Empress Elisabeth of Austria, perhaps better known as Sisi, has gone down in history as a formidable but complicated woman. One would perhaps be surprised to learn that the Empress had a tattoo of an anchor on her shoulder done in 1888 to represent her love undying love for the sea. Elisabeth abhorred the court in Austria and spent most of her time away from it, travelling around the world. During one of these trips to Greece, she had an anchor tattooed. Her husband, Emperor Franz Joseph, was less than amused by the tattoo and described it as a “dreadful surprise.”
Her love of the sea perhaps began in 1860 when Elisabeth went to Madeira as a treatment for pulmonary disease in the midst of a marital crisis. She was reportedly one of the very few people not seasick during the trip. In Madeira, she lived a quiet and solitary life in a rented villa by the sea.
In later life, she considered living in Greece and eventually had a villa built on Corfu. She also wished to be buried there according to her daughter Marie Valerie who wrote, “A marvellous spot, and if one knows Mama and knows what she needs in the way of beauty, wonderful climate, and quiet serenity for body and soul, one can only be happy about wonderful Gasturi and this spot! From the terrace, Mama showed me the view through two tall, dark cypresses to the open sea, this is the very place where she wants to be buried.”
When expressing her wish to visit America, she said, “What I would most like to do is go to America for a little while, the ocean draws me so much whenever I look at it. Valerie would like to go along, too, for she found the sea voyage charming. All the others with few exceptions were sick [on their current trip to the Isle of Wight].”
Even more dramatically, she wrote after the marriage of Marie Valerie, “I shall travel the whole world over, Ahasuerus shall be a stay-at-home compared to me. I want to cross the seven seas on a ship, a female ‘Flying Dutchman’ until I drown and am forgotten.” During one particularly stormy trip, Elisabeth tied herself to a chair on the deck and said, “I do like this Odysseus because the waves tempt me.”
It is perhaps only fitting that Elisabeth spent her final moments on board a ship after being stabbed. Her daughter certainly thought so, and she wrote, remembering something her mother had said, “And when it is time for me to die, lay me at the ocean’s shore.” Unfortunately, her wish to be buried by the sea in Corfu was not granted, and she lies in the Imperial Crypt next to her husband and son. 1