20 September 2023

Empress Elisabeth of Austria: Her Romantic Interests


Empress Elisabeth of Austria was loved and worshiped by many, especially in Hungary, during her lifetime. Even more so after her tragic death. She was considered one of the most beautiful women of her time, and that such a woman would be admired and desired, is nothing unusual. As such, it shouldn't come as a surprise that she evoked those butterfly feelings not only in her husband but also in other men. And while this list of admirers might not be complete, it does touch upon some of the most prominent ones. 

Emperor Franz Joseph I

The fifteen-year-old Elisabeth and the twenty-three-year-old Franz Joseph met in the fashionable resort of Bad Ischl in the summer of 1853. It was technically for the second time, as they had met some years earlier since they were first cousins. Duchess Ludovika and her oldest daughter, Helene, affectionately called "Néné", were invited by the Emperor’s mother, Archduchess Sophie, who was Ludovika’s elder sister. Sophie intended to introduce Néné and Franz Joseph to each other. 

When meeting Franz Joseph, Ludovika, Helene and Sisi were wearing mourning dresses because of the death of an aunt, and they had not had time to change dresses before the tea party organized by Archduchess Sophie. The simple, black dress fitted Sisi perfectly, while it made Néné seem too strict. 

And so things came as they must: The young Emperor fell head over heels in love with the naive Sisi, who had no idea what it meant to be the wife of an Emperor. The following day, Franz Joseph made his decision and told his mother with a delighted face that he found Sisi fascinating. He revealed his intentions in front of the court that very evening during a ball. Much to the assembled guests' astonishment, when it was the time for the cotillion, a confident Emperor walked straight towards Sisi and handed her a bouquet of flowers. The young girl, who did not know that this action was nothing short of a wedding proposal, felt embarrassed. 

As his fiancée, Elisabeth was scared of the future life she would have to face alone in Vienna, the representational duties, and her obligations. Sisi was a shy young lady who did not like to be the center of attention. The wedding of Franz Joseph and Elisabeth took place on the 24th of April 1854. Sisi and Franz were first cousins, so a papal dispensation was needed before their wedding. 

While their marriage started out like a fairy tale, it quickly turned into quite a nightmare for the young and inexperienced girl. She couldn't adapt to the rigid Spanish court ceremonial, which reigned supreme at the Viennese court or her strict mother-in-law. Franz Joseph tried to do everything to make his beloved Sisi happy. However, he rarely confronted his mother to protect his wife. There was a reason why Archduchess Sophie was commonly referred to as "the only man at the Hofburg Palace". Sisi withdrew more and more and increasingly turned her back on life at court and her husband. 

From the 1860s on, the couple no longer led a married life. Instead, Franz Joseph and Elisabeth maintained a bond of friendship, corresponding and meeting regularly. With her full support, Burgtheater actress Katharina Schratt became the aging Emperor’s most important source of emotional support. "You have no idea how much I loved this woman," the Emperor is said to have exclaimed after his wife's murder. 

Archduke Karl Ludwig of Austria

He was the third son of Archduke Franz Karl and Archduchess Sophie and Emperor Franz Joseph's younger brother. If we were to believe Ernst Marischka's Sissy-trilogy, then Karl Ludwig discovered his affections for a very young Sisi before his older brother. He supposedly saw something in his 12-year-old cousin, that Franz Joseph couldn't see at the time - a blossoming beauty. Whether or not he was the first boy who kissed her, and they actually exchanged small gifts, shall forever remain their sweet little secret. 

Karl Ludwig married three times. His first wife, whom he married on 4 November 1856 at Dresden, was his first cousin Margaretha of Sachsen, the daughter of Johann of Sachsen and Amalie Auguste of Bavaria. She died childless on the 15th of September 1858.

His second wife, whom he married by proxy on the 16th of October 1862 in Rome, and in person on the 21st of October 1862 in Venice, was Princess Maria Annunciata of Bourbon-Two Sicilies, daughter of King Ferdinand II of the Two Sicilies and his wife, Archduchess Maria Theresa of Austria (1816–1867). They had four children.

