Elisabeth Von Wittelsbach, from the German Netflix series “The Empress”, was a complicated woman. Unlike women of her age who devote themselves to embroidery and learning etiquette, Elisabeth prefers horse riding, poetry and drawing. She loved her freedom more than anything, and she wasn’t ready to be tied down. Her mother, Ludovika, wanted to marry Elisabeth, believing it would bring about a change in her childlike personality. But Elisabeth always managed to get away from such situations. She wanted to be married to a man she loved, and she wanted to wait to fall in love. Elisabeth’s father, Duke Maximilian Joseph, influenced her to some extent. He was a free-spirited man who lived far from the royal lifestyle.
When Elisabeth met Emperor Franz Joseph, he immediately fell in love with her. In the series, he encountered her while she was in the garden, releasing a bird trapped in the castle. The fact that the Emperor appreciated her eccentricity was the reason she began to adore him. But it was a difficult decision to make, since he was supposed to marry Hélène. She tried to stop herself from getting closer to the Emperor, but she couldn’t deprive herself of the love that Franz showered on her. She had waited to find love, and now that he was in front of her and loved her for who she was, Elisabeth chose to follow her heart. The only problem was that love alone couldn’t handle all that they would go through as a couple. The series depicts the romance between Elisabeth and Franz. He was surely swept away by her beauty, but she wasn’t necessarily excited about the prospect of marriage. In the series, Elisabeth’s family said that the Emperor made a terrible mistake by choosing Elisabeth instead of Hélène. Elisabeth could never accept these remarks from her family members. She wanted their support, but instead they reminded her of her shortcomings. Her father warned her that as long as she was Empress, she could never be truly happy.
Elisabeth has never hesitated to express herself. She could not blindly accept the rituals and protested when they challenged her dignity. When the church father and the doctor attempted to verify her purity, she kicked the doctor in the face. She couldn’t accept the humiliation, but she cooperated when they mentioned that without proving her chastity she couldn’t get married. From the series, we get the impression that for Elisabeth, marrying the Emperor was a way to prove her family wrong. Maybe she wanted to prove that she was not a child and that she could take responsibility if necessary. According to recorded history, Elizabeth is said to have openly rebelled when Sophie forbade her to make decisions for her own son.
Elisabeth’s mother-in-law, Archduchess Sophie, did not make life easy for her after marriage. In “The Empress”, Sophie did not initially reject Elisabeth, but when she noticed her son’s change in behavior after the wedding, she formed a strong opinion of her. Historically, Sophie was an iron woman, as shown in the series. It was she who asked her husband to step down and allow her eldest son, Franz, to take the throne. She knew that her husband, Archduke Franz Karl, would not be able to dictate as strongly as her son. Sophie was often the decision maker of the empire. Sophie never documented that she despised her stepdaughter, but according to rumor and available knowledge, it is believed that she never approved of Elisabeth. She was allegedly involved in spreading venomous rumors about Elisabeth to prove her inability to be Empress. Sophie kept Elisabeth away from her children as she believed Elisabeth was an unfit mother. Therefore, after becoming Empress, she had no one to confide her misery to. Elisabeth’s life in Habsburg was limiting for her mind. He missed riding and running without worrying about the world. She was tired of being the person she was meant to be and often found solace at midnight when the world was asleep, and she could tiptoe out, climb a tree, and light a cigarette. Although she was from a royal family, she was repelled by it and expressed an interest in living with the commoners.
The series did not yet show Elisabeth’s obsession with beauty. Perhaps it was because she had virtually no control over her life that she chose to take control of her body. Elisabeth took extreme care of her hair; her long dark brown locks were the object of admiration. On days when she had to wash her hair with eggs and brandy, she got rid of all commitments and duties. She even suffered from constant headaches because of her long thick hair. Along with taking care of her hair, she was also obsessed with her body weight. She had gymnasiums built to meet her needs. Accounts indicate that she may have suffered from an eating disorder and was sometimes seen eating in stealth. Even though Emperor Franz wanted another son, Elisabeth was deemed physically unfit for another pregnancy. Over the years, Elisabeth and Franz grew distant from each other. She mostly traveled while he was busy tending to the empire. Travel made her happy, because she feared being trapped in one place. She developed an interest in history, philosophy and literature. She even attempted to write poetry under the pseudonym Titania.
Elisabeth’s melancholy worsened after losing her son, Rudolf, to a murder-suicide. The drudgery of court life, a lifeless marriage, the death of her infant daughter, and the death of her son all led to Elisabeth’s mental suffering. It was only in her studies and her travels that she found respite. Elisabeth was murdered by an Italian anarchist. She was stabbed with a needle file by a man named Lucheni.
“The Empress” dramatizes some aspects for effect, but we get a sense of Elisabeth’s intelligence. Although she was beaming with ideas, she always remembered her place as a woman. She was not considered significant unless she could give birth to a son. The pressure of being the ideal empress, performing her duties and not speaking her mind added to Elisabeth’s misery. She couldn’t just be a wife; she was an avid traveler, poet and reader. In her own way, she defied society’s expectations and tried to live her life in her own way.
Learn more: The end of “The Empress”, explained: how did Elisabeth win the trust of commoners? Will there be a season 2?