Sisi and Franz Joseph’s engagement in Bad Ischl

(public domain)

On 18 August 1853, a 15-year-old girl changed Austrian history when she became the fiance of her 23-year-old first cousin, Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria. Princess Elisabeth, Duchess in Bavaria, was a shy girl who had grown up relatively carefree and without much care for protocol.

Her mother, Ludovika, had already been searching for a suitable husband for her second daughter, but cautious enquiries into the Saxon court had not led to an engagement. Elisabeth was the younger sister of Helene, who was not only considered to be more beautiful but also better educated. Franz Joseph’s mother, Sophie, was Ludovika’s sister, and she had initially set her sights on a Hohenzollern match. Franz Joseph fell in love with Princess Anna of Prussia, a niece of the Prussian King, but she was already engaged. Her next target was Princess Sidonie of Saxony, who turned out to be sickly, and she did not please Franz Joseph. Her third target became Bavaria, preferably one of the daughters of her sister. Though it has been said that Helene was specifically planned as the intended fiance, there is no evidence in their correspondence. If there had been a plan, it went terribly awry anyway.

Sophie invited Ludovika, Helene and her younger sister Elisabeth to Bad Ischl to celebrate the Emperor’s birthday. On 16 August 1853, Ludovika and her daughters arrived in Bad Ischl, but the visit was off to a bad start with their luggage missing, and they were still dressed in black mourning clothes. Nevertheless, the women were invited to tea by Sophie, and it was at this tea that they would also meet the Emperor. It was love at first sight for the Emperor, but his chosen bride was Helene’s younger sister. Sophie later wrote, “He beamed, and you know his face can beam when he is happy. The dear little one did not suspect the deep impression she had made on Franzi. Until the moment her mother spoke to her about it, she was filled by nothing but the shyness and timidity inspired in her by the many people around her.”1

The following evening at the ball, Helene was dressed in a white silk gown, which complemented her complexion a lot more than the black mourning clothes. The Emperor danced the cotillion with Elisabeth and presented her with his nosegay. Elisabeth later said that she did not realise the significance of it and that it had made her feel self-conscious.2

On the Emperor’s actual birthday the following day, he had asked his mother to enquire if Elisabeth “would have him.” And while Elisabeth burst into tears upon being asked, she vowed to do everything she could do to make him happy. She exclaimed, “I love the Emperor so much! If only he were not the Emperor!”3 Sophie later wrote, “That is what intimidates her – her future position. The Emperor was literally enraptured when I told him these moving words by his bride since they express such deep and unassuming understanding for him.”4 Elisabeth’s mother later commented, “One does not send the Emperor of Austria packing.”5

Ludovika reported to Sophie that Elisabeth had accepted the Emperor’s proposal. On the 19th, Franz Joseph appeared in Elisabeth’s room in the hotel and was allowed to be alone with her. Ludovika later wrote, “I left him alone with Sisi, since he wanted to speak to her himself, and when he came back to my room, he looked quite pleased, quite cheerful, and she did too – as is proper for a happy bride.”6

Elisabeth later bitterly commented, “Marriage is an absurd arrangement. One is sold as a 15-year-old child and makes a vow one does not understand and then regrets for 30 years or more, and which one can never undo again.”7

On 24 August, the Wiener Zeitung published the official announcement of the engagement. The wedding was planned for the following year, in April.

  1. The reluctant Empress by Brigitte Hamann p.13
  2. The reluctant Empress by Brigitte Hamann p.14
  3. The reluctant Empress by Brigitte Hamann p.15
  4. The reluctant Empress by Brigitte Hamann p.15
  5. The reluctant Empress by Brigitte Hamann p.15
  6. The reluctant Empress by Brigitte Hamann p.17
  7. The reluctant Empress by Brigitte Hamann p.18

About Moniek Bloks 2701 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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