Isabella of Parma – Exceeding expectations (Part two)




Isabella and her daughter Maria Theresa (public domain)

Read part one here.

By the middle of 1759, Isabella’s marriage to Archduke Joseph of Austria, the future Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor, the eldest son of Maria Theresa, was arranged. He had reportedly seen a painting of Isabella and had fallen head over heels in love and refused to marry anyone else. However, this may have been a story made up by his mother to appease the mother of the other candidate Maria Luisa of Spain (who ended up marrying Joseph’s brother Leopold). Louise Élisabeth had hoped for this marriage for nearly a decade, and now her dream would come true. Isabella’s mother was in Versailles at the time but did not rush back to prepare her daughter for marriage. Instead, she wrote to her husband, “This marriage is fortunate for us, but it’s not an honour. So let’s do it well, but without exaggerating.”1

Tragically, Louise Élisabeth did not live to see the wedding. In early December 1759, she fell ill with smallpox, and she was dead before her husband could even travel to Versailles. She had died on 6 December – still only 32 years old. She was buried at the Basicilia of St Denis with her twin sister, though their tombs would be desecrated during the French Revolution. When Isabella was told of her mother’s death, she fell to her knees and asked God to tell her how much longer she would live. A nearby clock chimed four times at that exact moment, and she assumed she had just four days left to live. When the fifth day arrived, she assumed it would be four weeks and then four months. Later, she believed she would not live to see her 22nd birthday.2 Isabella did not have much time to mourn as there was a wedding to plan, and Isabella intensified her German lessons.

During the preparations for the wedding, Isabella received the first letter from her future sister-in-law Maria Christina. She replied, “Madame, my dear sister, I received your letter with unspeakable joy. I am delighted by the friendship you show me, and I assure you, without the slightest exaggeration, that you can also be sure of mine.”3 At this point, neither woman probably realised how deep a bond they would form.

On 7 September 1760, the proxy ceremony took place in the Cathedral of Padua, where Josef Wenzel I, Prince of Liechtenstein, stood in for the groom. Isabella emerged from the cathedral as Archduchess of Austria and its future Empress. Her proxy groom glowingly wrote back to Vienna, “She has completely exceeded my expectations.”4 Not much later, Isabella left for Austria, and on 13 September, she arrived at Casalmaggiore, where the handover took place. Isabella received a letter from Empress Maria Theresa for the “happy arrival in my lands.”5 The journey continued, and on 30 September, Isabella met her father-in-law Francis Stephen, who had travelled to Stuppach to meet her, and they had dinner together. The following day, the bridal procession finally arrived at Laxenburg. Maria Theresa arrived with her son a few hours later, and Isabella finally met her new husband. It was quite a formal moment – he bowed while she curtseyed. Joseph was said to have fallen head over heels in love, but as the official wedding day approached, he said, “I am more afraid of marriage than of battle.”6

On 6 October, Isabella made her grand entry into the city for her official wedding to Joseph in the Augustinian Church. She had spent the last few days at the Belvedere, preparing for her wedding. The drive to the church took three hours, and Isabella’s carriage arrived around 5 o’clock. Joseph awaited his bride at the entrance and helped her out of the carriage. After the ceremony, the party went into the Hofburg palace for the wedding dinner. The festivities lasted for several more days, and Isabella quickly won the hearts of the family and of the people.

Isabella now settled into life as a member of the imperial family, and she and Maria Christina were instantly drawn to each other. Joseph told anyone who would listen that he was “unsurpassed in happiness” in his life, but Isabella was already falling into the hands of melancholy.7 When she became pregnant in the middle of 1761, it seemed to make things even worse. She told her parents-in-law, “Death speaks to me in a distinct voice that rouses in my soul a sweet satisfaction.”8 Isabella found Joseph very controlling and overbearing and often tried to escape his presence. She began to spend most of her time with Maria Christina and began to harbour romantic feelings for her, which also affected her already melancholic mood. During her pregnancy, she suffered from constant headaches, and she was watched closely by doctors. Finally, on 20 March 1762, at 7 o’clock in the evening, Isabella gave birth to a daughter who was named Maria Theresa, after her grandmother. She was baptised the following day with her grandparents Maria Theresa and Francis Stephen among her godparents. The delivery had been difficult for Isabella, and it took several weeks for her to recover.

Read part three here.

  1. Isabella von Parma by Ursula Tamussino p.86
  2. In Destiny’s Hands by Justin C. Vovk p. 29
  3. Isabella von Parma by Ursula Tamussino p.89
  4. Isabella von Parma by Ursula Tamussino p.102
  5. Isabella von Parma by Ursula Tamussino p.106
  6. In Destiny’s Hands by Justin C. Vovk p. 22
  7. In Destiny’s Hands by Justin C. Vovk p. 27
  8. In Destiny’s Hands by Justin C. Vovk p. 28






About Moniek Bloks 2225 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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