Around 120 years have gone since the Italian Luigi Luchéni (1873-1910) killed the Empress Elizabeth of Austria, better known as Sisi. Perhaps it was due to that violent death that the myth of the melancholic sovereign who did not want to be queen started.
Elizabeth, the queen obsessed by her beauty and Luigi Luchéni, a wretched man that, with his gesture, wanted to avenge his desperate life and forward his anarchic cause. Their lives crossed on the 10th of September 1898, randomly, along the lake of Geneva. Sisi was not the designated victim though. Luchéni, who had recently started hanging out within anarchic groups, was cultivating the idea to commit regicide and become part of history. Him that had always been invisible, carrying around that burden of a destiny with no possible redemption.
Looking for a figure of a high rack, the man tried to find a possible victim on the list of possible prestigious guests who would have stayed in the villa of Évian-les-Bains, but no one seemed to be worth the clamorous gesture.
What he knew though that the Duke of Orleans, pretender to the throne of France, was supposed to passing by Geneva, so he decided to have Louis Philippe I as a his perfect prey.Unfortunately for Luchéni, and especially for Sisi, the Duke headed back to Paris before the anarchist could set into motion his aim.
Who instead was in Geneva was the Empress Elizabeth of Austria, travelling incognito. Sisi loved to travel without her escort and on that occasion she was accompanied only by the countess Irma Sztáray. At 1:00 PM on the 10th of September, the Empress was rushing on the lakefront to take a boat, with her lady- in-waiting, but Luchéni arrived first, waiting hidden behind a tree. He had a bouquet with him, concealing an improvised blade behind it. He was way too poor to afford a gun, and even a dagger; he made due with a file that he had it sharpened. The weapon resulted in being lethal.
Just one downward blow reached the heart and it sufficed to kill the woman
Sisi fell on the ground for the violent collision, she stood back up and ran to the boat which was about to leave, while Luchéni was escaping. The empress lost consciousness only when on board and she died within a hour from the attack. In the meantime some passers-by had stopped the young man. He later on explained his reasons with these words:
“Because I am an anarchist. Because I am poor. Because I love workers and I want rich people death”.
Luchéni when arrested
Certainly Sisi did not embody the figure of a despotic and disinterested sovereign: she did not stand the Austrian Court and her role as an empress, by feeling maybe closer to folks than to the Viennese noblemen, besides the fact she would spend all her day by handling her beauty and physical activity.
However Sisi’s life is was not of any interest to Luchéni, as this was a homicidde with no motivation, conceived by angst more than an actual political sentiment.
It is in this sense that Luchéni started writing down his memoirs during his detention in the prison of Geneva, where he was supposed to serve a life-sentence in that prison. Initially he wanted to contest the label of “born criminal” assigned to him by Cesare Lombroso, for then turning his text into an accusation towards society, the real guilty party of his crime. He was the bastard son of a female farmer coming from an Emilian backgroud and a landowner. The young baby was delivered in Paris to avoid the drama and shortly after abandoned by his mother, who then moved to the US and never reached out anymore. The childhood of Luchéni was a constant pilgrimage between orphanages and families who would welcome him only to exploit him, sending him to bed or work. The physical and moral decline which would alternate the personality of the individual, which turn him into a criminal: this is the theory in his “Story of an abandoned child of the 19th century, described by the author”. He managed to write only about his childhood because the documents were stolen ( they have been found in 1930 amongst old newspapers), perhaps under the advice of the new director of the prison, raging against him. That way, through writing, he was taking back his life, which was then taken by a human-less authority.
In 1910 Luchéni committed suicide in prison, circumstance which suggests that he was “sucided” by the others. But that was not all: they chopped his head which then was preserved and exhibited in Switzerland immersed within formalin, until it was given to Austria in 1998 in honour of the 100 years of the murder.
Political homicide of a certain anarchist, or a gesture of revenge of a man worn out by his existence? whichever it was the motivation which pushed Luchéni forward, he somewhat made Sisi’s desire come true who in fact was hoping to “die all of a sudden, rapidly and possibly abroad”.
All pictures belong to the public domain