His third wife, whom he married on the 23rd if July 1873 at Kleinheubach, was Infanta Maria Theresa of Portugal, daughter of King Miguel I of Portugal and Adelaide of Löwenstein-Wertheim-Rosenberg (1831–1909). They had two daughters.

Archduke Karl Ludwig died of typhoid fever at Schönbrunn Palace after he returned from a journey to Palestine and Egypt, allegedly after he consumed contaminated water from the Jordan River. 

King Ludwig II of Bavaria

He was Elisabeth's cousin and, supposedly, her soulmate. When Ludwig first ascended the throne, he was considered extraordinarily handsome and exceptionally tall. He was the patron of composer Richard Wagner, subsidizing his work and extravagant lifestyle. However, his and Elisabeth's family, the House of Wittelsbach, was cursed with insanity. 

As King Ludwig grew older, his behavior became increasingly eccentric and bizarre. He would indulge in fantastic coach, boat, and sleigh rides through the mountainous Bavarian countryside - often in the middle of the night. For a short while, Ludwig was engaged to Sisi's younger sister, Sophie Charlotte. But Ludwig had a hidden side: He was homosexual. Much to the chagrin of the bride's family, the King he broke off the engagement without explanation. 

Despite it all, Ludwig and Sisi remained friends throughout his life. They shared many other passions, such as the ravishing Bavarian scenery of Lake Starnberg and the mountains. To this day, King Ludwig is remembered for his obsession with building more castles, like Neuschwanstein, Linderhof, and his masterpiece, Castle Herrenchiemsee, which he modeled after Versailles Palace. 

He squandered his immense personal fortune and nearly ruined the Bavarian economy with his projects. Finally, members of the Bavarian government, spearheaded by Ludwig's uncle, Prince Luitpold, had the Bavarian King declared insane by a physician who never examined him. Their justification was a simple one: Ludwig's younger brother, Otto, had already been committed to an asylum for his insanity. 

King Ludwig was deposed and imprisoned at Berg Castle, on the eastern shore of Lake Starnberg. The unhappy King apparently drowned in the shallow waters of the lake, alongside the psychologist Doctor von Gudden, even though Ludwig was a strong swimmer. His death remains a mystery to this day. Was it a coincidence that the Empress was staying nearby in Possenhofen when the tragedy occurred? Was the Empress trying to reach him and help him escape his captors? I suppose we'll never know.

Count Gyula Andrássy 

The son of Count Károly Andrássy and Etelka Szapáry was born in Oláhpatak, Kingdom of Hungary. His liberal father, belonged to the political opposition, at a time when questioning the government was very dangerous. Gyula Andrássy, from an early age on, threw himself into the political struggles of the day. 

He was a dashingly handsome and flamboyant Hungarian aristocrat, who had taken an active part in the 1848 Hungarian rebellion against Emperor Franz Joseph. With the defeat of the Hungarian forces, the Count fled to Paris, where he became a popular figure in high society. He even acquired a beautiful, rich wife, Countess Katinka Kendeffy, along the way. 

When the Count was finally allowed to return to his Hungarian homeland, he began to campaign for a reorganization of the Empire into an Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy. Emperor Franz Joseph, who had condemned Andrassy to death during his exile, was against this. His wife, Elisabeth, on the other hand, loved the Hungarian countryside. She identified with the life philosophy of the Magyar people and greatly admired their skills with horses. As Queen of Hungary, Sisi saw it as her duty to learn the Hungarian language, which she eventually spoke, wrote, and read fluently. 

Consequently, Count Andrassy obtained her support for a reform of the Habsburg Empire. The result of Sisi's lobbying was the "Hungarian Compromise" of 1867, under which the two halves of the Monarchy became autonomous. Count Andrassy's reward was to become Prime Minister of the Hungarian half of the dual monarchy. A duty which he fulfilled faithfully for many years. He was the first Magyar statesman who, for centuries, had occupied a European position of this magnitude.

