22 April 1873|
|Died||19 October 1910
|Known for||Assassinating Empress Elisabeth of Austria|
Luigi Lucheni (Italian pronunciation: [luˈiːdʒi luˈkɛːni]; 22 April 1873 – 19 October 1910) was an Italian anarchist who assassinated the Austrian Empress, Elisabeth (commonly referred to as Sissi, Viennese for Elisabeth), in 1898. Lucheni believed in propaganda of the deed, a philosophy advocating spreading beliefs through violent direct action.
Born in Paris to an Italian mother and raised in an orphanage, Lucheni worked odd jobs before being drafted in the Italian Army for three and a half years. After a successful stay in the military, he emigrated to Switzerland. During his life in Switzerland, he developed his anarchist ideas.
Lucheni sought to kill a member of what he felt was an élite and oppressive upper class, and he did not care which member of it he killed. In his diary, Lucheni penned, "How I would like to kill someone – but it must be someone important so it gets in the papers." At first Lucheni decided that he would kill Philippe, Duke of Orleans, but because of the Duke's change of itinerary and the discovery of another royal being in town, he later settled for taking the life of Elisabeth.
Given her rebellious nature, Elisabeth often refused the aid of police and bodyguards and she was adored by the populace in general. While the Empress and her lady-in-waiting were boarding a steamship to Montreux on 10 September 1898 in Geneva, Lucheni ran over to the former and slammed his body against hers, penetrating her chest with a sharp needle file (which is now part of the Vienna Sisi Museum's exhibition). Not realising she was hurt, because of her extremely tight corset, and wanting to board as quickly as possible, Elisabeth got to her feet straightaway and walked onto the ship, where she later collapsed and died.
At his trial, Lucheni openly admitted to his crime, and at the age of 25, was sentenced to life in prison. After his memoirs were confiscated by prison guards, he was found hanged in his cell by his belt on 19 October 1910, apparently a suicide.
Lucheni's assassination of Elisabeth gave rise to the International Conference of Rome for the Social Defense Against Anarchists held from 24 November to 21 December 1898. This conference agreed on a definition of anarchism as "any act that used violent means to destroy the organization of society."
Lucheni made hatred of Italians even stronger in Austria than it had become after the loss of the Kingdom of Lombardy–Venetia, the failed assassination of The Emperor and Empress of Austria in Trieste, and Italian irredentism towards parts of Austria-Hungary such as Trentino and Friuli.
In popular culture
Luigi Lucheni is a prominent character in the Michael Kunze/Sylvester Levay musical Elisabeth, where he serves as a bitter, sarcastic narrator of the events of Elisabeth's life and in the end becomes her executioner. He does his best to turn the audience against the Empress, but ultimately it is left to the viewer to decide about Elisabeth's character. He is also referenced in Polish writer Bruno Schulz's book The Street of Crocodiles in the chapter entitled Treatise On Tailors' Dummies: Continuation, and in Norman Mailer's novel The Castle in the Forest.
- Brigitte Hamann: Elisabeth: Kaiserin wider Willen, Aquila, 1998, ISBN 978-963-9073-27-2
- Luigi Lucheni: Ich bereue nichts, Knaur, 2000, ISBN 978-3-426-77484-7