Elizabeth - Empress of Austria - George Upton

Elizabeth's Illness and Sojourn in Madeira

The estrangement between the Emperor and Empress gradually increased. Affairs of state, the distractions of court life, together with Franz Joseph's growing disposition to return to the habits and pleasures of his bachelor life, all tended to widen the breach between them. The Emperor was naturally kind and affectionate, but he also had weaknesses which on closer acquaintance proved him to be far from the ideal character his young wife had imagined. She was too proud to stoop to unworthy means to retain his attachment for her, and her increasing sadness and reserve as well as her disinclination to take part in the festivities of the court, only wearied and helped to estrange him the more, as he felt in it a silent reproach.

Elizabeth had expected to find complete happiness in his love, and her solitary position at court in an atmosphere so hostile had made her cling yet more closely to this hope. By this time, however, reality had dispelled this illusion. She did not feel that she had lost her power over him or even his love, but her faith in him was shaken and her confidence destroyed. To be pitied was unendurable to the proud daughter of the Wittelsbachs. She hid her disappointment from the world and retired more and more within herself. At length her health began to give way. She struggled bravely against her growing weakness, but was finally seized with an illness which her physicians could neither understand nor cure. After repeated consultations it was decided that her lungs were affected, and a journey to Madeira was advised, that place being at the time regarded as the most favorable one for troubles of that kind. For a long time she refused to follow their advice, but finally early in the year 1861 she consented to go. Those who saw her start doubted whether she would ever return, and she herself had little hope of regaining her health.

She left Europe wrapped in mist and cold. When she landed in Madeira, a week later, she was greeted by blue skies, brilliant sunshine, and tropical vegetation. The villa she was to occupy was charmingly situated, with wide verandas, terraces overlooking the sea, and a chain of mountains stretching behind it. Under these new conditions the Empress began at once to improve and by the first of March was able to make daily excursions about the island, which was now ablaze with flowers. She even grew to look upon her illness as a deliverer. It had enabled her to escape from the oppression of court life, and the quiet solitude taught her patience and gave her strength to bear the trials still in store for her. She lived over the struggles of her life at Vienna, so different from the happy days of childhood in her peaceful Bavarian home, the memory of which, together with the tales and legends she had heard at her father's knee, returned so often and so vividly to her mind.

She rose early every morning, studied, and practised her music, wrote daily letters to her husband and her parents, and took long walks upon the shore. Once during her stay on the island she had a visit from her sister Helene, who had married the Prince of Thurn and Taxis. Vessels rarely stopped there, and her life was most uneventful; but nature, which she had always loved, now became doubly dear. It was there too that she discovered a new interest in the world of poetry, and books soon became like friends to her. In the long solitary evenings she would take refuge in them from the restless longings of her heart and forget for the time her cares and troubles. Meanwhile, in Vienna, news of the Empress' death was daily expected, but instead came word that her cough grew better, and at last it was announced that the climate of Madeira had done its work and she would be allowed to come back after a stay of four months.

On the way home in the middle of May a frightful storm arose, and the yacht Victoria and Albert  (which had been loaned her by Queen Victoria of England for the return voyage) was tossed about like a nutshell on the angry sea. The Empress, however, refused to leave the deck in spite of all entreaties and the mountainous waves that threatened to sweep her over the side of the vessel. She even had herself fastened to the mast that she might safely enjoy the wonderful spectacle. On the eighteenth of May she was met off Trieste by the Emperor, who had come out on a warship to welcome her with an escort of five steamboats carrying notables and citizens with bands of music. At ten o'clock a shot from the castle announced the approach of the flotilla, and amid thundering salutes from batteries and warships the Emperor and Empress entered the harbor and landed near Miramar, the pleasure palace built for Archduke Maximilian, afterward Emperor of Mexico. A celebrated painting depicts the meeting between the young Archduchess Charlotte and Elizabeth on the great marble terrace overlooking the sea.

At Baden Elizabeth saw her mother-in-law and children again, and five days later the imperial pair entered Vienna, the railway station of which was decorated with flowers in honor of the occasion. They drove to the palace in an open carriage amid the cheers of the populace, whose joy over the Empress' recovery found further expression the following day in praise services held in all the churches of the city.