Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Helene of Bavaria, Hereditary Princess of Thurn & Taxis

Helene Caroline Therese, born a Duchess in Bavaria, was the eldest daughter of Maximilian Joseph, Duke in Bavaria, and his wife, Princess Ludovika of Bavaria. Helene, who was called “Néné” by her family, was born on April 4, 1834 in Munich and lived with her parents and siblings at the family home of Possenhofen Castle near Lake Starnberg. Her lineage and her mother’s desire for her daughters to marry into royal or noble European families prompted her father to agree to send her to the Kingdom of Austria to be examined as a possible bride for the young Franz Joseph I, the newly crowned Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary. Franz’s controlling mother, Princess Sophie of Bavaria, who wanted to have a niece as a daughter-in-law instead of a complete stranger, had suggested the marital arrangement.

So, in 1853, the nineteen year-old Helene travelled to the resort of Bad Ischl in Upper Austria with her ambitious mother and her younger sister, the fifteen year-old Elisabeth. Both Helene and her mother hoped that upon meeting Franz Joseph, he would accept the attractive and religious Helene as his wife (Helene’s one flaw that would have been frowned upon at the strict Habsburg court was her tendency to be regularly late for everything). Franz Joseph, who was four years Helene’s senior, was also her first cousin, as his mother – Princess Sophie of Bavaria – was the sister of Helene’s mother. But the handsome Emperor of Austria was disappointed with Helene, as his ambassadors had exaggerated her person beyond reality. Instead, Helene’s younger and extremely beautiful sister, Elisabeth, instantly captivated Franz Joseph. Within just a few days, Franz Joseph became smitten with the spirited teenage girl and wanted to marry her. He even told his mother that if he couldn’t marry Elisabeth, then he would never marry at all. The quiet Helene felt jilted, of course, and had no choice but to hide her disappointment and shame behind a gracious smile at her sister’s wedding to the Emperor of Austria just eight months later.

Helene (located in the middle) and her surviving siblings, excluding Elisabeth of Austria
(Joseph Karl Stieler, 1854)
Helene returned home to Bavaria with her mother and family after her sister’s wedding, depressed and miserable from the whole engagement fiasco. Her desolation was so severe that Ludovika feared that her pious daughter would become a nun rather than every try to marry again. After years of failing to find a husband to match Franz Joseph’s rank, Helene was ready to resign to the fact that she would be single for the rest of her life. But her mother could never accept spinsterhood as her eldest daughter’s fate, so she arranged for the twenty-two year old Helene to meet the very rich Maximilian Anton Lamoral, Hereditary Prince of Thurn and Taxis at a hunting party held at Possenhofen. 

Maximilian Anton,
Hereditary Prince of Thurn and Taxis
Maximilian was an attractive suitor for Helene's hand, both for his title and his extreme wealth. He was the third son of Maximilian Karl, 6th Prince of Thurn and Taxis and his first wife, the lovely red-haired, Baroness Wilhelmine of Dörnberg. The principality of Thurn and Taxis was once a state of the Holy Roman Empire until it became part of the Kingdom of Bavaria in 1806. The Princes of Thurn and Taxis were close to the powerful Habsburg family, which allowed them to secure postal rights in a variety of recently created independent German states. They made their fortune through their influence over European postal services as well as breweries and castle building. 

Prince Maximilian fell in love with Helene as soon as they met and wasted no time in informing his parents of his plan to propose to the Bavarian duchess. Although Maximilian’s parents immediately consented to their son’s request, there remained a roadblock in the match. While Maximilian had a title, he was not considered to be of the same status as Helene, who belonged to the regal House of Wittelsbach. Thurn and Taxis was one of the richest areas in the entire landmass of Europe but because they were not officially of royal blood, Helene’s cousin, King Maximilian II of Bavaria, did not permit the marriage at first. But luckily for Helene, her sister Elisabeth helped the sibling she had “stolen” her first fiancée from by using her influence on the King. Maximilian eventually gave in to his royal cousin’s charms and agreed to the union.

On August 24, 1858 at Possenhofen, the twenty-four year old Helene married the twenty-seven year old Prince of Thurn and Taxis. Her new in law’s gifted her with a lavish necklace that was worth 160,000 Gulden to commemorate the occasion. Ironically enough, although Helene’s marriage to Maximilian was not as grand as her sisters’ regal marriages, Helene had arguably the happiest life as a married woman. She and Maximilian were deeply in love with one another and had a total of four children, two daughters and two sons.

