Isabella of Parma – Visions of death (Part three)

isabella parma
(public domain)

Read part two here.

Whenever Isabella and Maria Christina were apart, they wrote each other letters. Unfortunately, Maria Christina’s letters have not survived, and they were probably destroyed by herself after Isabella’s death. However, she carried with her around 200 letters that Isabella had written to her, even taking them with her as she travelled. These letters were later deposited in the archives by her husband, which is why they have survived to this day. The relationship between Maria Christina and Isabella has been much discussed, but the letters clearly show how madly in love Isabella was. The fact that Maria Christina kept these letters tells me that she certainly reciprocated these feelings. Unfortunately, Isabella did not date her letters, so we don’t know the exact chronological order.

One of these letters states, “But I will tell you that I am fine, that I slept well, that I love you madly and that I hope to kiss you well, and that I will be delighted to see you, kiss you and be kissed by you.”1 Throughout her letters, Isabella only refers to her husband as “the Archduke.” Just one note by Maria Christina was kept, and in it, she wrote, “I will tell you sincerely what I think of you and will begin your portrait with your figure. So I’ll tell you that I don’t know anyone who is more pleasant, beautiful eyes and hair, a pretty mouth and everything so expressive that despite your mischievous expression, one recognises the spirit you have. Breasts that couldn’t be more delightful. Since I do not want to flatter you, I’ll tell you that your complexion is a little too dark compared to your hair and that your hands are not as beautiful as the rest of your figure, although they cannot be called ugly.”2 However, even Maria Christina could not understand Isabella’s melancholic moods and her growing obsession with death.

Isabella was pregnant again in the summer of 1762, but she became unwell during a hunting trip and was carried back to Schönbrunn. She miscarried on 20 August, but fortunately, she recovered quickly. Unfortunately, a second miscarriage occurred on 23 January 1763, much to Isabella’s grief. Her young daughter Maria Theresa seemed to thrive, though and celebrated her first birthday two months later. Just five months later, Isabella was pregnant for the fourth time, and this time everything seemed to be going well. The court was hoping for an heir, but the melancholic Isabella only foresaw death in her future. She wrote to Maria Christina, “I can say that a secret voice announces death to me.”3 As the year progressed, Isabella’s certainty about her approaching death also grew. At the end of the year, she would turn 22 years old – a birthday she believed since her mother’s death that she would not celebrate. However, her pregnancy progressed without complications.

On 14 November, the court moved from Schönbrunn to the Hofburg, but Isabella repeatedly ran back to her rooms and sighed, “Goodbye my room, goodbye my beautiful armchair, we won’t see each other again.”4 Just four days later at the Hofburg, Isabella fell ill with a fever, and soon it became clear that she had smallpox. On 19 November, doctors bled Isabella as her mother-in-law Maria Theresa wrote to her grandfather, the King of France, with the news. Isabella had asked her to tell him that he shouldn’t worry about her. Although her symptoms remained stable over the next few days, she did go into premature labour. On 22 November, Isabella gave birth to a daughter who was quickly baptised with the name Christina and passed away after just a few minutes. Joseph remained by his wife’s side throughout, but Maria Christina had been sent away. Over the course of the next day, Isabella’s condition worsened, and she became delirious.

Isabella’s skin was covered in pustules, but she was able to drink and eat something the following day. However, Maria Theresa knew what was coming and wrote, “We are approaching the tragic end of an angel. I don’t think she will survive this evening.”5 The struggle with death truly began in the afternoon of the 26th, with Maria Theresa writing, “They say the Archduchess is in agony.”6 Joseph had knelt by Isabella’s bed, crying and praying. In the early morning of 27 November 1763, she died in her husband’s arms – it was 34 days before her 22nd birthday. Her vision had come true.

Because of the fear of infection, Isabella’s heart and entrails were not removed. She was interred in the Imperial Crypt in Vienna, and the tiny coffin of Christina was placed between the feet of her own coffin. Joseph later wrote to his father-in-law, “I lost everything. My adorable wife, the object of all my tenderness, my only friend is no longer…”7

Maria Christina went on to marry, but a miniature was found in her prayerbook depicting Isabella and her young daughter Maria Theresa after her death. On the back was written, “Portrait of my dear sister-in-law Isabella and her only daughter. The former died in 1763 at the age of 21 on November 27th, mourning from all over the world, but above all by me, who has lost the best and truest friend I have ever had in the world. This woman was endowed with every imaginable virtue, privilege and kindness. She lived and died as an angel.”8

  1. Isabella von Parma by Ursula Tamussino p.203
  2. Isabella von Parma by Ursula Tamussino p.215
  3. Isabella von Parma by Ursula Tamussino p.248
  4. Isabella von Parma by Ursula Tamussino p.248
  5. Isabella von Parma by Ursula Tamussino p.266
  6. Isabella von Parma by Ursula Tamussino p.266
  7. Isabella von Parma by Ursula Tamussino p.273
  8. Isabella von Parma by Ursula Tamussino p.279

About Moniek Bloks 2360 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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