Austria's last empress, Zita, who played a key role in a failed effort to negotiate peace during World War I, died Tuesday in Zizers, Switzerland. She was 96. Born in Italy as a princess of Bourbon-Parma, Zita was the widow of Charles I, the last crowned head of the Hapsburg dynasty that ruled for 640 years. Her husband had ruled over a multilingual empire of 50 million people stretching from what is now Poland to the Mediterranean. After the Allied victory in World War I, he agreed to "temporarily relinquish" his imperial rights. He never officially abdicated. Charles died in exile on the Portuguese island of Madeira in 1922, leaving Zita to raise the couple's eight children on her own. The family escaped Hitler's blitzkrieg by fleeing to Canada and the United States, where they lived at Tuxedo Park, N.Y. In the early 1950's, she returned to Europe and settled at Zizers.