Princess Elisabeth of Austria- Sisi of the Sorrows

The Wittelsbachs had a history of crazy.  Both Ludwig I and Ludwig II had their foibles (See posts on both of them here: and here: ) However, Ludwig II’s cousin, Elisabeth or Sisi as she was known, had a life more tragic than crazy.  On the surface, Sisi had it all-  beauty, wealth, a good marriage- but it was all a sham.  The lady had a life full of sorrow.

Born Her Royal Highness Duchess Elisabeth Amalie Eugenie on Christmas Eve 1837, Sisi as she was called by the family was the fourth child of Duke Maximilian in Bavaria and Princess Ludovika of Bavaria.  As was customary with royal marriages, her parents were second cousins.  Not a great idea when you have a family like the Wittelsbachs, but they were obsessed with keeping the bloodline pure.  What they did was heighten the crazy, but I digress.  Her childhood was peaceful and free, and she and her siblings were raised at Possenhofen Castle.  There Sisi developed a love of horseback riding and nature.  They were happy far from the intrigues of court.  At the age of 16, she was broken out of this idyllic world.

Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria was looking for a wife, or more correctly his mother was looking for a wife for him.  The formidable Princess Sophie of Bavaria decided on Helene, Sisi’s elder sister.  Princess Sophie was not a person to be crossed and was described as “the only man in the Hofburg” for her authoritarian ways.  She orchestrated everything in her son’s life, including his first sexual experience.  When Franz Joseph was 18, she found a healthy peasant girl and promised her a good marriage to a court official if she would take the Prince’s virginity.  She even had it set up son Franz Joseph thought it was a natural relationship and she really liked him.  No one knows if he ever found out about what his mother did, but he did see the girl again at a court function and was not allowed to speak to her.  So this is the kind of woman we’re dealing with.

Again, this was a cousin’s marriage, which was asking for trouble, but no one seemed to mind.  Helene, Sisi and their mother traveled to Bad Ischl to formalize the betrothal.  Slight problem.  When Franz Joseph got there he barely looked at Helene, his bride to be.  Instead, he was smitten with the bride’s younger sister, Sisi.  This was no surprise as Sisi was stunning- tall and slim with beautiful long hair.  Franz Joseph stood up to his dominating mama and told her he’d marry Sisi or no one.  If there was going to be a betrothal, then she’d better get on board.  It was no big deal to Sisi’s family, they got an empress out of the deal no matter what.  No one asked the jilted Helene how she felt.  At any rate, five days later the betrothal of Sisi and Franz Joseph was announced.  

Eight months later the two were married, and no one had prepared the poor girl for court or married life.  Sisi hated crowds and had a panic attack at her wedding reception.  After the wedding night, poor Sisi locked herself in her room for three days.  One can only imagine what sex would be like for a sheltered sixteen year old.  After the freedom of her childhood at Possenhofen, Sisi could never adapt to the rigidity and formality of court life.  A series of maudlin bad poetry bewailed the fetters of her new cage.

Soon she fell ill, and it was discovered she was pregnant, but even this happy event turned to tragedy.  As soon as the little princess was born, Sophie took charge of her grandchild and cut Sisi completely out of the loop.  She even named the child… after herself.  Well, that’s modest.  The same thing happened when Franz Joseph and Sisi’s second daughter, Gisela, was born.  Sophie was angry that Sisi was only producing daughters instead of the needed male heir, and began to treat her daughter-in-law worse.  Sophie actually left a pamphlet on her daughter-in-law’s desk with the following underlined:

“…The natural destiny of a Queen is to give an heir to the throne. If the Queen is so fortunate as to provide the State with a Crown-Prince this should be the end of her ambition – she should by no means meddle with the government of an Empire, the care of which is not a task for women… If the Queen bears no sons, she is merely a foreigner in the State, and a very dangerous foreigner, too. For as she can never hope to be looked on kindly here, and must always expect to be sent back whence she came, so will she always seek to win the King by other than natural means; she will struggle for position and power by intrigue and the sowing of discord, to the mischief of the King, the nation, and the Empire..”

Well, isn’t that sweet.  

