Maria Josepha of Bavaria – The second choice (Part one)

maria josepha
(public domain)

Maria Josepha of Bavaria was born in Munich on 20 March 1739 as the daughter of the future Charles VII, Holy Roman Emperor and Maria Amalia of Austria. She was the youngest of seven children, though two of her siblings did not live to adulthood. The relationship between her parents 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.”1 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.2

In 1740, her mother’s uncle Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor, died at the age of 55. Maria Amalia had renounced her claim to the Austrian lands upon her marriage, and per the Pragmatic Sanction 1713 (which gave Charles VI’s daughters precedence over Maria Amalia and her elder sister), her cousin Maria Theresa succeeded him. Nevertheless, not all parties were in agreement, and the War of the Austrian Succession broke out – with Maria Josepha’s father also claiming the succession. After coming to an agreement with King Augustus III of Poland, the husband of her mother’s elder sister Maria Josepha who had a stronger claim, Charles Albert successfully invaded Bohemia.

Subsequently, her mother was crowned Queen (consort) of Bohemia in Prague on 7 December 1741. Charles Albert also managed to get elected as Holy Roman Emperor in 1742, and they both received imperial coronations in Frankfurt on 12 and 14 February 1742, respectively. However, Maria Theresa did not quite give up so easily, and Austria occupied Bavaria, bleeding it dry. With Bavaria’s fortunes so suddenly turned, her father was now an Emperor without land, and he remained exiled in Frankfurt. He also did not succeed in having Maria Josepha’s eldest brother elected as King of the Romans as his heir, and he was widely mocked with the Latin saying et Caesar et nihil, meaning “both Emperor and nothing.”

In October 1744, Charles Albert managed to regain Munich, and he was able to return home. But it turned out that he went home to die. Already suffering from gout, he died on 20 January 1745 at the age of 47. Maria Josepha’s brother eventually made peace with their mother’s cousin Maria Theresa upon his mother’s advice, and Maria Theresa’s husband Francis was elected as Holy Roman Emperor. Maria Josepha was only five years old when her father died, and her mother followed in death ten years later.

Maria Josepha would remain unmarried until 1765, but she did make a rather grand match. The future Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor, had been widowed in 1763. His first wife had been Isabella of Parma. He had initially been quite reluctant to remarry, but he had just one surviving daughter with Isabella, and tragically the little girl would die at the age of 7 in 1770. He was eventually persuaded to remarry, and several candidates were put forward. He even asked after Isabella’s younger sister Maria Luisa of Parma, but she was promised to the King of Spain. Another possibility was Maria Kunigunde of Saxony, whom he found “utterly devoid of what might be called charms.”3 She became the Princess Abbess of Thorn. On his return journey from seeing Maria Kunigunde, he went to see “the Bavarian” or Maria Josepha. He wrote of her, “Her twenty-six years; the fact that she has not had smallpox, a disease of which I have a frightful memory; a short, fat figure, no youthfulness; a common face; on it, some little pimples with red spots; bad teeth; all these things could hardly tempt me to return to a state in which I had enjoyed their opposite. I explained this to their Majesties and begged them to make up my mind for me in this difficult situation. After many prayers they had the goodness to tell me that the whole public, I cannot tell why, was in favour of the second [princess]; and that, since I was indifferent, they believed the Bavarian preferable…”4

Maria Josepha had a political advantage over Maria Kunigunde, but even Joseph’s mother, Maria Theresa, had her doubts. She wrote to her daughter Maria Christina, “The most bitter thing of all is that we have to pretend that we are happy and delighted.”5 The proxy wedding took place in Munich on 13 January 1765 and they were married in person at Schönbrunn on 25 January 1765. Unfortunately, the marriage was a disaster from the start – from both sides.

Read part two here.

  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. Joseph II by Derek Edward Dawson Beales p.85
  4. Joseph II by Derek Edward Dawson Beales p.85
  5. The revolutionary Emperor, Joseph II of Austria by Saul Kussiel Padover p.25

About Moniek Bloks 2697 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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