On 21 October 1911, Zita of Bourbon-Parma married the future Emperor Charles I of Austria. They had known each other since childhood, and Zita’s aunt, Maria Theresa of Austria, was also Charles’s step-grandmother. Their engagement had been announced on 13 June 1911 and was very much welcomed. After the betrothal ceremony, Charles told Zita, “Now we will help each other to reach heaven!”1Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria had lost his only son to suicide in 1889, and the current heir to the throne was Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who had married morganatically and whose children were excluded from the succession. Thus, Archduke Charles was second in line to the throne, and Zita met all the requirements.
In the months preceding the wedding, Zita spent a lot of time preparing for her future position – even having an audience with the Pope, who greeted her as a future Empress. When she protested, saying that Franz Ferdinand was the heir, the Pope told her, “No, Charles will be the heir.”2
The wedding took place at Schwarzau Castle in Reichenau. Zita received a pearl necklace from her future husband and a diamond tiara from the Emperor. Two whole rooms were filled with the wedding presents the couple received. The guest of honour – the Emperor – arrived in St Egyden on a special train and was taken by car to the castle, where he arrived at 11 in the morning. He was greeted by Charles at the bottom of the steps to the castle as Zita, and her mother waited at the top of the steps. He greeted Zita’s mother with a kiss on her hand, and he kissed Zita on both cheeks.
Zita was dressed in an ivory satin dress stitched with silver thread, a three-metre long train decorated with the Bourbon lily and the tiara she had been gifted by the Emperor. Her bridal veil was a Braganza family heirloom. Charles was dressed in the uniform of a Cavalry captain. Although a seat had been reserved for the ageing Emperor, he remained standing throughout the ceremony. The wedding ceremony was performed by Monsignor Gaetano Bisleti, a representative of the Pope, who would be created a Cardinal the following month. After the ceremony, the most prominent guests went out onto the balcony, where photos and footage were made of the happy occasion. Afterwards, the Emperor toasted to their happiness during a wedding breakfast before departing for Vienna.
Charles and Zita would turn out to be the last Emperor and Empress of Austria, and the footage of their wedding is a small glimpse into the lost splendour of that world.