It is well-known that Sisi was notoriously shy in public, hiding behind her fan and so avoiding being seen. It is therefore somewhat of a surprise to read how she handled the press in Ireland when she went hunting during the winter of 1880.
The following year Sisi based herself at Combermere Abbey and hunted in the North Midlands of England. Every time she went out the newspapers were also out in force. The local paper The Northwick Guardian, in March 1881, reveals another side of Empress Elisabeth of Austria. ‘An idiosyncrasy of the Empress is she never resents the enquiries of reporters provided they confine their queries to her outdoor pursuits’. The paper said that on the way to a hunt meeting she spotted a Mr Healy, a reporter she knew from the hunting field, and went over to him and spoke ‘some very civil things to his wife’.
Sisi described to a friend that another reporter, Tom Gallaher, was her shadow. Gallaher had sent some notes to a sporting publication in Vienna and Empress Elisabeth presented him with a valuable gift, a dressing case embossed in silver. Other journalists received Sisis’s trademark diamond breastpins. Gallaher was most probably the reporter for the Dublin daily paper Freeman’s Journal who rode well and went out with the hunt each day. The reporter had the advantage of knowing the men and women out hunting and being able to keep up with the hounds.
The paper also recalled an incident in February 1880 when ‘Once having had a bad fall, she availed herself of a car which one of the reporters placed at her disposal’. Sisi had not had the accident. It was Empress Elisabeth’s groom Percy Bayzand that was missing. Sisi’s beloved Bay Middleton and her stud groom Edward M’Donald commandeered a horse and car, that had been hired by two journalists, to search for Bayzand. The journalists found themselves alone with the Empress who hoped they would not be inconvenienced. They had no way of getting their copy back to their editors until the shipwrecked pair were rescued by a delivery cart and one Mr Hegarty jogged them back to Kilcock. The revelation from the Northwich Guardian may help explain why the press always knew how she felt about the day’s hunting and also why the journalists were clearly fond and respectful of her.
* The articles can be found on British Newspaper Archive online for a modest fee. www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.ukTags: Bay Middleton, Combermere Abbey, Empress Elisabeth in Ireland, Empress Elisabeth of Austria, Kilcock, Sisi, Sisi in Ireland, Sisi shyness of the press