On 20 April 1854, the 16-year-old Elisabeth left Munich, the city where she had been born, to be married to her first cousin, Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria.
The young Princess heard mass in the private chapel of the Herzog-Max-Palais before she began to say goodbye to the servants. She had brought a little gift for all of them and shook their hands in farewell. Once she was Empress, she would no longer be allowed to shake hands. Reportedly, tears flowed freely on both sides.
Following farewells in the family, they were joined by the abdicated King Ludwig I of Bavaria and his successor, King Maximillian II of Bavaria, who were wearing the uniforms of the Austrian regiments. They were joined by their wives, Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen and Marie of Prussia, and others members of the Wittelsbach family.
By then, crowds had gathered outside the palace, and the people shouted joyously at Elisabeth in her carriage. She rose to her feet, crying, and waved her handkerchief at them.
This first stage of the journey would take them by carriage to Straubing. In Straubing, a steamer lay waiting in the Danube. The reception there included speeches, girls dressed in all white, flowers, and the waving of flags.
The following day, the steamer docked in Passau, where a triumphal arch had been erected at the Bavarian border. Two decorated steamers escorted the future Empress from the border through Upper Austria. At six p.m., the steamers arrived in Linz, the first official stop on Austrian soil.
Elisabeth was welcomed in Linz by the mayor, the military, schoolchildren, clergy and the aristocracy. And even better, her future husband had come to welcome her as a surprise. He had taken the steamer early that morning from Vienna to Linz. That evening, there was a gala performance at the Linz theatre of Die Rosen der Elisabeth (The Roses of Elisabeth), followed by an illumination of the city and a torchlight parade. Franz Joseph left in the middle of the night to be able to welcome Elisabeth officially in Vienna.
At 8 a.m. on 22 April, the Franz Joseph side-wheeler set sail from Linz. It was such a magnificent ship at the time that it was all over the newspapers. Elisabeth’s cabin was reportedly decorated with crimson velvet on the walls, and the deck had been transformed into a living flower garden with a rose arbour where she could retire. Large rose garlands looped down the sides of the ship.
As she headed towards Vienna, thousands of people lined the banks of the Danube to see the bride. Although she must have been exhausted already, Elisabeth stood on deck and waved her handkerchief at them. Shortly before arriving in Nussdorf near Vienna, the party changed clothes and prepared for the grand reception awaiting them. Elisabeth wore a pink silk dress with a full crinoline, with a white lace cap and a small white hat.
As church bells announced the bride’s arrival, Franz Joseph jumped on board the ship before it had even properly docked. He embraced and kissed her in front of a large crowd. Close behind was his mother, Archduchess Sophie. The official part of the welcoming ceremony could now begin. Elisabeth was welcomed by the Imperial family and kissed the hand of her aunt and future mother-in-law. Elisabeth then disembarked the steamer on the arm of her groom.
The party headed in a carriage procession from Nussdorf to Schönbrunn. Franz Joseph sat with Elisabeth’s father, while Elisabeth sat with Franz Joseph’s mother. Upon arrival, Franz Joseph personally opened Elisabeth’s door to lead her into the summer residence. Here, Elisabeth was plunged into a complex ceremony that introduced her to the court. Sophie first introduced all the Archduchesses to Elisabeth, while Franz Joseph introduced the Archdukes. This was followed by the introduction of the high court officials.
After the introduction ceremony, Franz Joseph presented his bride with the wedding gifts. His own gift was a diamond crown with emeralds with a matching diamond waist ornament.
Elisabeth’s new household was headed by Countess Sophie Esterházy, who was a close confidant of Archduchess Sophie and a stickler for etiquette. Elisabeth disliked her from the moment she met her. She had more faith in her chief steward, Prince Lobkowitz and her two young ladies-in-waiting, Countesses Paula Bellegarde and Karoline Lamberg. The rest of her household consisted of a secretary, a lady of the bedchamber, two lady’s maids, two chambermaids, one valet de chamber, a porter, four footmen, one houseman and a chamber woman.
If all these new impressions weren’t enough to exhaust Elisabeth, a large court banquet was held in the evening. Her solemn entry into Vienna was planned for the following day – 23 April.1