Sisi Trail, what is open?

July 29, 2020 5:56 pm Published by

Althorp, ancestral home of Earl Spencer, will re-open to visitors on Saturday 1 August.  Sisi became a close friend of the earl who was Master of the Pytchley Hunt and had been Viceroy in Ireland.   Empress Elisabeth presented Spencer with her portrait which hangs above the fireplace in the billiard room.   Sadly the house at Althorp, which has one of the finest art collections in any British stately home coupled with outstanding furniture, will be shut but the extensive grounds will be open again

The house was rebuilt by the architect Henry Holland after part of the roof collapsed in 1772.

Photo: Althorp Garden and Stable Block

Normally several of the places intimately connected with Empress Elisabeth of Austria are fully open in England and Ireland.   Places in which Sisi stayed, visited and made intimate friendships can be viewed.  Sadly this year it is very different. 

In Ireland the museum at Maynooth has re-opened.   Sisi visited several times and donated a beautiful set of vestments to the seminary.   Her first controversial visit was when a stag was pursued into the college grounds.   Controversial because the British authorities suspected the seminary of subversion.    She also gave them a silver statuette of St George and the Dragon blissfully unaware that he is the patron saint of the English. 

Now part of the National University of Ireland, the museum hosts two collections: ecclesiastical treasures including the vestments; and Ireland’s historic science collection.   There is the large group of scientific instruments mostly associated with Nicholas Callan, Professor of Natural Science at Maynooth who invented the induction coil (used in car spark plugs). The museum now has the largest collection of scientific instruments on public display in Ireland, most of which were manufactured in Ireland between 1880 and 1920.    The collection continues to grow as Ireland has many leading, scientific companies operating in the country.

The museum is open in July and August on Wednesdays 2-4pm and Sundays 2-6pm.

It is open from October to May by appointment.

Sadly, Cottesbrooke in the English Midlands and Combermere Abbey in Cheshire that Sisi rented for hunting on three occasions are unlikely to be open this summer.   Cottesbrooke is an attractive Queen Anne house built in 1702 which has a fine collection of 18th century English as well as French furniture, and fine English, continental and Chinese porcelain.  Empress Elisabeth would feel at home again as they have a very large and important collection of sporting paintings and one that was commissioned of Sisi.    Hopefully the grounds may open before the summer is over. 

Combermere Abbey in Cheshire was awarded an honour for the quality of the restoration of the building by the present owner Sarah Callander Beckett.  To fund the rebuilding Sarah set up deluxe self-catering accommodation.   You can now once again stay in apartments in the stable block where Sisi kept her horses and around the estate.  One apartment is named after Empress Elisabeth or you can stay in part of the main house.   Hopefully tours will be resumed in the not-too-distant future where you can visit the rooms Sisi relaxed in.   She was pictured by a Victorian newspaper in the library, which has hardly changed from when Empress Elisabeth was in residence.

Coughton Court in Worcestershire was the family home of Mary Throckmorton, governess to Empress Elisabeth’s young daughter Marie Valerie.  Headhunted by Sisi on the recommendation of her sister, ex-Queen Maria Sophia of the Two Sicilies, Mary remained a life-long and intimate friend of Archduchess Marie Valerie.  Mary kept a small but fascinating collection of Sisi memorabilia.  Now owned by the National Trust, the house will is unlikely to open for a while but the grounds have re-opened for pre-booked visits only.   Today most visitors are inspired by tales of how the organisers of the failed Gunpowder Plot (to kill James I and VI of Scotland) used it as a base as they learnt Guy Fawkes had been captured.

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