Wicked rumors were spread that Empress Elisabeth and Count Andrassy were lovers. Cruelly wagging tongues even suggested that Sisi's youngest daughter, Archduchess Marie Valerie, was Andrassay's offspring. I have no doubt that they admired each other. Still, I find it highly unlikely that their friendship ever went beyond a platonic attachment. Count Gulyas Andrassy died of bladder cancer, aged 66, in 1890.

Captain William George "Bay" Middleton

A was Scottish cavalry officer, an equerry to the 5th Earl Spencer, and a noted, if somewhat reckless, horseman. Captain Middleton was one of the best and most popular riders in the United Kingdom. When Empress Sisi went fox hunting in Ireland, Bay Middleton was her pilot, and often rode the winners over the stiffest steeplechase courses. The origins of his nickname "Bay" are somewhat unclear. It was either a reference to his reddish-brown hair or derived from the name of the Derby winner in 1836.

Sisi, one of the best equestriennes of her time, admired him for his equestrian panache. So much so, Emperor Franz Joseph invited "Bay" Middleton to stay, with other members of the Empress's English hunting society, at her beloved Gödöllő Castle in Hungary. In 1875, Captain Middleton became engaged to Charlotte Baird, whom he married on the 25th of October 1882, at St. George's. The couple only had one daughter named Violet Georgina, born in 1886. 

Captain William George Middleton died during the Midland Sportsman's Cup at Lord Willoughby de Broke's estate at Kineton. He was killed falling from his horse during the Parliamentary steeplechase. He was buried in full riding regalia in Northamptonshire. He was an eccentric man to the end!

Friedrich "Fritz" Pacher von Theinburg

This might have been the closest the Empress ever came to flirting. With most men, she thought of herself as the unattainable, beautiful lady, who should only be admired from afar but never touched. It was February 1874, and it was carnival season. Sisi had just returned from Hungary when the 34-year-old Empress got bored one evening. Sisi decided to attend a masked ball for which Vienna was renowned. 

Wearing a yellow domino outfit that was so fashionable at the time, she had sneaked out of the palace with Ida von Ferenczy. Once at the ball, they found some seats perched up on the gallery. When Sisi got bored, she asked Ida to fetch a young man, she had spied from her position. He introduced himself as "Fritz Pacher von Theinburg", and they spent the evening conversing amicably. The young man soon suspected who his companion in disguise might be. 

For several years after the event, the Empress would send him letters and postcards, which were posted for her by friends and relatives all over Europe. In them, she often referred to their meeting, but ultimately, Fritz Pacher von Theinburg, now middle-aged, and married with children, terminated their correspondence. 

Piper is the award-winning author of The Country Girl Empress series. When she isn't busy typing on her computer, she can be found chasing after her furry children or holding on tightly to a good cup of coffee. Follow her on LinkedInFacebookMedium, and Goodreads.
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13 September 2023

A Quick Reference Checklist for Writing a Scene


I understand that not everyone is a planner. I'm more of a pantster when it comes to my writing. However, there's just something soothing about being intentional with the blank page in front of me. Maybe I won't even map out my entire book. Still, when I carefully decide about an upcoming scene before I write it down, I potentially make it richer, fuller, and achieve more all around.

I've also discovered that having a checklist can be helpful during the editing process. I can go back to my list and use it as a quick outline. For example, maybe I've forgotten the timeline in a particular spot. Or perhaps I need to add a scene, or simply feel like reviewing what's in the scene without actually re-reading an entire chapter, then a scene-by-scene summary becomes immensely useful.

Here are some of the things I plan out before writing a scene:

1. Date and/or Time:

I jot down the scene's time and date at the top of each checklist. This helps me keep track of the story's pacing so that I don't have half the book transpiring one day and end up rushing through the remainder. 

