The Empress has landed on Netflix, telling the true story of the early life of Empress Elisabeth of Austria.


The six-part series focuses on the love story between Elisabeth (Devrim Lingnau) and Emperor Franz Joseph (Philip Froissant), and the impact their romance had on the royal court and society.

Born in December of 1837, Elisabeth came from a notoriously eccentric line of the royal family - and her life certainly reflected that, from her rise to the throne to her untimely end.

As is often the case with period dramas, The Empress merges fiction and fact, choosing a compelling love story over historical accuracy.

So, who was the real Empress of Austria? Read on for everything you need to know about the real-life Elisabeth von Wittelsbach.

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Elisabeth von Wittelsbach and Franz Joseph's fairy-tale meeting

As much as the circumstances which led to Elisabeth’s engagement to the Emperor seemed straight out of a Disney movie, they were for the most part true to life. While it is unclear whether there was a woods-based love at first sight moment, as featured in the Netflix series, the pair did meet as Franz Joseph visited his cousin Helene, who he was expected to marry.

But after meeting Elisabeth he fell head over heels for her, informing his mother that if he could not marry Elisabeth, then he would not marry at all. Five days later, their wedding was announced.

Elisabeth wearing a veil at her wedding
The Empress. Netflix

Even the farcical moment where the family ended up only having funeral clothes to wear because their other suitcase didn’t arrive in time was detailed in the show. However, one detail not mentioned is that in reaction to his proposal, Elisabeth supposedly said : "Oh, if only he were a tailor!" before adding, "One doesn’t turn down an emperor!"

Elisabeth von Wittelsbach's age

While the show doesn’t explicitly say much about the age of its leading lady, it does obfuscate one of the key details about her life - her age when she met the emperor. When Franz Joseph first visits the von Wittelsbach family, he was 23 while she was 15. In the series, it’s made clear that she is younger and more immature, but since the actors are both adults in their 20s (Devrim Lingnau is 24 and Philip Froissant is 28), the difference is less than obvious.

Elisabeth von Wittelsbach's poetry

In The Empress, we see that Elisabeth was a prolific poet from a young age, using this to release her innermost thoughts. This once again sticks very closely to what we know of her real life, where her work provided an escape. One of the most prominent parts of her work is a central repeating motif of the show:

O'er thee, like thine own sea birds

I'll circle without rest

For me earth holds no corner

To build a lasting nest.

Elisabeth walking up the aisle at her wedding
The Empress. Netflix

One thing the show doesn’t get into is how Elisabeth had a poetry alter ego. She would often sign off her work as 'Titania', who was the queen of the fairies in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Elisabeth von Wittelsbach's relationship with the people

In The Empress, Elisabeth is shown to be loved by the people with an almost religious fervour; her mere presence in certain places is enough to spark riots. This popularity was very much true, with her being seen to have a part in several charitable ventures. She also has a significant cultural footprint, too, with her renowned youthful beauty and self-destructive thinness being lauded. Long after her death, she has inspired a wealth of adaptations based on her life, from operas and literature to ballet and more.

A second season of the Netflix series hasn’t been confirmed as of yet, but if it comes, there is much more yet to be explored in the complex life of Elisabeth von Wittelsbach.

The Empress is available to stream now on Netflix. Check out more of our Drama coverage or visit our TV Guide to see what’s on tonight.


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