Sisi got a respite from the stress of court on a visit to Hungary, but that visit soon turned tragic as her two daughters contracted an illness.  Gisela recovered, but two year old Sophie died.  This sent Sisi into a terrible depression from which she never really recovered.  She was unable to care for Gisela, and as a result their relationship never recovered.  Sophie blamed Sisi for allowing her namesake to get sick and die.  Nice.  She gave birth to the longed for male heir, Rudolf, in 1788 and he was whisked away by Sophie.  It was not until the birth of her fourth child that Sisi was allowed to be a mother.  She was reported to have said to a lady in waiting,

“Only now do I understand what bliss a child means. Now I have finally had the courage to love the baby and keep it with me. My other children were taken away from me at once. I was permitted to see the children only when Archduchess Sophie gave permission. She was always present when I visited the children. Finally I gave up the struggle and went upstairs only rarely.”

The only thing she could control was her physical appearance and she had a ruthless beauty regimen.  In fact, she did not look a day over thirty her entire life.  She bathed in warm olive oil and distilled water.  One night a week, she reportedly slept in sheets lined with beefsteak to keep her skin taut.  She was also probably anorexic as she would not eat to be laced as tightly as possible.  She was famous for her wasp waist, which infuriated her mother-in-law as she expected Sisi to be perpetually pregnant.  Her waist remained at 19.5 inches for most of her life.  Almost a Scarlett O’Hara waist.  Whenever she traveled, she would bring her own cows and would live on a diet of meat juice, fresh milk and egg whites mixed with salt.  She was also the first woman to do gymnastics, lift weights and work at the barre like a ballerina as a regular exercise to help with her figure.  Someone once told her it would help her complexion to sleep without pillows, so pillows were banished from her bed.

Her most recognizable feature was her glorious chestnut hair, which reached all the way to her feet.  She was obsessive about how it was dressed, and her Greek tutor Konstantin Christomanos described the ritual, “Behind the Empress’s armchair stood the hairdresser…With her white hands she burrowed in the waves of hair, raised them and ran her fingertips over them as she might over velvet and silk, twisted them around her arms like rivers she wanted to capture because they did not want to run but to fly.”  Any hair that came out during the braiding was required to be put in a silver bowl for Sisi’s inspection.  It was so bad that the hairdresser put a piece of tape under her apron to hide the hair so she wouldn’t have to have it undergo inspection.  Her glorious hair was washed every three weeks and that was a nightmare in itself.  It was rinsed with raw eggs and brandy then air dried as Sisi paced her chamber in a waterproof dressing gown.  However, her hairdresser was well compensated being paid a yearly salary of 2,000 guldens, which corresponded to a university professor.

A rare picture with Sisi’s hair unbound

By this time, Sisi and Franz Joseph were living separate lives.  Franz Joseph was having affairs and after a brief reconciliation which resulted in their fourth child, the bloom was definitely off the rose.  Sisi for her part was coming into her own.  She had balls for young people and didn’t invite their stodgy mothers.  She had a companion from England and snuck off to Ireland for incognito hunting trips.  Things settled into a an amicable separation.  However, Sisi’s world plunged into to tragedy again in 1898 when her son was found dead.  He was found with his mistress Mary Vetsera at his hunting lodge in a suspected suicide pact.  (For more on this, please see this post: )  She and Rudolf were not close, but his death still devastated her.  She was convinced there was some madness in the Wittelsbachs and the Habsburgs that contributed to her son’s death.  She isn’t far off there.  Look at her family.   Sisi began drifting from spa to spa trying to find some meaning.

It was on one of these spa trips, she was killed.  Sisi had stayed at the Hotel Beau-Rivage in Geneva, supposedly incognito.  However, someone must have found out as word leaked.  Sisi was hurrying to board the lake steamer “Genève”.  She had been advised against travelling as there were assassination attempts everywhere, but she didn’t pay them any mind.  As she rushed down the street to the pier without her entourage, Luigi Lucheni ran towards her and stabbed her in the heart with a makeshift weapon.   An Italian anarchist, Luigi Lucheni, had intended to kill the French Duke d’Orleans, but went to Geneva instead on a whim and found out Sisi was there.  Neither Sisi or Countess Irma Sztáray, her lady in waiting, realized what happened.  They thought it had been a robbery attempt, and went on to the ship.  It is suspected that Sisi was able to walk the hundred yards to the ship without noticing anything was amiss because of her tight corset.  A few minutes later, Sisi passed out and Countess Sztáray noticed blood on her dress.  Sisi was carried to back to the Hotel Beau-Rivage on an improvised stretcher and was pronounced dead shortly after.  So ends a tragic life.


