and as a result what it thought has often not been very kind...
I have often lived only for pleasure and
Wild and out of
control, singer and dancer, the outrageous flapper, Betty May, climbed out of extreme
poverty and rose to the highest levels of society through sex, drugs, and
She was born into squalor in Canning Town
England in 1895. Her father abandoned
the family. Her mother worked at a chocolate factory to support her four
children, but her wages were not enough. They had no furniture, not even beds,
and slept on bundles of rags. Food was always in short supply. Unable to feed
all four children, Betty’s mother had no choice but to send Betty and her
brother to live with their father, a shiftless violent drunkard who lived in a
brothel with his prostitute girlfriend. When her father was arrested by his own
father, a police officer, and later jailed, Betty was shunted off to other
relatives, and finally ended up living with an aunt who believed her to be a “savage
child” and treated her harshly and raised her rigidly.
Her first sexual encounter was with one of her
school teachers. The ensuing scandal was so rampant, it threatened the poor man’s
career, so her aunt kicked her out with only a little money in her pocket. Betthy went to London and became a frequent customer at the exotic Café Royal. She liked it and said, “...a real café with sawdust on the floor, cheap drinks and
gilded decorations as gaudy and as bright as possible....No duck ever took to water, no man to drink, as I to the Café Royal.” Fond of color and fashion,
Betty began to dress outrageously, like a gypsy. Soon, she began to dabble in
prostitution to support herself. There she also began a career singing in dancing on various stages.
She met a man named Pretty Pet, a great dancer who was always loaded with cash. He offered
her dancing gigs in Bordeaux, but when they got there, he assaulted her in her
hotel room while he was drunk. She managed to fight him off by stabbing his
neck with a knife and striking him over the head with a pair of metal fire-tongs
Afterward, she encountered the White Panther, a man who belonged
to the notorious and extremely brutal, L'Apache Gang and travelled to Paris with him. The gang was a violent
one, committing numerous robberies and garrottings, and Betty soon learned to fight with her
fists and knives. Her
skill with a knife and her knuckles earned her the nickname Tiger Woman.
An Apache Revolver
L'Apache Gang brawl with police in Paris
the crimes she committed for the gang was to seduce and an Englishman and lure
him to the gang’s lair so they could rob him. The victim reported the crime to
the police. Unhappy, the gang threatened Betty – ordering her to find the man
again or they would kill her. Somehow, Betty did find the man again. To punish
her, the gang ordered her to brand the man with a red-hot knife. “I cannot
imagine how I was able to do it, for although I have this violent temper, this
was done in cold blood.”
Having had enough of the gang, she returned to
London. Her next encounter was with a man named Bunny – a cocaine addict. He introduced
the drug to her on their honeymoon. For the next few months, Betty indulged in
so many drug binges, she was surprised she survived it. Numerous failed suicide
attempts failed to release her from the nightmare she was living. After Bunny
died of an overdose, Betty met an Australian military officer called Roy. Roy
was a bit heavy handed and beat her harshly whenever he caught her taking
drugs. As much as she loathed the beatings, it cured her of her drug addictions.
But when she caught him cheating on her, Betty left him.
It was then she met and married her third
husband, Raoul Loveday, a poet and secretary to occultist and bisexual Aleister
Crowley, known as the “the wickedest man in the world”.
Crowley convinced Betty and Raoul to go to Sicily where they dabbled in creepy bloody rituals of
devil-worship. In fact, Crowley wanted to sacrifice Betty. Instead, she watched her husband behead a cat and drink its blood and die
within hours. The death was actually attributed to him having drank water from
a polluted stream. Angry at Crowley, she pulled out a gun and shot at him. She
missed. He reacted by catching her and then physically throwing her out the door.
Betty returned to London where she married her
fourth husband, Carol, an editor for a sports newspaper. She kept his last name a secret and did not include it in her autobiography. They moved to the
countryside to live with Carol's mother who was jealous of Betty’s influence
over her son, and as a result, they did not get along well with each other. Unhappy
with the tensions and the boring country life, Betty left and returned to London.
