Duchess Helene in Bavaria (1834 – 1890) almost became the Empress of Austria, but that role instead went to her sister, Empress Elisabeth. We always forget about Helene: it’s much easier to remember an Empress than a Princess of Thurn and Taxis. Helene had a very happy life, though, but perhaps her only problem was everyone around her dying young.
Helene Caroline Therese was born on April 4th, 1834, in Munich, Bavaria. She was the eldest daughter and second surviving child of Maximilian Joseph, Duke in Bavaria, and his wife, Princess Ludovika of Bavaria. Helene was known as Néné by her family. She did not have the same sort of childhood as her younger sister, Elisabeth. Helene was the more serious sister who did not prefer the activities her sister loved, such as riding and being outside.
Meanwhile, in Austria, Archduchess Sophie, Ludovika’s sister, needed a wife for her son, Emperor Franz Joseph. Sophie wanted a niece as a daughter-in-law rather than another random royal lady, so she invited Ludovika and Helene to come and meet Franz Joseph. Sophie did not invite Helene’s father because it was clear that they were not fond of each other.
Sophie paid no thought to Helene’s younger sister while inviting Helene and her mother, not because she didn’t like Elisabeth, but because she didn’t think that the fifteen-year-old Elisabeth could be a wife to anyone yet, much less an Emperor, while Helene was nearly twenty. Helene’s father had already given his approval for the marriage, and since Ludovika and Sophie were eager for the marriage to go ahead, so Helene and Franz Joseph were as good as married now.
Ludovika decided to bring Elisabeth along. Elisabeth had recently fallen in love with a count who had died, and she was devastated, so Ludovika thought that a trip would make Elisabeth happier. The three women journeyed to Bad Ischl, wearing all black since they were in mourning for an aunt. They’d sent the luggage with their clothes ahead, but they arrived before their clothes did, so they met the Emperor and his mother dressed all in black. Elisabeth looked stunning in black, but Helene looked best in other colors.
The Emperor instead fell in love with Elisabeth, leaving both the sisters miserable. Elisabeth because she was not yet sixteen and did not want to become Empress, and Helene because she had been rejected. Elisabeth went on to marry Franz Joseph and live a miserable life at the Austrian court, and, to add insult to injury, Helene had to curtsy to her younger sister at the wedding. Helene began going to church more often than she had before. Ludovika was afraid that she’d want to become a nun and was continuously searching for a husband for her eldest daughter.
Helene soon met Maximilian Anton Lamoral, the Hereditary Prince of Thurn and Taxis. Maximilian was lower in rank than Helene, but his family had become quite rich following the Napoleonic Wars, but it was still hard to convince Helene’s cousin, King Maximillian II of Bavaria, to agree to the match. He eventually did, and Helene married Maximilian on August 24th, 1858. Elisabeth gave birth to her first son a few days earlier, so she didn’t attend the wedding.
The marriage was happy, unlike Elisabeth or Ludovika’s, and Helene was soon pregnant with a daughter, Louise (later a princess of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen), who was followed by Elisabeth (later Duchess of Braganza), and Helene’s sons Maximilian Maria and Albert (both future Princes of Thurn and Taxis).
Helene was asked by Emperor Franz Joseph to accompany Elisabeth on her trip to the island of Corfu, so she did. She went with her sister, and they spent some time together, but she soon returned home and gave birth to her first son, Maximilian Maria. When Helene’s brother, Karl-Theodor, married Sophie of Saxony, Helene was able to see many of her family members again, including Elisabeth.
Following the wedding, after only nine years of marriage, Helene’s husband was on his deathbed. After the birth of their final child, Albert, Maximilian died on June 26th, 1867. He was thirty-five years old. Following the death of Maximilian, Helene was made guardian of her children, and Maximilian Maria became his grandfather’s heir. He became the 7th Prince of Thurn and Taxis in 1871 before he was even ten years old.
During her son’s reign, Helene’s two daughters married and had children of their own, leaving Helene a lonely grandmother. Helene’s second daughter Elisabeth died in 1881 at the age of twenty following the birth of a daughter, Maria Teresa. Helene was searching for a bride for her now-adult son, Maximilian Maria when he died unexpectedly at the age of only twenty-two. Helene was devastated, and her son, Albert, became the 8th Prince of Thurn and Taxis. Helene became regent until he turned twenty-one.
Shortly after her regency ended, Helene was diagnosed with stomach cancer. She had not been in good health for a while, and a telegram was sent to Empress Elisabeth, who arrived with her daughter Marie Valerie to say their goodbyes. Marie Valerie recorded one of their last conversations in her journal. On May 16th, 1890, at the age of fifty-six, Helene died in Regensburg, Bavaria.
Albert reigned for more than another sixty years, and died in 1952. Elisabeth was assassinated in 1898 in Geneva. Louise, Princess of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, died in 1948.