Empress Elizabeth of Austria

Picture (c) by John Ashley Photography

Next time you take a stroll along Cromer Pier, before you reach the end of the pier turn around, and look back towards the town. Over on the left hand side you will see a pink building, which back in the 19th century this was the annex of Tuckers Hotel of Cromer.

If you had been around during the year of 1887 and had strolled out on the pier which existed even back then, and looked up at this same building you may well have seen an attractive fifty year old lady looking down from one of the hotel windows to the promenade below. On which there would have been a cow, and a cow that was being milked.

The lady in question is none other than the Empress Elizabeth of Austria or 'Sisi' as she was known. She was staying in Cromer for some two months in a wing of the Tuckers Hotel.

When Sisi  was just 16 years old she met her sisters fiancé the Emperor Franz Josef of Austria aged twenty-three, who was also her cousin. He became so smitten with the young Elizabeth that he insisted upon marrying Elizabeth instead of her older sister.

Sisi was born on Christmas Eve of the year 1837 into the Bavarian court of Germany. When fully grown she stood at five feet eight inches (172cm) with rich chestnut wavy hair that fell well below her knees. Even in her day Elizabeth was considered to be a beauty and to this day was said to have been the Princess Diana of her time. By the 1860's she was acclaimed as the world's most beautiful monarch.

She maintained her lithe figure and youthful appearance by dieting and sports. Enjoying swimming, gymnastics, fencing and was also was a very fine equestrian. At age forty-four years of age an observer wrote that "….she looked like an angel and rode like the devil". She is said to have hated to sit down to eat and spent the majority of her life on a diet. She also had a reputation for tight lacing and in 1860-61 her waist measured just 16 inches.

She was adored by the Austrian people as she concerned herself with the poor and the sick visiting hospitals and asylums. However, Elizabeth could never get used to the confines of court life, as unlike her elder sister, Elizabeth had not been groomed for this life.

So it was that she took every opportunity to escape court. She would travel the world under the pseudonym Countess of Hohenembs (or Hohenems) thus avoiding the annoyance of official receptions and also potential assassination attempts. So it was that on one of her 'escapes' we find her in the seaside town of Cromer.

Unfortunately Elizabeths life was not a happy one, she lost her daughter Sophie in 1857 and her son committed suicide in 1889. Her brother-in-law, Emperor Maximilian of Mexico was shot by revolutionaries and Elizabeth herself was so concerned about being assassinated that she took certain steps to ensure herself against poison, wherever she went. 

So it was that whilst in Cromer she had her bread made just up the road from the hotel under careful supervision and had a cow milked just underneath her hotel window where she could observe the process.
Sadly all these precautions were in vain as she was indeed eventually assassinated whilst staying on Lake Geneva in Switzerland. 

Her murderer was an Italian anarchist called Luigi Luccheni. His intended victim had actually been the French Duke of Orleans, but the Duke had already left the area and so Luccheni looked around for someone else important whom he could kill. Unfortunately he found Sisi and so began to stalk her. 

On the 10th September 1898 the sixty-year-old Empress was hurrying along the quay to catch the steamer across the lake for an excursion to the Rothschild residence near Geneva. Luigi Luccheni stepped forth from behind a tree and struck the Empress in the chest with his fist, in which there was a homemade dagger made from a pointed triangular file.

As the Empress adopted the practice of wearing tightly laced corsets she was unaware as to how seriously she had been wounded and actually continued walking and even boarded the ferry. It was only when her clothes were loosened that her entourage found the wound.

The ferry was immediately turned around and the Empress who was now unconscious was carried back to her hotel. There was nothing that could be done as the dagger had pierced her heart and sadly Elizabeth died. Her husband the Emperor was devastated. 

Her memory lives on in Vienna where she is still honoured both with musicals films and a commemorative stamp. Alas Tuckers Hotel is no more and the pink building is now privately owned flats.

Picture (c) by John Ashley Photography