Maria Theresa was especially fond of Leopold and Maria Luisa’s children and was kept informed of the tiniest details, including their height. But her life was coming to an end, and she found no joy in life anymore. As she lay dying in 1780, she wrote to Leopold and Maria Luisa, “You are Christians and virtuous, this comforts me… God receives you. I give you both and your dear ten children my blessing.”1 She died on 29 November 1780 in the arms of her son Joseph. Between 1774 and 1780, Maria Luisa had given birth to four more children: Joseph (born 1776), Maria Clementina (born 1777), Anton (1779) and Maria Amalia (1780).
By 1781, her brother-in-law, who had taken a particular interest in her eldest son Francis as he was his heir, had taken it upon himself to find a bride for his 14-year-old nephew. He found the bride in the court of Württemberg – her name was Elisabeth. He wrote to Leopold, “She is not beautiful and will never be pretty. She is tall for her age, slender, well-formed, has pretty enough eyes, is blond, has a large mouth and possesses a sweet and alert expression.”2 Her elder sister Sophie Dorothea was the wife of Catherine the Great’s son. After six months of the King of Prussia trying to prevent the match, Joseph wrote to Leopold that the wedding was set to go ahead. Leopold wrote back on his and Maria Luisa’s behalf, “We feel that our children are also yours and the state’s, and that consequently, it is for you to dispose of them in a manner that seems to you useful and advantageous to the Monarchy.”3 It would be a while before the wedding could take place.
Meanwhile, Maria Luisa gave birth to four more children, Johann (born 1782), Rainer (born 1783), Louis (born 1784) and lastly, Rudolph (born 1788). She had a total of 16 children, of which two did not survive to adulthood. Some of the children were showing signs of suffering from epilepsy, but Leopold and Maria Luisa kept this to themselves as it could be a hereditary disease.
In 1784, Francis and Joseph travelled to Vienna, where Francis was to receive further education. They arrived in late June, and on 1 July, Francis met his future wife, Elisabeth, who had been living in Vienna for the past two years. Apparently, it was love at first sight. However, Leopold’s presence was required at home, and so he left Francis in Vienna. On 6 January 1788, Francis and Elisabeth were married at last. Their wedding took place with just a few close relatives in attendance. Leopold and Maria Luisa had been unable to attend. Francis’s elder sister Maria Theresa also married that year. She had fallen in love with Prince Anthony of Saxony, and Leopold considered it to be a suitable match. He had little prospect of ruling Saxony, which suited the quiet Maria Theresa just fine. Many years later, they would become Saxony’s King and Queen. On 8 September 1787, Anthony and Maria Theresa were married in Florence, with a vow renewal taking place a month later in Dresden.
Meanwhile, Leopold’s brother Joseph’s health was deteriorating quickly. He pleaded for Leopold to come to Vienna and Leopold promised to come as soon as the affairs in Florence were settled. But Leopold himself was not well at all either as he suffered from a terrible flu. Leopold wrote to his sister, “HM is must worse, and it is even feared that I will not arrive in time to see him. I am in Florence, where a strong cold has stopped me and forced me to take a couple of days before leaving… I will leave as soon as I can… I embrace you.”4
In the end, it was his nephew Francis that was with the dying Emperor. He gifted Francis a diamond-studded dagger to remember him by. During the last week of Joseph’s life, Francis’s wife Elisabeth went into labour and gave birth to a daughter, whom Joseph named Ludovica. The delivery had been extremely difficult, and forceps had to be used. Elizabeth appeared to recover, but she died suddenly in the middle of the night of 18 February 1790 of a haemorrhage. Joseph broke down in tears when he was informed and cried, “Throw me on top of her!”5 Maria Luisa’s first grandchild would live for just one year. Just two days after Elisabeth’s death, Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor, died. Five days later, the news arrived in Florence that Leopold was now King of Hungary and Bohemia and presumptive Holy Roman Emperor. He was elected Holy Roman Emperor the following September.
In March, Leopold departed for Vienna, initially leaving his family behind. He was terribly lonely in Vienna and still quite ill. He was very happy to be reunited with his family two months later. On 16 May, Maria Luisa and their younger children arrived in Vienna. The rest of the children followed in June. Even Maria Theresa and her husband Anthony were asked to come to Vienna so that the family would be complete.
One of Leopold’s first tasks was to find a new wife for Francis. He settled on Maria Teresa of Naples and Sicily, who was Francis’s double first cousin and the daughter of his sister Maria Carolina. Two more marriages were arranged between their families. His son Ferdinand was to marry Maria Teresa’s sister Luisa, and his daughter Maria Clementina was to marry Maria Teresa’s brother – the future King Francis I of the Two Sicilies. At the end of September, news arrived that Leopold had been elected Holy Roman Emperor, and his and Maria Luisa’s coronation took place on 9 October in Frankfurt. In November, the coronation as King of Hungary followed. Their son Alexander was appointed as Palatine of Hungary. Their son Ferdinand was appointed as the new Grand Duke of Tuscany, while their eldest son Francis became regent in Vienna as Leopold travelled his empire.
Leopold and Maria Luisa would not reign for long. At the end of February 1792, Leopold was suffering from excruciating pain in his stomach, and he often vomited. He was bled several times but was soon “seized with convulsions.”6 On 1 March 1792, Leopold died in the arms of his devoted wife, Maria Luisa. Maria Luisa was devastated and would follow her husband to the grave just two months later. She died on 15 May 1792 after having declared that “she could not survive [without] the husband she had always loved passionately.”7 She was still only 46 years old.
- In Destiny’s Hands: Five Tragic Rulers, Children of Maria Theresa by Justin Vovk p.160
- In Destiny’s Hands: Five Tragic Rulers, Children of Maria Theresa by Justin Vovk p.185
- In Destiny’s Hands: Five Tragic Rulers, Children of Maria Theresa by Justin Vovk p.186
- In Destiny’s Hands: Five Tragic Rulers, Children of Maria Theresa by Justin Vovk p.231
- In Destiny’s Hands: Five Tragic Rulers, Children of Maria Theresa by Justin Vovk p.233
- In Destiny’s Hands: Five Tragic Rulers, Children of Maria Theresa by Justin Vovk p.249
- In Destiny’s Hands: Five Tragic Rulers, Children of Maria Theresa by Justin Vovk p.252