Maria Amalia of Austria – Holy Roman Empress against the odds (Part one)




(public domain)

Maria Amalia of Austria was born on 22 October 1701 as the youngest child of Joseph I, Holy Roman Emperor and his wife, Wilhelmine Amalie of Brunswick-Lüneburg. She was born three months after the death of her only brother Leopold Joseph, and so the disappointment in her gender was great. However, her elder sister Maria Josepha, born in 1699, did survive infancy.

Her father lived quite a licentious lifestyle, and soon after Maria Amalia’s birth, he passed a venereal disease to her mother, rendering her unable to have more children.1 He had reportedly contracted the disease from the daughter of a court gardener, but Wilhelmine Amalie blamed herself for the infection.2 Joseph’s mother was supportive of her daughter-in-law and had her son’s procurers thrown into the fortress prison. There was little she could do to her son, especially when he succeeded his father in 1705.

Even before his father’s death, worries existed about the succession, and the family began to plan for the possibility of female succession. Joseph and his younger brother Charles battled it out, with Joseph insisting that his daughters should take precedence over any of Charles’s daughters. At this time, Charles was not even married yet. They eventually signed the Mutual Pact of Succession, which made Maria Josepha the heiress in case Charles did not have any sons. Joseph enjoyed his freedom as Emperor a little too much. He managed a steady stream of mistresses with his favourite drinking and hunting pal, Count Johann Philip von Lamberg. His main mistress was Marianne Palffy, whom he paraded around in public and showered with gifts, despite protests by Wilhelmine Amalie.

Meanwhile, Maria Amalia and her sister Maria Josepha grew up at the Imperial Court of their father. She was not even 10 years old when her father died quite suddenly on 17 April 1711 during a smallpox epidemic. He was succeeded by his brother Charles, who was elected Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor, in October. The three Empresses – Joseph’s mother Eleonore Magdalene, Maria Amalia’s mother Wilhelmine Amalie and Charles’s wife Elisabeth Christine – had not officially been informed of the pact that had been signed but they 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.

Maria Amalia was described as resembling her mother; she was short in stature, very lively and self-confident.3 She was also known for her piety. She was just 16 years old when she met her future husband, Charles Albert, the eldest surviving son of the Elector of Bavaria, who visited Vienna on his way to campaign against the Turks in Belgrade. He returned via Vienna as well, as he was quite interested in marrying into the Habsburg family. Although her elder sister Maria Josepha was perhaps politically more interesting, she was already promised to another. Maria Amalia would receive a rich dowry, including jewels worth nearly one million guilders.

Maria Amalia was made to renounce her rights of inheritance before the wedding could finally go ahead in 1722. On 5 October 1722, Maria Amalia and Charles Albert were married by the Archbishop of Vienna in the court chapel of the Favorita summer palace. The bride was flanked by her mother and grandmother as she entered the chapel. Although the new bride would move to Bavaria with a huge entourage, it was agreed ahead of time that this would eventually be reduced to accommodate her new status. Her husband was, after all, not the Elector yet.

The relationship between Maria Amalia and Charles Albert is difficult to pinpoint. Charles Albert’s biographer wrote that he “lived with his wife in a very happy manner”, but the same can probably not be said for Maria Amalia. He wrote of her that she “knew how to adapt herself to his temperament.”4 Based on individual reports from the court, it appears that Charles Albert sometimes beat his wife, tore out clumps of her hair and that these episodes sometimes took place in the public sphere of the court in Munich.5

Read part two here.

  1. The Habsburg Monarchy 1618-1815 by Charles W. Ingrao p.128
  2. Queenship in Europe 1660-1815: The Role of the Consort edited by Clarissa Campbell Orr p.116
  3. Die Habsburger. Ein biographisches Lexikon by Karl Möckl p. 292
  4. Nur die Frau des Kaisers? Kaiserinnen in der Frühen Neuzeit (Veröffentlichungen des Instituts für Österreichische Geschichtsforschung edited by Bettina Braun, Bettina, Katrin Keller, Matthias Schnettger p.199
  5. Nur die Frau des Kaisers? Kaiserinnen in der Frühen Neuzeit (Veröffentlichungen des Instituts für Österreichische Geschichtsforschung edited by Bettina Braun, Bettina, Katrin Keller, Matthias Schnettger p.199






About Moniek Bloks 2087 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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