Exhibition preview
Exhibition preview

Imperial Weddings

March 9, 2024November 3, 2024

Schloss Hof

Schloss Hof

Fascinating aspects relating to the topic of weddings and marriage in the House of Habsburg - from the choice of partner to the engagement to the actual wedding celebrations - are the focus of this special exhibition.

The exhibition sheds light on the background of the Habsburgs' marriage policy, starting with the selection of potential spouses, courtship, the bridal journey and the wedding banquet. These elaborate events following an imperial wedding provided unforgettable highlights of courtly life.

The exhibition section at Schloss Hof estate deals with the question of what criteria the ideal bride or groom should fulfil ­– and most of all: who was good enough for the Habsburg Dynasty?

At Schloss Niederweiden, everything revolves around the ceremonies and the spectacular festivities, showing that weddings were undoubtedly among the most important events for the imperial family and were characterized by special pomp and elaborate productions.

Fact & Figures

Curated by:

Exhibition part at Schloss Hof: Martin Mutschlechner

Exhibition part at Schloss Niederweiden: Katrin Harter and Birgit Schmidt-Messner

A representative selection of objects from the Schönbrunn Group's collection is shown, supplemented by exhibits from museum lenders and private collections.

Main topics of the exhibition:

Exhibition part at Schloss Hof:

In Love? Betrothed! Married.

At Schloss Hof, the focus is laid on the background of marriage policy, the decisive criteria when it came to choosing a partner and the dynastic expectations placed on a couple. The supposedly lovely theme should not obscure the fact that among the Habsburgs, marriage was a matter of love only in exceptional cases.

Marrying for the Good of the Dynasty

In ruling houses, a marriage meant not just the partnership of two individuals, but rather the union of two dynasties. As a rule, the imperial offspring were political pawns as soon as they reached marriageable age. There was virtually no say in choosing a partner..

At weddings in the House of Habsburg, the focus was on preserving the dynasty. This began with the limited choice from a very limited “pool” of equal candidates and ended with the pressure to give the dynasty a male heir.

However, who was good enough to marry a member of the imperial family? The most important criteria were equality and an impeccable pedigree. Therefore, marriages between close relatives were not an obstacle. Romantic love, which is now considered the most important reason for marriage, played no role.

Love at First Sight?

Marriage plans were often made far ahead; occasionally the future partner was already fixed at birth. These long-term projects couldn’t always be put into practice; frequently, marriage contracts had to be negotiated at short notice if required. Great flexibility was needed and individual members of the dynasty were interchangeable. Time and again it happened that older siblings dropped out, younger ones moved up into their position in the inner-family hierarchy and thus took over their presumptive marriage partner. Especially cases like this show how inconsequential individual inclinations were.

However, the two “exceptional couples” Maria Theresia and Franz Stephan as well as Franz Joseph and Elisabeth prove that there were also examples where even marriages concluded for purely dynastic and political reasons could lead to good partnerships and even deep emotional connections.

Cupid’s Dart

In addition to these great love stories of Habsburg history, the exhibition also deals with marriages with unsuitable partners, where the strict rules of the Habsburg marriage laws stood in the way of individual happiness in love.

Exhibition part at Schloss Niederweiden:

A Cause for Celebration!

The exhibition part at Schloss Niederweiden shows the spectacular facets of an imperial wedding. Celebrations had to be particularly magnificent and extraordinary, because after all the festivities also served to enhance the prestige of the monarchy and the imperial family.

The prerequisite for an engagement was a successful conclusion of negotiations between the families of the bride and groom. It was not necessary for the bride and groom to know each other; a proxy could also ask for her hand in marriage from the family of the chosen one on behalf of the future husband. As soon as all protocol points had been met, the so-called trousseau, had to be put together. As different as the brides were, so was the trousseau, which was publicly exhibited in the 19th century and viewed with great interest.

The wedding was a big change, especially for the bride, and began with a week-long journey that often led across Europe from her place of birth to her new home. The bride's elaborate entry, the highlight of the trip, also served to present her to the people.

Bombastic Celebrations

Extraordinary spectacles during the wedding celebrations underlined the importance of the new connection between two ruling families and these events often went down in history. The entertainments, in which fireworks, banquets, hunts, sleigh rides, theater, opera and ballet performances were fixed components, could sometimes last for a long period of time. Months beforehand, the places where the entertainment was to take place had been structurally adapted or even created in the first place.

Sharing Happiness – Imperial Weddings as a Media Event

Imperial weddings provided the opportunity to present members of the ruling family to the public in the best possible light. The church ceremonies and the elaborate festivals were highlights of courtly representation. The broader public should be involved in the festivities - albeit only as onlookers.

In order to increase the popularity of the bride and groom, the available media was used. Thanks to newspaper reports, photographs, film footage and merchandising products, imperial weddings became widespread media events as early as the 19th century.

Imperial Weddings

A special exhibition by the Schönbrunn Group under the direction of Klaus Panholzer

Duration: March 9, 2024 – November 3, 2024

An exhibition at two locations – Schloss Hof and Schloss Niederweiden

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