I never had much time for the Empress Elizabeth. She was just 16 when she married the Habsburg emperor Franz Joseph, in Vienna in 1854, and from the very first she seemed to me willful, self-obsessed, and unready for the role she had taken on. Within days of her marriage, “Sisi,” as she was known for short, was skipping official functions.

Long holidays followed, sans husband—he had a vast, sprawling empire to manage. Although known as the Habsburg or Austrian Empire, it reached much farther than modern-day Austria, stretching from the Swiss Alps to Transylvania, in what is now Romania, and from today’s Poland to Bosnia, in the Balkans. Lacking imagination but convinced of his own abilities, Franz Joseph was not up to the job of running it.