There was just one problem. While the Thurn and Taxis family was one of the wealthiest noble families, they were not a royal family and were technically subjects of the King of Bavaria. By March 1858, Maximilian’s father officially asked for Helene’s hand in marriage for his son. However, Helene’s first cousin, King Maximilian II of Bavaria, refused to approve the planned union because of the unequal status of the family but also because the groom’s mother, Baroness Wilhelmine of Dörnberg, belonged to a lower noble family. King Maximilian made any approval for the match dependent on many conditions, making the negotiations very difficult. Ludovika wrote to her sister Sophie, “At first I wanted it very much, for she seemed to want it so much, she would not believe the darker side of it. […] I do not know how it will end.”1 Elisabeth’s help was requested by Ludovika, and Elisabeth would have done anything for Helene. Elisabeth then intervened with her husband, who in turn put in a good word with the King of Bavaria.
At the beginning of May, the King of Bavaria agreed to the match, and Ludovika wrote, “The marriage contract is extremely advantageous for her […] in a way that proves he has great confidence in her. […] He seems to be very fond of her, to be in love with her; but I think he finds her shy, likes to talk to her, and they discuss everything together, seem to understand each other and fit together well.”2
On 24 August 1858, Helene was finally a bride. She married Maximilian at her family home of Possenhofen, but there was one notable absentee – her sister Elisabeth. Elisabeth had given birth to a son just three days before the wedding. The wedding ceremony was performed by Helene’s former religion teacher, Daniel Bonifazius Haneberg, and a choir provided the music. After the wedding ceremony, there was a dinner, followed by a thé dansant in the evening. The following morning, there was a large family breakfast. Then the wedding party boarded a steamboat for a trip around the lake. That evening, the gardens at Possenhofen were festively illuminated. Unfortunately, the planned fireworks were somewhat ruined by rain, which continued well into the shooting match the next day.
Their honeymoon was spent at Biederstein, and the newlyweds even went to visit the Imperial family at Bad Ischl, where her new husband got along well with the Emperor – both enjoyed hunting. Their entry into Regensburg was meticulously planned, and she was welcomed warmly by her new family. Helene cared much for the concerns of her people and devoted her time to charity work. Helene now found herself at the centre of one of the wealthiest courts in Europe. She was soon pregnant with her first child.
On 1 June 1859, Helene gave birth to a daughter named Louise at Schloss Taxis. Just under a year later, on 28 May 1860, a second daughter – named Elisabeth – was born. Shortly after the birth of her second child, Helene received a request from her brother-in-law Franz Joseph. Her sister Elisabeth had been ill for quite some time and was sent to Corfu to recuperate, but she remained in low spirits. Franz Joseph asked Helene to go to Madeira and later also to Corfu to keep Elisabeth company. Ludovika wrote, “Helene is making a great sacrifice, which is so difficult for her, but she says that the Emperor had asked her so urgently that she felt so indescribably sorry for him – the dear Emperor – he is said to be so unhappy and sad.”3 Helene did not like to travel, and she had to leave her two small daughters in the care of their grandmother. Maximilian went with her as far as Trieste, where Helene boarded a steamer.
Ludovika was all too aware of how much Elisabeth needed Helene. She wrote, “Helene may be the only one who can manage it [to bring a favourable influence]; she was always Sisi’s favourite sister.”4 When Helene first saw Elisabeth, she was “frightened” by her “puffiness and pallor”, but soon after her arrival, Elisabeth began to improve, and the sisters made “very beautiful outings by water and by land.”5 Helene was able to return home the following winter, which Elisabeth spent with her children in Venice. Helene would have two more children with her husband. On 24 June 1862, she gave birth to her first son – named Maximilian Maria. A second son named Albert was born on 8 May 1867.
In 1862, Helene and Maximilian had moved into the Erbprinzenpalais, which had been bought for them by Maximilian’s father. When her brother Karl Theodor was set to marry Princess Sophie of Saxony in 1865, the daughter of King John of Saxony, all the siblings were invited. Helene and Elisabeth agreed to meet in Prague to spend a few days together before the wedding.
Helene and Maximilian had a happy marriage, but it was destined to be short. Maximilian became seriously ill – he was bloated, short of breath and often lacked physical strength. He was prescribed the drinking of cures in Karlsbad, but they did not help him. Maximilian died on 26 June 1867 at the age of 35 of kidney failure and “lung paralysis.” Two days later, his body was laid out in the chapel, with Empress Elisabeth and Emperor Franz Joseph among the mourners. The devastated Helene found sanctuary in her childhood home of Possenhofen with her children. Also present there was Archduchess Sophie, who had just learned that her son Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico had been executed. Possenhofen became a house of mourning.