world,—those who always get their own way and those who never get it. You seem to me to be one of the latter. You have great abilities and do not lack character. But you have not the faculty of stooping to the level of your associates, or adapting yourself to your environment. You belong to another period, that in which saints and martyrs existed. Do not attract notice by being too obviously the first or break your own heart by fancying yourself the latter."

At last, shortly before her twenty-first birthday, her dearest wishes were gratified, and on August 21, 1858, a son was born to the imperial pair, a beautiful child though somewhat delicate, in whose cradle the delighted father hastened to lay the Order of the Golden Fleece.

The next morning the good news was carried by telegraph to every corner of the world, a salute of a hundred and one guns was fired from all the fortresses in Austria and Hungary, and the signal was echoed from a million throats, while public enthusiasm was still further increased when the Crown Prince, at his christening, received the name of his great ancestor Rudolf of Hapsburg. The popularity of the Empress was at once restored. Her enemies were silenced, her mother-in-law contented, and she herself for a time was happy.

"No one has seemed to need me until now," she declared pathetically, "not even my little girl whom they keep from me as much as possible. But I will not permit my boy to be taken away and given to the care of strangers. He will need me and we will be happy in each other."

Again, however, she was mistaken. Rudolf was installed as soon as possible in a remote part of the palace, the Archduchess insisting that it was not suitable far the heir to a great empire to be brought up by a young mother who as yet did not even know how to conduct herself. When Elizabeth begged to be allowed the care of her own child and dwelt on the comfort it would be to her, her mother-in-law declared indignantly that it was absurd to talk of the need for comfort when she had everything in the world to make her happy. From Sophie's point of view indeed this was perhaps true, but Elizabeth was of a different stamp, and no outward luxury could make up to her for disappointed hopes or an empty heart. Matters grew still worse for her when in the Summer of 1857 the Emperor's second brother, Ferdinand Maximilian, married Charlotte, the daughter of King Leopold First of Belgium. This aspiring princess attached herself at once to the court party and became a great favorite with her mother-in-law.

Meanwhile heavy clouds were gathering on the political horizon. Among Franz Joseph's Italian subjects the ferment was strongest, but throughout the whole Empire there was great discontent. It was well known that the Archduchess Sophie held the reins of power, and that it was she who declared war or concluded peace,—a state of things that caused much opposition in diplomatic circles, while all classes united in condemning this so-called "petticoat government."

When the war with France and Sardinia broke out in 1859, it was less a question of the country's incontestable rights ,than of the maintenance of the power of the Jesuits. Elizabeth plainly saw the mistake her husband was making in allowing himself to be guided so much by his mother in political matters and longed to use her influence with him to prevent it, but she was powerless. No one asked her advice, no one cared for her opinion; so she held her peace. While Franz Joseph was fighting at Solferino and his mother corresponded with foreign courts or held long conferences with statesmen and diplomats, the Empress had to content herself with visiting wounded soldiers and officers from the Italian battlefields. Like an angel of mercy she went about among the hospitals, tasting the food that had been prepared and distributing money and cigars. Her gentle words of pity and cheer carried the more weight since they had none of the sanctimonious tone so common at that time. The halo of piety with which the Archduchess Sophie enveloped all her actions was most distasteful to Elizabeth, who did not attempt to conceal her dislike of the clergy.

Once at a court ball, her train became entangled around the feet of the papal nuncio, who happened to be standing near. With an angry glance the Empress jerked it toward her with such force that the prelate barely escaped a fall,—a scene that was the cause of much suppressed merriment, for it was well known that Her Majesty would quite as gladly have deprived him of his influence at court as upset his person in the ball-room.