Maria Leopoldine of Austria – Empress of 401 days

(public domain)

After the death of his first wife, Maria Anna of Spain, Ferdinand III, Holy Roman Emperor, sought to marry again. Like his first wife, his second wife would be another first cousin. Maria Leopoldine of Austria was the daughter of Leopold V, Archduke of Austria, and Claudia de’ Medici. Born on 6 April 1632, Maria Leopoldine was just one year older than her eldest future stepson and 24 years younger than her future husband. Maria Leopoldine had three older surviving siblings; Ferdinand Charles (born 1628), Isabella Clara (born 1629) and Sigismund Francis (born 1630). She also had an older half-sister from her mother’s first marriage, Vittoria della Rovere. Her father had arranged for Pope Urban VIII to be her godfather but due to tensions between the two bishops asked to represent the Pope at the baptism, it was postponed for the time being.

Maria Leopoldine was born in the midst of a war with Sweden, and she was still in the cradle when her father died in September 1632 after he became ill while taking a rest from battle. Her mother, Claudia, now had to act as regent for her eldest brother until he came of age in 1649. It was only at the end of November that Maria Leopoldine was finally baptised. In addition to the Pope, Marie de’ Medici, Queen of France, was also one of her godparents. She was presumably named Leopoldine to honour her late father.

Her mother consulted Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor, on how best to raise her young son. Should he perhaps be separated from the women and given his own household? Her husband’s will had stated that he wanted him to be raised by Jesuits. The Emperor responded that Claudia should do what she thought was best and that he did not believe that the five-year-old should be separated from his siblings yet. All four siblings received their education from the Jesuits. Theatre became a great part of their childhood, and the siblings were not only spectators but also actors. In 1636, all four performed for their mother’s birthday.

Maria Leopoldine was still in her teens when she became the second wife of Ferdinand III, Holy Roman Emperor. He already had surviving sons, and Maria Leopoldine was known to be robust and could potentially guarantee further strong offspring. At the time, she was also being considered for the widowed King Philip IV of Spain, but both parties had their doubts about that match. On 29 February 1648, the Pope granted the necessary dispensation and Maria Leopoldine and Ferdinand were married in Linz on 2 July 1648. However, all the major celebrations were cancelled because the court was in mourning for the King of Poland. Her mother, Claudia, died shortly after returning home to Innsbruck.

Maria Leopoldine fell pregnant almost immediately, and she was painted in the final stage of her pregnancy the following year. Maria Leopoldine had been careful throughout her pregnancy. She had avoided taking bumpy carriage rides and allowed herself to be carried in a litter instead. On medical advice, she remained active and was considered to be healthy. There were daily prayers for a happy birth.

On 7 August 1648, Maria Leopoldine gave birth to a son named Archduke Charles Joseph of Austria, but the birth had been extremely difficult for the just 17-year-old Empress. Maria Leopoldine’s condition deteriorated over the day, and she received the last rites before losing consciousness. She died around midnight after the birth of her son, and “such joy suddenly turned into the greatest sadness.”1 It appears that Ferdinand’s stepmother was unjustly accused of having caused her death through a lack of care.2

Maria Leopoldine’s son survived the birth, and he became bishop of Olmütz and Breslau, Passau, before dying at the age of 14. Maria Leopoldine was buried in the Imperial Crypt in Vienna, and the inscription on her coffin reads, “My hope is the Lord. Locked in this coffin is Maria Leopoldina, the imperial wife of the most noble Emperor Ferdinand III, Queen of Hungary and Bohemia, the noble daughter of the noble Archdukes Leopold and Claudia. As soon as she gave life to an imperial child, for the joy of the world, she passed away. Worthy to live for centuries, she ended hardly a year of government and life at the same time on August 7th, in the year of the Lord, 1649.3

Her coffin was restored in 1988, and a new inner coffin was made from mahogany. Her remains were found to be skeletal, and her high-heeled shoes were still recognisable.

Photo by Moniek Bloks
  1. The Kapuzinergruft
  2. Nur die Frau des Kaisers?: Kaiserinnen in der Frühen Neuzeit by Bettina Braun, Katrin Keller and Matthias Schnettger p.125
  3. Translated from Latin by Google translate so please forgive any errors.

About Moniek Bloks 2200 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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