On 19 March 1751 Maria Theresa gave birth to her ninth daughter, Maria Josepha. She and her elder sister Maria Johanna were placed under the supervision of Countess Lerchenfeld. Maria Theresa was very particular about the food they could eat.
Maria Theresa wrote to the Countess,
I insist on their eating everything, with no fault-finding and no picking and choosing. Further, they must not be allowed to criticise their food. On Fridays, Saturdays and all other fastdays they will eat fish. Although Johanna in particular dislikes it, she must not be indulged. The sooner the habit is broken the better. All my children had the same aversion, and all had to overcome it… I don’t like to see them eating much sugar, see that they have as little as possible.
About cleanliness, she wrote,
They must not be allowed to talk to door-keepers and stokers, or to give them orders; they are born to obey…I fear that Johanna is pigheaded, though she is clever enough in other ways. Josepha still seems to be a good child, but no so capable. And never must they be allowed to be afraid, neither of thunderstorms, fire, ghosts, witches or any other nonsense. The servants must not talk about such things or tell horror stories. You are not to let them be frightened of illness, so you will talk in a perfectly natural way about everything of this kind, even smallpox and death; it is all good to familiarise them with such thoughts in good time. They must not be allowed to show aversion to anything, still less to anybody: no familiarity with the servants, politeness towards all, and particularly towards strangers.
Countess Lerchenfeld spoilt the children nevertheless and despite her mother’s warning, Maria Josepha was terrified of smallpox. Her elder sister, Maria Johanna, had died of the illness in 1762 at the age of just 12. Her brother Joseph’s wife, also named Maria Josepha, had died of the illness in 1767 and Maria Theresa had taken her to pray at Maria Josepha’s coffin in the Imperial Crypt. However, it had not been completely sealed when the two went to pray and it was perhaps then that the younger Maria Josepha also contracted smallpox. She may have contracted the disease earlier, but only began showing symptoms later.
Just 11 days later, Maria Josepha was dead and Maria Theresa blamed herself for her daughter’s death. Maria Josepha was just 16 years old. In her short life, she was the intended bride for the King of Naples and she was replaced by her younger sister, Maria Carolina. 1
- Edward Crankshaw (1969) Maria Theresa, a Biography ↩