Carol went after her and convinced her to return. Betty agreed and made an
effort to develop her own interests by starting her own business, a sweet shop.
One day, after shooting rooks, May was disgusted when she had to break the
necks of those that fell to the ground alive. The birds were baked into a pie,
but still disgusted, Betty refused to eat any of the pies. Soon Carol fell sick with a high temperature and vomiting. Anger between
Betty and her mother-in-law arose with mommy blaming Betty. After a few days, a doctor was called and Carol showed
signs of improvement. After eating one of the meals Betty prepared for
him, Carol’s health regressed again. Carol’s mother accused Betty of killing her son.
Betty left her husband and discordant mother-in-law immediately.
What followed for Betty was a string of affairs, more
scandals, and a crazed staulker who was on trial for murder and wanted to marry
her then kill her. After her autobiography was published by Duckworth in the
mid 1930’s, no one knows where she disappeared to. She had not communicated
with the publishers for quite some time and they tried to find her. It was
reported she was living in a semi-basement
bed-sitter in Chatham, and then travelled to northern England for a time before
returning to Chatham three years after that. Betty May is believed to have died
in Kent in the 1970s or 1980s.
Her original autobiography has been re-released to coincide with a musical about her life.
The incredible life story that inspired the forthcoming new musical, Tiger Woman Versus The Beast
Dancer, singer, gang member, cocaine addict and sometime confectionist, Betty May’s autobiography Tiger Woman thrilled and appalled the public when her story first appeared at the end of the roaring twenties.
‘I have often lived only for pleasure and excitement but you will see that I came to it by unexpected ways’
Born into abject squalor in London’s Limehouse area, May used her steely-eyed, striking looks and street nous to become an unlikely bohemian celebrity sensation, a fixture at the Café Royal, London, marrying four times along the way alongside numerous affairs.
‘I wondered why men would not leave me alone. They were alright at first when they offered to show one life, and then at once they became a nuisance’
She elbowed her way to the top of London’s social scene in a series of outrageous and dramatic fights, flights, marriages and misadventures that also took her to France, Italy, Canada and the USA.
‘I learnt one thing on my honeymoon – to take drugs’
Her most fateful adversary was occultist and self-proclaimed ‘Great Beast’ Aleister Crowley, who intended her to be a sacrificial victim of his Thelemite cult in Sicily, but it was her husband – Oxford undergraduate Raoul Loveday – who died, after conducting a blood sacrifice ritual.
Betty May’s vitality and ferocious charisma enchanted numerous artistic figures including Jacob Epstein and Jacob Kramer. A heroine like no other, this is her incredible story in her own words, as fresh and extraordinary as the day it was first told.
When Betty May wrote her autobiography in 1929, her debauched life story shocked society at the time. Now, nearly a century later, the book continues to have the same effect. When I began reading, I was immediately drawn to her narrative, one that was brutally honest and insightful. I could not help but feel sorry for Betty as she described her terrible childhood and the lack of love and attention she was denied by her parents and their circumstances. As the story progressed, I continued to be shocked by the ease into which she fell into a wayward life, partly for the sake of survival and partly for an inner coldness she seemed to possess that helped her survive.
From the first page to the last, I was fascinated by all that she had experienced. From satanism, her numerous husbands and failed marriages, sexual encounters, prostitution, life and death threats, crimes, and drug addiction, it would be an understatement to say she lived a colorful life.
It's not a long book, but Betty May definitely had a talent for writing for her escapades are relayed in a vibrant, shocking manner. I have to say, this is one of the most gripping autobiographies I have ever written. It is no surprise that it has endured for nearly a century. A truly fascinating woman and a tale of survival!
A young woman on the verge of taking her vows to become a nun.
A desperate flight from a murderous massacre.
One honorable man comes to her rescue.
Another becomes her nemesis and captor.
And a life and death search to reunite with her one true love.
