Elisabeth, or Sisi, as she was called in the family, was born in Munich on 24 December 1837.
Elisabeth was the fourth of ten children born to Duke Maximilian in Bavaria (1808–1888) and Princess Maria Ludovika (1808–1892), a union that was certainly no love match and overshadowed by the couple’s diametrically opposed outlooks on life.
Her father was descended from a collateral line of the Bavarian royal house of Wittelsbach. Thanks to a large inheritance he was financially independent and led an eccentric lifestyle.
Her mother was a daughter of King Maximilian I of Bavaria and was overshadowed by her sisters. Two of the latter married into the Austrian imperial dynasty: Sophie became the wife of Archduke Franz Karl, while Karoline Auguste married the Austrian emperor Franz I, who was 24 years her senior and whom she was to survive by 38 years. Two other sisters married into the Prussian and Saxon royal dynasties. Ludovika herself once described her life, far removed from the great courts of Europe, as ‘countrified’.
However, this meant that Elisabeth, despite being closely related to the Bavarian royal dynasty, had a carefree childhood. The family lived quietly in Duke Max’s palace on Ludwigsstrasse in Munich and at their summer residence at Possenhofen on Lake Starnberg. Thanks to her father’s liberal attitudes Elisabeth enjoyed an unconventional upbringing that was unusual for someone of her elevated social rank. Her memories of the easy-going atmosphere of her childhood and her close relationship with her brothers and sisters were to prove an important source of strength for Elisabeth all her life.