Margaret Theresa of Spain – The Imperial Pawn

(public domain)

Margaret Theresa of Spain was born on 12 July 1651 as the first child of King Philip IV of Spain from his second marriage with his niece Mariana of Austria. At the time of her birth, just one elder half-sibling from her father’s first marriage to Elisabeth of France was still alive – Maria Theresa – who would marry King Louis XIV of France in 1660.

Margaret Theresa’s birth had endangered the life of her 16-year-old mother, and it took her mother several weeks to recover. Her father called the new addition to the family “gorgeous and so splendid that she looks more like a sister of her mother than her daughter.”1 However, she was not the longed-for boy. Her mother would go on to have four more recorded pregnancies and several miscarriages during her tenure as Queen. After Margaret Theresa’s birth in 1651, her mother did not have any children for several years. A short-lived daughter was born in 1656, but the much-longed-for boy arrived on 28 November 1657 to great relief.

He was named Philip Prospero, and his birth also made it possible to now have peace with France as Maria Theresa was no longer the heiress presumptive and could now more safely be married off. A second son named Ferdinand Thomas was born on 21 December 1658, further securing the succession. However, Ferdinand Thomas died the following year, but the marriage between Maria Theresa and the King of France went ahead. Maria Theresa renounced her succession rights to the Spanish, but this was made conditional on the grounds of the payment of a large dowry (which France would never receive). The following year, Philip Prospero died shortly before his fourth birthday, leaving Margaret Theresa as the heiress presumptive. However, her mother was pregnant at the time, and just five days after Philip’s Prospero’s death, another son was born – the future King Charles II. It was practically a miracle.

Meanwhile, Margaret Theresa was growing up in the Queen’s chambers in the Royal Alcazar of Madrid. She received an excellent education and was considered to be physically attractive. She did not suffer from the disabilities her brother had due to the closeness in the relationship between her parents. As early as April 1663 – when Margaret Theresa was 12 – she was being considered as a bride for her uncle, Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor. He was her mother’s younger brother and was 11 years older than her. Though this would be yet another very close marriage, its main goal was to ensure the defence of the Low Countries. Also, it didn’t hurt to keep a potential heiress to the crown in the family. Councillors of State later wrote that Leopold was in the best position to guarantee “the rights of the Lady Infanta to this Crown [of Spain]” and had the best claim to the “title of son of Your Majesty.”2 Not only were Mariana and Leopold siblings, King Philip IV and Leopold’s mother were also siblings – making King Philip Leopold’s uncle as well.

The marriage treaty was ratified on 7 September 1663, but both sides were still unsure. Throughout the next year, King Philip stalled sending his daughter to Vienna. Leopold was desperate for an heir and pleaded for Margaret Theresa to be sent to Vienna. He finally set the departure for August 1665, but he was more concerned with the war with the Portuguese. The Spanish suffered a defeat in July, and it also became clear that the King would not live for much longer. Margaret Theresa’s mother would soon take centre stage as regent. On his deathbed, he urged his daughter to be “obedient” to her mother.3 He died on 17 September 1665 at the age of 60.

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Margaret Theresa was included in her father’s will as a potential heiress to her brother – based on the renunciation of her sister Maria Theresa. Another line of succession was also confirmed – the line of Philip’s younger sister Maria Anna of Spain, whose only surviving son happened to be Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor. Margaret Theresa’s wedding would strengthen that line even more. Finally, the proxy marriage was celebrated on 25 April 1666. Mariana wrote that she would miss her “as I was so used to having her close to me at all times.”4 Margaret Theresa left for Vienna a few days after the proxy ceremony.

Her arrival in the capital in December 1666 was magnificently staged with a Hungarian guard of 1,500 horsemen, a German guard of 1,000 horsemen, all the gentlemen of the bedchamber, ministers of state and the members of the Order of the Golden Fleece. Margaret Theresa adapted well to her new surroundings, and the official wedding ceremony took place on 12 December 1666. She reportedly got on well with Leopold, and she continued to call him “uncle” while he called her “Gredl.” They shared a love of music, and for her 17th birthday, Leopold worked with Antonio Cesti to compose an opera. Her piety reportedly inspired Leopold to compel the Jews to leave Vienna in 1669/1670.

Maria Antonia of Austria (public domain)

She became pregnant almost immediately, and by March, she was being carried around in a litter. She gave birth to a short-lived son named Ferdinand Wenceslaus on 28 September 1667. She would go on to give birth three more times and also suffered at least two miscarriages. Of all her children, only her daughter Maria Antonia survived to adulthood. Margaret Theresa had pushed her body to the limit with so many pregnancies, and she was often up and walking shortly after childbirth to please her husband.

Photo by Moniek Bloks – Margaret Theresa’s coffin is on the right

Margaret Theresa died on 12 March 1673 – still only 21 years old – of bronchitis after suffering from a fever for eight days. She was also four months pregnant.5 An autopsy revealed that the child had been a boy. Her husband wrote in his diary, “My heart breaks… but always may Your Will be done.”6 When the news reached Madrid, her brother Charles consoled their mother “like an angel”, helping her take the news with “perfect resignation.”7 She left behind a four-year-old daughter who inherited her claim to the Spanish throne. Leopold would remarry that same year, but he found his new wife “not like my only Margareta.”8

  1. Queen, Mother & Stateswoman by Silvia Z. Mitchell p. 34
  2. Queen, Mother & Stateswoman by Silvia Z. Mitchell p. 43
  3. Queen, Mother & Stateswoman by Silvia Z. Mitchell p. 46
  4. Queen, Mother & Stateswoman by Silvia Z. Mitchell p. 84
  5. The Kapuzinergruft
  6. The Habsburgs: embodying empire
    by Andrew Wheatcroft p.200
  7. Queen, Mother & Stateswoman by Silvia Z. Mitchell p. 154
  8. The Habsburgs: embodying empire by Andrew Wheatcroft p.201

About Moniek Bloks 2550 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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