The Year of Empress Elisabeth – Sisi & Marie Valerie (Part one)




marie valerie
(public domain)

It had been nearly ten years since Empress Elisabeth had given birth to her third child. And yet, shortly after being crowned Queen of Hungary, Elisabeth let go of her reluctance to have another child and gave the Hungarians the gift of another child. She was also determined to raise this child herself.

Three months before the expected birth, Elisabeth left Vienna and settled down in Budapest. On 22 April 1868, Elisabeth gave birth to a daughter named Marie Valerie. Gossip immediately flew around the court that the father was not Elisabeth’s husband, Franz Joseph, but rather Gyula Andrássy. This only made Elisabeth more determined to avoid the Viennese court, and there is no evidence that anyone other than Franz Joseph was Marie Valerie’s father.

The christening of the newborn Archduchess took place in the castle in Budapest. Her godparents were Elisabeth’s two sisters, Marie Sophie and Mathilde. However, the celebrations in Hungary gave rise to snide comments in Vienna. Archduchess Therese wrote, “This Hungarian christening truly outrages me, but most of all because the Emperor was so coolly received at the theatre. That act shows what an ungrateful nation this is!”1 Nevertheless, Elisabeth became devoted to the little girl, perhaps excessively so. She later said, “Now I know what happiness a child brings – now that I have finally had the courage to love her and keep her with me.”2 Meanwhile, Marie Valerie’s elder siblings Gisela and Rudolf grew up mostly without their mother, and it appeared that they “belonged entirely to the father!”3

Elisabeth and Marie Valerie spent the better part of 1869 in Hungary or Bavaria, which led to criticism from the court. Elisabeth continued to miss significant events on the court calendar, with one Countess writing, “One was furious, if she had not participated this morning, a revolution surely would have broken out.”4 The significant age difference between the three siblings meant that Marie Valerie was just five years old when Gisela was married to Prince Leopold of Bavaria. It also meant that the sisters barely had a relationship at first, though Marie Valerie still cared for her. Her brother Rudolf married Princess Stéphanie of Belgium in 1881.

In 1874, Elisabeth and Marie Valerie travelled to England, for Marie Valerie required ocean bathing for her health and the Isle of Wight was most suited for that. The Empress paid a courtesy call on Queen Victoria, who professed herself disappointed with her beauty. As Elisabeth dragged her daughter along to wherever her whims took her, Marie Valerie received some education from a Hungarian bishop, and she had a governess by the name of Miss Throckmorton. She learned to speak French, German, Hungarian and English. She also had a particular interest in history. She also had some company in the form of a macaque, which became her playmate. The monkey was eventually taken from them and put in the zoo at Schönbrunn. From 1878, Marie Valerie kept a diary, which has been left to us. On the topic of Napoleon, she wrote, “Oh that Napoleon. That was a terrible man! But after that invasion in Russia, he didn’t fare well any longer; they were cheeky those Russians!!!5 She was close friends with Aglae von Auersperg, who was born the same year she was.

Despite, or perhaps due to, Elisabeth’s love for everything Hungarian, Marie Valerie developed a strong aversion to anything Hungarian. She had to ask her father if he would speak to her in German, rather than the Hungarian preferred by her mother. She was, however, afraid to share this with her mother and continued to speak to her in Hungarian. Marie Valerie deeply loved her father and was often caught between her parents. She wrote in her diary after one particular fight, “What I most wanted to do was fall at his feet and kiss his paternal imperial hands, even as I felt – God forgive me -a momentary anger at Mama, since her unbridled love and exaggerated groundless concern place me in such an embarrassing and false position.”6

The 13-year-old Marie Valerie hosted her first adolescent ball in the Hofburg Palace in 1882. Slightly panicked, she wrote, “Me – me Valerie, the clumsy teen who has hardly seen many people. I’m supposed to go to a ball. I’m supposed to dance with 16 gentlemen! To behave neatly and yet not too reserved. I’m supposed to say something to all those strange girls!!!?”7 Despite her worries, she did quite well.

Elisabeth wanted her daughter to marry for love, and Marie Valerie had quite a few admirers. Her sister Gisela tried to match her with Prince Alfons Maria of Bavaria. She found him too talkative and not manly enough. She later said, “I… felt like being looked at by Alfons like a cow at a fair.'”8 Marie Valerie would know her future husband from childhood. His name was Archduke Franz Salvator of Austria-Tuscany. She wrote in her diary, “Franz open and truly honest. He looks into your eyes, so straight-forward, so freely like few people do.”9

On 1 January 1888, Franz Salvator confessed his feelings for her most touchingly. “I believe it’s much better if we speak frankly with each other… so I’d like to tell you – that I like you so much… and… may I have any hopes?” Marie Valerie had to tell him she had promised her mother not to become engaged yet.10 She eventually promised to give him an answer in a year’s time. The fact that Franz Salvator’s resolve remained convinced her parents and brother of his true intentions, and she received their permission.

Read part two here

  1. The reluctant Empress by Brigitte Hamann p.179
  2. The reluctant Empress by Brigitte Hamann p.180
  3. The reluctant Empress by Brigitte Hamann p.187
  4. The reluctant Empress by Brigitte Hamann p.188
  5. Das tagebuch der Lieblingstocher von Kaiserin Elisabeth p.19
  6. The reluctant Empress by Brigitte Hamann p.333
  7. Das tagebuch der Lieblingstocher von Kaiserin Elisabeth p.27
  8. Haderer, Stefan (2020).” They will call us some strange family.” The diaries of an Austrian Archduchess. Royalty Digest Quarterly 3/2020 p.10
  9. Haderer, Stefan (2020).” They will call us some strange family.” The diaries of an Austrian Archduchess. Royalty Digest Quarterly 3/2020 p.10
  10. Haderer, Stefan (2020).” They will call us some strange family.” The diaries of an Austrian Archduchess. Royalty Digest Quarterly 3/2020 p.10






About Moniek Bloks 2189 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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