On 2 May 1881, Stéphanie left Belgium for her new life in Austria. When Stéphanie entered the specially prepared train, she lost control and began to cry. Her mother held her and scolded her for breaking down. She was so exhausted that she fell asleep before they had left Belgium and did not wake until Augsburg in Bavaria. The followed day, she was met by her future husband at Salzburg. He later took a train to Vienna while Stéphanie followed him on 6 May. At Schönbrunn, Stéphanie met her future family-in-law. On the morning of her wedding, her mother took her to take mass in the court chapel. Afterwards, her mother helped Toni to dress Stéphanie for her wedding. Her wedding dress was made of heavy silver brocade with garlands and silver roses embroidered on its long train. Her veil was of Brussels lace, and it was fastened with a diamond brooch. She wore a tiara given to her by the Emperor, and she wore the Order of the Star and Cross. She later wrote, “As for my feelings at this moment, they were much more those of a martyr than of a bride.”1
After the formal ceremony, Stéphanie and Rudolf changed into their travelling clothes. She said goodbye to her beloved Toni, her parents and her sister. They travelled to Laxenburg, where they were to spend their honeymoon – the carriage ride was completely silent. They arrived in rooms that had not been done up, making Stéphanie feel even more unwanted. She later described her wedding night in her memoirs, “What a night! What torments, what horror! I had not had the ghost of a notion of what lay before me but had been led to the altar as an ignorant child. My illusions, my youthful dreams, were shattered. I thought I should die of my disillusionment.”2 She began to pray for the day they would depart for Hungary – which she knew from tales told by her mother.
The Hungarians received her with much love. The Belgian colours were displayed everywhere, and the Belgian national anthem sounded along the way. At the end of May, they finally entered the capital city. Stéphanie finally felt happy again. Upon being received in the Upper and Lower Houses, Stéphanie wore the Hungarian national dress with a gold-embroidered veil, and she had learned a Hungarian speech by heart. The exertions of the trips affected Stéphanie, and once back in Vienna, she was ordered to rest for 14 days. Her sister Louise was there to support her. Hardly had she recovered before she was taken to Prague for a visit. They were greeted by the Dowager Empress, Maria Anna of Savoy, who lived there. The newlyweds spent the summer in Salzburg, which did Stéphanie much good.
Once back in Vienna, Stéphanie rarely saw her husband, and he often went shooting. Despite not being present much, he was a controlling man, and he often read the letters Stéphanie wrote to her parents before allowing them to be posted. He gave orders that no one was to come into her chambers while he was not there. Empress Elisabeth – who detested official functions – handed much of her responsibilities to Stéphanie. Overall, Elisabeth strongly disliked her new daughter-in-law and the Belgian court she came from. Elisabeth wrote of Stéphanie in her poems and described her as a “mighty bumpkin” with “long, fake tresses” and “cunningly watchful eyes.”3 If Elisabeth wanted to hurt Stéphanie’s feelings, she intentionally alluded to her aunt Charlotte, who had once been married to Franz Joseph’s brother Maximilian and was now wasting away in a castle in Belgium. Stéphanie was highly critical of Elisabeth’s lack of a sense of duty, which only made matters between them worse.
The following winter, Stéphanie also found herself pregnant. She wrote in her memoirs, “I had no rest, as I was obliged to appear at all ceremonies, now here, now there!”4 In November, she was taken to visit Transylvania, where Rudolf had rented a castle from where he would go hunting. The pregnancy improved the relationship between Stéphanie and Rudolf, and Stéphanie was grateful for it. In early August, Stéphanie’s mother arrived in Austria, as did her sister Louise. On 2 September 1883 – after a gruelling labour lasting 26 hours – Stéphanie gave birth to a daughter named Elisabeth. To Rudolf’s disappointment, the baby was not an heir to the throne, and Stéphanie broke down in tears. Nevertheless, after the initial disappointment, Stéphanie thanked God for the treasure he had bestowed upon her. She was named Elisabeth for the sainted ancestress of the House of Arpad – and coincidentally also the name of the current Empress.
When Stéphanie left her confinement, she found that she had grown taller – she was, after all, still a teenager. Rudolf wrote to a friend, “Stéphanie looks blooming as usual, as if nothing has happened. The little one is a stunner of seven pounds, perfectly well and strongly developed, with many hairs on her head, very much alive; she shouts terribly and drinks a great deal without the slightest difficulty.”5 The Empress did not care about being a grandmother and was not close to her granddaughter. Franz Joseph, however, was very fond of the little girl, and she was even allowed to play with his medals.
- H.R.H Princess Stéphanie of Belgium – I was to be Empress p.108
- H.R.H Princess Stéphanie of Belgium – I was to be Empress p.113
- The reluctant Empress by Brigitte Hamann p.323
- H.R.H Princess Stéphanie of Belgium – I was to be Empress p.129
- Twilight of Empire: The Tragedy at Mayerling and the End of the Habsburgs by Greg King and Penny Wilson p.46