In 10th century Naples, Saracens run rampant, annihilating villages, murdering women and children. Death and despair is everywhere. Alone in the world, Sara is a young novice plagued with doubts about taking her final vows to become a nun. When her convent is attacked, she flees for her life straight into the arms of a group of Saracens who leave her to die alone in the woods. An honorable cavaliere named Nicolo comes to her rescue and offers to take her to the safety of Naples. As they journey together, they are irresistibly drawn to each other. Believing Sara to be a nun, the honorable Nicolo is torn between love and duty to respect her vows. Heartbroken, he does what honor demands and sets her free before she can tell him the truth that she is not a nun. In her search to reunite with Nicolo, she encounters Umberto, a dark and dangerous man who will stop at nothing in his obsession to possess her. With her sharp intellect, and her heart, Sara must rely on her own courage and strength to escape her abuser and find the only man she will ever love. A story that burns with intensity, intrigue, and passion from the author of the highly successful novel, Orphan of the Olive Tree.
I'm so pleased to announce the launch of my latest novel, The Novice: A Love Story. This poignant medieval Italian romance is scheduled for release September 15th, 2014 and is currently available for pre-order in the Amazon Kindle Store. The paperback will be available at a later date.
As a book launch special, the ebook is on sale for $2.99 for the month of September only!
Her Royal Highness Duchess Elisabeth Amalie Eugenie
was the daughter ofDuke Maximilian and Princess Ludovika of Bavaria. They lived
in Possenhofen Castle, away from the hubbub of the royal court. Sisi and her
siblings enjoyed great freedom as children and she developed a grand passion
for horseback riding in the beautiful countryside surrounding their castle.
Princess Sophie of Bavaria
Mother of Franz Joseph
Princess Sophie of Bavaria, the
domineering mother of 23-year-old Emperor Franz Joseph, arranged a betrothal to her
neice, Helene, Sisi’s elder sister. Despite the fact they were in mourning because of the death of a member of the Bavarian royal family, Helene, Sisi, and their mother traveled to Bad Ischl to formalize the betrothal. They traveled in
a large entourage, but arrived late due to their mother suffering a migraine. The
carriage that carried their fancy dresses and gowns did not arrive in time, so they had to greet the young Franz Joseph dressed in their black mourning
Helene and Franz did not hit it off. Rather, it was Sisi who attracted
Franz Joseph’s attention. She was tall, slim, and very beautiful at 5’8” tall and 110 lbs. Much
to Princess Sophie's chagrin, he dug his heels in and refused to propose to Helene. He told his mother that if
he could not marry Elisabeth, he would not marry at all. Five days later, the betrothal with Sisi was formally
announced. The young couple were married eight months later in the spring of 1854.
Sisi was only 16 years old and
woefully unprepared for married life. Traumatized by the consummation of the
marriage on the wedding night, she remained secluded in her bedroom for three
days, refusing to come out. Afterward, she struggled to adapt to the Habsburg court life with its rigid expectations and practices and stringent etiquette. Before long, she fell ill, but her illness turned out to be her first pregancy. She gave birth to her first child. Princess Sophie, who never warmed to Sisi, took matters into her own hands and named the baby after
herself, Sophie, without consulting Sisi. She took complete control over
the baby and refused to allow Sisi to breastfeed or care for her daughter. The same thing happened when Sisi's second daughter, Gisela was born.
Sophie grew more displeased
with Sisi when she failed to produce a male heir and began to resent Sisi’s influence upon Franz
It wasn’t until Sisi travelled
to Hungary with her husband and daughters that she truly found respite from the
stress and pressures of her mother-in-law and royal life in Austria. She warmed
to the Hungarian people and in return, they adored her. Her joy in Hungary was short
lived, however. Both her daughters became ill with diarrhea or typhus. Gisela
survived, but Sophie died. Her daughter's death drove Sisi into a dark and severe
depression that she would never escape for the rest of her life. Her melancholy was
so profound, she began neglecting little Gisela, and the distance between them would exist for the rest of their lives. Everyone hoped that when Sisi became pregnant
again, it would pull her out of the darkness.
