In 1837, Princess Ludovika was pregnant for the fourth time. Her marriage to Duke Maximilian Joseph in Bavaria was in shambles, but that didn’t stop the regular arrival of new babies. Her first child Ludwig Wilhelm was born in 1831, followed by the short-lived Wilhelm Karl in 1832 and Helene in 1834.
On 24 December, Ludovika was planning to spend the evening with her mother, Caroline, when she suddenly went into labour at the Herzog-Max-Palais in Munich. The birth happened quickly, and the little one was born with one milk tooth, which was considered to be a good omen. Even more importantly, the newborn appears to be healthy. Just two days later, she was baptized as Elisabeth Amalie Eugenie. The godmothers were Ludovika’s sisters, the twins Elisabeth, later Queen of Prussia and Amalie, later Queen of Saxony, as well as Ludovika’s niece Eugénie de Beauharnais who held the child as she was being baptized. Unfortunately, Elisabeth’s father was not present, and when she was just one month old, he set out for a long journey to Egypt.
He came home just after their tenth wedding anniversary, and Ludovika soon found herself pregnant again. On 9 August 1839, Ludovika gave birth to a third – but second surviving – son at Possenhofen. He was named Karl Theodor. On 4 October 1841, she gave birth to another daughter – named Marie Sophie. Shortly after the birth, it became apparent that Ludovika’s mother, Caroline, was dying. Ludovika and her children travelled to Munich as soon as she was able and she was so shocked by her mother’s appearance that she herself fell ill. On 13 November 1841, Caroline died surrounded by her family. Once again, Ludovika’s husband was nowhere to be found when she needed him.
In 1843, Ludovika found herself pregnant once more. On 30 September 1843, Ludovika gave birth to a daughter named Mathilde Ludovika. Ludovika’s eighth pregnancy ended in the stillbirth of a son on 8 December 1845. On 22 February 1847, she gave birth to her ninth child – a daughter named Sophie Charlotte. Her tenth and final pregnancy ended on 7 December 1849 with the birth of a healthy son named Maximilian Emanuel. Ludovika was now 41 years old, and she had spent the better part of her married life in continuous pregnancies. It was a miracle that she had survived.
In the spring of 1848, Ludovika took Helene, Elisabeth and Karl Theodor to Tyrol to visit her sister Archduchess Sophie. It would be the first time that Elisabeth would set foot on Austrian soil. It was a difficult time in Austria, with uprisings and rebellions eventually leading to the abdication of the Emperor and the accession of Franz Joseph in December.
Elisabeth was a shy child, and she had grown up in the nature of the Castle of Possenhofen. There was very little official court protocol in place, and she enjoyed horse riding, fishing and mountain climbing. Her playmates were not only her own siblings but also the children of the local peasants. She was not considered the beauty of the family – that honour went to her sister Helene. An English woman named Mary Newbold had been appointed as a governess for Helene and Elisabeth around 1840. This could explain why the two women were so proficient in English and often used the language to communicate. Luise von Wulffen later took on Elisabeth, while Luise’s sister Wilhelmina later took on Helene. There was also a tutor who taught all the children music, and he taught the boys Greek and Latin. In early 1850, the von Wulffen sisters left Ludovika’s service, and she went on the hunt for new governesses.
She chose Amalie Tänzl von Tratzberg, who took up her position in November 1851 as the governess for Marie Sophie, Mathilde Ludovika and Sophie Charlotte. For Elisabeth, she settled on Camilla, Countess von Otting-Fünfstetten. She was a relative, and she and Ludovika shared a grandfather in Frederick Michael, Count Palatine of Zweibrücken. She later wrote about Camilla, “Things are going quite well with Camilla Otting so far; Sisi is growing fond of her; she is very well-mannered and well-educated. She is very lively […] has pleasant conversation. […] I hope that she will be useful to my daughters, but she is so young and looks so young that I cannot let her go out alone except in the garden.”1 Elisabeth’s niece Amelie later wrote, “From her, I think we all inherited a great love of the outdoors, from the woods to the meadows, to spending time in the fresh air to hours of walking.”2
From her mother, Elisabeth inherited a love of animals. When she was 11, Ludovika gave her two lambs, which became so tame that they followed Elisabeth everywhere. At the age of 15, she had her first riding lesson, and she later wrote to her former governess, “You can imagine how much we are delighted about this. Although I have only had three lessons, I have already ridden three horses, and from now on, I am allowed to ride on Lady.”3
When Elisabeth returned home in 1853 as the Emperor’s fiance, she was set to undergo an intense course of study. She would need to transform into a woman worthy of becoming an Empress.