The comedy of man survives the tragedy of man. — G. K. Chesterton

Elizabeth - Empress of Austria - George Upton




The Archduchess Marie Valerie

The years following the coronation in Hungary were without doubt among the happiest of the Empress Elizabeth's life. She interested herself in the details of her children's education, shared her husband's occupations and anxieties, and resumed her place at court with a dignity and loftiness of purpose that completely silenced her enemies. Conditions too had changed. The Archduchess Sophie had not only ceased to be a ruling power, but was completely crushed by the death of her second son, Maximilian, in Mexico, where he had been condemned to death and shot in 1867, after he had reluctantly accepted the throne. His unhappy wife, whose ambition was partly responsible for these tragic events, became hopelessly insane and it fell to Elizabeth's lot to support and comfort the grief-stricken family.

The following year, April 22, 1868, another daughter was born to the imperial pair at the royal castle at Ofen. It was the first time for a century that a child of the royal house had been born in Hungary, and the enthusiasm of the Magyars knew no bounds. All night the streets were filled with excited throngs shouting "Eljens "for the King and Queen and the new-born Princess.

The Archduchess Marie Valerie, as she was christened, became the Empress' favorite child. The two older ones had been kept away from her so long that at first they were completely estranged and it required much patience and devotion on her part to gain their affection and confidence. The Crown Prince, who was ten years old at that time, was a most interesting child and already a universal favorite, but under his grandmother's influence he had developed a mixture of wayward pride and vanity that troubled his mother greatly and which she strove hard to correct. Fortunately, however, Rudolf was tender-hearted and easily influenced, and she succeeded at last to a large extent in overcoming the evil effects of the adulation and flattery with which the little heir had been surrounded. With Valerie she determined it should be different, and from earliest babyhood her training and education became the Empress' chief care. She was a delicate child, and the mother watched over her with a devotion that seemed almost like a reparation for what she had failed to give her other children. She was present at the lessons of the two elder ones whenever possible and took the greatest interest in their education, repeatedly impressing on their teachers that she did not want them favored or spoiled. She taught the little girls to dance, and the first dance that Valerie learned was the Hungarian Czardas. She tried to implant in them her own love for Hungary and urged their tutors and governesses "to make them as little German as possible."

Christmas was the most joyful time in the year for the imperial family, and Christmas Eve, being also Elizabeth's birthday, was celebrated as a double feast. There were always two trees, the smaller of which the Empress decorated with her own hands for the children. She spent days looking for appropriate gifts for them and the Emperor, as well as the various members of the court, whose individual tastes she always tried to gratify. One day, shortly before Christmas, Marie Valerie came to her mother with a beseeching air and begged that the presents intended for her might be given to some poor children. Much touched by the idea, Elizabeth consented, and from that time there was always another tree laden with gifts for the unfortunates.

The Empress adored flowers. During her rambles she would gather whole armfuls, and even when riding would often spring from her horse to pick wild flowers and fasten them to the pommel of her saddle. Her rooms were always filled with them, and if any choice blossom chanced to please her especially she would carry it at night into her own bedroom. "Mutzerl," as Marie Valerie was called, inherited this passion of her mother's, and almost as soon as she could walk she started little gardens of her own at the different places where the court stayed in turn. She was her mother's constant companion and there was the most touching sympathy and devotion between them. "Valerie is not only a daughter to me," Elizabeth once said, "but my best friend and companion."

The Archduchess was remarkable for her simplicity and lack of self-consciousness, as well as for her dignity and kindness of heart. Elizabeth was a firm believer in the virtues of physical exercise and had her daughter taught to ride, fence, and shoot; but Valerie did not altogether share her love of long walks and rides. She had the Wittelsbach love of art and literature, was devoted to poetry and even as a child wrote verses of some merit. Remembering the mortifications her own lack of education had caused her in her early married life, the Empress took special interest in Valerie's education. She had her taught Latin and Greek, besides several modern languages, and shared her studies as much as possible, often poring over some difficult passage in Greek Scripture with her or learning by heart the most beautiful verses. The young poetess looked upon her mother as her most valuable critic and showed her all her poems which filled several volumes, deferring always to the Empress' judgment and finding in her praise her greatest reward. She was devoted to both her parents, but as time went on became almost a second self to her mother—the living token of the reconciliation between herself and the Emperor, and a consolation for all her loneliness and suffering.