But her struggles continued. Sisi missed her loving parents and the freedom of her previous life. She struggled to find her own identity amid the royal
duties and responsibilities thrust upon her. She had no control over her life
and struggled with being an empress, wife, and mother. In her own way, she tried to recreate
her childhood with all its freedomsm but found that the only thing she could control was her physical
appearance. This she did obsessively, and became meticulous with every
detail of her beauty, dress, and physical image. Still mourning for her
daughter, Elisabeth refused to eat for days; something that became a habit whenever her depression worsened. She avoided family dinners
and if her weight increased even a little, she would fast. She abhorred meat, prefering a diet of milk and eggs. To emphasize her extreme slenderness,
she practiced tight-lacing.
When Sisi returned home to
Vienna, her shrunken waist angered her mother-in-law because she still
expected Sisi to produce a male heir.
Sisi ignored her mother-in-law and exercised rigorously. She set up gymnasiums in every one of her homes, with
some equipment laid out in her bedchambers. She rode and fenced several hours each day until she was considered one of the top equestrians in the world.
The older she was, the more restless
and obsessive she became, constantly weighing herself, taking saunas, and watching what she ate until she became nearly emaciated and
weight 95.7 lbs. She also binged-ate, having a
secret staircase built into one of her homes direct from her rooms to the
kitchen to maintain her secret eating binges.
And then there were her bizarre
beauty practices. It took 3 hours per day to care for her thick and extremely long hair.
Sisi's Personal Hairdresser
Her hairdresser accompanied
her wherever she went. Feifalik was forbidden to wear rings and had to wear white gloves when preparing Sisi's tresses. If any hair fell out, Franziska had to present it to Sisi in a silver bowl and receive her mistress' reproach. Every two weeks, Sisi cancelled all her activities in order to have her hair washed with eggs and cognac. And daily, Franziska had to tweeze out all gray hairs.
One of Sisi's dressing tables
Sisi wore no make-up or perfumes. She preferred beautifying creams and tonics. Her favourite face cream was made from with white wax, spermaceti, sweet almond oil, and rosewater. She also made a nightly facial mask that consisted of raw veal and crushed strawberries. She slept with cloths soaked in either violet or cider-vinegar above her
hips to preserve her slim waist, and wrapped her neck with cloths soaked in special tonics. To maintain her peaches and cream complexion, she took both a cold shower every morning and olive oil baths at night.
But age ultimately takes it course. After she turned thirty-two, Sisi refused to sit for any more portraits, and would not allow any photographs of her to
Her marriage with Franz Joseph continued to deteriorate, despite the fact he passionately loved her. She saw him as an unimaginative and
sober man overly influenced by his domineering mother with her adherences to strict and ceremonial protocols.
Elisabeth soon began to distance herself from her husband and fled him and court life whenever possible. Franz Joseph indulged her travels, but always tried to tempt her to come back.
Elisabeth suffered with insomniam spent countless hours reading and writing, and took up smoking, a shocking
habit, which made her the subject of great gossip. She grew to love the work of Heinrich Hein, a German poet and radical political thinker, exchanging many letters with him.
In 1858, Elisabeth
finally gave birth to a son named Rudolf. Her influence at court increased, as did her interest in Hungary. She sided with Hungary as conflict increased with Austria. Elisabeth developed a friendship with Hungarian Count Gyula Andrassy. Rumors swirled that they were lovers. While advocating for Hungary, she admonished her husband's stand, and threatened to leave him, unless he compromised and made Andrássy the Premier of Hungary.
