The lonely Empress: a biography of Elizabeth of Austria
Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2004 (first edition 1965)
Born Princess Elizabeth of Bavaria in 1837, she married her cousin Emperor Francis Joseph when she was only 16. Her elder sister Helene had been chosen as his prospective bride, and indeed educated for the position of Empress, but when he was introduced to the family he only had eyes for Elizabeth, known in the family as 'Sisi'. They proved to be totally unsuited. Though the Emperor remained devoted to her, they had little in common. She loathed the archaic routines and customs of her husband's court at Vienna and never got on with her mother-in-law, the well-meaning but domineering Archduchess Sophie.
After the birth of their three elder children, one of whom died in infancy, Elizabeth became seriously ill, as the result of a nervous breakdown and possibly a contagious disease caught from the Emperor. Thereafter she spent much of her life wandering around other European countries, only returning intermittently to Vienna. Since her marriage she had been famous for her beauty, and she maintained a punishing regime of exercise and diets, until she came close to self-starvation. Though her relations with their only son and heir Crown Prince Rudolf were never close, she was shattered by his suicide in 1889.
For the last few years she withdrew almost completely from public appearances. Her health was failing, and her death in 1898 - assassination by an anarchist who had vowed to kill the first aristocrat or crowned head he could - was tragic.
The review of this Book prepared by John Van der Kiste