Kathryn Hughes

She Gave Him a Son, He Gave Her Syphilis

Death By Fame: A Life of Elisabeth, Empress of Austria

By Andrew Sinclair

Constable 288pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

Someone pressure on Andrew Sinclair to give his biography of Elisabeth, Empress of Austria, a contemporary spin. At every conceivable point, including the title and cover blurb, the similarities between the nineteenth-century Empress and Diana, Princess of Wales are hammered home. Both women suffered from anorexia (although in Elisabeth’s case, it was called being picky with your food), both felt alienated from stuffy court life, both liked to give their bodyguards the slip in racy parts of Europe. And then there is the happy coincidence that during those years when her only pleasure was riding out with the smartest English hunts, Elisabeth stayed at Althorp with the Spencers. She even had a soldier- lover w hose job, like James Hewitt’s, was to make sure she was safe in the saddle. The final flourish: both women were known as ‘The Queen of Hearts’.

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