The Year of Empress Elisabeth – Elisabeth Marie of Austria: The innocent victim of Mayerling (Part four)




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Read part three here.

Elisabeth and Leopold lived together as he was making a career for himself in politics. Of her children, only her daughter was still living with her. She bought the so-called Windisch-Graetz Villa on the outskirts of Vienna in 1929. However, peace would be hard to find. By 1932, national socialism was on the rise, and political opponents had taken to calling Elisabeth “the Red Archduchess.” Under the Dollfuss administration, Leopold and many of his comrades were arrested, which triggered protests among the workers. Leopold was badly affected by his imprisonment as he suffered from chronic bladder issues. In July 1934, he was sentenced to two months imprisonment for offences against public order. As he had already served this sentence, he was released. Elisabeth had visited him in prison every single week.

Elisabeth was spending plenty of money on the causes she thought worthy, and her children were receiving “only” 1,600 shillings weekly. This led to quite some resentment, especially from her eldest son, who felt like she was squandering his inheritance. He even went as far as to try and have Elisabeth declared incapacitated with the help of Prince Otto. It is not clear if Elisabeth ever knew of this action, but the request was eventually withdrawn. Leopold and Elisabeth remained on the government’s radar, and Elisabeth’s passport was confiscated to prevent her from leaving. This did not stop her from helping fellow party members.

In 1938, Austria was annexed into the German Reich. Elisabeth was not in the crowd to welcome Hitler and instead sat at home with a heavy heart. The Nazi terror went around Austria, but for now, Elisabeth and Leopold were forgotten. The following year, Elisabeth suffered a tragedy. On 9 June 1939, her third son Rudolf died in a motorcycle accident. He had loved motorcycles since childhood. Elisabeth and Leopold tried to avoid any active political activity during the war as they were under continuous police surveillance. Elisabeth was rather poorly and suffered from severe arthrosis. As they had plenty of money, they were the lucky ones. That luck came to an end in August 1944 when Leopold was once again arrested. He was subjected to interrogations by the Gestapo while Elisabeth tried desperately to get him released. After four weeks, Leopold was sent to Dachau concentration camp.

In 1945, Vienna lay in ruins as it was liberated. Leopold’s son turned up to take the 63-year-old Elisabeth away from the city to Mödling, but after packing a few suitcases, she refused to go. When the Russians arrived at the villa, Elisabeth reportedly pointed to her chest and shouted, “Shoot, shoot, shoot!” Luckily, they did not follow her orders, but they did take up part of her villa and ordered her out.1 Now homeless, Elisabeth sought shelter in a convent. One of the sisters recalled Elisabeth’s arrival, “When the Russians came, the Princess Windisch-Graetz came and asked to be admitted. She had nothing with her but what she had on her body and her dogs.”2

Leopold was eventually freed by the Americans from a death march, but we know very little of his time in Dachau. He returned home on 3 June 1945, and he and Elisabeth were reunited at the convent where she was staying. The villa was eventually returned to them, though it had been thoroughly ransacked. For several years, they lived in another house as French troops took over the villa. Then, on 23 August 1945, news reached Elisabeth that her mother Stéphanie had died in Hungary.

Slowly, life returned to normal for Elisabeth and Leopold. He served as President of the State Audit Office until 1947, when he went into retirement. On 4 May 1948, Elisabeth and Leopold were finally married in the registry office of Handersdorf-Weidlingau. The difference with her first wedding could not have been greater. In 1950, it seemed as though they might be able to return to their villa, but when the decision was revoked, Elisabeth set her dogs on the poor aide-de-camp who delivered the news. In 1952, another one of her children died. Ernst Weriand, who had made a name for himself as a painter, died of a heart attack on 23 December. A few days later, she received the news that her former husband, Prince Otto, had also died. The following year, Elisabeth celebrated her 70th birthday, still in her temporary housing with her bones aching.

She would spend the last few years of her life confined to a wheelchair. It wasn’t until 1955 that their home was finally returned to them. Elisabeth, once a proud gardener, immediately hired people to get the park back into shape. Everything had to be put back as it had been; Elisabeth remembered every detail. However, many valuable objects were lost. Tragically, Leopold could not enjoy his return home. He passed away on 27 July 1956 and was laid to rest in Hütteldorf Cemetery. Elisabeth had to be pushed to his graveside to say her goodbyes.

The relationship with her two surviving children remained icy. Her eldest son Franz Joseph had immigrated to Kenya and only visited occasionally. Her daughter Stéphanie lived in Belgium and also visited rarely. She had married a Swedish man called Carl Axel Björklund in 1945, whom Elisabeth did not like. Her only regular visitor was Leopold’s son, whom she loved dearly. Her main devotion during her final years was her German shepherd dogs. She brushed and groomed the dogs for as long as she was able. Then, in 1961, she lost the use of both of her legs following a stroke and began to require round-the-clock care from nurses. One of them wrote of her, “Sher had an iron strength on the outside, but a great humility on the inside.”3

In March 1963, her condition deteriorated quickly. On 16 March at 2.30 P.M., she passed away peacefully. Her children were not with her. She was buried without much ceremony on 22 March, next to Leopold. Her grave has a large white stone cross but does not carry a name.

  1. Elisabeth, Die rote Erzherzogin by Friedrich Weissensteiner p.178
  2. Elisabeth, Die rote Erzherzogin by Friedrich Weissensteiner p.178
  3. Elisabeth, Die rote Erzherzogin by Friedrich Weissensteiner p.203






About Moniek Bloks 2315 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

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