Her Royal Highness Duchess Elisabeth Amalie Eugenie was born on Christmas eve on 24 December 1837. She grew up at Possenhofen Castle on the shore of Lake Starnberg in Bavaria, Germany. The family called her Sisi.
Her father was Maximillian, Duke in Bavaria; since there could only be one Duke of Bavaria all the other members of the Wittelsbach family used the title Duke in Bavaria.
Maximillian, Duke in Bavaria and Princess Ludovika of Bavaria, parents of Sisi
Her mother was a real Princess; Princess Ludovika of Bavaria was the sixth child of King Maximilian I of Bavaria and Queen Caroline. They were second cousins and the marriage was arranged by their fathers.
Their marriage was not as happy as depicted in the Sissi films. Maximilian had many mistresses and extramarital children. Over the years the relationship improved, especially when Ludovika kind of accepted the affairs of her husband and his frequent absence.
Schloss Possenhofen at Starnberger See.
The childhood of Elisabeth of Bavaria was happy and free, with enough time for horse riding and swimming in the lake with her seven surviving siblings.
She probably also played with the illegitimate children of Duke max. He had many, and some of them often visited at Possenhofen.
It was said he even preferred the company of his illegitimate children above that of the children he had with Ludovika.
Schloss Possenhofen is currently privately owned and has luxurious apartments in it. It is not open to the public but walking around the Starnberger lake you can get a good look at the castle.
Presumably the first photograph ever taken from Elisabeth of Bavaria, showing her as a young girl
Empress Elisabeth in 1897
Princess Sisi meets Emperor Franz Joseph
In 1853 Archduchess Sophie, the mother of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria decided that he should be married to his nice, Duchess Helene in Bavaria, the older sister of Sisi.
She informed her sister princess Ludovika to meet her and her son in the Kaiservilla in Bad Ischl. The fact that Ludovika decided to take her younger daughter Sisi along on the trip changed the course of history.
Emperor Franz Joseph defied his dominant mother for the first time in his life and choose Sisi over Helene. Sisi was 15 years old at the time of their engagement, which was announced five days after they met! Eight months later they were married in Vienna and Sisi became Kaiserin Elisabeth of Austria.
Duchess Elisabeth ( to the right) and her older sister Duchess Hélène. ( I can see why Franz Joseph preferred the younger sister!)
Duchess Helene is devastated, as you can imagine. She thought she was gonna be the new Empress of Austria!
You'll be glad to hear that she ends up well, happily married with another guy. Read more...
This painting shows Elisabeth of Bavaria holding a medallion with the picture of Franz Joseph.
Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Sisi
Empress Elisabeth of Austria
Having spent her childhood in the relative freedom she could never get used to the protocol of the Habsburg court life.
From the start, she had a very bad relationship with her mother-in-law. Archduchess Sophie's belief was that the king's consort's only ambition should be to produce an heir to the throne. She should not have anything to do with state affairs and, in fact, has no value what so ever if she is not mothering a crown prince.
Empress Sisi did not agree with her on any of this. She was especially committed to the Italian and Hungarian parts of the empire. She would try to influence Franz Joseph on the politics related to these regions whenever possible.
The Children of Empress Sisi
Sisi gave birth to four children. The first two were daughters; Sophie (5 March 1855) and Gisela (15 July 1856). Archduchess Sophie immediately took control over the children, taking them away from the care of their mother. Sisi should spend all her time doing her duties as the Empress of Austria.
|Archduchess Sophie of Austria (5 March 1855 – 29 May 1857)
|Archduchess Gisela of Austria (12 July 1856 – 27 July 1932)
|Archduke Rudolf of Austria, Crown Prince of Austria and Hungary (21 August 1858 – 30 January 1889)
|Archduchess Marie Valerie of Austria (22 April 1868 – 6 September 1924)
In 1857 Sisi took both her children on a trip to Hungary, against the advice of both Sophie and the Court physicians since the children were not well.
The trip ended in a tragedy. Princess Sophie died, probably of typhus, only three years old. This caused the first of Sisi's many depressions and of course reinforced the opinion of the Archduchess that Elisabeth of Bavaria was not fit for motherhood and should not be in charge of the royal children.
Sisi, Franz Joseph, Sophie and Gisela in 1856
In 1858 Sisi finally gave birth to the long-awaited Crown Prince. Prince Rudolf was born on August 21, 1858 in Laxemburg Castle, and was also taken away from Sisi immediately. He was raised by tutors and at the early age of six, Rudolf started his education to become emperor of Austria. Sisi was blocked out of the upbringing and education of her children.
Since she had no control over the most aspects of her personal life empress Sisi started to work on her own body. Through rigid workouts, fastening and tight lacing she got the slender wasp waste looks that she is famous for.
Next to exercise and horse riding her new passion became travelling. She felt she was not needed at court anyway and often left the country for months on end.
After the birth of Crown prince Rudolf she refused her husband in her bedroom most of the time and distanced herself even more from her husband children and court life.