‘To look like an angel and ride like a devil’ is a phrase that describes Sisi, Empress Elizabeth of Austria, a woman who set the pace by doing more than keeping up with the men of the Pytchley hunt.
Her courage and skilled horsemanship caused a sensation. Forever elegant, she employed a tailor solely to sew her into her habit every morning so as not to leave a single crease over her 18-inch waist.
Between the years 1876 and 1882, ‘Sisi’, as she was known, hunted almost obsessively in England and Ireland. Always attentive to her horse and vehement about horses’ welfare, she was an extremly popular member of the field.
Notoriously vane—a trait perhaps stemming from her early introduction to her husband, who was originally due to marry her sister and instead preferred the look of Sisi—she believed the only asset she possessed was looks, and was known to say, ‘I don’t mind falling, but remember: I will not scratch my face’.
Her early years of marriage were dreadfully unhappy. Her over-controlling mother-in-law took possession over her children, and the years taken to produce an heir caused her terrible heartache. The death of one of her daughters on a state visit to Hungary made Sisi sink into a depression that would plague her for the rest of her life.
Sisi was unsuited to court life after a childhood of freedom and the influence of her fun-loving father, who encouraged her equine enthusiasm and exploration of her native, Germany.
Temporary relief came with the arrival of an heir who later died tragically in an apparent murder-suicide with his fiancé. Sisi became obsessive about her looks and developed anorexia; she lived mostly on steak and eggs with huge periods of famine in-between.
Sisi’s husband, although very much in love with her, took a mistress after she pushed him away; after this, their marriage was over.
The first woman of her set to abandon hoop skirts and smoke cigarettes, Sisi was a pioneer. Her life ended when she was murdered in Geneva by an Italian assassin who had originally set out to murder another aristocrat who—luckily for him and unfortunately for Sisi—had surprised the killer and left Switzerland early.
Sisi’s life was riddled with sadness and depression. Her relief from this despair came whilst galloping with members of the field. She will forever be remembered as a remarkable horsewomen who jumped vast hedges and hunted in a corset every day, even out-preforming the men—while always staying immaculate.