Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Reluctant Empress” as Want to Read:
The Reluctant Empress
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Reluctant Empress

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  1,203 ratings  ·  111 reviews
Empress Elisabeth of Austria, known to her family as Sisi, belongs to a famous love story of European royalty. In 1853, the Emperor Franz Josef, the most eligible bachelor in Europe, fell in love with her at first sight when she was fifteen; they were married the next year. On the surface, it was a fairytale marriage, all the more poignant, with hindsight, because her deat ...more
Hardcover, 410 pages
Published November 12th 1986 by Knopf (first published 1982)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Reluctant Empress, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Reluctant Empress

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
4.14  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,203 ratings  ·  111 reviews

Sort order
Oct 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
this book is about one of the most famous women in the world, empress elizabeth of austria, who at first deeply in love with her husband emperor franz joseph relucntly becomes empress of austria after living a free independant life. her search for meaning to her life, her husband,s infidelities, and her mother in laws hostility, amid the turmoil of court life makes good reading, and ends with her asassination in 1888
The best biography of the Empress Elisabeth of Austria that I have so far found, and generally considered to be a definitive work on her. Hamann describes Elisabeth's life from her childhood to her death, and while doing so she definitely breaks away from the romantic fairy-tale images of Elisabeth's life. Hamann shows her as a highly complex and controversial woman - strong-willed, intelligent, independent and highly original, but also self-centred and depressive. Hamann is not afraid to show h ...more
Cynthia Haggard
Jan 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It is heartbreaking to read about the destruction of an attractive and lively personality. Yet that is what Brigitte Hamann’s biography of Empress Elisabeth of Austria does. Titled THE RELUCTANT EMPRESS, Ms. Hamann’s book charts the downfall of Elisabeth (more commonly known by her nickname “Sisi”) from a carefree 15-year-old who caught the heart of the Emperor Franz-Joseph, to a teenager whose children were taken from her by her jealous mother-in-law, to a twenty-two year old who fled the Vienn ...more
Ghost of the Library
The very first time i read this biography was in french, and it wasn't until recently, and by one of those rare lucky occasions of being in the right place at the right time, that i purchased the english translation that i now read - just for
Anyone with a curiosity about Sissi, be it merely a passing one, or something originating in a visit to Vienna, watching the Romy Schneider movies, or having heard of that ...... called "accidental empress" (and if you read it, ignore it and forge
Oct 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
sono entrata talmente tanto nella vita dell'imperatrice che, alla fine, mi è sembrato di leggere della morte di un'amica
Oct 09, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, history
While I liked Brigitte Hamann's The Reluctant Empress, I really didn't like Sisi, Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary. I found her self-absorbed and entitled, unwilling to fulfill any of her assigned roles, whether it be monarch of a country of mother of a family. She flitted from one expensive indulgence to another, "woe-is-me"-ing all the while. (As a side note, I kept thinking about parallels between Sisi and Diana, Princess of Wales). For some reason I had in my mind that she was influen ...more
Apr 08, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Brigitte Hamann is a renowned historian, all her books are thoroughly researched and written in a style that keeps your attention span.
"Elisabeth" gives an in-depth account of the tragic life of the beautiful Austrian Empress.
It began with love at first sight, but Elisabeth could not adjust to life at the Court of Vienna with its rigid and stifling Spanish etiquette and a very powerful mother-in-law, the Archduchess Sophie. She saw that the empire was in decline, but her liberal ideas were not
Feb 09, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
account of life of Elizabeth, married to Austrian-Hungarian Emperor , Franz Joseph and mother of Rudolf. Most interesting fact is that her hair was washed every 3 weeks ( it fell to her feet and took 2-3 hours to comb) and how vain she was.
Elliot A
I visited the Sissi museum in Vienna in December of last year. It was beautiful and enchanting and piqued my enthusiasm of learning more about Elisabeth. I must apologize, if I sound biased and even condescending, but unfortunately most of the books and research one can find about Elisabeth is only through one author, Brigitte Hamann.
Based on everything I have read of hers dealing with Elisabeth I am confused as to her motivations to devote so much time and effort into a subject that appears to
Ich habe die ersten Kapitel im Sample gelesen. Das ist ja sehr interessant und vor allem sehr "angenehm" geschrieben. Im klassischen Deutsch in einem leichten Fluss, dem man angenehm folgen kann. Die Erwähnung der vielen Namen ist verwirrend, aber das liegt nicht in der Verantwortung der Schriftstellerin. Ich werde mir mit Sicherheit dieses Buch aneignen. 😀
Mar 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
Eine der besten Biografien die ich jemals gelesen habe!
Jacqueline Verweij
Hamman provides a great insight on the life of the Empress Elisabeth of Austria.
Mar 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Having read Allison Pataki's Accidental Empress, I wanted to know more about Empress Elizabeth of Austria-Hungary and found this book which is, as far as I can tell, the standard against which other biographies are compared. First published in 1982, it was for me an enjoyable read, delving more into the complexity of Elizabeth (Sisi) and less into the sensationalism caused by her eccentricities and sensitivities.


