Empress Sissi and Her Sisters
H e l e n e Caroline : the eldest of the sisters, Helene (affectionately referred to as Nene), possessed many of the qualities ‘ideal’ in women of the time. She was attractive and polite, strictly pious, and good-natured. No better example of this is shown than when she and her sister Elisabeth- the future empress- traveled to Austria to meet the highest ranking of her many suitors. As the elder daughter of Maximilian von Wittelsbach, Duke in Bavaria, Helene was considered at 20 Germany’s most eligible bride in the beginning of the 1850s. As such, she was the top candidate to be her cousin’s - and emperor of the Austrian Empire - Franz Joseph’s bride. However, when the dashing young Franz met Helen, she failed to live up to the expectations his ambassadors had aroused. Instead Franz fell head over heals in love with her younger sister, Sissi, who was only fifteen at the time, and the following spring the two were wed. The jilted Helene was required not only to smile graciously at her sister’s wedding; she had to curtsey as well, despite having fallen into a deep depression. However, Helene would later go on to be introduced - and eventually married - to the hereditary prince of Thurn a Taxis, leading to a much happier life than that of her younger sister.
Empress E l i z a b e t h : commonly known as Sissi, Elizabeth would become the iconic Empress of Austria upon her marriage to Franz Joseph at the age of 16. The union thrust her into the much more formal Habsburg court life, (the contrast especially stark next to her informal upbringing) for which she was unprepared and which she found awful and uncongenial. To add to her difficulty adapting, early on she was at odds with her mother-in-law, who upon the birth of Sissi’s first child, not only named the child Sophie (after herself) without consulting the mother, but took complete charge of the baby, refusing to allow Elisabeth to breastfeed or otherwise care for her own child. When a second daughter, Gisela, was born a year later, she took that baby away from Elisabeth as well. The death of her only son Rudolf, and his mistress Mary Vetsera, in a murder–suicide at his hunting lodge at Mayerling in 1889 was a blow from which Elisabeth never recovered. She withdrew from court duties and travelled widely, unaccompanied by her family. Moreover, she was obsessively concerned with maintaining her youthful figure and beauty, which was already legendary during her life. While travelling in Geneva in 1898, she was stabbed to death by an Italian anarchist named Luigi Lucheni. Elisabeth was the longest serving Empress of Austria, at 44 years.
M a r i a Sophie : Similarly to her sister Sissi, Maria’s hand was also sought after young for the timer period, and in the winter of 1857, at the age of 16, Marie’s hand was pursued and rewarded to Francis II, the Crown Prince to the kingdom of the Two Sicilies. However, unlike her sister, the marriage was strictly political, as Ferdinand wished to ally himself with the Emperor of Austria (her brother-in-law) a powerful fellow absolutist since his kingdom was being threatened by revolutionary forces. Within a year of marriage, upon the death of the king, her father-in-law, her husband ascended to the throne as Francis II of the Two Sicilies, and Maria Sophie became queen of a realm that was shortly to be overwhelmed by the forces of Giuseppe Garibaldi and Piedmontese army. Fleeing, she sought refuge in the strong coastal fortress of Geata. Still, during the Siege of Gaeta in late 1860 and early 1861, the forces of Victor Emmanuel II bombarded and eventually overcame the defenders. However, it was this brief “last stand of the Bourbons” that gained Maria Sophia the reputation of the strong “warrior queen” that stayed with her for the rest of her life. She was tireless in her efforts to rally the defenders, giving them her own food, caring for the wounded, and daring the attackers to come within range of the fortress cannon. Throughout the life of her unhappy marriage, her wealth and privilege were, to a certain extent, overshadowed by other personal tragedies. While in exile in Rome, Maria fell in love with another man, (supposedly with an officer of the papal guard) and became pregnant by him. At the news, she retreated to her parents’ home, where a family council decided that she must give birth in secret to prevent scandal. Upon the child’s arrival Maria Sophia was forced to promise that she would never see her daughter again.
M a t h i l d e Ludovika : Like her elder sister Maria, Mathilde’s life would follow perpendicularly. On 5 June 1861, Mathilde married Lodovico, Count of Trani. He was heir presumptive to his older half-brother Francis II of the Two Sicilies, who married to aforementioned older sister Marie Sophie. Mathilde was seventeen years old at the time and the groom was twenty-two. They had one daughter. Allegedly, Mathilde also had an affair from which she became pregnant, only this time with a Spanish diplomat by the name of Salvador Bermúdez de Castro, who was a duke in his own right. By him she was said to have had another daughter - who like her sister, she also never met - named Maria.
S o p h i e Charlotte : Like all her sisters, Sophie was a much sought after marriage candidate, with many potential (and powerful) suitors vying for her hand. Still, she refused them all and as thus, was sent to stay with her aunt, Amalie Auguste of Bavaria, then the Queen of Saxony. It was in Saxony Sophie Charlotte met Ferdinand d'Orléans, Duke of Alençon - and grandson of the late Louis Philippe. Soon after, the two married. Reportedly, she had a good relationship with her husband as well as with her sister-in-law Marguerite Adélaïde d'Orléans, wife of Władysław Czartoryski. However, Sophie did not have an overly good relationship with her father-in-law, the widowed Duke of Nemours. She was also the favorite sister of her elder sibling, the Empress Sissi. Sophie died heriocly in a fire at the Bazar de la Charité in Paris on 4 May 1897 when she was 50 years old. She had refused rescue attempts, insisting that all the girls working at the bazaar be saved first. Attempts to have her body identified by her personal maid having failed, her dentist, M. Lavanport, was called in. After two hours examining various bodies he identified hers on the basis of her gold fillings.