In the English-speaking world, Sisi is admittedly a deep cut, as female royals go. If there's an Austrian aristo most Americans can name, it's Marie Antoinette, daughter of Habsburg empress Maria Theresa. (But of course, hardly anybody remembers the ill-fated French queen was born in Vienna.) Still, Sisi remains a byword for glamour, one that designers drop when they want to conjure opulence without the guillotines. Since her death, she's inspired a Barbara Cartland novel, a trilogy of beloved Austrian films, an entire cottage tourism industry and, oddly enough, Jessica Simpson's wedding gown.
Sisi was also one of the most famously miserable royals who ever drew a breath. She despised the snotty, formal Habsburg court and spent as much time as possible far from Vienna and her dutiful, plodding husband. Shy to a degree that was practically paralyzing, she loathed public appearances and dodged them whenever she could—far too often, critics said. She feuded endlessly with her adamantine-willed mother-in-law. She spent years drifting around Europe, writing maudlin poetry, bemoaning her (very, very privileged) life. She was a complicated, high-strung woman who emphatically refused to live by others' rules; unfortunately, she couldn't seem to hammer out her own code, either. Her story is a bracing corrective to every princess trope Disney has ever pumped into popular culture. And now she's remembered, by and large, as a pretty lady with a tiara.
History does strange things to dead women.