Infanta Maria Theresa of Portugal – First Lady of the Austrian Court (Part one)

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Maria Theresa of Portugal was born on 24 August 1855 as the third child and second daughter of the former King Miguel I of Portugal and his wife Adelaide of Löwenstein-Wertheim-Rosenberg. Her father had seized the throne from his niece, Queen Maria II of Portugal, before being dethroned himself in 1834. He was exiled for the rest of his life, which also meant that all his children were born outside of Portugal, although allegedly, they were all born over a container filled with Portuguese earth.1

Miguel first lived in Rome and London, but after marrying Adelaide, the newlyweds settled in Germany. He settled down into the life of a quiet country gentleman and died in the hunting field at the age of 64 in 1866. Maria Theresa was one month shy of her 18th birthday when she became the third wife of the 39-year-old Archduke Karl Ludwig of Austria, the younger brother of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria. He had been married and widowed twice before. His first wife was Princess Margaretha of Saxony, and his second wife was Princess Maria Annunciata of Bourbon-Two Sicilies. Tragically both women had died very young, and the twice-widowed Archduke was left with four young children from his second marriage.

Karl Ludwig went to Bad Ischl on 20 July 1873 to receive his father’s blessing for his upcoming marriage before travelling on to Heubach Castle, the seat of the House of Löwenstein, where Maria Theresa was living at the time. The wedding took place on 23 July at Heubach Castle Church, and the ceremony was performed by Bishop Ketteier. After the service, the wedding party returned to the castle, where a dinner was held. That very same day, the newlyweds departed for Bad Ischl and arrived there on 25 July to meet with Karl Ludwig’s father. Then, they travelled on to Vienna, where a ceremonial reception took place at Schönbrunn on 7 August. This is probably when Maria Theresa first met her sister-in-law, Empress Elisabeth. Unfortunately, Maria Theresa’s formidable mother-in-law Archduchess Sophie had died the previous year, so we have no record of what Sophie thought of her son’s new bride.

Maria Theresa’s eldest stepson Franz Ferdinand had been just seven years old when his mother died. She had lived in fear of infecting her children with tuberculosis and had forbidden them to touch her. Maria Theresa’s arrival had a significant impact on the family life. Where her predecessor had been frail, Maria Theresa was robust and lively. However, rumours soon arose that Karl Ludwig was anything but a loving husband to her. He was reportedly a sympathetic husband to his first two wives but “allegedly went from sympathetic husband to stern martinet, tormenting his wife and generally making her life miserable.”2 Countess Marie Larisch wrote in her memoirs, “She was a lovely woman, fifteen years younger than her husband, whose chief recreations were riding, shooting, and ill-treating her.”3

Nevertheless, Maria Theresa became devoted to her stepchildren and never differentiated between them and the two daughters she would eventually have with her husband. Franz Ferdinand called her “Mama”, and she called him “Franzi.”4 On 13 July 1876, Maria Theresa gave birth to her first daughter, who she duly named Maria Annunciata. A second daughter named Elisabeth Amalie was born on 7 July 1878. For her second daughter, Empress Elisabeth was asked to be godmother. However, at the christening, she was represented by someone else, though the Emperor did reportedly attend.

Despite her husband’s rumoured brutalities, Maria Theresa gained considerable influence in court circles, not in the least because its leading female figure – Empress Elisabeth – was continuously on the run. Maria Theresa was reportedly the only member of the Imperial Family who could hold her own with Franz Joseph, and he was obliged to “reckon with her opinions and judgements.”5 Perhaps her arrival so soon after the death of Archduchess Sophie had helped fill the void left by her. Maria Theresa often took the place as First Lady of the Court in the absence of the Empress and did so until she was widowed in 1896 when etiquette required her to withdraw into retirement.

Karl Ludwig died on 19 May 1896 at the age of 62. Just a few days before his death, Franz Joseph wrote, “My brother Karl is not well, I am sorry to say. The illness is already lasting so long, and the fever just will not end, so that I am worried and fear a bad outcome.”6 Karl Ludwig had asked his brother to be moved to Schönbrunn with Maria Theresa and his daughter Margrethe four days before his death. During his illness, Maria Theresa had not left his side, and she cared for him until the end. He had died of typhoid after drinking polluted water from the river Jordan during travels with his family in Palestine.

Despite being forced into retirement by her husband’s death, Maria Theresa remained one of the driving forces of the Austrian Court. When rumours arose that she was to marry the master of her household, no one dared to say a thing against her. In any case, the reports turned out to be false. Maria Theresa would spend the winter months living in Vienna and the summer months at the castle of Reichstadt in Bohemia. It was at this castle that a very controversial wedding would take place.

Read part two here.

  1. The Braganzas by Malyn Newitt p.230
  2. The assassination of the Archduke by Greg King and Sue Woolmans p.11
  3. My Past by Countess Marie Larisch p.129
  4. The assassination of the Archduke by Greg King and Sue Woolmans p.11
  5. The Austrian court from within by Princess Catherine Radziwiłł p.59
  6. The incredible friendship – The Letters of Emperor Franz Joseph to Frau Katharina Schratt p.267

About Moniek Bloks 2747 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

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