The Mayerling Incident

Photographs of Crown Prince Rudolf and Baroness Mary Vetsera.

Crown Prince Rudolf was the heir to the Habsburg throne and the only son of Emperor Franz Joseph and his beautiful wife Elisabeth, or Sisi.  He was in a notoriously bad marriage to Princess Stéphanie of Belgium, daughter of Leopold II.  At first, the prince seemed to be in love but Stéphanie suffered under her mother-in-laws scorn.  The elegant Sisi referred to Stéphanie as a “clumsy oaf”.  Rudolf and his mother were more alike in their ideals than his very conservative father, however, their relationship was not close.  Sisi suffered from depression and Rudolf’s care was primarily from Sisi’s formidable mother-in-law.  Not much a good example of family life to follow.  Rudolf and Stéphanie drifted apart after the birth of their daughter in 1883.  Rudolf took comfort in drink and women, and it was known about court he was having at least one affair probably more.  In 1887, Rudolf bought a hunting lodge in the village of Mayerling.  It was the perfect get away from the formality of court life to drink and carouse.  

On January 29, 1889, Rudolf attended a family dinner with his parents before they were to leave for Hungary.  Rudolf excused himself headed for Mayerling for a day of shooting with his current mistress, the 17 year old Baroness Mary Vetsera.  What happened after that is anyone’s guess.  What we do know is on January 31, Rudolf’s valet, Loschek, went to his rooms at Mayerling to call him and there was no answer.  Rudolf’s shooting partner, Count Joseph Hoyos, joined in and still got no response.  Hoyos became concerned and got an axe and broke down the door.  What he found was terrifying.  Rudolf was seated at the side of the bed, motionless and with a trickle of blood running from his mouth.  Mary was lying on the bed, ice cold and rigid.  The heir to the throne was dead with his mistress.

Hoyos sprang into action and took a special train back to Vienna to get help.  Hoyos and the Emperor’s Adjutant General told the Empress’ favorite lady in waiting, who informed the Empress.  She was the only one with the authority to tell her husband of their son’s death.  In this strict court, even in the face of this tragedy proper protocol had to be followed.  The Empress was distraught, but pulled it together enough to tell her husband.  He left the room a broken man.  In the meantime, there had to be a cover story.  No one knew exactly what happened, but Hoyos suspected poison as strychnine caused bleeding when taken.  It was later found Rudolf and Mary both died of gunshot wounds.  However, the Crown Prince could not have been known to have committed suicide.    The Minister of Police was dispatched to secure the hunting lodge and the body.  A story was released that the Crown Prince had died “due to a rupture of an aneurysm of the heart”.  Rudolf’s body was taken to be buried in the Imperial Crypt of the Capuchin Church in Vienna.  Mary’s body was smuggled out in the middle of the night and put in a hastily dug grave in the cemetery of the Holy Cross Abbey in Heiligenkreuz.  And that was to be that.  But what really happened?  There are several theories.

The obvious answer is suicide.  Several historians suspect Rudolf had syphilis.  His health deteriorated markedly while relatively young.  Pictures show that he aged prematurely and suffered early tooth loss.  Brigitte Hamann suggests in her biography of Rudolf that he had infected his wife Stéphanie with syphilis and felt guilty.  She goes on to tell the tale of Mizzi Kaspar, who was a prominent courtesan in the Habsburg court.  She and Rudolf were lovers and she claims Rudolf proposed a “love murder-suicide” to her.  She refused.  The thought is that Rudolf then pitched the same idea to the love struck 17 year old Mary.  Rudolf even admitted he wasn’t in love with her, but was taken by her devotion to him.  According to this theory, that devotion ran deep enough for her to accept her death at his hands.  It has also been hypothesized that the two fought and Rudolf killed Mary in a crime of passion.  Franz Joseph did not approve of their relationship, and some sources say he brought Mary to Mayerling to break it off.  Perhaps she did not take it well?  Gerd Holler writes in his book a bit of a different story.  He believes that Mary was pregnant, and Rudolf had taken her to Mayerling for an abortion.  When she died in the process, Rudolf committed suicide.

