Sisi & Countess Marie Larisch von Moennich – Ostracised from court (Part one)

marie larisch
(public domain)

Countess Marie Larisch von Moennich was born on 24 February 1858 as Marie Louise Elizabeth Mendel as the illegitimate daughter of Ludwig Wilhelm, Duke in Bavaria (the eldest brother of Empress Elisabeth) and the actress Henriette Mendel.

When Henriette fell pregnant for the second time, she and Ludwig Wilhelm contracted a morganatic marriage. They were married on 28 May 1859, shortly after Ludwig Wilhelm officially renounced any succession rights. Henriette was created Baroness von Wallersee by the King of Bavaria shortly before the wedding, making Marie a Baroness von Wallersee as well. Their second child – a son – lived for just a few months. Elisabeth was one of the few people who supported her brother’s decision, and she soon invited the newlyweds to Schönbrunn. Marie was educated at home and, by her own admission, “hated all of my many excellent and long-suffering governesses.”1

Marie vividly remembered her first meeting with her aunt Elisabeth, whom she described as a “fairy queen.” She wrote in her memoirs, “I gazed at her spellbound, for with some curious intuition I already felt her influence over me, and I thought that here was a fairy Queen who had come straight from the realms of Romance, having temporarily discarded her gauzy wings and shimmering robes for a green and black plaid burnous, grey had, and a long-trained back dress.”2 She had brought along Archduchess Marie Valerie to play with Marie. Some years would pass before Marie met her aunt again. However, Elisabeth would later befriend the young Marie, and at the age of 16, Elisabeth took her under her wing and invited her to court.

By then, Marie had grown into a pretty young girl with musical talents. She sang and played the piano and was an accomplished horsewoman. However, not everyone was amused to see the daughter of an actress invited to court. Countess Festetics, a lady-in-waiting, wrote, “I find Marie Wallersee pretty. And I wish I liked her. I do like her in many ways, but there is something which holds me back. I can hardly bring myself to write it for fear of being unfair, but I have a feeling, and I don’t mean it unkindly, that she is not sincere – not herself, as if she were acting the whole time.”3 Young Marie had been all too willing to flirt with her young cousin Rudolf.

Perhaps to put an end to Marie’s ambitions, Elisabeth arranged her marriage to Count Georg Larisch von Moennich. In her memoirs, Marie described him at their first meeting as “a shy little lieutenant, whose somewhat plain countenance was disfigured by spots.”4 Even when Georg’s uncle told her that he was “queer, his temper uncertain and he is obstinate”, Marie stubbornly told him that her aunt wished the marriage. And so, Georg duly proposed that very same day. However, she wrote that as he kissed her, “I felt like a dead creature.”5

They were married at Gödöllő on 20 October 1877, and her aunt had taken care of all the arrangements. The Emperor had sent her magnificent lace for her wedding gown, while Elisabeth had given her a pearl necklace. From her cousin the Crown Prince she received a black pearl brooch, which she had always dreaded wearing, and he teased her for being superstitious. When Marie left for her honeymoon, Elisabeth held her close and cried. The honeymoon was spent in Paris, and from there, they went to London, where they were to meet with Elisabeth. Unfortunately, the marriage was soon off to a bad start, and the couple was horribly mismatched. Marie wrote sadly, “A wave of bitter anger swept over me. I had been sacrificed on the altar of a loveless union all to no purpose, and I felt like a prisoner for whom there is no escape.”6 Georg intended to keep Marie and Elisabeth separate, and they went to live mainly at Castle Pardubitz where Marie gave birth to her first two children: Franz-Joseph in 1878 and Marie Valerie in 1879.

When they returned to Vienna for the season, they initially rented a flat, but after a few years, they gave up the flat and stayed in hotels whenever they were in Vienna. Marie went into the Viennese society as much as possible and tried to see her aunt as much as her husband would allow. In 1881, Crown Prince Rudolf married Princess Stéphanie of Belgium, whom Marie only encountered briefly at first. Rudolf and Stéphanie’s only child – Elisabeth – was born in 1883.

Marie is perhaps best remembered in history for the role she played in the tragedy at Mayerling. Marie, close as she was to the Imperial Family, knew where the skeletons were buried, and after gambling away her husband’s small fortune, she used this as leverage. Eager to keep his cousin quiet, Rudolf often paid off her debts. Nevertheless, in this sordid arrangement, Marie also found herself introducing her cousin to new lovers. Marie knew Baroness Helene Vetsera and her family well – she had even embarked on an affair with Helene’s brother Heinrich as his regiment was conveniently stationed near the Larisch estate. Two of her children: Marie Henriette (born 1884) and Heinrich Georg (born 1886) were likely fathered by him rather than her husband. Helene had once been Rudolf’s lover, now it seemed that her daughter was to take her place, and Marie was to facilitate this. It was only after the tragedy had happened that Marie claimed that Mary had sought out Rudolf on her own and that the relationship had surprised her.

Read part two here.

  1. My Past by Marie Countess Larisch p.20
  2. My Past by Marie Countess Larisch p.22
  3. The reluctant Empress by Brigitte Hamann p.283-284
  4. My Past by Marie Countess Larisch p.83
  5. My Past by Marie Countess Larisch p.90
  6. My Past by Marie Countess Larisch p.90

About Moniek Bloks 2734 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.

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