It also helps me keep the timing of events sensible. Character growth and other significant events take time. It only takes one look at my checklist to see that only a couple of days have passed rather than several weeks, even though a lot has transpired. Since that might make the scene seem unrealistic, I need to give my characters more time for personal growth.

2. Viewpoint:

The next thing I like to write down right beneath the time and date is from whose point of view I'm writing the scene. I always ask myself these questions: Whose viewpoint will have the most impact? Whose haven't I used of late? And whose point of view will best move the plot along? 

By keeping track of the viewpoint, I can easily see when I've neglected the hero in the last five scenes but instead placed a little too much emphasis on the heroine. Or perhaps I didn't have enough reason to switch viewpoints. Then I have to ask myself, why? Am I not giving each of my main character's thoughts and growth equal weight? Is one of their arcs weaker? If so, what can I do to provide it more symmetry?

3. Setting:

After the point of view, I like to jot down where the scene takes place. Often times a brief description will suffice. As with the viewpoint, I endeavor to alternate as the scene unfolds. Thankfully, unlike on a theater stage, we're not bound by financial or artistic constraints in our stories. We can have our characters act out the next scene wherever we like. We can add as much variety as we want.

4. Sensory Elements:

Once I figure out my viewpoint, characters, and setting, I try to imagine what sights, smells, tastes, textures, and sounds can bring the scene to life. What other details might help to set the mood? 

5. Goals:

Finally, once I've established the basics, I can move on to the story's goals I hope to achieve with each scene. I aim to incorporate only those things that serve a purpose into my stories. Whether that's to further the plot, improve the theme, give my characters a chance to grow, or indicate what's to come. Naturally, things frequently change when I sit down and write, but the checklist keeps me on target. I mark whatever doesn't fit in so I can try to include those items later.


There are several advantages of writing scene-by-scene. It is definitely an easy way to keep yourself from feeling overpowered by the enormity of the project. I like to take on each scene one at a time and build on the previous until the tale takes form. In the end, the initial draft of my manuscript might be comprised of 50 or more scenes, but hopefully, the book will feel seamless to a reader once it's been through rigorous rounds of editing.

As always, this checklist is not all-inclusive. Feel free to share what works for you in the comment section below!

Piper is the award-winning author of The Country Girl Empress series. When she isn't busy typing on her computer, she can be found chasing after her furry children or holding on tightly to a good cup of coffee. Follow her on LinkedInFacebookMedium, and Goodreads.
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06 September 2023

Month in Review - August 2023


Can you believe it's September already? Where did the time go? Before you know it, autumn will be here. But before I get sidetracked by more summertime fun, it's time to recap last month. So now, without further ado, here's the list of the most popular blog posts for August 2023, chosen by you, the readers:

The publishing world has changed dramatically over time, but especially since online self-publishing became popular. Viewed by many as inferior, publishing your own work can be intimidating. However, all those myths floating around about it don’t help the situation. To uncover the truth about self-publishing, we should explore some of the most prevalent myths...

Whether you’re writing a book, a magazine article, or your next blog post, practice makes perfect. You don't become a good writer over night, nor should you stop honing your skill.  There's always room for improvement. Every time you sit down at your desk to work on your newest writing project, things get a little easier. Diligent writers also hone their craft by obtaining skills, tricks, and techniques to make their writing more compelling...

Empress Elisabeth of Austria (1837 - 1898), affectionately called Sisi by her close family members, was considered one of the most beautiful women of her time and a style icon. But this transformation didn't happen overnight. When she was a teenager, Sisi was rather plain-looking and at one point, could even be called plump. Then, after giving birth to her first child, Archduchess Sophie Friederike Dorothea Maria Josepha, this beautiful woman began to emerge...

The 26th of August is National Dog Day, and by now my readers know that I am an devoted dog parent, and my furry children play a most important role in my life. No one can win hearts like man’s best friend and in honor of this bond between human and canine, we celebrate Dog Day...

