The Real 'Empress' Elisabeth Was Obsessed With Her Image

Photo credit: Netflix - Netflix
Photo credit: Netflix - Netflix

Netflix's new historical drama, The Empress, dropped on Sept. 29, and it's already taken the No. 2 spot on the streaming service's charts. If you're a fan of Bridgerton and The Crown, this is the perfect show to satisfy all of your binging desires. And it's based on a true story. (It is in German, though, so you'll want those subtitles on!)

The series focuses on Elisabeth von Wittelsbach, wife of Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress of Austria from 1854 to 1898, and follows the spirited royal on her adventures within the Viennese court, The Cinemaholic reported.

And while it's easy to get caught up in the romance, old language, and costumes of The Empress's world, it's important to distinguish between which parts of the show are based in fact, and which are fictional.

Here's everything you need to know about the true story of the Austrian empress.

What is The Empress based on?

The new show is based on the life of the famed Austrian royal, Empress Sisi, or Elisabeth von Wittelsbach, who was married to Emperor Franz Ferdinand. The fictional retelling follows her adventures at court, with the first season diving into her early years of marriage.

Who is Elisabeth, or Empress Sisi?

The real Elisabeth von Wittelsbach was born into the royal Bavarian House of Wittelsbach on December 24, 1837, per Tatler.

The rebellious royal, nicknamed "Sissi" or "Sisi," had an informal upbringing where her parents encouraged her to explore the countryside and enjoy creative activities. Sissi was described as free-minded and considered to be “the first celebrity royal in Europe” after she married Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria, and claimed the title of Empress of Austria, per The Cinemaholic.

She was later crowned the Queen of Hungary on June 8, 1867, according to Brittanica.

She broke a lot of royal rules.

Married at 16, Elisabeth was not a fan of the formal Vienna court life her marriage required, per Tatler. She found royal life to be boring and often rebelled against from the court's norms. She was a common topic of gossip thanks to her habits of smoking, riding, and doing vigorous exercises like gymnastics, according to Tatler and

However, Elisabeth was beloved by the common people and was a popular figure throughout her entire adult life, per The Cinemaholic.

When did she marry Emperor Franz Joseph I?

Elisabeth married Emperor Franz Joseph I when she was 16 years old. Franz was 23 years old, per Britannica.

Franz was originally supposed to marry Elisabeth's older sister, Helene, but when both sisters showed up at a party on his twenty-third birthday, Franz fell in love with Elisabeth instead, per The World of Habsburg. Their engagement was announced soon after they met, and they wed in Austria in 1854.

Did Elisabeth and Franz love each other?

The series definitely shows a very rosy and romantic picture of the couple, but it's not totally clear whether she really returned his ardor IRL.

Photo credit: ilbusca - Getty Images
Photo credit: ilbusca - Getty Images

Apparently, Sisi was surprised and even embarrassed by the whole switch-up-the-bride and sudden engagement, per Vogue. And her sister Helene was not happy about it either, falling into a depression.

She is thought to have suffered from an eating disorder.

She was idolized for her beauty and famous for her laborious beauty regimens and anti-aging concoctions.

Photo credit: Grafissimo - Getty Images
Photo credit: Grafissimo - Getty Images

Indeed, Elisabeth was obsessed with her appearance, spending hours each day styling her (very long) hair and exercising to maintain her 19-inch waist, per History. It's commonly thought that the empress suffered from an eating disorder and fellow courtiers even described her as "graceful, but too slender," according to Tatler.

Franz and Elisabeth had four children together.

Elisabeth gave birth to three daughters and a son. Their first daughter, Sophie, was born in 1855, but she died in infancy, according to Tatler.

She then gave birth to another daughter, Gisela, followed by their son, Rudolf, and a third daughter, Marie Valerie, per The Palaces of Europe. Sadly, Rudolf also lived a short life, and died by an apparent suicide with his mistress in 1889. He was just 30 at the time.

Franz's mother, Archduchess Sophie, was very involved in her grandchildren's upbringing and would often take over the children's care. And true to the series, Elisabeth really did have a rather rocky relationship with her mother-in-law, Archduchess Sophie, according to Brittanica.

Elisabeth was assassinated in 1898.

Elisabeth was stabbed by an Italian anarchist named Luigi Lucheni while traveling to Switzerland. She died from the attack on September 10, 1898, at the age of 60, according to Britannica.

She's been the subject of other movies.

Elisabeth has been portrayed in various media forms long after her lifetime (remember, she was considered the first celebrity royal!). Actress Vicky Krieps is set to play Elisabeth in Corsage, a 2022 film premiering in December. The movie focuses on Elisabeth's relationship with beauty and her fear of aging.

This isn't the first time she's been remembered for her looks in pop culture. In 1955, Romy Schneider played Elisabeth in the German film Sissi, which mainly focuses on the Empress's beauty and her love life.

Is the Netflix show historically accurate?

While the producers of The Empress took artistic liberties on some occasions, their goal was to be as historically accurate as possible, according to The Cinemaholic. They did not mess with timelines or shift events in history in order to create a more dramatic narrative arc.

However, the show is called a “truthful interpretation,” and some situations and conversations were imagined when developing the complex relationships between characters.

I know what's at the top of my watch list!

Will there be a season 2?

No word on that front yet! But I will be sure to bring you the good news once it's confirmed. So, for now, stay tuned, and brush up on your Habsburg family knowledge.

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