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The Royal Palace of Gödöllő

“Nothing distresses me here. It is like living in a village. I can walk, I can go for a ride alone!”


Gödöllő Hills had been a hunting ground since the Middle Ages before Gödöllő became a royal estate. Sisi was particularly fond of the English style hunts, she even had private hounds. On the hunts and greyhound races the top members of the Hungarian aristocracy were also involved. When the weather was bad and cold, the event took place in the riding hall, of course, with the participation of the Queen, who was considered to be one of the greatest riders.

Photos: Inner yard now and then: 1-2. Inner yard; 2-3. Lower park then  © Royal Palace of Gödöllő

Sisi was an excellent rider, and she could enjoy this passion in the surrounding forest. She kept 34 riding horses and 36 carriage horses on the estate. She made Gödöllő be the centre of horse shows and English style hunts. In addition to the hunts, agar and horse races were also held here. In the 1860s and 1870s Gödöllő became the Hungarian centre of the equestrian sports. Gödöllő was Elisabeth’s land. Her laws ruled here, which were unrelated to rank and protocol. Guests were not chosen according to their nobility but (also) according to their riding skills. Elisabeth gathered the best riders of Austria-Hungary around herself.

The atmosphere of Gödöllő Court resembled to that of the Possenhofen one, where Elisabeth spent her pretty happy childhood. The atmosphere was very intimate in the Hungarian estate. However, Franz Joseph, who came from a rigid and ritual-lover family due to his upbringing, was not used to it. In this atmosphere the spouses got closer to each other because they could spend time together freely on their common passions: love of nature, horse riding and hunting. Photo:  © Royal Palace of Gödöllő

Sisi wrote her mother that she felt free in Gödöllő because there were no relatives (she must have meant her Imperial family and not the Bavarian one), nobody teased her, however, in Vienna it was on the contrary - and continued: “Nothing distresses me here. It is like living in a village. I can walk, I can go for a ride alone!” (Hamann: Erzsébet királyné, 318)

On the occasion of the coronation of 1867, the Hungarian state bought the formal Grassalkovich Palace of Gödöllő for the royal family. The Hungarians got to know that Elisabeth had seen the place earlier and asked her husband to buy that for her. However, the Emperor refused to do so (although he was extremely economical, he usually financed all the things her wife wanted) due to financial reasons, referring to the recent war (Austro-Prussian War): "You can visit the wounded soldiers in Gödöllő if you wish, but do not look at it as if we wanted to purchase it, because I do not have any money now. In these hard times we must economise. The Prussians have caused terrible damage to our family estates, too. It will take years to recover. (...) Almost half of the horses must be sold and we will be forced to live very modestly", he wrote to his wife in the August of 1866.

Photos:  © Royal Palace of Gödöllő

So choosing and buying this palace and its estate was a noble gesture from the Hungarians towards their beloved Queen. The royal couple did not accept this generous gift, they only used the mansion and estate, so formally it was still owned by the Hungarian state.

This is how the complex became the residence of the royal family from 1867. The court stayed here mainly in spring and autumn. The autumn stays often took several months longer, until New Year’s Day. Elisabeth liked to celebrate her ”name day” (19th November) and her birthday (24th December), which was at Christmas in Gödöllő. Her “name day” was a celebration for the whole village. The locals saluted to their beloved Queen with serenade and torchlight procession. At Christmas and in New Year’s Eve the royal couple supported the poor with donation of money, clothes and toys.

To be continued: The Suites of Elisabeth and Franz Joseph


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Works cited: Photos  © Royal Palace of Gödöllő
Brigitte Hamann: Erzsébet királyné. Európa Könyvkiadó, 2012
Kovács Éva Erzsébet királyné Gödöllőn. Erzsébet, a magyarok királynéja. Rubicon, Budapest, 2001
Varga Kálmán: A Gödöllői Kastély évszázadai. Műemlékek Állami Gondoksága, Budapest, 2003
Gödöllői kalauz. Városi Múzeum, Gödöllő, 1999
Gödöllői Királyi Kastély. Tájak-Korok-Múzeumok Kiskönyvtára 510. Szám. 1997