Maria Josepha of Bavaria – The neglected Empress (Part two)

maria josepha
(public domain)

Read part one here

Joseph wrote, “My wife has become insupportable to me… They want me to have children. How can I have them? If I could put the tip of my finger on the tiniest part of her body that is not covered with boils, I would try to have children.”1 He was so cruel to Maria Josepha that her sister-in-law remarked, “I believe that if I were his wife and so mistreated, I would escape and hang myself on a tree at Schönbrunn.”2 Joseph spoke badly of his wife in public and even partitioned off their joined balcony. Maria Theresa wrote, “The fact is that my son is to be pitied. She is neither pretty nor agreeable. I want to believe that she is good. But, if it goes on (if she turns out to be pregnant), we could not thank God enough that at least she brings us an heir – provided that it is a prince.”3

Maria Josepha only found kindness with her father-in-law Francis, but tragically he died 18 August 1765. This led to Joseph succeeding him as Holy Roman Emperor, and the unloved Maria Josepha became Holy Roman Empress. After his death, Maria Josepha wrote, “He never made any difference between me and his own children. And I loved him and honoured him as if he had indeed been my father. His memory is graven [sic] on my heart, and my gratitude towards him will cease only with my life.”4

Joseph continued to avoid his wife, and when his younger brother Leopold married Maria Luisa of Spain, she was not even invited along to the wedding. Despite their obvious alienation, rumours soon circulated that she was pregnant. In October, Joseph wrote, “As for my Empress, there is no change. She has no illness but considerable disturbance. She may be pregnant, though without the slightest swelling. I just don’t understand it, and console myself with the happy life I lead as a bachelor husband.” He later wrote, “I live almost as a bachelor, getting up at 6 o’clock in the morning, going to bed about 11, seeing my wife only at the table and touching her only in bed.”5 It looks like they managed to consummate the marriage after all. The English ambassador later wrote that the Emperor had spoken of his “bed of thorns.”6

In July 1766, Joseph wrote to his mother, “I venture to enclose a letter for my wife; I would prefer and would be less embarrassed to write to the Great Mogul, for she is not satisfied with respectful sentiments and she has already criticised me for them. Ask yourself, dear mother, what can I write to her and where the devil would you expect me to go and dredge up another feeling? Forgive the expression, which is simply the truth! This letter merely acknowledges hers, assures her I am well, am having a good trip, wishes her the same and assures her that I have the honour to be at the foot of the page her humble husband.”7 Maria Josepha had no one to talk to and apparently poured her heart out to the servants.

In May 1767, Maria Josepha became seriously ill, and Maria Theresa sat with her until the physician came to bleed her. When her sleeve was pulled up, everyone noticed the distinctive marks of smallpox. Maria Josepha was horrified, as was her mother-in-law, but Maria Theresa stayed throughout the bloodletting and even kissed her goodbye when it was over. Unfortunately, Maria Theresa too became infected with the illness, but while she survived, Maria Josepha did not.

Maria Josepha died on 28 May 1767 at the age of 28. Joseph did not see her while she was sick; he was not there when she died and he did not attend her funeral. Maria Theresa’s Lord Great Chamberlain wrote of Maria Josepha after her death, “It is certain that, if ever the emperor could have become accustomed to her appearance and her certainly none too refined manners, and had not required of her an understanding as brilliant as his first wife had, she would have been worthy of his love in return for her own almost excessive tenderness for him and her entirely blind acceptance of his wishes; as he himself half acknowledges, since in the first reaction to receiving the news of her death he let fall to some of his intimates some remarks which imply some regrets for the coldness he has shown her.”8 Joseph later said that his wife had been “for so many reasons worthy of respect.”9

William, Marquis of Kildare, wrote to his mother Emily, Duchess of Leinster, “The loss of the young Empress does not seem to affect any of them here, and, by what I hear, her death is full as little regretted at Vienna, though they all say she was good-natured but terribly ugly.”10

For Maria Josepha, these sentiments came too late. She now rests in the Imperial Crypt in Vienna in the shadow of the shared tomb of her parents-in-law.11 Joseph never remarried and was eventually succeeded by his younger brother Leopold.

  1. The revolutionary Emperor, Joseph II of Austria by Saul Kussiel Padover p.26
  2. The revolutionary Emperor, Joseph II of Austria by Saul Kussiel Padover p.26
  3. Joseph II by Derek Edward Dawson Beales p.87
  4. Maria Theresa by Edward Crankshaw p.264
  5. Joseph II by Derek Edward Dawson Beales p.87
  6. Joseph II by Derek Edward Dawson Beales p.87
  7. Joseph II by Derek Edward Dawson Beales p.88
  8. Joseph II by Derek Edward Dawson Beales p.88
  9. Joseph II by Derek Edward Dawson Beales p.88
  10. Correspondence of Emily, Duchess of Leinster V.III p.474
  11. Imperial Crypt

About Moniek Bloks 2749 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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