Count Gyula Andrassy
Like her daughters, Sophie blocked Sisi from raising her son, and she openly
rebelled. Her nervous attacks, fasting, severe exercise regime,
and frequent fits of coughing, and overall health become so alarming, it was reported she suffered from anemia and physial exhaustion. It was feared she had tuberculosis and it was recommended she go to Madeira to recover. Rumors began to circulate that Franz Joseph was having an affair with an actress. Elisabeth left her husband and children, to spend the winter in seclusion. She returned six months
later, but as soon as she returned, she became ill almost immediately with a cough and fever. She barely ate and hardly slept. Her physican recommended she go to Corfu to rest. She improved immediately. It seemed her illnesses improved whenever away from her husband and the royal court, but her eating habits continued to be problematic. She suffered from anemia and dropsy. Her feet were sometimes so swollen she could not walk without support. This time, the doctors recommended she go to a spa in Bad Kissingen to recover. Once again, Elisabeth
recovered quickly, but instead of returning home, she went to spend time with her family in Bavaria, which set tongues a wagging about her numerous absences. Two years later, she returned to her husband, but immediately suffered a violent migraine and vomited four times before arriving. Franz Joseph wanted another son to secure succession. The physicians insisted that Sisi's health could not sustain another pregnancy. She soon fell into her
old pattern of escaping the pressures and stress of royal life by frequent
walking and riding, using her health as an excuse to avoid official
obligations and sexual intimacy. In this way, she succeeded in avoiding her duties as an imperial brood mare and maintained her beauty. Sophie became more confident in her defiance against her husband and mother-in-law.
However, her passion for Hungary prevailed and she returned to the marriage bed to ensure a compromise with Hungary was reached and Andrassy was made the first Hungarian prime minister and in
return. In return, Andrassy officially crowned Franz Joseph and Elisabeth King and
Queen of Hungary.
After the coronation gift, a pregnant Sisi went to live in a country residence outside of Budapest. She gave birth to a daughter named Marie Valerie. Determined to bring this last
child up by herself, Elisabeth showered all her love on her youngest daughter to the point of nearly
smothering her. Sophie's influence over Elisabeth's children gradually faded and she died in 1872.
With her children back in her control, however, Elisabeth did not take advantage it. Instead, she she travelled and rarely saw her children. She became the subject of numerous newspaper articles for her obsession with riding and diet regimes, and rumours abounded about her reputed lovers. Her affairs could never be proven, but Franz Joseph's affair with actress Katharina Schratt was very real indeed.
Emperor Franz Joseph's Mistress
In 1889, her only son, thirty-year-old Rudolf was found dead in a murder suicide with his lover Baroness Mary Vetsera, with Rudolf being the murderer.
Baroness Mary Vetsera
Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria
A profound depression gripped Sisi and she never recovered from it. In the span of one year, she had lost her mother, her father, her sister, and now her son. After Rudolf's death
she dressed only in black for the rest of her life. To compound her losses, her one dear friend, Count Gyula Adrassy died
a year later.
The scandal surrounding the death of her son only increased public interest in Elisabeth, making her an icon with her long black gowns and white leather parasol and fan to conceal her face from the curious.
Elisabeth spent little time in
Austria's capital Vienna with her husband, and travelled endlessly throughout Europe. Through the exchange of letters, their marriage became a warm friendship. Ignoring warnings of possible assassination attempts, the sixty-year-old Elisabeth traveled
incognito to Geneva Switzerland.
At 1:35 p.m. on Saturday, 10
September 1898, Elisabeth and her lady-in-waiting left on foot to catch a steamship. A 25-year-old Italian anarchist, Luigi Lucheni, approached and attempting
to peer underneath the empress's parasol. As the ship's
bell announced the departure, Lucheni seemed to stumble and made a movement
with his hand as if he wanted to maintain his balance. Instead, he stabbed Elisabeth with a sharpened needle file
that was 4 inches long that he had inserted into a wooden handle.
"I am an anarchist by
I came to Geneva to kill a sovereign, with object of giving an
example to those who suffer and those who do nothing to improve their social
it did not matter to me who the sovereign was whom I should kill...
was not a woman I struck, but an Empress; it was a crown that I had in
empress collapsed. A coach driver helped her to her feet. The two women walked roughly 100 yards to the gangway and boarded. The empress then
lost consciousness and collapsed. Her lady in waiting called for a doctor, but
only a former nurse, a fellow passenger, was available. The boat’s captain, ignorant of Elisabeth's identity,
advised the countess to disembark and take her companion back to her hotel but the boat had already sailed out of the harbor. Three men carried
Elisabeth to the top deck and laid her on a bench. Her lady in waiting opened her gown and cut
Elisabeth's corset laces so she could breathe. Elisabeth revived and her lady asked her if she was in pain. Sisi replied, "No. What has happened?" and lost consciousness.
