Maria Josepha of Austria – Devotional fervour (Part one)

maria josepha
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Maria Josepha of Austria was born on 8 December 1699 as the eldest child of the future Joseph I, Holy Roman Emperor and Princess Wilhelmina Amalia of Brunswick-Lüneburg. A younger brother named Leopold Joseph was born the following year, but he died of hydrocephalus before his first birthday. A sister named Maria Amalia was born on 22 October 1701. Then her father’s licentious ways caught up with him, and he passed a venereal disease to his wife, which rendered her unable to have any 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 In 1705, her grandfather died, and her father was elected as Holy Roman Emperor.

Even before her grandfather’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. However, 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.

In the spring of 1711, a smallpox epidemic struck the court in Vienna. On 7 April, Joseph felt a little ill, but he went hunting anyway. On 9 April, he awoke with a fever and a slight rash and the following day, the dreaded marks began to spread over his body. He was still only 32 years so there was hope he would be able to survive. Nevertheless, a few days later, his fever rose sharply, and by the evening, he became delirious. At half-past ten on the morning of 17 April 1711, Joseph died. His brother Charles was duly elected as the new Holy Roman Emperor.

The three Empresses – her grandmother Eleonore Magdalene, her mother Wilhelmine Amalie and Charles’s wife Elisabeth Christine –  had not officially been informed of the pact that had been signed but 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. Eleonore Magdelene supported Wilhelmine Amalie for her daughters’ claim to the throne, but when presented with the new pact, Wilhelmina Amalie could do nothing but quietly object. She never publically contested the will of the head of the dynasty.

Meanwhile, Maria Josepha was growing into a young woman. She was brought up in the tradition of the pietas austriaca – the Habsburgs were especially known for their piety – and she was schooled by her mother in a range of pious and penitential practices. Her favourite saint was Francis Xavier, and all of her children received the names “Francis Xavier” or “Francisca Xaveria.” Maria Josepha’s confessor during the last 12 years of her life later wrote of her, “Her devotional fervour was unquenchable, so much so, that I often found it necessary to prevent her from all that excessive prayer, even though in spite of my restrictions she kept more devotions that many a religious person would voluntarily have undertaken in her convent.”3 He also wrote that she went to mass twice a day, though later as much as three or four times a day. Nevertheless, she was open to people of other religions. Her son Frederick Christian later wrote, “She said to me that, if I should ever take over the government, I should never do wrong to those who were not of our religion and should allow them complete freedom but that at the same time our sacred religion should be the principal point of view and the basis of all my actions.”4

Maria Josepha was being considered as a wife for Frederick Augustus, later Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, but she would not be allowed to marry a non-Catholic. Frederick Augustus converted to Catholicism in 1712 to become eligible for the throne of Poland, and this also opened up the possibility of the Habsburg match again.

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. Queenship in Europe 1660–1815: The Role of the Consort edited by Clarissa Campbell Orr p. 269
  4. Queenship in Europe 1660–1815: The Role of the Consort edited by Clarissa Campbell Orr p. 269

About Moniek Bloks 2728 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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