On 11 October 1853, Emperor Franz-Josef of Austria is in Munich, literally carrried there by love: the trip had taken him less than thirty hours. A visit of protocol to the King of Bavaria, who had so quickly and so warmly given his consent for his marriage, and here he is at Possenhofen. At last, the happiness of seeing the one he loves in her universe.
Franz-Josef immediately notices that Princess Elisabeth in Bavaria, Sissi to her family, has changed. She is more at ease, doubtless because she is at home and away from the surveillance of her future mother-in-law, Archduchess Sophia. And what a horsewoman! Independent, carefree, abandoning the preparation of her trousseau, Sissi communicates her gaiety to Franz-Josef. On the 15th, they all return to Munich to celebrate Queen Mary of Bavaria’s birthday, and the gala at the Royal Opera is transformed into a long ovation for the young couple, for whom it is the first official appearance. Munich is drunk with joy, and Franz-Josef has been marvellously natural at Possenhofen. He has left his cage of duty in Vienna. On the 17th, he writes to his mother:
“Every day, I love Sissi more deeply and I am more and more convinced that no woman can better suit me than she.”
After ten days stolen from politics, Franz-Josef returns to Vienna and begins a moving correspondence with Elisabeth. The young girl’s daily programme fills with obligations. The only ones that interest her are lessons in the Hungarian language and Hungarian History that she is taking with a cultured Magyar, who works with her three times a week. While her studies had been neglected, she reveals here an exceptional gift for languages. Apart from French and Italian, Sissi improves her Hungarian, knowing that she will also be the sovereign of Budapest.
On 17 November, the Feast of Saint Elisabeth, a parcel arrives from Vienna with a superb gift from Franz-Josef to his fiancee, a brooch in the form of a bouquet of roses in diamonds. The sumptuous gift has cost eighty thousand florins on the Emperor’s personal cassette, for which he has learnt, since adolescence, to keep scrupulous accounts. Gifts and letters succeed each other. As Christmas approaches, the fiance can no longer keep still, for Christmas is also Sissi’s birthday, her sixteenth. Franz-Josef doesn’t hesitate an instant, he spends Christmas with Sissi and not with his mother, as he had done for the last twenty-three years. As a penance, the Archduchess sends her future daughter-in-law a Rosary, perhaps to calm her mind, which she judges frivolous.
Late in the night of 20 to 21 December, Franz-Josef arrives in Munich. In spite of the late hour – midnight has already passed – he hastens to the palace of Prince Maximilien, Duke in Bavaria, who doesn’t mind at all. Franz-Josef’s love smothers protocol. For the first time, he feels young. Particularly as he is far from Vienna… and far from his mother. Sissi has hardly had time to admire a bouquet of roses – which arrived intact despite a snowstorm – than Franz-Josef gives her a curious present, a pink parrot. The arrival of the bird with the big curved beak delights Elisabeth… A parrot in Munich! It must be the only one… The unusual bird is an ideal gift for a child who would prefer to live amongst animals rather than in the middle of inquisitive Society.
More classical gifts are exchanged, the Emperor has also brought his life-size portrait, in the uniform of the Imperial Lancers, the Princess gives her portrait on horseback. Each image reflects their personalities: he loves the army, she loves horses.
At the beginning of 1854, the Chancelleries have to solve the double problem often faced by great European families. The two fiances are cousins. They are even related twice: first cousins, their mothers being sisters, they also have consanguinity at the fourth degree through their fathers. So many civil and religious obstacles, as many dispensations easily obtained from Pope Pius IX. It must be noted that no-one thinks about the medical obstacle of consanguinity, whose ravages are, however, well-known.
The wedding is close, and it is time for notarial formalities. On 4 March, a long document assembles a solemn crowd. The signature of the marriage contract is a real trial for Sissi. A ballet of jurists, ecclesiastics and even, without anyone knowing why, doctors, going from one member of the family to another. And Franz-Josef isn’t there… Sissi listens like a stranger. Can they possibly be talking about her, about her destiny? Is it possible that happiness can be written otherwise than in poems? She is learning that it can. Her dowry is in two parts. From her father, she receives fifty thousand florins, given
“by paternal love and affection”.
From her future husband, she receives one hundred thousand florins. Then, according to an old germanic tradition, the amount of the Morgengabe, literally the “morning gift”, a sort of indemnity that the husband pays immediately after the wedding night, is fixed. It will be prepared by the Finance Minister, in a box full of gold and silver pieces as new as her womanhood. Enough to make one blush… The enumeration of the clauses continues. Franz-Josef promises to pay an annual pension of one hundred thousand florins to Sissi for her personal expenses, traditionally spent on clothes and charities. The Archduchess could frown: this sum is five times greater than her own pension. At last, notaries always having to forsee the worst, Sissi would receive a widow’s pension also fixed at one hundred thousand florins.
Let us continue with the detailed inventory of the bride’s trousseau, divided into jewels and jewellery, money and clothing. The untamed princess who dressed in whatever came to hand, who stained her dresses while eating berries, or tore them while running through the underbrush, finds herself with a choice of forty-seven dresses, seventeen of them for ceremonies, including a black one for mourning, six for family life, seventeen, very floral and embroidered, for Summer, and four for balls: two white, one pink and one blue. The lingerie comports one hundred and sixty-eight undershirts, one hundred and sixty-eight pairs of stockings, seventy-two petticoats, sixty pairs of panties, thirty-six nightdresses, ten dressing-gowns in muslin and silk, twelve night-caps, three corsets for the cumbersome crinolines that Parisian fashion has just launched, and four for riding, twenty-four bathrobes and three bathshirts, symbolising the austerity of the time’s customs and the complication of careful hygiene… Let us not forget twenty pairs of gloves, and shoes which arrive at the astounding figure of one hundred and thirteen pairs. Stunned, Sissi learns that protocol forbids her to wear a pair of shoes more than once. And one shoe-horn – just one – and of course toothbrushes… The exhibitionism of the inventory verges on indecency. And do the notaries really have to read aloud the price of a young girl’s delicate undies? Sissi has already lost control over the most intimate part of her life.
To be continued.