Then there are those who say it was not suicide at all.  Clemens M. Gruber claims in his account “The Fateful Days of Mayerling” that Rudolf died in a brawl.  He tells the story that Mary’s relatives fought their way into the hunting lodge and Rudolf drew a revolver.  In the midst of the fight, the gun went off killing Mary.  Rudolf was then taken out by her enraged relatives.  Empress Zita, the widow of the last Austrian emperor, claimed before she died in 1989 that Rudolf and Mary had been murdered as part of a political conspiracy.  She claimed that a pro-French faction in the court approached Rudolf about deposing his father, and then run the country with a more pro-French slant.  He refused, and supposedly they killed him.

After all this time, no one has the permission to exhume Rudolf’s remains.  However, much later a report came to light that his body showed signs of violent struggle.  In 1992 Mary’s remains were stolen from the Heiligenkreuz cemetery.  They were tracked down by Viennese police and examined by the Viennese Medical Institute.  The identity of the remains were confirmed as Mary Vetsera, and they reported there was no bullet hole in the skull.  However, there was evidence she was killed by several violent blows to the head.  A contemporary report did state that all six bullets were fired from the gun at the scene, but it did not belong to Rudolf and there was no report of where those bullets went.

We will never know the truth about what happened that night at Mayerling.  In his grief, Franz Joseph had the hunting lodge turned into a convent.  Masses were said for the soul of his dead son.  No one really said much about his companion, and Mary went unremembered.


Bona Sforza

Bona in 1517

One would generally think the Queen of Poland would be….well….Polish.  In this case, she was not.  Bona Sforza, as her name would indicate, was Italian.  However, as the wife of King Sigismund I she exercised great power over the country.

A member of the powerful Sforza family of Milan, Bona was born on February 2, 1494 the second child of Gian Galeazzo Sforza, sixth Duke of Milan and his wife Isabella of Naples.  Fun fact, Isabella is thought be some to be the inspiration for the Mona Lisa.  Raised in Bari and Milan, she was educated by the imminent Italian humanists Antonio de Ferraris and Crisotomo Colonna.  From them she learned mathematics, history, classical literature, Latin, , law, theology, geography, natural science, and how to play several instruments.  Bona was also raised on stories of the dangers of the Ottoman Empire and the great explorers of the day.  In short, she was a perfect Renaissance princess.  Sadly, Bona was the only one of her four siblings to live to adulthood.

As part of a powerful family, Bona was expected to make a good marriage.  One problem.  Her great uncle  Ludovico Sforza was constantly at odds with everyone.  He was in a feud with both France and the Pope, so options in France, Italy or Spain were extremely limited.  So the family turned east, and with the help of the House of Hapsburg secured a match for Bona with the widowed Sigismund I of Poland.  The prospect must not have been that exciting for a young girl as her future husband was called “Sigismund the Old”.  Bona was no spring chicken herself, being unwed and 24, but Sigismund was twenty-seven years older than her and quite rough around the edges to the polished Italian lady.  Despite all this, the two were married on April 18,1518 and Bona was crowned Queen of Poland.

As can be expected, the first few months were difficult.  Bona was coming into a culture and climate that was vastly different than the sunny Italy of her youth.  Even the food was different as the diet was heavy on meat and missing the vegetables she was used to.  Bona became known as the Culinary Queen, as she introduced  “włoszczyzna”, literally Italian vegetables, to the area.  She planted a garden near Wawel castle complete with celery, carrots, parsley and leeks.  These vegetables made their way into the Polish and Lithuanian diets along with the words for these vegetables.  She also introduced Italian artists to Poland, including her court favorite Bartolommeo Berrecci.  HIs masterpiece is the Sigismund Chapel at Wawel Castle Cathedral in Kraków.  It is considered “the most beautiful example of the Tuscan Renaissance north of the Alps”.