Her lady noticed a
small brown stain above the Empress' left breast. Alarmed, she informed the captain of her identity, and the
boat turned back to Geneva. Sisi was carried back to the Hotel by six sailors on a stretcher improvised from a sail, cushions and two oars. By the time they lifted her from the stretcher to the bed she was clearly dead.
Elisabeth's body was returned to Vienna aboard a funeral train. She was entombed in the Church of the Capuchins.
After the attack, Lucheni fled but was caught. Although he boasted that
he acted alone, precautions were taken for the emperor's protection. At the announcement that an Italian had murdered the Empress, unrest and reprisals were threatened
against Italians living in Vienna.
Lucheni was brought before the
Geneva Court. Furious that the death sentence had been abolished in
Geneva, he demanded that he be tried according to the laws of the Canton of Lucerne, which still had the death penalty,
signing the letter: “Luigi Lucheni, anarchist, and one of the most
Elisabeth's will stipulated
that a large part of her jewels be sold and the proceeds, over £600,000, were to be applied to various religious and
charitable organizations. Franz Joseph remarked to Prince Liechtenstein, "That a man could be found to attack such a woman, whose whole life was spent in doing good
and who never injured any person, is to me incomprehensible." Sisi left most of her estate to her granddaughter, the Archduchess Elsabeth, Rudolf's child.
Lucheni was declared sane and was sentenced to life. He attempted to kill himself with the sharpened key from a tin
of sardines on 20 February 1900. Ten years later, he hanged himself with his
belt in his cell after a guard confiscated
and destroyed his uncompleted memoirs. Empress Sisi is one of the characters in the historical romance, The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin. Although the novel is classified as biographical, it is more about the fictionalized characters than Sisi's detailed life.
Empress Elizabeth of Austria, known as Sisi, is the Princess Diana of
nineteenth-century Europe. Famously beautiful, as captured in a portrait with
diamond stars in her hair, she is unfulfilled in her marriage to the older
Emperor Franz Joseph. Sisi has spent years evading the stifling formality of
royal life on her private train or yacht or, whenever she can, on the back of a
Captain Bay Middleton is dashing, young, and the finest horseman in
England. He is also impoverished, with no hope of buying the horse needed to
win the Grand National—until he meets Charlotte Baird. A clever, plainspoken
heiress whose money gives her a choice among suitors, Charlotte falls in love
with Bay, the first man to really notice her, for his vulnerability as well as his
glamour. When Sisi joins the legendary hunt organized by Earl Spencer in
England, Bay is asked to guide her on the treacherous course. Their shared
passion for riding leads to an infatuation that jeopardizes the growing bond
between Bay and Charlotte, and threatens all of their futures.
The Fortune Hunter, a brilliant new novel by Daisy
Goodwin, is a lush, irresistible story of the public lives and private longings
of grand historical figures.
Although this novel is classified as a biographical novel, I believe this is only partially true. Yes, Empress Cisi is one of several main characters, but the book is truly about a romance between the fictionalized characters, Captain Bay Middleton and Charlotte Biard. Cisi's life is only partially, and not thoroughly depicted.
Having said this, I truly enjoyed this novel. It was well written, lush in its descriptions of the era as it pertained to surroundings, fashion, and glamour, and poignant enough to capture my interest until the very last page. The author did an excellent job of describing traditional fox hunts and equestrian skills. I especially enjoyed the quippy and comical interactions with Queen Victoria. Although I'm not sure that the story adheres to historical facts, it does not take away from the enjoyment of the novel. The story gains momentum as it nears a very satisfying ending.As long as readers are aware this isn't a true to form biographical novel about Empress Elisabeth, there is much to recommend this wonderful story.