In correspondence with her brother Xavier, Maria Josepha spoke often about the loss of her eldest son. She even asked his forgiveness for only talking about him, “who occupies her mind and her heart.”1 The Duke of Berry now became next in the line of succession after his father.
In 1763, Maria Josepha became pregnant for the last time, and the death of her father on 5 October 1763 hit her hard. The following April, she wrote, “I am tired as a dog, I am not accustomed to finding myself so advanced in pregnancy in Holy Week.”2 On 3 May 1764, at 2 in the morning, Maria Josepha gave birth to a daughter, who received the name Elisabeth. Tragically, neither parent would get to see Elisabeth grow up.
In early August 1765, the Dauphin went to watch a military manoeuvre in a wet meadow, and he hurried home without changing into dry clothes. He ended up with a bad cold, and a fever developed. Maria Josepha once again became his devoted nurse. He appeared to be better, but a cough persisted. On 20 October, she wrote to her brother, “Your poor sister is dying of worry.”3 The Dauphin soon began to cough up blood, and his condition deteriorated. By early December, a tumour had formed, which caused him considerable pain, and he could no longer lie flat on his back. By the 13th, he was in excruciating pain, and he sent Maria Josepha away as she was exhausted. She was with her sister-in-law Adélaïde when she was informed that her husband had died on 20 December 1765. Maria Josepha promptly fainted when told, “Madame, bless the Lord, we have another saint in the sky.”4
A few days later, she wrote to her brother, “The good Lord wanted me to survive the one for whom I would have given a thousand lives.”5 In her grief, she ordered her ladies to cut her hair off. Her first wedding anniversary without her husband was a painful one. She wrote, “Nineteen years ago, I was united to the one I no longer have. Happiness passes quickly.”6 The King offered her a new apartment to escape the painful memories, which she gladly accepted. He visited her often and tried to console her as best he could. However, it soon became apparent that Maria Josepha also had a persistent cough. She did not care for her health and felt like she had nothing left to live for anymore except her children, who brought her joy.
When told of a possible match between her eldest son and Archduchess Marie Antoinette, she said, “The best way to ensure Vienna’s good graces would be to keep her between fear and hope.”7 The King promptly put an end to the negotiations. By April, she, too, was coughing up blood, but she continued to instruct her children, including her “treasure”, the new Dauphin.8
By September 1766, she claimed to feel better, but in early 1767, she wrote, “It’s going from bad to worse.”9 The King called another doctor to treat her. In February, one observer wrote, “She is pale enough to make your heart bleed.”10 She was also quickly losing weight, and her brother sent her wine from Hungary.
By March, it was clear that she wasn’t going to survive. On 9 March, she asked her children to come to her, but she no longer had the strength to talk to them. She entrusted her children to her sister-in-law, Adélaïde and her mother-in-law, Queen Marie. On 13 March, she heard Mass in her room and was told, “Rejoice, Madame, you are going, in exchange for a life spent in sadness and tears, to begin an eternally happy reign.”11 She asked for a crucifix and kissed it several times. Then, “her shining eyes open wide without seeming to see or look at anyone.”12 She died on 13 March 1767 at the age of just 35.
She had asked for a simple funeral, but the King ordered a grand affair. She was interred next to her husband, and during the French Revolution, their remains were saved by being moved to a cemetery. They were returned to the Cathedral of Sens in 1814.
- La mère de Louis XVI by Monique de Huertas p.161
- La mère de Louis XVI by Monique de Huertas p.183
- La mère de Louis XVI by Monique de Huertas p.194
- La mère de Louis XVI by Monique de Huertas p.203
- La mère de Louis XVI by Monique de Huertas p.204
- La mère de Louis XVI by Monique de Huertas p.208
- La mère de Louis XVI by Monique de Huertas p.211
- La mère de Louis XVI by Monique de Huertas p.216
- La mère de Louis XVI by Monique de Huertas p.220
- La mère de Louis XVI by Monique de Huertas p.221
- La mère de Louis XVI by Monique de Huertas p.224
- La mère de Louis XVI by Monique de Huertas p.225