Her marriage to Franz Joseph:
Of Sisi's feelings we know very little, except
Gary Inbinder
Mar 18, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“Reluctant” is an understatement. When fifteen-year-old Elisabeth (Sisi) Duchess of Bavaria met her cousin, twenty-three-year-old Franz Joseph, Emperor of Austria, it was as a younger sister of the woman intended for royal marriage. But as fate would have it, the Emperor wasn’t interested in the older sister; rather, he was smitten by the shy, pretty teenager. Marriage was perhaps the last thing young Sisi wanted, not to mention the responsibilities of being an Empress, yet as someone observed: ...more
This was a fantastic biography of Empress Elisabeth ('Sisi'). What I liked most was how Hamann chose to organize it thematically rather than chronologically. For example, there was a chapter on Sisi's involvement with Hungarian politics, a chapter on her horse and hunting obsession, and a chapter on (of course) her strange beauty rituals. This unique format wouldn't necessarily work with every biography, but I feel like it was the right choice in this case because Sisi has become such a mytholog ...more
Jun 16, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I visited the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, Austria, the story of Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Elisabeth captured me in an instant. Sisi, as Empess Elisabeth is well known in Austria, was famous for her beauty and her antics. A fine horsewoman of her time, she is as rebellious as an Empress could be. She traveled across Europe, rarely joined her husband both at dining table and royal occasion. Her missing at dining table was contributed as well by her obsession to stay beautiful by maint ...more
Anna Maria Ballester Bohn
Although the subject is, or at least I thought it would be, fascinating, I didn't enjoy this as much as other books by the same author. Curiously, those books I enjoyed so much are about far less sympathetic people: Winifred Wagner, Hitler (!). It *is* no doubt a great read and highly recommended if you're interested in any of the subjects it refers to: feminism, European history, monarchy. But I just couldn't empathize with Elisabeth, and I wonder how much of that difficulty comes from a percei ...more
Sep 17, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
Yeaah! I finished it!
Whilst in Austria in 2007, my daughter bought this 410 (counting index, otherwise 374 ) pages biography of Empress Elisabeth of Austria or popular known as "Sisi" as potraited by Romy Schneider in a sugar sweet way in the 1955 and 1956 movies: "Sissi", and " Sissi- the young empress."
Sissi should be Sisi.
Funny enough, last saturday I met an Austrian lady and she did not know about these movies!
Having read the biography has left me with mixed up feelings about Elisabeth and
The most objectively written biography of Elisabeth that I've found. There's no "the poor little princess burst out in tears and felt her heart pound" descriptions and certainly no added romance nor unneeded bashing Elisabeth, either. The Empress is depicted as a complex woman with good and bad traits, and through Elisabeth's poetry diary you can also hear her own point of view to her life. She was by no means a very symphatetic woman, but she clearly had her reasons for her attitude towards the ...more
Jun 29, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'd been interested in the life of Sisi for a while, and picked up this book on a visit to Vienna. It's translated from German so something the writing feels a bit odd, but the story is wonderful. It loses a star for the author's sometimes judgmental and unkind comments about her subject, as this loses objectivity. But overall, very much enjoyed. blog post to come.
I found this book very interesting but it wasn't my favorite royal biography. All I knew of the Empress of Austria is that she was assassinated in Switzerland so it was very interested to learning about her life and how she came to the monarchy. It some ways I felt bad for her because she was not brought in court life and because a man "wanted" her, she was forced into a life she was neither prepared for or wanted. Not to mention having to put up with a domineering mother-in-law who ruined Sisi' ...more
Jan 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Easily one of the best biographies of Elisabeth of Austria as far as I'm concerned.

Hamann doesn't gloss over the fact that she was neither happy, nor easy to live with. She tells it all, in an engaging tone, not without sympathy, but still very much matter-of-fact.

