Maria of Austria – A shattered mind




maria of austria
(public domain)

Archduchess Maria of Austria was born on 15 May 1531 as the daughter of the future Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor and Anna of Bohemia and Hungary. She was their fifth child and third daughter.

She was just 15 years old when she married William, Duke of Jülich-Cleves-Berg, the brother of Anne of Cleves, who was briefly Queen of England. The wedding took place in Regensburg on 17 July 1546 and came about as a condition of the Treaty of Venlo between William and Maria’s uncle Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor.1 This concerned a conflict over the territory of Guelders, and with this marriage, William gave up his claim to Guelders. His sister Anne heartily approved of the match, and she sent two horses and two braces of greyhounds as a wedding gift from England.2 At the time of her marriage, Maria was described as not scholarly but “teachable” and well brought up and not beautiful but “gifted with beauty.” She knew German, Latin and Italian.3 Maria came from a fertile family as was William. His grandfather, John II, had the nickname “the Babymaker”, and he reportedly fathered 63 children.

Maria was William’s second wife, as he had previously been unhappily married to Queen Joan III of Navarre. The marriage had been forced upon her and had remained unconsummated before finally being annulled in 1545. William had initially preferred to have married Maria’s elder sister Anna, but she was promised to the Duke of Orléans.4 The Duke died young, and Anna eventually married Albert V, Duke of Bavaria.

Maria and William went on to have seven children, although one daughter named Elisabeth died at the age of 5. Their eldest son lived to become an adult but tragically died at the age of 20, leaving her only surviving son, John William, as his father’s successor. In her daily life, Maria was described as “a delicate woman of great kindness of heart, in need of care.”5 Maria likely also had a mental illness, like her grandmother Queen Joanna of Castile. Maria was unfairly blamed for the health problems that led to the death of her eldest son (most likely consumption) and the mental illness that her younger son seemed to have inherited.6

Her mental health deteriorated, and she died at the age of 50.7 She was said to have “spent the last years of her life in mental derangement.”8 One Cardinal Commendone reported that “the pious woman had scruples that her marriage to William could not be legitimate because her husband had married Joan of Navarre and had consummated the marriage with her. Worry, pain and doubt would have shattered her mind.”9 Maria was buried in the Stiftskirche in Cleves, but there is no marker on her grave. She is reportedly buried underneath the organ.

habsburg church
Photo by Moniek Bloks – Organ can be seen on the right

Both of her sons died without children, leading to a succession dispute that eventually divided the lands. However, three of her daughters had children.

  1. Wilhelm V. Glück und Unglück des Herzogtums Jülich-Kleve-Berg by Erwin Fuchs p.83
  2. Anne of Cleves: Henry VIII’s discarded bride by Elizabeth Norton p.131
  3. Wilhelm V. Glück und Unglück des Herzogtums Jülich-Kleve-Berg by Erwin Fuchs p.83
  4. Wilhelm V. Glück und Unglück des Herzogtums Jülich-Kleve-Berg by Erwin Fuchs p.82
  5. Wilhelm V. Glück und Unglück des Herzogtums Jülich-Kleve-Berg by Erwin Fuchs p.83
  6. Wilhelm V. Glück und Unglück des Herzogtums Jülich-Kleve-Berg by Erwin Fuchs p.83
  7. Maria of Austria, Duchess of Jülich-Kleve-Berg
  8. Wilhelm V. Glück und Unglück des Herzogtums Jülich-Kleve-Berg by Erwin Fuchs p.136
  9. Wilhelm V. Glück und Unglück des Herzogtums Jülich-Kleve-Berg by Erwin Fuchs p.136






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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