My Favorite Royal

Never in my wildest dreams had it occurred to me that I would one day live in Budapest. Little old me, a girl from Minnesota, living in Hungary? A former Communist country? Eastern Europe?


What a remarkable and beautiful city Budapest is. What fascinating history. I have fallen in love with it all. It just so happens that my favorite royal fell in love with this country as well. The Empress learned the language, considered to be the second most difficult language in the world, and was so loved by the Hungarians, she became a historical icon. They built a summer palace for her just outside Budapest. One can find any number of statues bearing her likeness throughout the city, and one of the bridges crossing the Danube that connects Buda to Pest is named after her.


Who was this woman? She was Empress Elisabeth of Austria (1837-1898), nicknamed Sisi. Considered the most beautiful woman in the world during her time, she married Emperor Franz Josef, her cousin, when she was barely sixteen. His domineering mother had arranged a meeting between the young emperor and Sisi’s older sister for the purpose of marriage, but one look at fifteen-year-old Sisi and the twenty-three-year-old emperor told his mother if he couldn’t have Sisi, he wouldn’t marry at all. For him, it was love at first sight.


Sisi, one of ten children born in Munich, was raised in the wilds of Bavaria after her father, an eccentric duke, bought a castle located far enough from court to avoid his duties. He played and ran free, and so did his children. Sisi could out-shoot, out-ride and out-curse any man, much to her father’s delight. Like him, she eschewed court rules and rebelled at every turn. She was an accomplished equestrian, and was obsessed with diet and exercise. Sisi worked out daily. Every palace or castle she resided in was equipped with a gymnasium. Wherever she traveled, a portable gym went with her. At 5’8”, she was a tall, willowy woman who adored fashion. In order to maintain her sixteen inch waist, she ate sparingly, often existing for weeks on a mixture of milk and raw eggs. There is speculation she may have been anorexic. In time, health issues arose because of her stringent diet and exercise programs.

 Empress elisabeth

Some say it was her stubborn, controlling mother-in-law who may have instigated Sisi’s health-related problems. The woman took Sisi’s children away from her and raised them at court according to the mother-in-law’s stern dictates. She refused to allow Sisi to breast feed, and except for the last child, Sisi never saw much of her children. Having been raised in a large, loving, and carefree family, she wanted the same for her offspring. It broke her heart when she lost her children to a hard-hearted mother-in-law.


Sisi loved Hungary, and the Magyars loved her—with a passion so great, she chose to have her fourth and last child in Budapest. Sisi’s daughter, named Marie Valerie, was raised a Hungarian. The Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867 created a double monarchy, and Sisi was crowned queen of Hungary and Croatia. She developed a close friendship with the dashing count Gyula Andrassy, the first Hungarian prime minister. A handsome man in his younger years, Sisi called him her closest friend. Others referred to him as her lover. Their relationship thrived until his death in 1890. Rumors still abound that he was actually the father of her last child (my friends and I thought the paintings and photographs we’ve seen of Marie Valerie bear a striking resemblance to Andrassy).

 Count Andrassy

Last August, in the heat of summer, I visited Sisi’s summer palace at Godollo, about twenty miles outside Budapest. I can see why she loved the place. Even though the temperatures were in the 90’s on the day of my visit, once inside, I forgot about the heat. All the windows, and the many doors to various balconies, had been flung open and a cooling breeze flowed through a light-filled and airy structure. I’ve visited many palaces and castles while living abroad, but Sisi’s homey summer palace is one of my favorites. The vast grounds where she rode her horses have been left intact (thank God, the Communists didn’t ruin them), and the palace is in remarkable shape.

 Godollo palace

Sadly, Sisi was assassinated in 1898 by an Italian anarchist. You can read about her in books and on the internet, you can view her summer castle and her home in Corfu on YouTube, and there are movies about her life. But for me, nothing compares to a self-guided tour through her summer palace, or walking the streets of beautiful, amazing Budapest, where one can easily gaze upon the many reminders of the love the Magyars held in their hearts for her.






on “My Favorite Royal
29 Comments on “My Favorite Royal
  1. Thanks, Ashlyn!