Homemade Cinnamon Roll Treats. Quick, easy, and packed with flavor. These lip-smacking treats are my dogs' new favorite goodies. And soon, your furry friends will crave them, too!

Piper is the award-winning author of The Country Girl Empress series. When she isn't busy typing on her computer, she can be found chasing after her furry children or holding on tightly to a good cup of coffee. Follow her on LinkedInFacebookMedium, and Goodreads.
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30 August 2023

Empress Elisabeth of Austria: The Obsessive Beauty Queen


Teenaged Sisi
Empress Elisabeth of Austria (1837 - 1898), affectionately called Sisi by her close family members, was considered one of the most beautiful women of her time and a style icon. But this transformation didn't happen overnight. When she was a teenager, Sisi was rather plain-looking and at one point, could even be called plump. Then, after giving birth to her first child, Archduchess Sophie Friederike Dorothea Maria Josepha, this beautiful woman began to emerge.

Since a marriage proposal from Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria couldn’t be refused, they got married on the 24th of April 1854. However, the marriage was an unhappy one. The teenaged Empress, who had always longed for freedom and independence, found herself imprisoned in a golden cage called the Austrian imperial court for the rest of her life.

Perhaps it’s because of this that she became obsessed with her appearance. Staying thin was important to her. She was quite horrified by the sight of fat people or just the thought of becoming fat. She was preoccupied with her body weight and ensured she never weighed more than 50 Kilograms; a rather low weight considering she was 5 foot 8 inches tall. She was also repulsed by physical intimacy, hated what her pregnancies did to her body, and despised the thought of growing old.

So, how did this beautiful woman take care of herself?

Maintaining Her Slim Figure

Look at that tiny waist!
Sisi had an incredibly slim figure and maintained a 19-inch waist throughout her adult life. She went to great lengths to keep it that way, and even slept with a cold, wet towel wrapped around her midsection to keep the muscles of her abdomen taut and supple. The Empress of Austria followed a stringent diet. She often only drank a bit of milk, freshly-pressed meat juice, or a mixture of egg whites and salt and ate a few slices of oranges or violet ice cream (her favorite). In addition, she frequently procured laxatives from the imperial pharmacy. To accentuate her slim waist, Sisi wore a tight-laced corset. Quite often she was sewn into her opulent dresses and gowns, so no lumps, bumps or creases from clasps and buttons were visible. 

The Empress was one of the best equestriennes of her time, and when riding began to cause her too much joint pain, she turned to excessive walking. While walking was a common pastime, and often a recommended type of exercise for women of the time, Sisi enjoyed going on long walks that could last up to 10 hours. Even the pitiful protests of her ladies-in-waiting who accompanied her never stopped the Empress.

The Empress was a world-class equestrienne

Sisi's "gym" at the Hofburg Palace
Sisi was also obsessed with gymnastics and worked out every day. It was a pastime that attracted a lot of criticism from courtiers as well as the imperial physician, as it was considered eccentric and indeed unseemly. After all, who wanted a sweaty Empress!? She even went as far as having workout equipment installed in her rooms at the Hofburg Palace, Schoenbrunn Palace, and the Hermesvilla. 

Today, many historians believe that the Empress suffered from Anorexia Nervosa. Undoubtedly, she led a life that many others envied but was filled with duties, restrictions, and demands. Her life was strictly regulated by court etiquette and the Spanish Court Ceremonial. She was not allowed a personal life, which made her feel out of control. However, the one thing she could control was her appearance.

Her Majesty's Skincare

Empress Elisabeth used lots of creams and lotions on her face and body. She didn't stick to a specific one but often liked to experiment. Some of these concoctions sound delightful, like the strawberry pulp or rose petals used as a facial mask. Others were rather gross and somewhat disturbing, even by today's standards. For example, thin slices of raw veal placed on Sisi's face and then held in place by a leather mask overnight. I can only imagine how appalled her husband must have been at the sight of her with that contraption covering her features!

