On 24 April 1854, at 7 o’clock in the evening, Elisabeth and Franz Joseph were married in the Augustinerkirche in Vienna.
Over 15,000 candles lit the church as they were married, and the splendour was later described with the words, “All that the utmost in luxury, combined with the greatest of riches and truly imperial splendour, is able to offer, dazzles the eye here. In particular, in regard to the jewels, one can surely say that a sea of precious stones and pearls billowed past the marvelling eyes of the assembled crowd. Especially the diamonds seemed to multiply a thousandfold in the gold of the sumptuous illumination and made a magical impression by the wealth of their colour.”1
Elisabeth wore a gown of white and silver, strewn with myrtle blossom and an opal and diamond crown. She was led up the aisle by her mother and her soon-to-be mother-in-law.
The ceremony was performed by the Archbishop of Vienna with the assistance of more than 70 bishops and prelates. When the rings were exchanged, the first salvo was released from the roof of the church, followed by the thunder of the cannons. The wedding address, which was apparently rather long, earned the Archbishop the nickname “Cardinal Plauscher” (blabbermouth).2 After the religious rites, the ceremonial procession returned the bride and groom to the Hofburg, where they would hold an audience.
In the audience chamber, ambassadors and envoys were introduced to the new Empress. After this, they moved to the Hall of Mirrors, where the ladies of the diplomatic corps were waiting in full regalia to be introduced to Elisabeth. Then came the introductions to the Royal Household in the Hall of Ceremony. This is where Elisabeth panicked and fled the room in tears. She was able to pull herself together again, but when she returned, she was too timid to make conversation. However, protocol dictated that no one was allowed to speak unless when replying to questions. Countess Esterházy saved the day by asking the ladies to say a few words to the Empress.
Elisabeth then spotted her cousins Adelgunde and Hildegard of Bavaria and refused to let them kiss her hand and wished to give them a hug instead. However, the outraged expressions of the crowd told her she had committed a faux-pas, and she indignantly defended herself, “But they are cousins!”3 Archduchess Sophie reminded her of her new position and insisted on following the protocol. At the end of all the introductions came a gala banquet.
At the end of the gala banquet, the bride and groom were led to Elisabeth’s rooms. Archduchess Sophie wrote, “Ludovika and I led the young bride to her rooms. I left her with her mother and stayed in the small room next to the bedroom until she was in bed. Then I fetched my son and led him to his young wife, whom I saw once more, to wish her a good night. She hid her pretty face, surrounded by the masses of her beautiful hair, in her pillow, as a frightened bird hides in its nest.”4 Due to a lack of privacy, we know that the actual consummation did not take place until the third night.