Elizabeth - Empress of Austria - George Upton
On the ninth of September, 1888, an unusual event occurred in the princely house of Wittelsbach. Maximilian Joseph, the head of the ducal line of Vorpfalz-Zweibrucken-Birkenfeld, and his wife Ludovica (Louise), daughter of King Maximilian First of Bavaria and his second wife, Caroline of Baden, celebrated on that day their diamond wedding, both bride and groom having been barely twenty years old at the time of their marriage.
Few princely couples have been closely connected with so many of the reigning families of Europe. Their eldest son, Ludwig Wilhelm, renounced the succession to wed an actress, Henrietta Mendel, who had received the title of Countess Wallersee. Helene, the eldest daughter, married the Hereditary Prince of Thurn and Taxis, and their daughter Louise, by her alliance with Frederick of Hohenzollern, formed new ties between the Wittelsbachs and the royal house of Prussia. The next daughter was Elizabeth of Austria-Hungary, whose son in his turn took for his bride the King of Belgium's daughter, Stephanie. After Elizabeth, in the family, came Karl Theodore, well known as an oculist, and, on his father's death, the head of the ducal line of Wittelsbach. He first married his cousin Sophie, daughter of King John of Saxony; the second and present wife is Marie Josepha, Princess of Portugal. Two other daughters, Marie and Mathilde, allied themselves with the younger branch of the Bourbons. Marie became the wife of King Francis Second of Naples and Mathilde married his half-brother, Count Louis of Trani. The youngest daughter, Sophie, was betrothed at one time to her cousin, King Ludwig Second of Bavaria, but afterwards married Duke Ferdinand d'Alenyon, nephew of Louis Philippe of France, while the youngest son, Max Emanuel, married Amelie of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, thereby becoming connected by marriage with Prince Ferdinand of Bulgaria.
The Wittelsbachs have always been eccentric. Mental disorders have been common with them, and during the last century between twenty and thirty members of the family have died insane. Yet in spite of their peculiarities and eccentricities they have always been exceedingly popular with their subjects, as much for their personal charm as for their devotion to the happiness and welfare of their people. The annals of Bavaria have little to record of treason or conspiracy against the princes of the land, but tell much of the loyalty and sacrifices of life and property on the part of the people.
Duke Maximilian Joseph was born at Bamberg, December 4, 18o8. He was the son of the weak-minded Duke Pius Augustus of Bavaria and his wife, Amelie Louise, Princess of Arenberg. "The good Duke Max," as he was called by the people, was the only direct descendant of his grandfather, while his wife, on the other hand, was the youngest of a large family of sisters. Two had been princesses of Saxony and one a Queen of Prussia, while the fourth was the mother of the Emperor Francis Joseph of Austria-Hungary. King Ludwig First of Bavaria was a half-brother, and there were also two half-sisters. One was married first to the King of Wurtemberg and afterwards to the Emperor Francis First of Austria-Hungary; the other became the wife of Napoleon's stepson, Eugene Beauharnais, and the grandmother of Kings Charles Fifteenth and Oscar Second of Norway and Sweden.
Thus most of the dynasties of Europe were interested in the festivities in honor of the aged pair, and sent congratulations to the secluded spot on Starnberg Lake, where the event was celebrated, and where many touching proofs of the loyalty of the people of Bavaria were also received.
Maximilian Joseph belonged to the most eccentric and popular branch of the Bavarian royal family. Educated directly under the eye of his grandfather, his childhood had been spent partly in Bamberg, partly in Munich. At the age of eighteen he entered the University of Munich, where he applied himself assiduously to the study of history, natural science, and political economy, and on coming of age he was given, as provided by the Bavarian constitution, a seat in the Senate chamber. But he did not aspire to fame, either as orator or statesman; nor did he strive for military distinction, though at the age of thirty he was assigned to the command of a regiment of cavalry and in 1857 was invested with the rank of general. His natural love for science, literature, and art more often led him to exchange his uniform for the simple civilian dress.