    I first became aware of Sisi in Germany. There are three movies from the 50’s starring Romy Schneider and they are shown on German tv every Christmas season. Then I lived in Opatija, Croatia, a spa town that Emperor Franz Joseph built up for Sisi…then on to Budapest where I’ve learned even more about her. She fascinates me and I have a historical romance in mind…perhaps from her handmaiden’s pov? Hmmm.

    • Hi Valerie,

      Sisi’s assassination occurred in Geneva, Switzerland. The assassin was an Italian anarchist out to kill somebody important. He was initally after the Duke of Orleans, but the duke had departed the day prior. Sisi was traveling incognito with just her lady’s maid, having sent her staff ahead. The assassin walked up to her and appeared to stumble in front of her, but stabbed her with a thin sharp file into the heart. Her tight corset kept her heart constricted which was why she actually walked aboard a boat on Lake Geneva before she collapsed. Her lady in waiting asked if it hurt and Sisi said, “No, what happened?” Those were her final words.

  2. What a lovely post about a beautiful and interesting woman. I loved to read about how she was raised and it hurt to think she couldn’t share that same upbringing with her children.

    • Hi Robena,

      Someone told me that the German films starring Romy Scheider are available on Netflix (Oh, I love those films – my husband was German and it was a tradition for the entire family to watch the Sisi series over the holidays. after awhile, I didn’t need anyone to translate for me – Germans spell her name Sissi, by the way). I know it’s the movies and a bit saccharin at times, but the first of the film depicting her happy childhood and noisy big household is correct. Her father never wanted the responsilities of court, so rather than angst over his situation, he just set himself up in Bavaria and had a hoot of a good time with his wife and children!

  3. Kathleen, what a fascinating post and how exciting to be living in Budapest! I loved what Franz Josef said when he first laid eyes on her. Too bad his mother was such a *deleted*. Her father sounds like my kind of guy and who awesome that she was raised to “out-shoot, out-ride, and out-curse” anyone! Definitely my kind of gal. Thanks for illuminating me on “Sisi” today.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Heather!

      Yeah, I like that Sisi was so competitive and was so obviously loved by her father. Her mother was nobility as well, but having married a hot-blooded, fun-loving guy, she joined right in. That family must have romped all over the hills of Bavaria! As for the mother-in-law…ugh. And she was Sisi’s aunt on her mother’s side – two very different personalities.

  4. What a wonderful story, Kathleen–about you as well as about the Empress. Lovely photos, too. How awful that she was assassinated. Who would do such a thing?? Thank you for enlightening me about someone I never knew about!

    • When it comes to heroines in the romance genre, I’m hopeful our horizons will expand outside the boundaries of England. I wrote a story where the heroine is Sisi’s third cousin and raised in the same carefree manner as was Sisi, but I was told a Victorian era lady wouldn’t behave in such a manner. hehehe. That manuscript is ready to go when the time is right! Thanks for stopping by.

  5. I’d been discussing Mary Balogh’s books with Brit Hub 2.1, about how she depicts children running around early 19th c. aristocratic households in a manner that would have been seen as unseemly 60 years ago here in the U.S.

    Well, I’m saddened to see that I was right. It sounds like Sisi (her story has some parallels to Princess Diana’s) would have been a more modern mum if she’d been allowed. But the strictures on court life were very powerful.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences in Sisi’s Budapest!

    • Thanks for stopping by, Magdalen! I think every era had women who skirted the boundaries of society’s dictates. Look at Susan B. Anthony. Sisi grew up in such a healthy manner in the wonderful fresh air of Bavaria. She was full of spunk, didn’t realize her great beauty and had this incredible head of hair. No wonder Emperor Franz Josef fell in love with her at first sight! Since her sister was meant for him, When Sisi met him, she was merely along for the ride, had nothing to lose, and fairly danced into the room behind her mother and sister, having a great day of being in “Town”. Franz Josef was a good looking guy at 23. Sparks flew.

  6. I’d never heard of Sisi–what a fascinating woman, and she certainly was lovely. Love all the details you included, though I feel sorry for her trying to maintain that tiny waist.

