Order of Elizabeth, Grand Cross (in silver gilt)
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This order was established by Emperor Franz Joseph II on September 17, 1898. Reserved solely for women, this order was named in honour of Empress Elisabeth (“Sisi”), who was murdered on September 10 in Geneva, and for Elisabeth of Thuringia (1207-1231), a young woman known for her commitment to charity. A popular legend tells of Elisabeth attempting to bring bread to the needy, and when her unapproving husband checked the basket, the bread had transformed into roses.
This order was originally intended to be founded on December 2, the date of the Emperor’s Golden Jubilee. However, the assassination of Empress Elisabeth, by way of a sharp needle into the chest, resulted in an advancement of the date. The order consisted of three classes, the Grand Cross, the I Class Cross and the II Class Cross. A special “Elisabeth Medal” was created at the same time but was not associated with the order. The ruling monarch had the power to bestow the awards onto women, regardless of rank or marital status, for acts of religious, charitable, and professional excellence.
The insignia features a cross with red and white arms representing lilies and a central medallion with a portrait of Saint Elisabeth. Ornamental roses are between the arms of the cross. The reverse of the medallion bears the letter “E” and the cross is worn on a white ribbon with a red stripe along each edge.
During the last year of the First World War, the statutes were amended to allow a I Class with Star to be awarded, due to the increased number of women participating in regular and medical volunteer services. This Star could only be awarded to Austro-Hungarian citizens after they had received the I Class. Foreign women were not restricted in this way. C.F Rothe and Nephews was the sole official manufacturer of this order. In 1919, the order was dissolved.
The Grand Cross measuring 67mm tall by 49mm wide, was always made of gold, until the year 1918. The accompanying eight-point star was roughly 70mm in diameter. Between 1898-1918, the total number of Grand Crosses awarded was 81. The Grand Cross ‘in Brillanten’ was only awarded twice: to the German Empress and Queen of Prussia, Auguste-Viktoria in 1899, and in 1904 to Queen Alexandra of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
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