The true story behind the empress

The 6 part Netflix series The company tells the poetic story of the early life of Empress Elisabeth of Austria. Before its release, the best-known film adaptation of Elizabeth’s life had been the 1950s. sissi trilogy, charming Romy Schneider as the lead actress. Seven decades later, The company offers a new version of the great love story between Elizabeth and Franz Joseph, equally strong and dramatic from the beginning.


The companyThe first (and currently only) season focuses on the fateful meeting between the young Bavarian Duchess Elisabeth (Devrim Lingnau) and Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I (Felipe Frossant). As is often the case with period dramas, The company mixes historical background with fiction, not trying to provide the utmost historical accuracy, but rather delivering a compelling love story that captivates the hearts and minds of the audience. But who was the real Elisabeth and what struggles did she have to endure at the Viennese court to become the legendary Empress of Austria, admired around the world even a century and a half later?

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Fact vs Fiction

The third child and second daughter of Duke Maximilian Joseph of Bavaria and his wife Ludovika, Duchess Elisabeth Amalie Eugenie, also known as Sissi (alternative spelling Sisi), was, in fact, a charming, freedom-loving girl who lived in seclusion. with his family in Possenhofen Castle and dreamed of happiness and true love. Meanwhile, at the Viennese court, Franz Joseph’s overbearing mother, Archduchess Sofia (Melika Foroutan) – considered an outstanding alliance for her son. The rush to find a wife for the 22-year-old monarch was prompted in part by the recent assassination attempt (on February 18, 1853), which would leave Australia without a direct male heir.

Notably, the Bavarian royal house of Wittelsbach was not Sophie’s first choice, however. The young Emperor Franz Joseph was quite picky: he liked neither Princess Anne of Prussia nor Princess Sidonia of Saxony. This led her mother to approach her sister, Duchess Ludovika of Bavaria, and arrange an engagement between Franz Joseph and Ludovika’s eldest daughter, Helena (elisa schlott). On August 15, 1853, burning with impatience to see the beautiful promised bride, Franz Joseph hurried to the small Austrian town of Bad Ischl, where Duchess Ludovika was supposed to arrive with her daughter to celebrate Franz’s birthday. Joseph. Little did the young emperor know that on this trip, his aunt would also take her youngest daughter, 15-year-old Elizabeth, who would steal Franz Joseph’s heart in the blink of an eye.

How much of the Netflix show is true to actual historical events?

The answer is: up to a point. The celebration in Bad Ischl was not, in fact, the first time that Franz Joseph saw his cousins. Technically, the first meeting between Elisabeth and Franz Joseph occurred in June 1848 when Duchess Ludovika with children visited her sister Archduchess Sophia in Innsbruck. At the time, Elizabeth was too young to pique the interest of the future emperor, who was too busy dealing with the revolutionary events that threatened to topple the monarchy. The romantic version of her encounter depicted in The company – in the woods – is one of the many myths surrounding Elizabeth and her life. Even the audacious “two party favors in a row” move that Franz Joseph indulged in at the ball, asking Elizabeth to one dance after another (which was a telltale sign of an upcoming engagement), was discussed between Franz and his mother before the ball. The engagement proposal itself was made in a much more formal way: through Archduchess Sofia, who approached her sister and arranged the agreement between the families to marry Elizabeth and Franz Joseph.

Shortly after the wedding, Elizabeth discovered that the fairy tale was merely an illusion. From the first days of the enthronement, the young empress felt like a mousetrap: strict etiquette and court orders were stifling the free-spirited Sissi, while the arbitrarily controlling mother-in-law immediately began turning her niece into a “true”. “Empress. However, Elizabeth’s clashes with Archduchess Sofia and her husband’s brother, Maximiliano (johannes nussbaumlisten)), supposedly eager to seize the throne, were not as one-sided as is often portrayed in biographies of the empress.

The tragedy of ‘The Empress’ has just begun

The company’ The dramatic finale of the first season leaves the audience in suspense when Elisabeth, determined to return to Bavaria after a tense conversation with her husband and mother-in-law, discovers that she is pregnant. If the audience is lucky enough to see further development of the series, Elizabeth’s life story will no doubt serve as a source of valuable material for many seasons to come.

The relationship between Elizabeth and her mother-in-law Sofia gradually deteriorated, as the latter was convinced that the young and free-spirited empress could not provide a proper education for royal children. In multiple biographies and fictions depicting Elizabeth’s life, Sophie is often portrayed as a controlling, power-hungry tyrant, mercilessly bending her daughter-in-law to her own will. The reality is more nuanced. Sophie was, in fact, an ambitious woman who put royal duties before anything else. Elizabeth, by contrast, increasingly neglected her official royal duties and indulged in an isolated and capricious lifestyle.

Beginning in the 1860s, the empress spent her time travelling, rarely seeing her husband and hardly ever seeing her children. This behavior was widely condemned among the Austrian nobility, despite the fact that Franz Joseph did not try to restrain his wife’s wanderings. In 1857, during one of her trips to Hungary, her eldest two-year-old daughter, Sophie, died of an infection. The death of her first child shocked Sissy so much that she completely handed over the upbringing of her older children (Gisela and Rudolf) to her mother-in-law. Contrary to popular belief, Crown Prince Rudolf’s relationship with his mother was not particularly warm. However, when the 30-year-old prince took his own life in 1889, Elizabeth was shaken to the core and from that day, for the rest of her life, she wore only the colors of mourning.

Another notable character in The company – Franz Joseph’s younger brother, Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian of Habsburg – was, in fact, an active figure at the Austrian court. Although there is no direct evidence of Maximilian’s intentions to overthrow Franz Joseph, the fact that Maximilian was under the influence of more progressive liberal ideas was a latent threat to his older brother. The tension was slowly increasing between the two brothers, so the Emperor preferred to dismiss Maximilian, appointing him viceroy of the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venice (modern Italy). In the early 1860s, Maximilian was crowned Emperor of Mexico as a result of his support for French intervention in the country. Very soon, Maximilian faced opposition from Mexican Republicans, led by Benito Juárez. After the French Expeditionary Force was withdrawn from Mexico, the Emperor’s fate was sealed: he was captured and later executed, despite the pleas of all the European monarchs, US President Andrew Johnson, Giuseppe Garibaldi and Victor Hugo.

Elizabeth met her own tragic death in 1898, in Geneva, where she was assassinated by the Italian anarchist Luigi Lucheni. She never paid much attention to her personal safety and refused to be watched during her multiple trips, which eventually led to her untimely death. After the death of his beloved wife, Emperor Franz Joseph reportedly kept silent for several months. A portrait of Elizabeth hung in her study until the end of her life as a faithful sign of the eternal love that had united them both since that fateful meeting in Bad Ischl. Her love story altered the history of Europe, starting a cascade of events that eventually led to the start of the Great War.

Empress Elizabeth was, in many ways, a controversial figure. Yet she has always been a remarkable woman who, even 150 years later, thrills, mystifies and fascinates the imagination of generations.

The six episodes of The company are available to stream on Netflix.

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