A big day in history: a royal icon is stabbed through the heart

Dominic Sandbrook explores the events of 10 September 1898

The "hauntingly beautiful" Elisabeth, Empress of Austria, was never at ease in Vienna's stuffy court. (Getty Images)

This article was first published in the September 2012 issue of BBC History Magazine 

If, in the early autumn of 1898, you had visited the Hotel Beau-Rivage, on the shores of Lake Geneva, you might have seen a pale, hauntingly beautiful woman, dressed in a long black dress and carrying a white parasol. Her name was Elisabeth, and as Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary, she was an icon of European royalty and celebrity before the term had even been invented. Ever since the suicide of her only son, Crown Prince Rudolf, nine years earlier, she had been a recluse, sunk in melancholy. And while her husband, Franz Joseph, rose every morning before dawn to study his piles of paperwork, Elisabeth drifted around the spas and resorts patronised by the continent’s aristocratic elite, a ghostly figure, hiding her face with her parasols and her fans.

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