Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Royal Profile: Archduchess Sophie of Bavaria
It is rather humorous, in a way, that a woman so often accused of being cold and calculating is, usually in other accounts, also accused of having an affair with the un-crowned “Emperor of the French” Napoleon II. There is, of course, no evidence that there was ever an affair, but the two were close friends and were known to laugh and joke for hours -an image not often associated with Sophie. She was the only one with whom the young man could openly talk about his father and Sophie even encouraged him to look up to the “Little Corporal” from Corsica. She reassured the frustrated young man that he would rule France one day, though of course that was not to be. Sophie was most concerned with the Austrian throne of course, particularly after the birth of her first child, Francis Joseph, in 1830. With her husband unassuming and un-ambitious and Emperor Ferdinand I rather handicapped it was clear to Sophie right away that her son would sooner or later be Emperor of Austria, and that could not be soon enough for her.
There was little time for mourning though as events were building rapidly toward the calamitous Revolutions of 1848. It was then that the strength and determination of Sophie proved invaluable for the House of Hapsburg. She persuaded (with little difficulty) her husband to abdicate his rights to the throne and so Emperor Ferdinand I passed the throne to her son and retired. The young and determined Emperor Francis Joseph was then able to save the situation, suppressing rebellions in Italy, Austria and (with help from Russia) in Hungary. It was taken for granted that Sophie had arranged it all and she remained a force to be reckoned with in Vienna. Because of this, it is not surprising that Sophie wanted to hold fast to a working formula and she fully approved of the idea of her eldest marrying a Bavarian princess as his father had. She did not, however, approve of that choice falling on the beautiful young Princess Elisabeth, “Sissi”. Sophie warned that she was too young, too liberal and too immature but Francis Joseph would have no other and the two married.
This relationship, should also been seen in context. Sophie was extremely optimistic about the marriage of her second son, Ferdinand Max, to Princess Charlotte of Belgium and was greatly impressed by the charm and intelligence of the young lady. When Mexican monarchists enlisted the Archduke to become Emperor of Mexico, Francis Joseph was adamantly opposed and Sophie had to work to keep the two from an open break and when the Emperor demanded that his brother renounce all rights to the Austrian throne in order to accept, Princess Charlotte enlisted Sophie’s help in trying to dissuade her son from such a drastic measure. She wished her son well on his new enterprise, he had always been something of a favorite, and Sophie was positively devastated when word came in 1867 that her son, Emperor Maximilian of Mexico, had been shot by a republican firing squad. He had written her regularly and though news of the slow deterioration was widespread, Maximilian had always been hopeful and optimistic. Sophie was heartbroken and retired from public life, never really recovering from the loss of her beloved boy.
Princess Sophie of Bavaria, Archduchess of Austria, died at the age of 67 on May 28, 1872 from what was determined to be a brain tumor.