Bona and Sigismund had six children, however, if the Polish court thought Bona was only going to be a mother of heirs, they were sadly mistaken.  Raised in the centers of power in Italy, Bona began building her own base of support from the Polish nobility.  She was also able to leverage her relationship to the Medici Pope Leo X to influence clerical appointments in her favor.  Despite her upbringing and the help of the Habsburgs in securing her marriage, Bona came down on the side of the Ottoman Empire against the Habsburgs.  Her correspondence with Hurrem Sultan, the legal wife of Suleiman the Magnificent, is thought to have been critical in saving Poland from attempted invasion by the Ottoman Empire.  This correspondence has been lost to time, however, Hurrem sent personal gifts to both Sigismund and his son.  Hurrem was originally from Poland, and all signs point to them having a close relationship.  

Of her children, one son and four daughters survived to adulthood.  Her daughters went on to become powerful in their own rite:  Queen Isabella of Hungary, Duchess Sophia of Brunswick-Lüneberg, Queen Anna I of Poland and Queen Catherine of Sweden, Duchess of Finland.  However, her son and heir became her greatest disappointment.  Sigismund II August succeeded his father after his death in 1548.  However, Sigismund August did not inherit the ruling ability of either his father or his mother.  He concentrated on romance and art rather than running the kingdom.  His first wife was the choice of his father and Bona bitterly opposed it.  Elizabeth of Austria was a Hapsburg, and was in frail health.  The journey from Austria to Poland exacerbated her epilepsy and she began having daily seizures.  Her father-in-law was sympathetic, but Bona was openly hostile.  Sigismund August was indifferent.  He found his new wife unattractive and busied himself with affairs.  Elizabeth made the mistake of calling Bona by her title “the Old Queen”, which Bona detested.  Not a great way to get in good with your mother-in-law.  The poor girl died two years into the marriage.

At this point Sigismund August was on the marriage market again, and Bona expected to get him a more suitable wife this time.  However, that was not on Sigismund August’s mind and he married his outstandingly beautiful mistress Barbara Radziwiłłówna.  Not only was she not Bona’s choice, but she was a Lithuanian Calvinist from an ambitious family.  Bona had worked diligently to keep Protestantism from taking root in Poland, even though she allowed Protestant views to be discussed.  Having one as Queen?  Not happening.  Bona was livid and was not quiet about it.  She headed the campaign to annul the marriage, which included slut shaming Barbara, accusing her of poisoning her first husband and witchcraft to seduce the young king.  The marriage was recognized despite Bona’s efforts and Barbara was crowned Queen of Poland on December 7, 1550.  Bona was removed from court and moved to Mazovia, and was supposedly content with her farms and orchards.  However, when beautiful Barbara died mysteriously in May 8,1551, rumors went round that she had been poisoned on Bona’s orders.  Then rumors went round that this was not the first time Bona had removed a distasteful daughter-in-law.  Remember poor sickly Elizabeth.  Bona was Italian.  They did those things, you know.

Eventually the rumors got to be too much and Bona returned to the Bari of her childhood eight years after the death of her husband.  Her son had married another Hapsburg, this time Catherine of Austria, and she wasn’t going to fall into the line of suspicion if another daughter-in-law got sick.  However, Bona herself was the one who became ill and died under mysterious circumstances.  It is believed that at the instigation of her old enemies the Habsburgs, she was poisoned by her trusted officer, Gian Lorenzo Pappacoda.  Apparently, Philip II owed Bona quite a little bit of money.  Pappacoda forged the will the day before to forgive the debt.  He was rewarded with a title and an annual salary.

Sigismund August died without an heir, so all of Bona’s consternation about his bride was for not.  His sister Anna and her husband Stefan Batory took the throne and ruled as King and Queen.


Carlos II-  The Bewitched King

King Charles II of Spain
King Carlos II of Spain

When Carlos was born on November 6, 1661 there was universal rejoicing in Spain that there was a legitimate male heir.  What they did not realize that Carlos had grave health issues.  The child was not expected to live long.  Along with mandibular prognathism, a.k.a. the Hapsburg lip  (his lower jaw being larger than his upper) which made him unable to chew food properly, his oversized tongue left him prone to drooling and he didn’t learn to speak until he was four years old.  Although he was treated like an infant, Carlos survived.  He was breast fed by a series of wet nurses until he was six, however, some reports place the age of his weaning as high fourteen.  The boy did not learn to walk until he was eight.  Yikes.  

All of this was due to the extensive inbreeding in the royal family.  Carlos’ parents were a prime example of this Philip IV married his niece, Mariana of Austria.  This was common for the Hapsburgs and Carlos’ family tree literally did not branch.  Someone whose direct ancestors were all unrelated to their spouses would have 32 great great great grandparents, Carlos only had 14.

