From an early age Franz Josef’s mother saw her niece Helene as his future wife, encouraging the family to train her for the role. In 1853 Ludovica took Helene to Bad Ischl to meet Franz Josef; the rest is history as he fell for her sister Sisi.
Helene was deeply upset by the rebuff as a royal daughter expected to be betrothed by the age of 18. At 22 she was introduced to Maximilian, Prince of Thurn und Taxis, richest of the mediatized German princes. The family had made its fortune by organising postal services throughout the Habsburg territories. The King of Bavaria was persuaded by Sisi to let her favourite sister Nené marry below her rank.
Married at 24 to Prince Maximilian, she became a widow at 33 when he died of kidney disease. It had been a happy marriage and they had four children. Of the Princess’s daughters, one was married to a Hohenzollern. The younger was the wife of Duke Miguel of Braganza, and died at the age of 22. Helene took the three orphaned children to Regensburg, and lived a retired life with them at Donaustaff, on the Danube.
Sisi and Helene stayed very close, using English as their ‘secret’ language. During Sisi’s darkest days in Corfu in 1860 Helene went out to check up on her.
Image Credits: Wikimedia.