Elisabeth of Bavaria:
“On September 10, 1898, in Geneva, Switzerland, Elisabeth, aged 60, was stabbed to death with a needle file by a young anarchist named Luigi Lucheni, in an act of propaganda of the deed. Bleeding to death from a puncture wound to the heart, Elisabeth’s last words were “What happened to me?” Reportedly, her assassin had hoped to kill a prince from the House of Orléans and, failing to find him, turned on Elisabeth instead as she was walking along the promenade of Lake Geneva about to board a steamship for Montreux with her lady-of-courtesy, Countess Sztaray. As Lucheni afterward said, “I wanted to kill a royal. It did not matter which one.”
One of Elisabeth’s most striking features, which complemented her beauty, was her well-tressed hair. It took three hours each day to have it done. If her hairdresser fell sick, you could count on her not coming out of her chambers for that day. Her hairdresser knew that the Empress had fits if she lost even one strand of hair from the rigors of tressing, so she would hide them in the hem of her apron rather than risk the ire of her matron.
Elisabeth was once considered the most beautiful woman in the world, with features such as her almost five-foot-eight-inch (1.72 m) height and 20-inch waist.
the murder-suicide of Elisabeth’s son Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria and his lover Baroness Mary Vetsera is known as the Mayerling Incident.
(The last photograph taken of Baroness Mary Vetsera (R). This is the dress in which she was buried. On the (L) is Countess Marie Larisch, a go-between for Mary and Rudolf.)
Apart from the straightforward lover’s pact proposed in the official report, a lover’s quarrel has also been postulated. It has been said that she was murdered by Crown Prince Rudolf, who then killed himself; that they both committed suicide; that they killed or murdered one another, and that she either was or was not pregnant at the time of her death. One variant states that Mary died during a botched abortion and the grief-stricken Rudolf killed himself.
Examination of the bodies indicated that Mary had likely died several hours before Rudolf, implying that he had killed her (or she had killed herself) and sat next to the body until he finally shot himself.
Rudolf’s final letter to Princess Stephanie also supports the suicide hypothesis. In it, Rudolf bids farewell to her and his friends, saying that only death can save his good name. This letter raises at least as many questions as answers, since Rudolf does not give a reason why he must kill himself, nor is there any mention of Mary Vetsera.
and it gets juicier:
In December 1992, the cemetery at Heiligenkreuz was vandalized and Mary Vetsera’s remains were stolen. Upon recovery they were examined to ensure that they were the correct remains. The findings again contradicted the official reports that she had been shot; her skull showed no evidence of bullet wounds or shrapnel. Instead, the evidence indicated that she had been beaten to death. However, given the circumstances of the examination, there is room for doubt as to whether it really was Mary Vetsera’s body which had been recovered.
…and this leads up to the story of Marchesa Luisa Casati.
“…she dramatically altered her appearance to become a bewitchingly beautiful figure from some bizarre fairy tale. Luisa further enhanced her strange persona with the keeping of pet cheetahs, snakes and monkeys, and even gilt encrusted male servants. There would be those who would accuse her of conducting an utterly frivolous life as Europe’s most decadent hostess. But in truth, Luisa had a passion of a much more serious nature–the commissioning of her own immortality. “
“…the Marchesa established several dreamlike homes, each designed to her exacting and high-priced tastes. In Venice, there was the Palazzo dei Leoni on the Grand Canal–a fabulous half-ruin, its gardens set ablaze with enormous Chinese lanterns, where albino blackbirds trilled overhead and pet cheetahs prowled along twisting pathways below; while in one of its salons, a life-size wax replica of Mary Vetsera, the tragic Mayerling heroine, stared from within a massive glass case. Years later, this same building would be purchased by Peggy Guggenheim to become The Peggy Guggenheim Collection, the most important museum in Italy for European and American art of the first half of the 20th century. Just outside of Paris lay the Palais Rose–the Marchesa’s fantastic mansion built of red marble, featuring a detached pavilion converted into a private art gallery where Luisa housed more than one hundred and thirty images of herself.”
“…On 1 June 1957, Luisa Casati died at 32 Beaufort Gardens, her last residence. She was seventy-six years old. Following a requiem mass at Brompton Oratory, the Marchesa was interred in Brompton Cemetery, with one of her taxidermed Pekinese dogs resting at her feet. In Antony and Cleopatra, Shakespeare evokes the lure of the unforgettable Egyptian queen by declaring: ‘Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety.’ “
(Marchesa’s complete biography found here )
more about the Marchesa from the article, “Siren of the Century” found here:
Disregarded by her husband, Luisa became frustrated with her function as genteel wife. So it was not unexpected that she began an extramarital affair. But it came as a shock that it was conducted with Gabriele D’Annunzio, Europe’s most infamous writer. Typically, once he began such a liaison, the rakish D’Annunzio baptized his paramour-of-the-moment with a nickname. Luisa was no exception: he dubbed her “Kore,” after the goddess Persephone who, according to Greek myth, was transformed from virginal maid into the Queen of Hell after her abduction by Hades. But although Luisa approved of the legend’s symbolic relationship to her own life, she gave the moniker continental panache by Frenchifying it into “Coré.” D’Annunzio was thrilled, but unprepared for the bat-winged siren that burst forth from the discarded shell of the former Luisa Casati.