  7. Oh, that tiny waist! I think my upper arm is bigger than that. lol. Yes, she was fascinating woman and when I first started learning about her I thought, “Why don’t we Americans now more about her? She was Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary and Croatia.”

  8. What an interesting woman and one that I would love to read more about. I have heard of her before but now I’m intrigued to learn a lot more. Thanks!

    • Hi Connie,

      I think having been introduced to Sisi through those German films and then actually living in the Croatian town (Opatija) that Franz Josef turned into an elegant spa area, and then ending up in Budapest where Sisi is still adored keeps my interest growing. Thanks for stopping by.

    • Hi Barb,

      Today I learned something new about Sisi. There is a wonderul coffee house here in Budapest (they abound and are awesome) that serves a cake called Kremes, and except during the years when the communists closed down all coffee houses, this particular coffee house has been a family run operation since Sisi’s time. Whenever she was in Budapest, she would order Kremes every Sunday for herself and full staff or slip into the coffee shop incognito. So today, my friends and I ate Kremes at the same place in Sisi’s honor.

  9. I would love to go to Budapest! Such a romantic city. I would definitely of to Kremes :)

    I read about Sisi when researching my novel that features a heroine from Austria. Their royals really take it to the next level!

    • I think Budapest should be on everyone’s list if visiting Europe. In fact, I much prefer Eastern Europe over Western Europe. I don’t quite know why, maybe it’s because all those years under communist control left them in a time lapse and they are just now catching up. But oh, those pastries. Sinful, decadent and there is a pastry house or coffee house (or two) on every block.

  10. Kathleen, this is a fascinating blog and I’m delighted to have learned about Sisi. Sixteen inch waist, ha? Takes some doing. And what a hideous mother-in-law. I’ve just been watching a three part documentary on Queen Victoria’s children, and Victoria was controlling, critical, inflexible and rude to daughters, sons and in-laws alike. What is it about Queens, makes them think they can do what they like.

    You’ve made me want to go to Budapest. Will you blog something about the language? I’d love to know why it’s the hardest in the world. xxx

    Natalie Meg Evans

    • Hi Natalie,

      If you ever visit Budapest, look me up. I would love to take you on a tour of the city! As for the language, apparently it is the grammar that is so difficult. My Hungarian neighbor is an English translator and she said the same thing, that there is nothing to compare it to. Honestly, there are no Hungarian words that sound remotel like anything else and those that do are not what you think. Hello in Hungarian means good-bye!

  11. What a wonderful blog post, Duchess Kathleen. I’d love to go to Budapest one day and learn more about Sisi and eat real Kremes–not Krispy Kremes! If Hungarian is the second-hardest language to learn, what is the first?

    Sorry I’m late to your party, Duchess. I’ve had kids home from school since last Wednesday and this is my moment alone in six days!

    • Hello, Duchess Sharon,

      Japanese, with its seven layers, is listed as the most difficult language to learn. Mandarin follows after Hungarian. And yes, those Kremes (pronounced Krem esh. An ‘s’is pronounced sh; ‘sz’ is pronounced ‘s’)are wonderful. Every Thursdday I meet with a group of expat women in this awesome coffee house for Kremes and a chat. The coffee house looks like a palace inside, high ceilings, chandeliers and frescoed walls and ceilings edged in gold. It’s been there since the 1800’s!

  12. Thank you for the lovely post Kathleen and I am happy you like Budapest. I’m Hungarian and living in Budapest, and I agree with you, though I’ve lived abroad in many cities I love Budapest it is so historic and beautiful. And just like your husband, we watch the Sissi movies every year during the holidays as well, and love the krémes! :-) Have a great time in Hungary! (there are many other castles peppered in the countryside as well, perfect for day-long visits 😉

    • Hi Stella, Thanks for stopping by. I love the kremes, but I also love the Esterhazy torte! Yes, I am going to take in the castles this spring which will also include a trip to Vienna, Austria (a 3 hr train ride) to the big castle where Sisi lived. I’ve been told there is a good bit of her wardrobe there!

Comments are closed.