Franz Joseph & Sisi – “If only he were not the Emperor!” (Part one)

(public domain)

The future Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria was born on 18 August 1830 as the eldest son of Archduke Franz Karl of Austria, the third son of Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor, and Princess Sophie of Bavaria. As such, he was not a direct heir to the throne, but his uncle Ferdinand I had up to twenty epileptic attacks a day and was unable to father children with his wife, Maria Anna of Savoy. Thus, his eventual succession seemed to be in the cards. His mother, Sophie, certainly hoped for it, while his father seemed less inclined to want to rule.

Franzi became Sophie’s pride and joy, and she supplied him with a royal household befitting his station. Several children were to follow: Maximilian in 1832, Karl Ludwig in 1833, Maria Anna in 1835 (died young) and Ludwig Viktor in 1842. Baroness Maria von Sturmfeder was selected as a governess, and she took care of the children until they were six years old.

Franz Joseph spent most of his childhood in Vienna, though some summers were spent in Bad Ischl. Sophie taught her son to read, and his grandfather began teaching him Italian. Franz Joseph was quite distressed when his grandfather died in 1835, leaving the throne to his uncle Ferdinand.

At the age of six, Count Heinrich Bombelles was appointed as his tutor, and an intense education regime began. Starting at 13 hours a week, this quickly went up to 32 hours a week and later 50 hours a week. He was often up at six and worked until 9 in the evening. From the age of 12, military training was also included in his daily regime. He was most enthusiastic about it and was very proud when he received the brevet of regimental colonel in the Dragoons for his 13th birthday. He was brought up to be an Emperor, but perhaps he did not realise how soon his reign would actually begin.

The revolution of 1848 changed everything for Franz Joseph. Ferdinand tried to make concessions by granting the press freedom and promising a constitution. However, the revolution flared up again, and in early October 1848, Ferdinand and Maria Anna settled in the Prince-Archbishop’s residence in Olomouc. Prince Felix Schwarzenberg was appointed Minister-President of the Austrian Empire, and he worked behind the scenes with Archduchess Sophie, who now saw her chance to place her son on the throne. She persuaded her unambitious husband to waive his succession rights in favour of her son. On 2 December 1848, at the residence in Olomouc, Ferdinand abdicated the throne as his nephew and successor knelt before him. Maria Anna bent down to him to pull him close, hugged him and kissed him. Ferdinand told the new Emperor, “God bless you! Be good, and God will protect you.”1 He was still only 18 years old, but he was now the ruler of a vast empire.

The question of his marriage began around 1852 when a few candidates were considered. It became a more pressing matter when Franz Joseph survived an assassination attempt. Sophie invited her sister Ludovika and her nieces Helene and Elisabeth to Bad Ischl to celebrate the Emperor’s birthday. On 16 August 1853, Ludovika and her daughters arrived in Bad Ischl, but the visit was off to a bad start with their luggage missing, and they were still dressed in black mourning clothes. Nevertheless, the women were invited to tea by Sophie, and it was at this tea that they would also meet the Emperor. It was love at first sight for Franz Joseph, but his chosen bride was Helene’s younger sister. Sophie later wrote, “He beamed, and you know his face can beam when he is happy. The dear little one did not suspect the deep impression she had made on Franzi. Until the moment her mother spoke to her about it, she was filled by nothing but the shyness and timidity inspired in her by the many people around her.”2

The following evening at the ball, Helene was dressed in a white silk gown, which complemented her complexion much more than the black mourning clothes. The Emperor danced the cotillion with Elisabeth and presented her with his nosegay. Elisabeth later said that she did not realise the significance of it and that it had made her feel self-conscious.3

On the Emperor’s actual birthday the following day, he had asked his mother to enquire if Elisabeth “would have him.” And while Elisabeth burst into tears upon being asked, she vowed to do everything she could do to make him happy. She exclaimed, “I love the Emperor so much! If only he were not the Emperor!”4 Sophie later wrote, “That is what intimidates her – her future position. The Emperor was literally enraptured when I told him these moving words by his bride since they express such deep and unassuming understanding for him.”5 Elisabeth’s mother later commented, “One does not send the Emperor of Austria packing.”6

Ludovika reported to Sophie that Elisabeth had accepted the Emperor’s proposal. On the 19th, Franz Joseph appeared in Elisabeth’s room in the hotel and was allowed to be alone with her. Ludovika later wrote, “I left him alone with Sisi, since he wanted to speak to her himself, and when he came back to my room, he looked quite pleased, quite cheerful, and she did too – as is proper for a happy bride.”7

On 24 April 1854, at 7 o’clock in the evening, Elisabeth and Franz Joseph were married in the Augustinerkirche in Vienna. Elisabeth wore a gown of white and silver, strewn with myrtle blossom and an opal and diamond crown. She was led up the aisle by her mother and her soon-to-be mother-in-law. At the end of the gala banquet, the bride and groom were led to Elisabeth’s rooms. Archduchess Sophie wrote, “Ludovika and I led the young bride to her rooms. I left her with her mother and stayed in the small room next to the bedroom until she was in bed. Then I fetched my son and led him to his young wife, whom I saw once more, to wish her a good night. She hid her pretty face, surrounded by the masses of her beautiful hair, in her pillow, as a frightened bird hides in its nest.”8 Due to a lack of privacy, we know that the actual consummation did not take place until the third night.

Read part two here.

  1. Francis Joseph by Steven Beller p.49
  2. The reluctant Empress by Brigitte Hamann p.13
  3. The reluctant Empress by Brigitte Hamann p.14
  4. The reluctant Empress by Brigitte Hamann p.15
  5. The reluctant Empress by Brigitte Hamann p.15
  6. The reluctant Empress by Brigitte Hamann p.15
  7. The reluctant Empress by Brigitte Hamann p.17
  8. The reluctant Empress by Brigitte Hamann p.46

About Moniek Bloks 2745 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.