Exactly 125 years ago, when an Italian anarchist murdered Elisabeth Wittelsbach, also known as Sissi, the beloved Queen of Hungary, who considered herself Hungarian. In this article, we will examine the circumstances surrounding the Queen’s murder and explore the cult that formed after her death.
Elisabeth, born Duchess Elisabeth Amalie Eugenie in Bavaria on 24 December 1837, was both the Empress of Austria and the Queen of Hungary. Empress Elisabeth was the wife of Franz Joseph I, the Habsburg Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary. Their meeting was love at first sight, yet their 1854 marriage was soon marred by the harsh Viennese court life and the empress’ conflicts with her mother-in-law. To escape court life, Elisabeth travelled often. It was this reason that prompted her fateful trip to Switzerland in 1898, where she was tragically assassinated.
Victim of a misunderstanding
Sissi and her Hungarian companion, Ida Ferenczy, arrived in Geneva, Switzerland in September 1898. An Italian anarchist, Luigi Luccheni, was present in the city during this time with the intention of assassinating Prince Philip of Orleans, who was scheduled to visit.
Luccheni’s goal was to spill the blood of an aristocrat, preferably royalty, regardless of the victim’s identity. The planned trip by the prince was cancelled, leaving the young man in Geneva without direction. He then came across the news that the Empress, Queen of Hungary, was present in Switzerland. Despite attempting to keep a low profile, her presence was reported by the Swiss newspaper in a sensational manner. The Queen’s life was tragically impacted by a tabloid article. Sissi had actually been in Montreux for several weeks for medical treatment. On 9 September, she and her companion travelled to Geneva and stayed overnight.
Luigi Luccheni considered his previous actions fruitless and decided to target Elizabeth instead. On 10 September 1898, while Sissi was aboard a boat crossing Lake Geneva to return to Montreux, the assassin was already observing her. Seizing the moment, he jumped next to her and stabbed her in the chest with a sharp file. It was later discovered that the strike had pierced the Empress’s heart.
Sissi collapsed but quickly got up assuming that someone had pushed her in the commotion. However, when they loosened her corset, they discovered a significant amount of blood. She was immediately taken back to the hotel and given medical attention but unfortunately passed away soon after. It is widely believed that if the Queen had undergone surgery in time, her life could have been saved, even given the medical limitations of that era.
The frustrated assassin
The assassin Luccheni was apprehended by passersby and promptly taken into custody by the police. Upon learning of the queen’s demise, he expressed immense satisfaction. The assassination sparked debate even among anarchists. The anarchist media exhibited mixed feelings about the murder, deeming it unnecessary to eliminate an empress who played no active role in politics. Luiggi Luccheni did not receive the anticipated recognition. Rather than being viewed as a dangerous anarchist assassin, the court treated him as a mental patient and sentenced him to prison instead of death, where he later hanged himself.
The cult of Sissi
The passing of Queen Sissi was a great shock to the entire monarchy. A special tribute was paid in Hungary in her memory. In the 20th century, a notable follower base was established around Sissi’s character.
Numerous towns and streets all over the country were named after her. The Elisabeth Bridge in Budapest, Pesterzsébet district, the lookout tower on János Hill, and Komárom are among such places. There are also various public sculptures, novels, films and plays commemorating her iconic status.
Elek Benedek, a renowned Hungarian writer known as “The Great Folk-Tale Teller,” expressed the nation’s sorrow following the death of Queen Elisabeth: “We placed a crown on her head, and she gave us her heart.”
Source: szeretlekmagyarorszag.hu; 24.hu; Emil, Niederhauser: “Assassination Against Queen Elisabeth”
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