His father, Philip IV, died when Carlos was four, leaving his mother Mariana as regent.  The family didn’t know and/or couldn’t admit inbreeding was the cause of Carlos’ problems, so they put out Carlos was cursed.  The called him El Hechizado or Carlos the Hexed. The Inquisition was in full swing and literal witch hunts ran through court looking for someone who cursed Carlos.  The Inquisition General “questioned” some prisoners and they came up with this story.  Carlos had been cursed at the age of fourteen.  This did not explain his previous health problems, but who is keeping track?  Someone gave Carlos a cup of chocolate containing ingredients taken from a corpse.  And who did this?  Carlos’ mother, Mariana, was accused of casting the he and he could only be cured if they were separated.  Convenient for anyone else trying to gain power.

The Queen Mother was furious, but Carlos bought this hook, line and sinker.  He sent his mother away and got an exorcist from Vienna to come perform an exorcism on him.  Needless to say, it did not work, so obviously the Queen Mother must have cast another spell.  Mariana had enough and replaced the head of the Inquisition with her man, and then had the failed exorcist tried.  It was a mess, and Carlos did not get any better.

Unbelievably, the found two princesses to marry this man.  Luckily, neither marriage produced any children.  It is assumed that he was infertile if not actually impotent.  His life was miserable.  He prone to high fevers which kept him confined to his bed. It’s also said that he suffered from seizures, that he invariably vomited on carriage rides due to chronic motion sickness, and that his eyes oozed liquid in open air. In addition to his physical shortcomings, Carlos was purportedly dim-witted and he was left basically uneducated.  Towards the end of his life he became paranoid and made life difficult for everyone.  When he died in 1700 it was a relief.  

Except that his lack of heir was disastrous.  Carlos had named Philip, Duke of Anjou as his heir, but the disagreements over that kicked of the War of Spanish Succession.  Since everyone was related to everyone, it seemed everyone had a claim.   Inbreeding remained a problem for European royalty, but Carlos II remains one of the worst examples.


Sources available on request

Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor; Frederick IV, King of Germany; and Frederick V, Archduke of Austria

Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor; Frederick IV, King of Germany; and Frederick V, Archduke of Austria.Frederick the Peaceful (or Arch-sleepyhead of the Holy Roman Empire) was the first Holy Roman Emperor from the House of Habsburg; not to be confused with Frederick III (or Frederick the Fair/Handsome) who was King of Germany (and also a Habsburg) from 1314 until 1330. Note that our Frederick III was the fourth Frederick, King of Germany who reigned with that title from 1440 until 14 […]

2986_origFrederick the Peaceful (or Arch-sleepyhead of the Holy Roman Empire) was the first Holy Roman Emperor from the House of Habsburg; not to be confused with Frederick III (or Frederick the Fair/Handsome) who was King of Germany (and also a Habsburg) from 1314 until 1330. Note that our Frederick III was the fourth Frederick, King of Germany who reigned with that title from 1440 until 1493. Now that we have that cleared up, let us focus on the Holy Roman Emperor.

Born on September 21, 1415 to Ernest the Iron, of the Leopoldian branch of the house, and Cymburgis of Masovia in Innsbrook, Austria. When Ernest died in 1424, Frederick inherited the title of Duke of Styria, Carinthia, and Carniola, which forms what was known as Inner Austria, when he was only 9 years old. Being so young Frederick required a regent to rule with him and so his uncle Frederick V, Duke of Further Austria served with him until 1435 when Frederick came of age and ruled alone.

Note: Inner Austria was the duchies of Styria, Carinthia, and Carninola. Further Austria was the duchy of Swabia (South-western Germany) and county of Tyrol, and the third is the archduchy of Austria (which includes upper Austria and lower Austria) with Vienna as its capitol.

In 1440, Frederick’s luck began. Albert (or Albrecht) V, who was Frederick’s cousin on the Albertinian side, died leaving open the positions of Archduke of Austria, King of Germany (as Albert II) and king of Bohemia, Hungary and Croatia. Albert left all these titles to his unborn son, Ladislaus the Posthumous, but no one wanted a child to hold the title as these lands were already threatened by other European powers. Ladislaus I became Duke of Austria at his birth with his mother and Frederick acting as regents. Frederick became sole regent after Ladislaus’ mother died in 1442.

