Sisi: 125th anniversary of Empress Elisabeth’s death

Empress Elisabeth of Austria, 1865 by Franz Xaver Winterhalter (The Hofburg, Vienna)

Today Bournemouth’s Royal Exeter Hotel could be flying the Empress of Austria’s standard. In 1888 she gave the hotel permission to do so on Sundays.

Sunday 10 September is the 125th anniversary of Empress Elisabeth’s assassination.

In 1888 Empress Elisabeth, known as Sisi and consort of Franz Josef I of Austria, came to stay in Bournemouth with her daughter Archduchess Marie Valérie staying at Newlyn’s Family Hotel (now Royal Exeter).

The building had been reserved ‘by Royal command’ for the visitors and their 28 personal staff.

Every windowsill was filled with flowers and the main corridor was fitted with seventy purple curtains tied back with ribbons in the gold and black Austrian colours.

The Empress had spent the Easter weekend in London confined to Claridge’s with a sore throat but on Easter Tuesday the royal party arrived at Bournemouth Station at 1.20pm on a special six carriage train. Three removal vans were required to carry luggage to the hotel.

Proprietor Henry Newlyn welcomed the Empress and princess. His daughters Florence and Leonie presented bouquets.

The following day Elisabeth walked the 300 yards to the beach at 6am. Later the Swedish Lord Chamberlain arrived with an invitation to visit the Queen of Sweden at Crag Head on the East Cliff where there was a better view of the bay from the Isle of Purbeck to the Isle of Wight.

At the Royal Exeter the Royal doctor supervised the collection of milk from stables opposite where a cow was kept. The Empress liked to take sea water baths. Language difficulties were resolved by the gardener who wore a tabard with ‘milk’ written on the front and ‘sea water’ on the back. A slap on the back meant ‘prepare a bath’ whilst a poke in the chest indicated a request for milk which was a major feature of her diet.

The following Monday the Royal train arrived at the station at 8.50am to take the Royal party to Newhaven.

The Empress found the hotel ‘so comfortable’ and Bournemouth ‘one of the most charming places I have ever seen’. With Her Majesty allowing Henry Newlyn to continue to fly the Royal Standard on Sundays he changed the name of his hotel from Newlyn’s Family Hotel to Newlyn’s Royal & Imperial Exeter Hotel.

***This was less than a year before Elisabeth’s son Rudolph was found shot dead at Mayerling with his baroness mistress (who had instigated the liaison whilst Empress was in Bournemouth) and a decade before Elisabeth’s assassination by an anarchist at Lake Geneva.

The Royal Exeter Hotel is opposite the Bournemouth International Centre in Exeter Road near The Pier.

The Empress of Austria crown on the Royal Exeter Hotel’s tower
Imperial family standard
Union Jacks flying above the Royal Exeter Hotel. Room for the Empress’s standard on Sundays?

About Leigh Hatts

Leigh Hatts is an experienced walker and has known the local coastline since childhood. He is the author of many successful walking guides.
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