Queen Elisabeth, the Fairy Godmother of Hungary

As we are walking on the streets of Budapest we find many signs of the Hungarian people's affection towards Queen Elisabeth, wife of King Franz Joseph I. But who was this mysterious fairy godmother, and how can we trace her steps in the city?

She was born on Christmas Eve.


She read various 'taboo' books which were forbidden in that era because of their liberal views.


She was an expert horseman.


She was also fluent in Greek and had a summer palace on the Island of Corfu.

Love at First Sight
The nation's love story with the vivacious and warm-hearted Bavarian princess began in 1857, when Emperor Franz Joseph visited Hungary together with his young wife and small daughter. The ambiance was chilly as the Hungarians resented the brutal smothering of their revolution against the Habsburg Monarchy in 1848. The beauty and kindness of Elisabeth helped to soften the hearts, and when her little daughter died of typhoid fever during their visit, the people of Hungary sympathised with her deeply.

Get to Know Each Other
During the early 1860s the sensitive and emotional young empress grew more and more lonely and she was harassed by the strict etiquette rules of the Court in Vienna. Her fondness towards Hungary started as a revolt against her tyrannical mother-in-law, who abhorred Hungarians since the revolution. In 1964 Elisabeth acquired a Hungarian maid-of-honor, and thanks to her mediation the empress got acquainted with two prominent Hungarian politicians: Deák Ferenc and Andrássy Gyula. She became firm friends with both, and together they dreamed about reconciliation between Hungary and the Emperor.
Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867
In 1866, at the battle of Königgratz Austria was completely defeated by the Kingdom of Prussia. Franz Joseph had to redefine his position, as Austria could no longer be the leading state of Germany. If the Emperor wanted to save the remnants of his Monarchy, he had to make a decision: either an alliance with Hungary, or an alliance with the Czechs. The usually shy Elisabeth was never so active politically as during this period: she received delegates, hired a liberal Hungarian journalist who helped her to master the language perfectly, and she corresponded with Count Andrássy through her maid-of-honor. When the Austro-Prussian war reached its peak, she fled to Buda with her children. This was an obvious sign of her preference, which had an ambiguous effect: the Hungarians adored Elisabeth for her openness, but the Austrian aristocracy found it hard to forgive. Finally Franz Joseph gave in: during the summer of 1867 he was crowned King of Hungary amids great splendour, and Elisabeth's dream came true: she became Erzsébet, Queen of Hungary. 

The Nation and the Queen
As a coronation present the royal couple acquired the Castle of Gödöllő, which became the Queen's favourite place: she spent the mayor part of the year in Hungary, for the great annoyance of the Austrians. What's more, she gave birth to her fourth child in the Castle of Buda, which caused a great scandal in Vienna. They even accused Count Andrássy of being the father, which was of course nonsense: though the Queen and the Prime Minister may have had a platonic crush on each other, later it transformed into a firm friendship and they both respected their position. The gossip subdued when it became evident that the little princess took after Franz Joseph very much. Elisabeth felt free and beloved in Hungary, she had been frequently seen riding her favourite horses around Gödöllő or buying cakes at Gerbeaud. The ultimate sign of her love towards Hungary was the fact that she took part in the Millennial Celebrations of 1896, though by that time she shunned all public events. Two years later she was killed by an anarchist near the Lake Geneva.

Her memory in Budapest
The city center is a beautiful example of cherishing good memories: Erzsébet Square, Deák Square and Andrássy Avenue can be found next to each other, as an hommage to those three people who worked most enthusiastically on the Austro-Hungarian Compromise. Erzsébet Square is a popular meeting place with important venues and cityscape elements such as Akvárium Klub, Budapest Eye or the Danubius Fountain. The slender, white bridge which connects the 1st and 5th district is called Erzsébet Bridge for her sake. At the Buda end of the bridge we find her statue which depicts her as Queen of Hungary. The whole 7th district is called Erzsébetváros, at Rumbach Sebestyén street 10. there's a huge portrait of the Queen painted on the wall. The 20th district of Budapest is also called Pesterzsébet (Erzsébetfalva in the olden days), where we find an other statue, representing Elisabeth as a simple young woman playing with her favourite dog. In the 12th district we find the Erzsébet Lookout Tower, a great panorama spot. Not far away from Budapest, the Castle of Gödöllő is waiting for the visitors with expositions, paintings and authentic furnitures in order to show us how Elisabeth used to live there.

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