Maria Josepha of Saxony – “A great and dignified Princess” (Part one)

maria josepha of saxony
(public domain)

Maria Josepha of Saxony was born on 4 November 1731 as the daughter of Augustus III, King of Poland and Maria Josepha of Austria. She was their ninth child and fifth daughter.

On 22 July 1746, María Teresa Rafaela of Spain, Dauphine of France, as the first wife of Louis, Dauphin of France, died shortly after giving birth to a daughter. Knowing that he needed a male heir, attention soon turned to finding a new wife. With fertility high on the list of demands, French eyes turned to the court of King Augustus, whose wife Maria Josepha had given birth to many children. Envoys arrived to examine their daughter Maria Josepha, who was 14 years old at the time. The envoy wrote, “Her heart and generosity are highly praised; in a word, she is regarded as a great and dignified princess.”1 Negotiations for her hand in marriage were concluded shortly before Marie Josepha’s 15th birthday. Praise for the princess continued for her “ornate” mind, and she apparently loved reading, although not just for fun but also for her education.

María Teresa Rafaela of Spain
María Teresa Rafaela of Spain (public domain)

The Dauphin’s mother, Marie Leszczyńska, whose father had been deposed as King of Poland by Maria Josepha’s father, preferred a Spanish match, but she had little influence on her husband. Ambassador Loss wrote, “Her opposition is not to be feared because of the little credit she has with the King.”2 Neither Maria Josepha nor the Dauphin had anything to say about the match. The Dauphin was still deeply affected by the death of his first wife. Still, Maria Josepha declared, “I am the happiest person in the world, but my happiness will only be real when I have succeeded in pleasing His Majesty, the Queen and Monsieur le Dauphin. That will henceforth be my sole ambition.”3 The studious princess set about learning all she could about the country where she would spend the rest of her life.

On 10 January 1747, the proxy wedding took place in Dresden with Maria Josepha’s brother Xavier standing in for the groom. Just four days later, Maria Josepha left her family and travelled to Versailles. Luckily, she was allowed the company of the Countess of Martinitz, who had raised her. On the 27th, she arrived at Strassbourg for the traditional handover. She was not stripped naked, as had previously been done, nor was she apparently bathed as the Dauphin had wanted. She reappeared dressed in the French style and with rouge on her cheeks. It was until 7 February that she finally met the King and the Dauphin. She threw herself at the King’s feet, begging for his friendship. She won him over immediately, and he introduced her to the Dauphin. He barely managed a smile.

Maria Josepha had dreaded the meeting with Queen Marie due to the difficult political situation. Maria Josepha fell into a deep curtsey upon meeting her mother-in-law. Queen Marie raised her up and kissed her, but Maria Josepha knew she would still have to win her over. She was also introduced to her sisters-in-law, Henriette and Adélaïde, and reportedly said, “I’ll take the advice of the former and amuse myself with the latter!”4

In the early hours of 8 February, the court returned to Versailles, and Maria Josepha was immediately sent to be dressed for her wedding, which would take three hours. Her wedding dress, adorned with diamonds, weighed 60 pounds. The Dauphin, dressed similarly impressive in gold embroidery, appeared to accompany her to the chapel. They were married in person as they knelt on crimson velvet cushions. After many hours of congratulations, a ball followed in the evening. However, Maria Josepha couldn’t open the ball with her new husband as she suffered from frostbite on her foot. Her new sister-in-law, Henriette, opened the ball on her behalf. Around 9, the festivities finally came to a conclusion, but then came the bedding ceremony. Maria Josepha was reportedly “completely innocent.” 5

The rigid court etiquette of Versailles decided even who could hand Maria Josepha her nightshirt, and in this case, it was her mother-in-law. Finally, they made their way to the bridal chamber, where the Bishop of Ventadour blessed the bed. Over 100 people were allowed into the room. The Dauphin, who had gone through the same thing before with his beloved first wife, wept openly. Maria Josepha told him, “Give free rein, sir, to your tears, and do not fear that I will take offence. They tell me that I have the right to hope for myself if I am lucky enough to merit your esteem.”6 However, the tears meant that he was unable to consummate the marriage that night.

It did not take very long to overcome this, and the marriage was consummated not much later. King Louis XV reported, “It’s a done deal. She is Madame la Dauphine; it happened this afternoon.”7 Not much later, she won her mother-in-law’s heart. During an event, she was required to wear a bracelet with the portrait of her father, but when Queen Marie asked to see the bracelet, Maria Josepha revealed it was actually a portrait of the Queen’s father. Her husband’s heart was a bit more challenging to win as he was still grieving his first wife. She continued to encourage him to talk about her and slowly found her way into his heart. She also found a great friend in her sister-in-law Henriette and befriended the King’s mistress, Madame de Pompadour.

The Dauphin’s daughter, with his first wife, died suddenly on 27 April 1748. With the last living link to his first wife also gone, he was again plunged in grief. Maria Josepha tried to comfort him by having a painting done of the little girl, but that painting has now disappeared.

Read part two here.

  1. La mère de Louis XVI by Monique de Huertas p.15-16
  2. La mère de Louis XVI by Monique de Huertas p.17
  3. La mère de Louis XVI by Monique de Huertas p.21
  4. La mère de Louis XVI by Monique de Huertas p.37
  5. La mère de Louis XVI by Monique de Huertas p.42
  6. La mère de Louis XVI by Monique de Huertas p.44
  7. La mère de Louis XVI by Monique de Huertas p.44

About Moniek Bloks 2732 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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