The empress who found happiness in Ireland

July 23, 2020 5:41 pm Published by

Lindsay and Richard Offer

The empress who found happiness in Ireland

New book on Empress Elisabeth of Austria published

PRESS RELEASE                                                      23 July 2020

A new book that reveals how Empress Elisabeth of Austria (Sisi) found true happiness in Ireland, in the late 1870s, has just been published.  Sisi In England, Travels in England and Ireland is the first full account of her two visits to Ireland.

Scandalous, rebellious Sisi is a cult figure in Europe, figurehead of Vienna’s tourist industry.    Lionised in modern-day Austria, Hungary and Germany, Empress Elisabeth is often compared with Diana, Princess of Wales.  She found true happiness and a doomed love during her hunting trips to Ireland. 

Before she took on the demanding challenge of hunting in Ireland, Sisi, who was a brilliant rider had made three visits to England and discovered the joys of fox hunting across the countryside. Empress Elisabeth had holidayed on the Isle of Wight and twice hunted in the English Midlands.   It was on her second trip that she fell in love with a dashing horse rider, the ex-officer Bay Middleton.   Middleton had served for many years in Ireland and had been aide-de-camp to the viceroy, Earl Spencer.  It was a doomed affair as the devout Catholic empress could never consummate her love.  

Empress Elisabeth made two successful but controversial trips to Ireland in 1879 and 1880.   Sisi just went for the challenging hunting but Ireland was in uproar due to the return of the famine and the anti-British land agitation.    The Catholic majority fell over themselves to welcome Elisabeth but the British government feared her presence could lead to a full-scale revolt. 

Sisi rented one of the grandest mansions, Summerhill in County Meath, as her base for hunting.   Thousands of people flocked to see her arrival and turned up to catch a glimpse of Empress Elisabeth everywhere she went.  When she hunted with the Royal Meaths and the Ward Union, Sisi made great friendships with both Irish and British gentry. 

The British authorities’ fears were heightened when the hunt raced into the Catholic seminary at Maynooth, which was then viewed as a hotbed of sedition.   Empress Elisabeth made an impromptu visit and to the annoyance of the British she later returned for Mass.   Two beautiful gifts from the Empress are among the treasures held at Maynooth today.

Home rule leader Charles Parnell cleverly exploited Sisi’s visits and humiliated Britain’s viceroy the Duke of Marlborough.   In 1879 Parnell suggested that the duke had snubbed Empress Elisabeth by not welcoming her to Ireland.  

Sisi was accompanied in Ireland by her favourite rider Bay Middleton.  Empress Elisabeth returned in 1880 but the land agitation was such that the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph would not let Sisi make a third visit.  He did not wish to upset the British government during the Turkish crisis. 

The book Sisi In England reveals how Empress Elisabeth broke every convention in the book.   She scandalised the strict Viennese Court by befriending British and Irish gentry, her horse dealer and the Rothschilds.   These new friends were larger-than-life characters like ‘Chicken’ Hartopp who played with dynamite, Winston Churchill’s mother Jennie Jerome and her future lover Count Kinsky, the nouveau riche Baltazzis who came from Turkey and Earl Spencer, the former viceroy of Ireland.  The visits angered many Austrians and others as extravagant and irresponsible when their soldiers were dieing in fighting in Bosnia.

Sisi In England also reveals the extraordinary ‘Grand Tour’ that her son Crown Prince Rudolf made to Britain and Ireland as part of his education to be a future emperor.   The liberally-minded prince spent a month visiting factories, a workhouse, courts, theatres and museums.  Crown Prince Rudolf was shown the linen mills of Belfast and then stayed in Dublin where he attended a state ball at Dublin Castle and inspected the Guinness brewery, the Bank of Ireland and Trinity College.    

He also became the most-sought after guest at every London social event for another month.  Whereas his mother shunned Queen Victoria, Rudolf stayed with her on the Isle of Wight.   The aged monarch’s diary records how she fell for the charming, young prince.  A decade later, Rudolf committed suicide at Mayerling.

Author Lindsay Offer said: “Researching the book led to a mystery.   Dublin Corporation voted to buy a new carriage for the empress from a London coach builder.    But there was no mention of what happened to the carriage after it was delivered to Summerhill.   Our search has so far drawn a blank.  The carriage museum in Vienna knew nothing of it, Dublin council minutes are silent and the newspapers never said what happened to it.  So what did become of the carriage that had been built at great expense in London?  Does anybody know where the carriage might have ended up?”

The book, which is fully referenced, is now available in paperback (ISBN 9798654235626) and on Kindle and Kobo readers.   The website is at

Sisi’s travels in England and Ireland

1874 Seaside holiday on the Isle of Wight with visits including London and Melton Mowbray

1876 Easton Neston, near Towcester, with visits to the Rothschilds and Queen Victoria at Windsor

1878 Cottesbrooke Hall, Northamptonshire

Crown Prince Rudolf tours England, Scotland and Ireland 

1879 Summerhill, Meath

1880 Returned to Summerhill

1881 Combermere Abbey, Cheshire

1882 Returned to Combermere Abbey

1885 Cruise called in at Ramsgate, Deal and Brighton

1887 Seaside holiday at Cromer and visits Queen Victoria at Osborne

Crown Prince Rudolf attended Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee

1888 Holiday with Marie Valerie in London and Bournemouth

1890 Cruise called in at Dover overnight

Notes for editors

Illustrations of the book cover and of Empress Elisabeth and others connected with Sisi are available as jpegs.   

The latest exhibition at Vienna’s Carriage Museum at Schonbrunn Palace is entitled Empress Elisabeth The Lady Diana of the 19th Century.

Further details:  Richard Offer +44 75 9797 4130 or + 44 20 8760 5093   

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