During the youth of the Duke a musician, named Johann Petzmacher, created a great stir. He was born in 1803, the son of an innkeeper in Vienna, and in his eighteenth year accidentally learned to play the homely zither with which the mountaineers of the Austrian and Bavarian highlands accompany their folk songs. He soon became so absorbed in the possibilities of this instrument that he gave up everything else to devote himself to it. His fame as a performer soon spread far and wide. He played before the most select circles of Vienna and even at court, and made tours throughout Germany, being received everywhere with the greatest enthusiasm. Duke Max first heard him in 1837 at a concert in Bamberg, and determined to learn to play the zither under the master's direction. Petzmacher was introduced to the would-be virtuoso, and from that time until his death made his home with his art-loving patron. The Duke in 1838 undertook a long journey through Asia and Africa, and his musician friend accompanied him. Savages listened with delight to his playing, and as the two friends sat on the top of the Egyptian pyramids or camped in the hot desert sands, the homely melodies carried their thoughts back to loved ones in Germany, and dangers and hardships were forgotten. While on this journey Duke Max wrote several musical compositions which were afterwards performed in public and received with great applause. Under the name of "Phantasus," he wrote a collection of dramatic poems and novels that showed no small literary talent. More noteworthy than these, however, is his "Travels in the Orient," a book of considerable merit. On his return to Bavaria he had a circus ring constructed in the rear of his palace in the Ludwigstrasse, at Munich, which aroused much curiosity, where he frequently made his appearance as ringmaster with members of the Bavarian nobility as circus riders and performers.
It was only during the winter months that he remained in Munich. All through the Summer and Autumn he lived with his family at his castle Possenhoffen, beautifully situated on Lake Starnberg. This picturesque region, shut in by a chain of lofty Alps, seems as if created to inspire poetical sentiment, and various members of the art-loving Bavarian royal family have built summer palaces there.
Max Joseph was an enthusiastic hunter and spent whole days roaming through the forests and mountains about Possenhoffen. Enjoyment of the beauties of nature was one of his passions, and he often came out in the Winter for a few days at a time. On these excursions he wore a simple hunting costume,—short gray jacket, open shirt with suspenders, feathered cap, knickerbockers with long stockings, and heavy-soled shoes. He generally went about on foot, but sometimes made use of the mail-coach, the usual mode of conveyance at that time. His fellow travellers seldom suspected that the good-natured huntsman who chatted so freely with them was a duke and the brother-in-law of their sovereign. He was continually besieged with petitions, and rarely did any one appeal in vain to the comparatively poor but warm-hearted prince. His benevolence was one of the chief causes for his popularity in Munich, though he was most beloved by the people as the gay zither player who with his instrument under his arm would enter their cottages quite like one of themselves, and play for the young people who were never weary of dancing to his music.
His wife was very different. She had not his artistic, impulsive temperament, and the good-humored simplicity with which he mingled with the common people did not altogether meet with her approval. The proper maintenance of her position seemed no more than a duty due to her high birth and rank, and for this reason she was never as popular as her husband, though her many admirable qualities commanded the greatest respect and admiration during the sixty years that she remained mistress of Possenhoffen. She was naturally endowed with a good mind and had been carefully educated. Honesty and love of truth were among her most marked characteristics, and all her life she held firmly to what after mature reflection she believed to be right. Like the Duke, she preferred the seclusion of the country to city life, and all through their happy married life she acted as a balance to her loving but restless husband as well as friend and adviser of her children, who adored and looked up to her always. Her glance was keen but kindly. Smiles came easily to her lips, and there was an air of distinction about her that sprang from true nobility of heart. She was one of those strong souls born to help others, but in little need of support themselves. She was by no means unambitious for her children, though the trials suffered because of them taught her by degrees to place less value upon outward splendor. She disliked to excite personal attention and cared only to live as quietly and modestly as possible.