To dramatize this metamorphosis, Luisa made several daring changes to her appearance. In an era when no respectable woman wore cosmetics, Casati bleached her face dead-white with ivory make-up; bloodied her lips scarlet; and ringed her large green eyes with kohl, India ink, and even thin strips of black velvet. Her coiffure was ignited into a henna inferno, while toxic belladonna eyedrops dilated her pupils into Stygian voids. And then to further augment these unearthly effects, Luisa set out to become the premier fashion plate from hell. Refined and frilly fineries were replaced by gender-bending outfits featuring plunging necklines; glittering harem pants; black pearls and peacock feathers; and later, the occasional tigerskin top hat and pirate’s eye patch. Very soon, the D’Annunzio affair, as well as an ever-growing repertoire of fashion crimes fuelled scandal sheets across Europe.
The decadent playground of Venice provided Casati with the perfect base of operations. Roofless, ruined, and equipped with its own overgrown garden, the Palazzo dei Leoni on the Grand Canal became her haunted palace. While extensive internal repairs were made, the exterior’s moldering decay was left deliberately untouched, much to the displeasure of her elite neighbors. Furthermore, its tangled garden soon echoed with the growls of the Marchesa’s pet cheetahs. When a nearly nude Casati took the jewel-collared cats on a midnight stroll along the Piazza San Marco, her path lit by torches borne aloft by an equally unclothed Moorish manservant, her legend to astound was established.
Luisa’s childhood fantasies had now developed into a passion for dressing-up. Her everyday vampiric appearance was enhanced by outrageous costumes. Her Venetian fancy dress balls became renowned—not only for their scale and expense, but for their hostess’ entrances. The Marchesa appeared as a Harlequin at one and a Persian princess at another. Once, she arrived by gondola in an immense 18th century hoop skirt, escorted by a battalion of liveried footmen adorned with plumes. On another occasion, Luisa had her male servants stripped and covered in gold leaf, leading to rumors that some had died from suffocation.
Luisa discovered that her prior inhibitions could be overcome through the use of flamboyant masquerade. But Casati’s outlandish and rebellious behavior was not limited to such galas alone. She smoked opium in Capri and drank absinthe in England. To achieve an especially macabre manifestation, the Marchesa attended one opera with her fiery tresses pierced by white peacock quills, whilst the blood of a freshly killed chicken flowed down her pale arms, a sight that caused a few demure damsels to faint. At a performance by the Ballets Russes, Luisa dressed in a gown of egret feathers that molted as she moved, leaving her nearly naked by evening’s end. She shopped Paris with marmosets scampering about her shoulders, attended dinners with live snakes encircling her throat, and arrived at the races accompanied by a white greyhound dyed blue to match her hat.
Sometimes Casati’s devilry exceeded even these examples of aesthetic anarchy. Her abiding fervor for the occult led to rumored celebrations of black masses. To be sure, the Marchesa’s library was stocked with books on sorcery and spells, all bound, or so she claimed, in human skin upon which hair still grew. Accompanied by D’Annunzio, she was seen trying to raise the dead in a Roman cemetery. And she became known to seat life-size wax mannequins at her dining table—some said to contain the ashes of past lovers driven to suicide by her follies. One doll was a replica of a murdered young woman that was, like Trivulzio’s embalmed lover, kept in an armoire, that is when its artfully re-created fatal bullet hole was not being displayed to sheepish guests. Another of these ghoulish toys was a carefully created double of its owner for which Luisa even had matching garments made by top couturiers.
Casati’s sexuality could be taken to equal limits as well. Gossip began that her muscular menservants were also bedmates. Regardless, the Marchesa’s penchant for the peculiar led to erotic experimentation. Indeed, D’Annunzio bestowed upon Casati the additional title of “the Divine Marquise” in homage to the Marquis de Sade. More than once, Luisa proudly flaunted the teeth-marks from their lovemaking, causing one observer to note that she wore such bruises in place of jewels.
and the end…
…Before long, the nearly bankrupt Luisa fled to London where she began a nomadic existence. Residing in dilapidated mansions and musty rooming houses, her leopardskin pocketbook became moth-eaten and held nothing more valuable than belladonna eyedrops.