The Year of Empress Elisabeth – Sisi & her sister-in-law Charlotte of Belgium (Part one)




(public domain)

Charlotte of Belgium was born on 7 June 1840 as the daughter of Leopold I of Belgium and Louise of Orléans. Though her childhood was considered to be happy, she had little contact with her parents. Charlotte was separated from her brothers and was given an entirely different education. She grew up fast, and Charlotte was just ten years old when her mother died.1

She first met Archduke Maximilian of Austria at the end of May 1856 when he visited Brussels. She was still only 15 years old. He was not the most handsome, but she fell for his charm and character. They had equally religious backgrounds. 2 He wrote to his younger brother, “She is small of stature, I am tall like it’s supposed to be. She has brown hair, I am blonde, which is good. She is very smart, which worries me a little, but I am sure I will get over it.”3 In October 1856, an official request for Charlotte’s hand came from Triest.4 In December, Maximilian was back in Brussels to get to know his bride.5 As one of his Christmas presents, he presented her with an oil painting of Empress Elisabeth.6 On 27 July 1857, Maximilian and Charlotte married in a religious ceremony in the Cathedral of Saint Michael and Saint Gudula in Brussels.

Her new mother-in-law, Archduchess Sophie, was delighted with her new daughter-in-law and wrote, “Charlotte is charming, beautiful, attractive, loving, and gentle to me. I feel as if I had always loved her… I thank God with all my heart for the charming wife He has given Max, and for the additional child He has given us.”7 With Sophie’s praise, it is perhaps no surprise that Charlotte and her sister-in-law Elisabeth did not get along well. In addition, Charlotte was the daughter of a King and immensely rich. Elisabeth probably felt scolded by her mother-in-law with every little bit of praise that was showered upon Charlotte. The arrival of Charlotte also unhappily coincided with the aftermath of the death of Elisabeth and Franz Joseph’s eldest daughter Sophie. The court was in deep mourning, but Franz Joseph had ordered a brief respite to have a reception for the newlyweds as they were expected to leave for Italy the following day anyway.

Elisabeth resented having to come out of her mourning to receive her new sister-in-law, in whom she already had no interest.8 Elisabeth appeared at the reception dressed in white and made no attempt to make Charlotte feel at ease – they barely spoke. Nevertheless, Charlotte wrote lovingly that she already felt at home with her new family.9 The following day, they travelled on to Triest, where Maximilian’s Miramare Castle was still being built.10 They lived in Villa Lazarovich before moving into Miramare at the end of 1860.11

Maximilian had been created Viceroy of Lombardy-Venetia, but the situation in Italy was complicated and fueled by hate of everything Austrian. The couple went to Milan in 1857 for Maximilian’s duties. Maximilian’s policies were pretty liberal for the time, and the public began to love the young couple. However, he never managed to get the Italian nobility on his side and his brother thoroughly disapproved of his policies.12 The situation became unmanageable when an Italian nationalist attempted to kill the French Imperial couple. Several people were killed, but Emperor Napoléon III and Empress Eugénie were unharmed.13  Eventually, he felt forced to send Charlotte from Milan after she was booed by the public several times. On 20 April 1859, Maximilian was relieved of his duties as viceroy. In the following war, Austria lost Lombardy but managed to keep Venice.14  The only role left for Maximilian was that of vice-admiral of the fleet, though he never actually commanded the fleet.

The couple began to retreat from the public after Milan. Maximilian’s spent his time building Miramare while Charlotte spent her time painting and playing the piano.15 Despite their added time together, the couple never had any children. Having children was surely a wish that both of them shared, if only for dynastic reasons.16 To escape the pressures, Maximilian and Charlotte travelled a lot.17 They were meant to travel to Brasil in 1859, but in Madeira, it was decided that Charlotte would remain behind. This caused rumours about the relationship. Undoubtedly, the trip caused all kinds of memories for Maximilian because he had lost his first love in Madeira.18

Over time, the relationship between Elisabeth and Charlotte did not approve. Elisabeth wrote that Charlotte was a “pretentious little Coburg, who was always showing off her knowledge and was so boringly possessive with Max.”19 Charlotte resented the attitude of a woman who came from a family she considered to be below her. In 1861, Charlotte and Maximilian came to greet Elisabeth at Miramare as she returned home from Madeira. Elisabeth immediately shut herself in her rooms after the formalities were over, completely ignoring Charlotte. And to add insult to injury, one of Elisabeth’s dogs killed Charlotte’s little lapdog, which had been a gift from Queen Victoria. Charlotte’s grief over her little dog did not impress Elisabeth, who merely stated her dislike for small dogs. Shortly after Elisabeth’s return to Vienna, she fell ill (again), and Maximilian was requested to accompany Elisabeth to Corfu to help her settle in. Charlotte was not only being completely ignored; now her husband was being used as some kind of servant. When Elisabeth’s terrible illness then turned out to be related to her nerves, Maximilian scathingly wrote home that Elisabeth’s recovery was “little short of miraculous.”20

Read part two here.

  1. Arthur van den Elzen – Koningsdrama in Mexico p. 57-58
  2. Arthur van den Elzen – Koningsdrama in Mexico p. 59
  3. Arthur van den Elzen – Koningsdrama in Mexico p. 60-61
  4. Arthur van den Elzen – Koningsdrama in Mexico p. 61
  5. Arthur van den Elzen – Koningsdrama in Mexico p. 63
  6. The crown of Mexico; Maximilian and his Empress Carlota by Joan Haslip p.99
  7. The reluctant Empress by Brigitte Hamann p.78
  8. The crown of Mexico; Maximilian and his Empress Carlota by Joan Haslip p.113
  9. The crown of Mexico; Maximilian and his Empress Carlota by Joan Haslip p.114
  10. Arthur van den Elzen – Koningsdrama in Mexico p. 68-69
  11. Arthur van den Elzen – Koningsdrama in Mexico p. 71
  12. Arthur van den Elzen – Koningsdrama in Mexico p. 74-75
  13. Arthur van den Elzen – Koningsdrama in Mexico p. 75
  14. Arthur van den Elzen – Koningsdrama in Mexico p. 79
  15. Arthur van den Elzen – Koningsdrama in Mexico p. 80
  16. Arthur van den Elzen – Koningsdrama in Mexico p. 81
  17. Arthur van den Elzen – Koningsdrama in Mexico p. 82
  18. Arthur van den Elzen – Koningsdrama in Mexico p. 83
  19. The crown of Mexico; Maximilian and his Empress Carlota by Joan Haslip p.133
  20. The crown of Mexico; Maximilian and his Empress Carlota by Joan Haslip p.148






About Moniek Bloks 2223 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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