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The Empress Elisabeth of Austria is known for championing Hungary and being assassinated by an Italian anarchist in Geneva in 1898. In Ireland she is remembered for hunting with the Meath.

Accompanied by Bay Middleton, who piloted her across unfamiliar country, she cut a dashing figure riding side-saddle. My sister remembers seeing a plaque beside a wide and deep Meath ditch that she jumped. My grandfather recalled that when she arrived at a Meet she brought her own gold chamber-pot, just in case.

Her marriage to the Emperor Franz Josef was arranged when she was 15 and they were married when she was 16.  A domineering mother-in-law and the constraints of life in the Imperial Court were hard for her to bear. One cannot help but think of the Princess of Wales. At any rate, they both  found their escape in travel leading to both their deaths.

There is an exhibition at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna  about her unconventional life. The visit continues with a tour of her and Franz Josef’s private apartments. Her study includes a gym – considered quite odd in those days but it did keep her weight down to 50 kilos. Here are two of the bits of equipment she used.

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(Photography was not allowed so I had to fall back on Getty.) Her bathroom interested me too. Her lavatory is formed like a dolphin, a theme of all her decoration, and on the floor there is an early form of lino; somewhat despised now (it has to be disguised as Marmoleum) but fit for an Empress then.

Their son, Crown Prince Rudolf, committed suicide at the Imperial hunting lodge, Mayerling, in 1889. This inspired Kenneth MacMillan’s ballet of the same name which implies that Bay Middleton was more than a pilot in the hunting field to the Empress.

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