Sophie, Archduchess of Austria hatched a plan with her sister, Ludovika, Duchess in Bavaria for a marriage between Sophie’s son, the young and handsome Franz Josef, Emperor of Austria, to Ludovika’s eldest daughter, the beautiful Helene. Helene and her mother were invited to imperial holiday villa at Bad Ischl, ostensibly for the celebration of the emperor’s 23rd birthday, but in fact so the two could meet and, with luck, fall in love. Ludovika decided to take her 15 year-old daughter, Elisabeth along to keep Helene company and also in the hope that a match might be found for her.
A match was found, all right. The Emperor showed no interest in Helene but fell head over heels for Elisabeth, known in the family as Sisi. Three days after first meeting, the young couple was engaged. Poor Helene must have at the very least felt humiliated, but she bore it with grace.
As it happened Sisi did not have a very happy life with her emperor. Helene might have thought she had a lucky escape.
At the ripe old age of twenty-two, still unmarried, and thought to be beyond marriageable age, she was considering entering a nunnery when her father Maximilian Duke in Bavaria, intervened. He invited the Thurn and Taxis family to a hunting expedition at his home, and that was when Helene met her future husband, Prince Maximilian. By the time the hunting party was over Maximilian had asked for her hand. Helene accepted and Papa gave himself a pat on the back.
But there was a hitch. The proverbial fly in the ointment was (yet another Maximilian) the King of Bavaria and Helene’s uncle. The problem was that the Thurm and Taxis family were immensely wealthy but not noble – or not noble enough to aspire to the hand of a member of the royal family.
This was where it paid to have powerful relatives. Of course the King of Bavaria was pretty powerful, but he was a lightweight compared to the Emperor of Austria. Ludovika wrote to her daughter, Elisabeth (Sisi) Empress of Austria, appealing to her to ask the emperor to intervene, which he duly did. King Maximilian bowed before the superior weight, and Helene married her prince.
Helene had four children before her husband became seriously ill with a kidney problem and died at the age of thirty-five. After his death Helene dedicated herself to raising her children and charitable works.
Ironically, she is thought to be the only one of the five Wittelsbach sisters to have a happy marriage.
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