The world knows about the beauty (and sadness) of the story of Elisabeth, Empress of Austria. But little did the world know about the life and tale of Helene, Sisi's elder sister, who lived a far happier life as the wife of a German prince.
Helene, elder daughter of Maximilian von Wittelsbach, Duke in Bavaria, was Germany’s most eligible bride at the beginning of the 1850s. Twenty years old and of impeccable pedigree, she was a match fit for a prince, or even an emperor—and in the summer of 1853 her suitor was young Franz Josef, newly crowned Emperor of Austria.
Born Helene Caroline Therese on April 4, 1834, her qualification had been assessed in advance by the Emperor’s representatives, and her father had given his approval in principle to a marriage. In 1853, together with her Princess Ludovika of Bavaria, and her younger sister Elisabeth, she went to Bad Ischl, with the prospect of becoming a bride to their cousin Franz Josef (Ludovica and Franz Josef’s mother Sofia, were sisters). However, when the dashing young Franz met Helen, she failed to live up to the expectations his ambassadors had aroused. Franz Joseph was much more attracted, instead, to Helene’s vivacious younger sister “Sisi,” who was only fifteen. In a matter of days the Emperor had fallen head over heels in love with her, and the following spring the couple wed. So little Sisi became Elisabeth, Empress of Austria—and her jilted elder sister was required not simply to smile graciously at her wedding; she had to curtsey as well.