“Elisabeth Von Wittelsbach” In The Netflix Series ‘The Empress,’ Explained: How Much Of It Is Real?


Elisabeth Von Wittelsbach, from the German Netflix series “The Empress,” was a complicated woman. Unlike women of her age who took to embroidery and learning etiquettes, Elisabeth preferred horse riding, poetry, and sketching. She loved her freedom more than anything else in the world, and she was not ready to be tied down. Her mother, Ludovika, wanted to marry off Elisabeth, believing that would bring a change in her childlike personality. But Elisabeth always managed to get away from such situations. She wanted to be married to a man she loved, and she wanted to wait to fall in love. Elisabeth’s father, Duke Maximilian Joseph, influenced her to an extent. He was a free-spirited man who lived away from the royal lifestyle.

When Elisabeth met Emperor Franz Joseph, he immediately fell in love with her. In the series, he met her when she was out in the garden, releasing a bird trapped in the castle. The fact that the Emperor valued her eccentricity was why she started to adore him. But it was a difficult decision to make, considering he was supposed to marry Helene. She tried to stop herself from getting any closer to the Emperor, but she could not deny herself the love that Franz showered on her. She had waited to find love, and now that he was in front of her and loved her for who she was, Elisabeth chose to follow her heart. The only problem was that love alone could not withstand all that they were about to experience as a couple. The series dramatizes the romance between Elisabeth and Franz. He was surely taken away by her beauty, but she was not necessarily thrilled by the prospect of marriage. In the series, Elisabeth’s family expressed that the Emperor made a terrible mistake by choosing Elisabeth instead of Helene. Elisabeth could never accept these remarks from her family members. She wanted their support, but instead, they reminded her of her shortcomings. Her father warned her that as long as she was the Empress, she could never truly be happy.

Elisabeth never shied away from expressing herself. She could not accept rituals blindly and protested when they questioned her dignity. When the church’s father and the doctor attempted to check her purity, she kicked the doctor in the face. She could not accept the humiliation, but she cooperated when they mentioned that without proving her chastity, she could not marry. From the series, we get a sense that for Elisabeth, marrying the Emperor was a way to prove her family wrong. She wanted to perhaps prove that she was not a child and that she could take on responsibilities if she had to. According to recorded history, it is said that Elisabeth had openly rebelled when Sophie forbade her from making decisions for her own son.

Elisabeth’s mother-in-law, Archduchess Sophie, did not make her life any easier after marriage. In “The Empress,” Sophie initially did not reject Elisabeth, but when she noticed the change in her son’s behavior after marriage, she formed a strong opinion of her. Historically, Sophie was an iron-strong woman, as shown in the series. She was the one who asked her husband to step aside and allow his elder son, Franz, to take the throne. She knew that her husband, Archduke Franz Karl, would not be able to dictate as strongly as her son. Sophie was often the decision-maker of the empire. Sophie never documented that she despised her daughter-in-law, but according to rumor and available knowledge, it is believed that she never approved of Elisabeth. She was supposedly involved in spreading venomous rumors about Elisabeth to prove her incapability of being an Empress. Sophie kept Elisabeth away from her children as she believed Elisabeth was an unfit mother. Therefore, after becoming an Empress, she did not have anyone to confide in her misery. Elisabeth’s life at Habsburg was limiting for her spirit. She missed riding and running around without a care in the world. She was tired of being the person she was supposed to be and often found solace at midnight when the world slept, and she could tiptoe out, climb a tree, and light a cigarette. Even though she belonged to a royal family, she was repulsed by it and expressed an interest in dwelling with the commoners.

The series did not yet show Elisabeth’s obsession with beauty. It was perhaps because she barely had any control over her life, that she chose to take control of her body. Elisabeth took extreme care of her hair; her long dark brunette locks were the object of admiration. On days when she had to wash her hair with eggs and cognac, she would get rid of all commitments and duties. She even suffered from constant headaches as a result of her long thick hair. Apart from taking care of her hair, she was also obsessed with her body weight. She had gymnasiums built to cater to her requirements. Accounts indicate that she might have suffered from an eating disorder and was at times seen binge eating in discretion. Even though Emperor Franz wanted another son, Elisabeth was deemed physically unfit for another pregnancy. Over the years, Elisabeth and Franz grew distant from each other. She was mostly away traveling while he was busy taking care of the empire. Travel made her happy, as she feared being trapped in a place. She developed an interest in history, philosophy, and literature. She even attempted to write poetry under the pseudonym Titania.

Elisabeth’s melancholia got worse after she lost her son, Rudolf, to a murder-suicide. The drudgery of court life, a lifeless marriage, the death of her infant daughter, and the death of her son all led to Elisabeth’s mental suffering. It was only in her studies and travels that she found respite. Elisabeth was assassinated by an Italian anarchist. She was stabbed with a needle file by a man named Lucheni.

“The Empress” dramatizes certain aspects for effect, but we do get an idea of Elisabeth’s intelligence. Even though she was beaming with ideas, she was always reminded of her place as a woman. She was not considered significant unless she could give birth to a son. The pressure to be the ideal Empress, perform her duties, and not express her opinion added to Elisabeth’s misery. She could not just be a wife; she was a traveler, a poet, and an avid reader. In her own way, she defied society’s expectations and tried to live her life on her own terms.

See More: ‘The Empress’ Ending, Explained: How Did Elisabeth Win The Trust Of The Commoners? Will There Be A Season 2?

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Srijoni Rudra
Srijoni Rudra
Srijoni has worked as a film researcher on a government-sponsored project and is currently employed as a film studies teacher at a private institute. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies. Film History and feminist reading of cinema are her areas of interest.

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