3203865_origIn 1446, Frederick was released of his duties as regent but refused to free the boy so he could extend his his own role as the king of Hungary and Bohemia. Six years later Ladislaus was finally released from Frederick’s guardianship.

The same year that Frederick released Ladislaus, he went on a journey to Italy where he was to be crowned Holy Roman Emperor. It is unclear how Frederick became Emperor other than he was good friends with Pope Nicholas V, he went on a pilgrimage in 1436 to the Holy Land, and he and the pope made Vienna a bishopric and diocese in its own right. All of these dealings with the pope seem to have played a hand in Frederick becoming Emperor. The coronation ceremony took place on the morning of March 19, 1452, the last Holy Roman Emperor to be crowned in Rome by a pope.

During his trip to Rome, Frederick was presented with his betrothed, Eleanor of Portugal, he was 37, she was 15. The two were married on March 16, 1452, 3 days before the couple were both anointed. Eleanor, being the daughter of King Edward of Portugal was rumored to have been offered a marriage with Louis (who would become Louis XI of France) but Eleanor chose Frederick because she preferred the title of Empress over Queen, or so that is the story. Eleanor would die in 1467.

The following period was rife with conflict. Ladislaus died before he reached age to rule the archduchy of Austria in 1457. The archduchy was then passed down to Frederick as Frederick V, Duke of Austria but not without competition from his younger brother Albert. Albert VI, Archduke of Austria, co-ruled the duchies of Austria with Frederick until his death in 1463.
Sixteen years after Ladislaus was freed, Frederick was still trying to become king of Bohemia, Croatia and Hungary. From 1468 until 1478 the Bohemian War took place where Frederick failed to secure the titles, and then again was defeated in the Austrian-Hungarian War from 1477 until 1488 by King Matthias Corvinus who was king of all three countries; Hungary, Bohemia and Croatia. King Matthias would also take Vienna in 1485. The Ottoman Empire even took advantage of the empire that was both financially and militarily weak; Constantinople was conquered in 1453.

There was an ongoing struggle between Frederick and Matthias ever since a faction of noblemen in 1439 elected Frederick as king of Hungary. Matthias did receive the majority vote but the damage had ultimately been done. Matthias had taken lower Austria, Moravia and Silesia before Vienna in 1485. No action to retrieve these lands was ever done by Frederick, all he did was live longer than Matthias.

King Matthias died in 1490, and upon his death all of Frederick’s lands were returned when Maximilian, Frederick’s son, conquered Austria for the family.

During all of this tension, Frederick and Eleanor were able to produce five children, two of whom would survive infancy: Maximilian in 1459 and Kunigunde in 1465. Both children would prove to be important players in the game of kings and emperors. Maximilian married Mary of Burgundy, daughter of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy in 1477 securing the large duchy for the Habsburg dynasty and making the family a power in Europe that was well on its way to becoming an Empire.

It wasn’t so easy to obtain the hand of Mary though, Frederick had to fight Charles the Bold during the Siege of Neuss from 1474 until 1475 where Frederick came out the victor and only a few years later Maximilian and Mary would marry. The occurrence of the wedding between the two gave rise to the motto of the Habsburg Dynasty, which was “Let others wage war, but you, happy Austria, shall marry”.

From 1486, Frederick and Maximilian co-ruled, both as Holy Roman Emperors. Maximilian I became emperor on February 16 and ruled as sole emperor 7 years later upon his father’s death.
At the age of 77, Frederick had to have his left foot amputated after it had become gangrenous but once the foot was removed, the infection spread to his left leg. His left leg was then amputated as well but it was not as successful as he had supposedly died from blood loss after the surgery in 1493 at the age of 77. He was the longest reigning German monarch lasting 53 years.

The nicknames “The Peaceful” and “Arch-Sleepyhead of the Holy Roman Empire” seem duly fitting since war and combat were the last ways in which Frederick wanted to handle conflict. His loses far outweigh his wins but that doesn’t mean he was not successful, he was patient and therefore ended up building the foundations for future Habsburgs to build upon. He has even been touted as being a successful leader by historians today.