Love across borders: the royal families

We have recently begun collecting personal stories from people all across Europe relating to migration.

Our new short blog series, Love across borders, is inspired by collections discovered during this project, with stories of romance and love related to migration. Read on to see how new connections and relationships would not have been possible without people moving across the globe!

Through the past centuries, one group of European societies especially were regularly moving from country to country for love, or at least marriage: the nobility.

Many noble families were keen to establish marriages with other powerful houses in order to expand and stabilize their power. In most cases, one of the future partners had to leave a home country to live with the more powerful partners’ families.

blue and white side portrait of Kaiserin Elisabeth

Kaiserin Elisabeth commercial label, F Schirnbock & Jos Urban, Malmo Museum, CC BY

One of the most famous love stories is that of Elisabeth of Bavaria, later known as Empress Elisabeth of Austria and Hungary. Empress Sissi’s love story and her life have been depicted many times – although the reality was much less romantic.

She grew up in Bavaria as the daughter of Duke Maximilian Joseph in Bavaria. When she was 15, she traveled to Vienna to visit her cousin, the Emperor of Austria Franz Joseph, together with her mother and sister Helene. Their mothers had arranged a marriage between the latter and her cousin. But when Franz Joseph saw Sissi, as she was called by her family, for the first time, he immediately fell for her and decided not to propose to Helene, but to Sissi.

He was quoted: “If I can not have Elisabeth, I will not marry at all” –  which was an affront to his mother. But only five days later, their engagement was officially announced. Although their story has been picked up in several books and films, their marriage has not been so romantic after all. Sissi suffered from the strict rules at the Austrian court and developed depression. Her death shocked the Austrian-Hungarian people, when she was assassinated in 1898.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert surrounded by children

La reine Victoria, le prince Albert et la famille royale d’Angleterre, Eugène Charpentier, National Library of France, No copyright – other known legal restrictions

The love between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert was exceptional for the times they lived in – because they actually had romantic feelings for each other.

Maybe they were already meant for each other when they were born, with both of their mothers employing the same midwife. They were cousins, both born in 1819.

As they were growing up, it was not clear that they would become one of the most important couples in Europe. Victoria was only fifth in line for the British throne and Albert was only heir of an impoverished dukedom in Germany. Several family members tried to arrange a marriage between them, but they were both reluctant to follow their idea. Victoria, especially, who had already become Queen at that time, hesitated to get married and saw no reasons to rush in a possibly unhappy marriage.

She proposed to him in 1839, three years after their first encounter, when they both were sure about their mutual affection. Their marriage has been an unusual happy one compared to other noble relationships at that time. They had nine children together and influenced their country and empire heavily. Albert became especially known for his engagement in education and arts and Victoria was so remarkable as a queen that the century is often called the Victorian era.

When Albert died young at the age of 42, Victoria was devastated. She wore black for the rest of her long life and never married again.

Do you have a story to share about love or romance across borders ? Share your stories with Europeana Migration.

Explore more royals and nobles in this gallery with paintings of European royalty

· The Love Across Borders series was written by Larissa Borck

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