Maria Ludovika of Austria-Este – A soul of fire

maria ludovika
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Maria Ludovika of Austria-Este was born on 14 December 1787 as the daughter of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria-Este, a son of Maria Theresa of Austria, and Maria Beatrice Ricciarda d’Este. She was born in Monza in the duchy of Milan. She was baptised with the names Maria Ludovika but was more commonly known as just Ludovika. She was the youngest of ten siblings, though not all would survive to adulthood.

Ludovika’s education was in the hands of Countess Almesloë, who had been sent by her formidable grandmother Maria Theresa. She also instructed her to teach the children German as their mother tongue, but their education would always be more Italian than German. Most of the tutors assigned to Ludovika and her sisters were Italian. They received lessons in religion and science. In 1796, the family had to flee to Austria after Napoleon invaded Milan. They briefly stayed in Trieste before moving on to Wiener Neustadt with the permission of the Emperor. Not much has survived about Ludovika from those years in Neustadt. Her mother thought she was not gentle, not patient enough and not submissive enough.

As Ludovika grew up, she took on lessons in drawing, painting and needlework. By 1803, the family moved to Vienna, and her mother wrote to her that her new room would not be big, but it would be bright and have a nice view. On 24 December 1806, Ludovika’s father died at the age of 52. But it was another death that would change Ludovika’s fate. On 13 April 1807, the second wife of Emperor Francis1, Maria Theresa of Naples and Sicily, died shortly after childbirth. She left behind eight children, “a good number of whom still need a mother.”2

Ludovika and Francis’s eldest daughter Marie Louise, later Empress of the French, were only four years apart in age, and the Emperor enjoyed spending time with the extended family. Francis soon proposed marriage to his young cousin, which she accepted “with the deepest emotion.”3 They were married on 6 January 1808 in the Augustine Church in Vienna. The ceremony was performed by the Bishop of Waitzen, Ludovika’s elder brother Karl Ambrosius. Marie Louise wrote that she had lost a dear cousin but had gained a dear mamma.4 The late Empress’s family was less than thrilled that Francis had remarried so quickly and were even more grieved to find that her children “loved their young stepmother”, whom they found “intelligent” and “agreeable and cultivated.”5

The family settled in well, though Francis sometimes felt that Ludovika was a bit too intelligent for him, and the threat of war hung over them. In addition, from 1808, the new Empress seemed to be continually unwell with tuberculosis. In May 1809, Ludovika was forced to flee Vienna with her stepchildren as Napoleon’s army headed towards them. As the family fled, Marie Louise wrote of the tiny bed her “mama” slept in with 12-year-old Leopoldina, which subsequently collapsed during the night. Nevertheless, they still attended mass at 6 in the morning. The following day, the road was so muddy that the rocking carriages made Ludovika “so sick she could hardly keep going.”6 Being continually on the run caused significant health problems for Ludovika. Ludovika’s own parents had once been driven out of their country by Napoleon, so she had even more reasons to despise him.

In 1809 as Austria was finally forced to ally with France, one observer noted Ludovika’s intelligence. He wrote that she and Stadion7 “are the only people at the summit of the state who possess a clear will and a soul of fire. She is in despair because she is unable to bring her wavering husband and Archduke Karl, all these half-hearted creatures around who yet hold the destiny of the Empire in their hands, to share her conviction… it grieves her to observe that her husband is not the Emperor but only so in name.”8 Ludovika later wrote to Archduke John9, “Ah, would I were a man, to serve the state… I confess it pains me to observe the way he tarries behind the army like any baggage porter.”10 When Marie Louise was married off to Napoleon in 1810, both Marie Louise and Ludovika were in tears.

Ludovika’s ill-health soon became a nuisance for her husband, and she also never conceived children with him. She was also being closely watched by von Metternich, the Austrian Empire’s foreign minister. Her letters, which were perhaps little indiscrete, were being monitored. In her letters to her stepson Ferdinand, for whom she had a great affection, she often criticised the Austrian court. A selective read of her letters to her brother-in-law Archduke Joseph hinted at an affair, which never happened but fueled a fire anyway. Von Metternich informed Francis, who had all the correspondence investigated. If there was any trust left in their marriage, it was now gone. Meanwhile, the sickly Empress was in Teplitz to take the baths where she met Goethe, who read to her several times, and she wrote, “To listen to him read delights my heart.”11

The downfall of Napoleon soon came, and during the following Congress of Vienna, Ludovika was the mind behind all the entertainment. However, her illness greatly overshadowed the festivities. She repeatedly fainted in the middle of state duties and had to be carried off to her rooms, but by sheer endurance, she continued to recover and reappear at the festivities. This lasted for about six months, but a state tour of Italy lay ahead. Despite protests in the family that Ludovika would not be able to take it, the tour went ahead. Ludovika herself saw it as her duty.

Earlier she had written to her husband, “You have given me great joy by your assurance that I have brought much happiness into your life… Had I but better health, or were the evil but confined to such complaints as I could have suffered without becoming useless to you, how gladly would I have born my fate and had then been of good cheer.”12 Soon Ludovika was so ill that she could barely stand up. She asked the doctors, “Then I must really die?”13 Ludovika died in Verona on 7 April 1816 – still only 28 years old.

She was reportedly not greatly missed in Vienna, except by her friends. One of them said of her, “She had not only an unlimited need to love but also the unlimited strength to do so.”14 Her husband remarried for the fourth time just six months later.

  1. who had been known as Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor until the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1804 and was now known as Francis I, Emperor of Austria
  2. Frauen auf Habsburgs Thron – die österreichischen Kaiserinnen by Friedrich Weissensteiner p.33
  3. Kaiserin Maria Ludovica von Österreich (1787-1816) by Eugen Guglia p.45
  4. Napoleon & Marie Louise: the Emperor’s second wife by Alan Palmer p.75
  5. In Destiny’s Hands: Five Tragic Rulers, Children of Maria Theresa by Justin Vovk p.317
  6. Napoleon & Marie Louise: the Emperor’s second wife by Alan Palmer p.79
  7. a statesman
  8. Vienna in the age of Metternich: from Napoleon to revolution, 1805-1848 by Stella Musulin p.57
  9. Francis’s younger brother
  10. Vienna in the age of Metternich: from Napoleon to revolution, 1805-1848 by Stella Musulin p.57-58
  11. Vienna in the age of Metternich: from Napoleon to revolution, 1805-1848 by Stella Musulin p.120
  12. Vienna in the age of Metternich: from Napoleon to revolution, 1805-1848 by Stella Musulin p.192
  13. Vienna in the age of Metternich: from Napoleon to revolution, 1805-1848 by Stella Musulin p.192
  14. Vienna in the age of Metternich: from Napoleon to revolution, 1805-1848 by Stella Musulin p.192

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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