A Dynasty more Tragic than a Puccini

Beneath the Kapuzinerkirche lies the Imperial Crypt I visited earlier.  I previously posted a few photos of the tombs of Maria Theresia and family, but there are tombs here of more recent emperors and empresses who also contributed to Vienna’s colourful and ultimately tragic history.

The body of Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico was repatriated here after his death by firing squad in Mexico in 1867. Younger brother of Franz Joseph I, he was part of Napoleon III’s grand scheme to create a Mexican monarchy, having invaded Mexico in 1861. However, Max I’s emperorship was not recognized by Mexico or the U.S. and ultimately France’s troops withdrew from Mexico, abandoning Maximilian. He remains in the hearts of the Viennese, as evidenced by the fresh flowers still placed at his tomb today.


Maximilian I
Maximilian I

Franz Joseph I reigned for 66 years until 1916. His brother Maximilian’s death was only the beginning of family tragedy for this beloved emperor.

Born in Schonnbrunn Palace in 1830, he inherited the throne in 1848. He married Her Royal Highness Duchess Elisabeth Amalie Eugenie of Bavaria (Sisi, as she was fondly known by Austrians) in Augustinerkirche in 1854.

Considered a great beauty, Sisi created a sensation everywhere she went. In private, she was also depressive, anorexic, addicted to exercise and spent hours every day having her floor-length hair done and corsets tightened to emphasize her small waist. She slept little and instead studied languages, poetry, the classics and philosophy. She travelled extensively and spent little time with her husband in Vienna. Her health severely deteriorated and she withdrew from court life completely when her son Rudolf committed a murder-suicide in 1889. (Crown Prince Rudolf is interred in the Imperial Crypt.)

Photograph of Empress Elisabeth on her Coronation Day
Photograph of Empress Elisabeth on her Coronation Day
Later Portrait of "Sisi"
Later Portrait of “Sisi”

Close friend and cousin of Ludwig II of Bavaria (builder of Neuschwanstein Castle), did they commiserate re celebrity and court obligations, or did they share the mental illness that ran in their family? Sisi’s own father was peculiar, he had a childish love of circuses and travelled the Bavarian countryside to avoid the obligations and stiffness of court life.

At 1:35 p.m. on Saturday, 10 September 1898, travelling incognito due to threats on her life, Elisabeth and her lady in waiting, Countess Irma Sztaray were walking the promenade in Geneva, Switzerland on their way to the train station bound for Montreux. 25-year-old Italian anarchist Luigi Lucheni approached them, attempting to peer underneath the empress’s parasol. According to Sztaray, as the ship’s bell announced the departure, Lucheni seemed to stumble and made a movement with his hand as if he wanted to maintain his balance. In reality, he had stabbed Elisabeth with a sharpened needle file that was 4 inches (100 mm) long (used to file the eyes of industrial needles) that he had inserted into a wooden handle. When she collapsed, no-one knew what had happened, but by the time they carried her back to the hotel, the Empress was dead. She was returned to Vienna by a funeral train, and after a state funeral, was entombed in the Imperial Crypt.

By the early 1900’s, only one relative, nephew Franz Ferdinand, remained to succeed Franz Joseph on the Austrian throne. Franz Joseph didn’t like his nephew, or his wife Sophie whom Franz Joseph considered beneath the family’s station.

Franz Ferdinand & Sophie
Franz Ferdinand & Sophie

In June, 1914, Franz Ferdinand and Sophie were in Sarajevo when a grenade was thrown at them. It missed them, but injured several others around them. The couple insisted on travelling to the hospital to visit the wounded, and en route, their driver took a wrong turn. Trapped on a small side street, their assassin caught sight of them and shot them both. Franz Ferdinand cried, “Don’t die darling, care for our children!” Franz Ferdinand died first, and Sophie, shot in the abdomen, died shortly thereafter.  They left two sons and a daughter.   The objective of the assassins was for slav nations to break off from Austria-Hungary and form an independent nation. The masterminds behind the assassinations ranked high in the Serbian military, including the Chief of Serbian intelligence; several were tried and three of the high-ranking conspirators were executed. But this was not enough to appease Austrian leaders. Within a month of the murders, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, invoking various treaties and alliances, and triggering World War I.

Franz Joseph I did not attend the funerals of Franz Ferdinand and Sophie and they are not buried at the Imperial Crypt; their bodies are interred at their castle at Artstetten.

By the time Franz Joseph I died in November 1916, he believed the break-up of his empire at the end of the war was inevitable. His great-nephew Karl I assumed the throne until the end of the war and the end of the empire in 1918. Karl I and his wife were exiled to the Island of Madeira and within four years at age 34 Karl was dead (from a cold that developed into pneumonia). He has since been beatified by the Vatican for his faith and his efforts to end WWI. Numerous attempts to have his remains moved to the Imperial Crypt have failed. Franz Joseph I, Austria’s last great emperor, was the last emperor interred in the Imperial Crypt in the Kapuzinerkirche in Vienna.

Franz Joseph I
Franz Joseph I
Karl I
Karl I


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