THE HABSBURGS

The Habsburgs were named from their ancestral castle Habsburg in Aargau in Switzerland in 1273 when a Count of Habsburg became the German king Rudolf I and in 1282 gave Austria and Styria to his two sons beginning an Austrian identity. The Habsburgs ruled until 1918 as dukes, archdukes and emperors. They also ruled Hungary and Bohemia; and Spain for nearly two centuries. They allowed each country functional rule under their elective monarchies. Frederick V was also crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 1452 and this honour stayed in the family until dissolution of Holy roman emperors in 1806. His son Maximilian I through a clever marriage also acquired the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Burgundy and eventually his descendants also gained Spain, Naples, Sicily and Sardinia. The zenith of Habsburg power was under Charles I when the titles were: Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, King of Germany, Spain, both Sicilies (Naples and Sicily) and Jerusalem; Arch Duke of Austria; Duke of Burgundy and Brabant; Count of Habsburg, Flanders, Tyrol and Artois.

It is therefore not surprising that the Archduchess Sophie having decided her husband Ferdinand should be forced to abdicate as he was too weak and their son Karl should be passed over as he was also unsuitable she proclaimed Franz Joseph, her second son, should be the future Emperor at the age of 18 years in 1848. She felt that she would then be able to be in charge as she could dominate him and in effect be the Empress in all but name. Eventually she had to find a wife who would fit the role of Empress but be obedient to her commands.

The Habsburgs needed to secure Bavaria by blood ties to cope with threats from the south and her sister, Ludovika’s children could be suitable.

The grand wedding took place when she was 16 in April 1854 but the fairy tale soon became reality when she realised that she was expected to adapt to strict etiquette and attend many formal dinners and balls. Archduchess Sophie added to her problems with her insistence that all Elizabeth's immediate staff and ladies in waiting were from high Viennese society. She had no personal freedom and even the decisions on the upbringing of her children were made by Sophie. Franz Joseph, her husband, was in awe of his mother and would always agree with her decisions.

The Emperor was away at war for several years and despite pleading to be allowed to accompany him she had to stay at home. When he did return she developed many complaints which were probably due to him infecting her with a venereal disease. She embarked on a life of travel taking her from Madeira where she stayed 6 months having been lent the yacht of Queen Victoria; Corfu, which she loved and persuaded the Emperor to let her build a house; Hungary, which she particularly loved as they had an equal love of horse riding;and also Britain.