Empress Elizabeth of Austria (Sisi)
Casino de Madeira, Funchal, Madeira, Portugal
By 1889, Empress Elizabeth of Austria, saw no point in staying in Vienna. She’d found the atmosphere of the Habsburg court stifling ever since her marriage to Emperor Franz Joseph I thirty-five years before in 1854. And now, her son was dead. He’d killed himself and his lover with a shotgun. So she left, set off to travel the world, and to experience it. She visited France, Morocco, Italy, Egypt, Algeria…and in 1893, a Portuguese newspaper reported she’d landed on the isolated, north Atlantic island of Madeira. There, hundreds of miles away from the prying eyes of mainland Europe, the Empress who’d been nicknamed Sisi could be herself. Local legend tells how she drank with sailors, listened to their stories and told them her own. She even had a tattoo done to remind her of the time she’d spent with the rugged seafarers. Sisi liked doing as she pleased. And in a way, she’d already spent the years before leaving Europe doing exactly that. No one indulged the cult of her own beauty like Sisi. Not a day in her life went by without her exercising, or without her constricting her body in a tight corset to maintain her 19inch waist. It took three hours a day to comb her ankle-length hair, hair that was washed in egg-yolk and expensive French brandy. To maintain her soft skin, she spent hour after hour with raw veal cutlets strapped to her face and she refused to eat anything apart from meat and oranges and drank only milk. Her image was famous across the continent and beyond through official portraits and paintings. But she refused to sit for any more artists after she reached the age of 30, so determined she was for no one to see her once celebrated beauty fade. And despite being married to the Emperor, she had an affair with a dashing English horseman called Captain William George ‘Bay’ Middleton. In the years before her quite random assassination, she became the lone nomad traveling lands far and wide looking for somewhere to belong and furthering her own legend by creating stories like those of her drinking with sailors and getting tattoos. She created her own mythology, her own legend. Just as she wanted it. And it’s a legend fascinates the world to this day. Although the location of that tattoo remains a mystery.