Coming from the clichés of the Sisi films, this book presents historical facts and paints an image of the actual living conditions. It is a look into Elisabeth's life and times, but there is little conjecture. Hamann uses letters and
Elizabeth Bowman
May 04, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fantástica lectura llena de anécdotas y curiosidades sobre la vida de esta gran mujer.
Sep 03, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Pflichtlektüre für jeden Musicalfan! ;-)

Wirklich interessante Einblicke in "Sisis" Leben - spannendes Porträt einer faszinierenden Persönlichkeit.
May 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Drugi raz już to czytałam i nadal jest tak samo dobre. Miła odtrutka na cały popkulturowy bullshit otaczający Elżbietę od czasu filmów z Romy Schneider. W sumie to dobry pomysł na następną notkę
Apr 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: kindle
The odyssey of a sensitive soul seeking peace. Amazing biography of Elizabeth Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary.
Feb 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"...German Emperor Wilhelm II: 'she did not sit down, she lowered her body; she did not stand up, she rose...'"

I admit, my knowledge of Sissi before reading this was the myth - the beauty, the spectacle, the ultimate assassination. The Reluctant Empress excels and wonderfully uncovers the difficult, reclusive yet eccentric persona beyond the myth of the Empress stuck somewhere in a different time and place than where she really was for most of her life. Sometimes biographies showcase a certain
Suze Fields
Mar 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
I really, really loved this book. Empress Sisi is one of my favorite historical personalites of all times. I have bought pretty much every single book about her I could lay my hands on and I never miss the chance to visit Schönbrunn or Gödöllő. This being said, I would like to state that I am not an expert on the empress, I am not a historian, I am merely a fan.

Ms. Hamann's book is quite extensive and interesting, full with much more information than what you can get from other sources. Also, he
Sep 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An excellent academic biography of an unusual person who through fate and privilege found herself in an extraordinary situation, as the Empress of the Austrian Empire during its long decline. Although she viewed herself as imprisoned in a gilded cage, her position allowed her to indulge her whims and live in a way she chose. Despite being hurt by the non-acceptance of the Austrian court, she learned to tune out the noise and proceeded to do exactly what she wanted. And exactly what she wanted, t ...more
eleonora -
Aug 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
leggi qui la recensione completa | mi trovi anche su instagram

❝Voglio tanto bene all’imperatore! Se solo non fosse l’imperatore!❞

Elisabetta, ricordata col diminutivo di Sissi, non ebbe la vita luccicante e felice che avrebbe potuto avere se solo si fosse piegata al volere dell’aristocrazia e, sopratutto, a quello della suocera.

Sissi non si piegò mai, eppure la sua personalità, così brillante e intrigante, si spense giorno per giorno, anno per anno. Sotto le aspettative del popolo, della monarc
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • The Lonely Empress: Elizabeth of Austria
  • A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888-1889
  • Edward VII: The Last Victorian King
  • An Uncommon Woman - The Empress Frederick: Daughter of Queen Victoria, Wife of the Crown Prince of Prussia, Mother of Kaiser Wilhelm
  • Dearest Vicky, Darling Fritz
  • Alice: Princess Andrew of Greece
  • In Destiny's Hands: Five Tragic Rulers, Children of Maria Theresa
  • The Last Princess: The Devoted Life of Queen Victoria's Youngest Daughter
  • Uncrowned King: The Life of Prince Albert
  • Ungrateful Daughters: The Stuart Princesses Who Stole Their Father's Crown
  • The Habsburgs: Embodying Empire
  • The Last Empress: The Life and Times of Alexandra Feodorovna, Tsarina of Russia
  • In Triumph's Wake: Royal Mothers, Tragic Daughters, and the Price They Paid for Glory
  • Princesses: The Six Daughters of George III
  • The Camera and the Tsars: The Romanov Family in Photographs
  • Ella: Princess, Saint and Martyr
  • A Royal Affair: George III and His Scandalous Siblings
  • Court Lady and Country Wife: Two Noble Sisters in Seventeenth-Century England
“She knows how to keep him interested in a thousand ways. And her peculiarity, her singularity may not always be easy for him to bear. But surely she has never bored him. Elle sait se faire désirer, but without pretenses. It is her way, and he is under her spell like a lover, and happy when he can touch her lightly to remind her of something!” 3 likes
“Whatever Elisabeth did, Franz Joseph's affection remained unchanged.” 1 likes
More quotes…