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The Life of Duchess Helene in Bavaria, Princess of Thurn und Taxis


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.

The Wittelsbachs

Helene could not find a substitute husband with rank to match that of her new brother-in-law. Helene fell into depression. Her mother even thought that Helene would enter the convent and take the veil shr she almost accepted the fact that she would remain single all her life. During her time, a lady—so much more a princess—who is yet unmarried at 22 was already considered an "old maid." But Ludovica was relentless and arranged for Helene to meet the extremely wealthy Maximilian Anton Lamoral, Hereditary Prince of Thurn and Taxis.

Empress Elizabeth Austria, Helene's younger sister.

The Thurn und Taxis fortune had revived somewhat after their sufferings at the hands of Napoleon. There was no longer a Holy Roman Empire to which they could be postmasters, but they remained close to the Habsburgs, and they had secured postal rights in several of the newly autonomous German states. In 1852 they had started issuing their own postage stamps. However, sovereign authority over the Thurn und Taxis fief had been taken over by the ruler of Wurttemburg that surrounded it.  The Thurn und Taxis, however, remained freeholders of their estates and they purchased more elsewhere.

Prince Maximilian of Thurn und Taxis

Prince Maximilian informed his parents of his intent to marry Helene, who immediately consented on their son’s desire. However, the only problem that almost prevented the two from getting married was the fact that the Thurn and Taxis were socially unequal with the Wittelsbach. While they were considered among the largest private landowners in the whole of Europe, they were still technically not of royal lineage, and because of this, King Maximilian II of Bavaria did not at first agree to a marriage. But because of Elisabeth's persuasion, the king relented and the marriage took place on August 24, 1858 at Possenhofen. 

Maximilian’s parents, Prince Maximilian Karl and Princess Wilhelmine, gifted the bride with a necklace worth 160,000 Gulden. Helene’s marriage to Prince Maximilian proved to be the happiest among the Wittelsbach sisters’. A daughter Louisa was born in 1859. A second daughter, Elisabeth, in 1860.  A son was born 1862 and was named Maximilian Maria. In 1867, another son, Albert, was born.

Helene's first son,  Maximilian, 7th Prince of  Thurn und Taxis.

Helene's second son, Albert, 8th Prince of Thurn und Taxis

Owning substantial acreages in Prussia and Bavaria, the family had more land to their name than many of the German rulers who had kept political control  of their own little principalities in the city which had come to be their home—Regensburg, formerly Ratisbon, northeast of Munich on the banks of the Danube River. It was here that Helen Thurn und Taxis set about recreating a palace where she could live in a style to rival that of her sister Sisi.

Helene's daughters, Louise and Elisabeth.

Prince Maximilian’s health, which had been undermined by kidney disease, died after less than 10 years of marriage. The elder, Prince Maximilian, inherited the family title while still a minor, so Helene reigned over the family palace as regent for the best part of 20 years until her death in July 1890. 

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