Helene, Hereditary Princess of Thurn & Taxis
Helene and Maximilian’s children:
  • Princess Louise of Thurn and Taxis (1859-1948) married: Prince Frederick of Hohenzollem-Sigmaringen – no issue
  • Princess Elisabeth of Thurn and Taxis (1860-1881) married: Miguel, Duke of Braganza – had issue
  • Maximilian Maria, 7th Prince of Thurn and Taxis (1862-1885) died unmarried and without issue from a pulmonary embolism
  • Albert, 8th Prince of Thurn and Taxis (1867-1952) married: Archduchess Margarethe Klementine of Austria – had issue

Maximilian’s family owned large amounts of land in Prussia and Bavaria but Helene and Maximilian lived with their children in Regensburg in southeast Germany. Here, Helene used her husband’s immense wealth to build a palace that would match that of her sister, Elisabeth’s, which she and her family could live in. But Helene’s happiness was eclipsed by the declining health of her husband, who was suffering from chronic kidney disease. Although he went to the best doctors money could buy and underwent a course of treatment in Karlsbad, his illness only worsened over the years. After much suffering, Prince Maximilian died on June 26, 1867 at the age of thirty-five in his home of Regensburg with his beloved wife by his side.

Helene's daughters, Louise & Elisabeth
Helene was devastated by the loss of her spouse but tried to ignore her grief by partaking in charitable endeavors. Her father-in-law started to involve her in the family business as well. Through her participation, she became the substitute head of the family until her oldest son became of age. In 1877, ten years after Maximilian’s death, her youngest daughter, Elisabeth, married Prince Miguel of Braganza, the Miguelist claimant to the throne of Portugal. They had three children together but after the birth of her first child, Elisabeth’s health began to fail. Shortly after the birth of her last child, a daughter, in early 1881, Elisabeth died at just twenty years old. Helene was overwhelmed by her daughter’s early death, even more so than that of her husband’s. Besieged by immense sadness, she withdrew from public life and began to appear outside of her private residence less and less with each passing year. Two years after Elisabeth had married, Helene’s other daughter, Louise, had found herself a husband in Prince Frederick of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen but the couple had no children.
Helene's eldest son, Maximilian Maria,
7th Prince of Thurn and Taxis

In 1883, Helene’s oldest son, Maximilian, turned twenty-one and began to take a dominant role in the family business, a role which Helene had performed herself for years. Although he was trained and educated in every way for his future position, he soon fell ill. Maximilian had never been a healthy man; as a child his heart had been seriously weakened by a bout of scarlet fever and he suffered from serious heart spasms for years afterwards. His heart troubles eventually caught up to him in 1885, when he died at the age of twenty-two from a pulmonary embolism. His death left the grief-stricken Helene as the head of the family once again but only for a brief period of time, as her youngest son, Albert, would become old enough to take up the mantle in 1888.

Helene's youngest son, Albert, 8th Prince of
Thurn and Taxis, with his fiancée,
Archduchess Margarethe Klementine of Austria
When Albert reached his age of majority and took over as the leader of the family business, Helene retired and completely devoted herself to religion. Meanwhile, in 1890, Albert married Archduchess Margarethe Klementine of Austria and had eight children with just one son dying in infancy. Around the time of her son’s marriage, Helene became gravely ill with stomach cancer. Empress Elisabeth heard of her sister’s suffering and hastened to Regensburg to be by Helene’s side in her final days. Elisabeth was the last person to speak with Helene before she breathed her last on May 16, 1890 at the age of fifty-six. Elisabeth’s daughter wrote that “Aunt Néné [Helene] ... was glad to see Mama [Elisabeth] and said to her, 'Old Sisi' - she and Mama almost always spoke English together. 'We two have had hard puffs in our lives,' said Mama. 'Yes, but we had hearts,' replied Aunt Néné." Duchess Helene in Bavaria, the Hereditary Princess of Thurn and Taxis, was buried in Saint Emmeram’s Abbey in her adopted home of Regensburg with her late husband, Prince Maximilian, and her oldest son, Maximilian Maria.

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