In 1685, Eleonore Magdalene’s stepdaughter Maria Antonia married Maximilian II Emanuel, Elector of Bavaria and Maria Antonia remained in Vienna at first, as Maximilian was away fighting. As a condition of the marriage, Leopold had made Maria Antonia secretly renounce her rights to the Spanish throne in favour of her father’s male successors. Leopold himself was also in the line of succession as the son of Maria Anna of Spain, King Philip IV of Spain’s younger sister. In return for agreeing to this renunciation, Maximilian was offered full possession of the Spanish Netherlands if Austria should inherit Spain. Maria Antonia went on to have three sons in quick succession with only the youngest surviving her. Tragically, Maria Antonia died two months later of postpartum complications after falling into a deep state of melancholy. She was still only 23 years old. In her will, she again renounced the Spanish succession for herself and her heirs and left everything she had to her young son. Nevertheless, her son Joseph Ferdinand was widely considered to be King Charles II of Spain’s heir during his lifetime. Her young son died at the age of six in 1699.
In 1699, Eleonore Magdalene’s son Joseph married Wilhelmine Amalie of Brunswick, who was five years older than him. It was hoped that she would have a calming influence on him as Eleonore Magdalene worried about his way of life. He was not quite as pious as his parents and he was known for affairs with noblewomen and servant girls alike. The new Archduchess quickly fell pregnant and gave birth to her first child, a daughter named Maria Josepha on 8 December 1699. A son named Leopold Joseph was born on 29 October 1700 but he died of hydrocephalus before his first birthday. A second daughter named Maria Amalia was born on 22 October 1701. Then Joseph’s licentious ways caught up with him and he passed a venereal disease to his wife, which rendered her unable to have any more children.1
In 1703, Eleonore Magdelene’s husband prepared for a possible female succession with his two sons with Joseph insisting that his daughters would take precedence over any daughters his younger brother Charles might have (who was not even married at this point). But for now, the future of the dynasty lay in the hands of Charles. In early 1705, Leopold fell ill and Eleonore Magdalene spent many hours by his bedside. By the end, she was sleeping just two hours a day and for those last eight days, she never changed her clothes. As he died on 5 May 1705, she supported his head with her hands. She then withdrew to her cabinet and cried. Their marriage had lasted 29 years. Eleonore Magdelene dressed in mourning for the rest of her life, though she did allow her ladies-in-waiting to wear brighter colours.
Their son Joseph succeeded Leopold as Holy Roman Emperor, with his wife Wilhelmine Amalie becoming Empress. The two women had not gotten along very well, though they were in mutual disapproval of Joseph’s mistress. Eleonore Magdelene remained very pious and she rose at 3 in the morning on holy days, following a relentless schedule of prayers and mass. She had enjoyed music and singing before her husband’s death but now she only listed to music “which praised God.”2 If music came from outside, she would close the window. She had also owned several pets but she gave them all up, except for some birds. She gave away her jewels to her daughters and her apartments were scarcely furnished.
In 1706, she accompanied Charles’s fiance, Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, on a pilgrimage to Mariazell, as she had to convert to Roman Catholicism. The official conversion took place on 1 May 1707, with the wedding following on 1 August 1707. At the time, Charles was living in Spain to press his claim in the War of the Spanish Succession and so Elisabeth Christine lived there for quite some time as well. The pressure to produce a son was quite intense and affected her greatly and it would be a few years before she conceived at all.
At the end of 1710, a smallpox epidemic was spreading in Vienna and in November it had reached the court. Emperor Joseph had never had the illness, unlike his younger brother Charles, and so many were concerned for his wellbeing. The Emperor isolated himself for six weeks and moved his quarters to the Spanish wing of the Hofburg. When he emerged at the end of December, the epidemic had not yet run its course. By mid-March, a second wave struck the court. In early April, Joseph felt slightly ill but he did not postpone a planned hunt. When he returned, he was noticeably weaker. Soon, the tell-tale marks began to spread. On 16 April, his fever rose sharply and he became delirious. The following morning at 10.30, Joseph died at the age of 33.
With Charles still in Spain, Eleonore Magdalene was appointed as regent in his absence. She quickly vented her dislike at Joseph’s mistress and demanded that she return all the jewellery he had given her. She was also forbidden from appearing in her or Wilhelmine Amalie’s presence and she was eventually compelled to marry as an alternative to being expelled from court. Eleonore Magdalene’s daughters Maria Elisabeth and Maria Magdelene supported her during the regency. Charles arrived in Vienna in late 1711 and Eleonore Magdalene was able to present him with a detailed journal of her regency.
Eleonore Magdelene supported her daughter-in-law Wilhelmine Amalie for her daughters’ claim to the throne. The two Empresses had not officially been informed of the pact that had been signed but suspected that it existed. When they finally managed to get the document from Charles, he had announced his wish to change it in favour of his own (future) daughters. Though he eventually did have a son with his wife, the boy lived for just 7 months. The marriage also produced two surviving daughters – the future heiress Maria Theresa and Maria Anna.
In her widowhood, Eleonore Magdalene finally got to live as she had wished – a nun who practised self-flagellation. On 1 January 1720, she went to the court chapel at 7 a.m to prepare for her confession. She was found on the floor by a chambermaid sometime later; she had had a stroke, leaving her paralysed and without speech. When her clothes were removed, maids found iron belts on both her arms. Her family rushed to be by her side and her two daughters-in-law nursed her throughout her final days. She received the Anointing of the Sick and gave her blessing to her family. After 19 days of suffering, Eleonore Magdalene passed away on 19 January 1720.
In her will, she had requested that her body was not touched or embalmed and so only her hands and face were washed. She was dressed in a nun’s habit with a simple iron belt with a skull hanging from it. Her head was covered with a white veil. Her simple wooden coffin was inscribed with the words “poor sinner.” On 24 January, she was interred in the Imperial Crypt in Vienna.
- The Habsburg Monarchy 1618-1815 by Charles W. Ingrao p.128
- Wolfgang Kaps: Eleonore Magdalena (Theresia) von Pfalz-Neuburg (1655 – 1720) p.111