To keep her skin soft, Elisabeth often bathed in warm water infused with olive oil and used a lotion called Cream Celeste. It was a mixture of spermaceti, Cera Alba, sweet almond oil, and glycerin. This rich cream kept her skin well-moisturized, especially during the long winters. 

Empress Sisi may have starved herself, exercised beyond exhaustion to maintain her thin figure, and tried every concoction to keep per face looking young and fresh, but preferred her natural beauty to artifice. She hardly ever wore makeup and was hypercritical of women who, in her opinion, wore too much coloring. One of those women was the strikingly handsome Princess Pauline von Metternich. Of her, the Empress wrote in her diary: “She wears two inches of red powder on her lips and is dressed in material from countries that are far away even though she is too flat." 

Imperial Hair Care

Empress Elisabeth had luscious, chestnut-brown locks that almost touched the ground. Her hair was her pride and crowning glory, and she spent two to three hours per day sitting on a chair or on the billiard table to have it combed and styled. 

The Imperial Hairdresser
Franziska (Fanny) Feifalik nee Angerer
In April 1863, Sisi hired Franziska (Fanny) Feifalik nee Angerer as her personal hairdresser and drew a lot of criticism at court because Fanny was a former theater hairdresser. The Empress had seen a beautiful hairstyle on the lead actresses one evening and wanted to know who was responsible for it. So, Fanny changed her job and became at least partly responsible for Sisi's famed beauty. It was not easy to work for such a demanding employer, but, on the other hand, Fanny Feifalik earned the same as a university professor at the time. For her efforts, she was eventually awarded the title of "Imperial Hairdresser".

Sisi would sit on a low chair in the center of her dressing room, while Fanny, dressed in white, including white gloves, would comb and style her hair into elaborate up-does. Once the procedure was done, the stray hairs would be collected from the comb and counted. If too many had fallen out, the Empress would get upset. This prompted Fanny to attach adhesive strips on the inside hem of her apron to hide the wayward strands of hair, thus avoiding Sisi's inevitable temper tantrums.

Sisi with flowing hair
Painting by Franz Xaver Winterhalter
Empress Elisabeth was rarely seen with her hair down. The famous paintings of her wearing a loose robe with her hair unbound were intended for the private rooms of Emperor Franz Joseph, and not for the public eye. Since her hair was so long that it nearly touched the ground, it was also the cause for horrible headaches as it was so heavy. Nevertheless, she thought it her most precious beauty feature.

To pass the time while having her hair styled, the Empress studied languages such as Hungarian and Greek. Another, rather time-consuming procedure, was washing her hair. This was done every fortnight with a mixture of cognac and egg yolk and afterward conditioned with a so-called disinfectant. Once her hair was rinsed thoroughly, Sisi's hair was towel-dried and combed before she would walk up and down her dressing room until her hair was dry. Is it any wonder that it took the Empress all day to wash her hair?

The Empress hiding her face behind a fan
All her efforts definitely bore fruit, and the Empress maintained her youthful looks well past her middle-age. At age 40, Sisi decided to refuse to be photographed of have her portrait painted and often hid her face behind a parasol or fan from opportunistic photographers. Everything contributed to the myth that Empress Elisabeth's beauty never diminished and to this day, is considered one of the greatest beauties of her generation.

Want to know more about this fascinating yet complicated woman? Try the first five books of my Country Girl Empress series:

Related article: 

I've received several inquiries asking me to write at least one article about some lesser-known facts regarding the main character of #TheCountryGirlEmpressseries, Empress Elisabeth of Austria, Queen of Hungary. Since I share the trait of being an animal lover with the late Empress, I thought it was only fitting to start with this little known fact....

I hope you enjoyed those little tidbits about Empress Sisi and quenched everyone's initial thirst for more information about this fascinating woman! 

Piper is the award-winning author of The Country Girl Empress series. When she isn't busy typing on her computer, she can be found chasing after her furry children or holding on tightly to a good cup of coffee. Follow her on LinkedInFacebookMedium, and Goodreads.
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