Empress Sisi’s secret visits to the poor

December 10, 2012

Empress Elisabeth of Austria, Painting by Gyula Benczúr

Ever-ready to propagate cruel absurdities concerning the Empress, the short-sighted, frivolous, and superficial society of the Austrian capital remained only too often blind to her innumerable acts of charity. Often, in the early hours of the morning, she would glide out of her palace on errands of mercy, accompanied by a trusted, confidential attendant. Elizabeth never knew fear. She penetrated into the darkest, poorest, and roughest quarters, where were huddled together the fierce multitudes that breed anarchy and that make revolutions. She was perfectly safe among them.  No one knew who she was, but her courage, her gentleness, and her open-hearted generosity caused the wretched creatures whom she visited to regard her in the light of an angel. They never suspected that the kind lady who succored their cruel need was the cold, proud, and haughty sovereign who was taxed with heartlessness and indifference by both high and low in the great country over which her husband reigned.  Numerous families redeemed from despair, many foul places purged to moral and practical cleanliness—these were some of the results of her Majesty’s visits to the slums of her empire. She could go unharmed where the police would hardly venture, for the people grew to love her, and would not have hurt a hair of her head. She helped the unfortunate unconditionally, and consoled them just as did her namesake, Elizabeth of Hungary, centuries ago.

Marguerite Cunliffe-Owen, The Martyrdom of an Empress (New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1902), pp. 97-98.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 237



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