Maria of Austria – The Ambassadress (Part two)

maria austria
(public domain)

Read part one here.

In August 1556, Maria’s father abdicated as Holy Roman Emperor in favour of his brother Ferdinand, having already abdicated as King of Spain earlier in favour of Philip. Charles died in retirement two years later. By 1559, the family had moved to the nearby city of Wiener Neustadt as they grew out of their lodgings in Vienna. Their new castle was located right by a massive park, which allowed for the family’s favourite pastime of hunting. However, Maximilian was itching for more responsibility, but he was kept on a tight leash by his overbearing and sickly father. On 9 March 1561, Maria gave birth to another son – named Wenceslaus. This was followed by the births of two short-lived sons and a short-lived daughter in 1562, 1564 and 1565.

On 21 September 1562, Maria was crowned Queen of Bohemia – her husband had been crowned the day before. Maria wore a white dress with gold with sleeves described as “old Spanish… and the decoration and veil on her head were also Spanish.”1 Her young daughters Anne and Elisabeth were able to see the ceremony and “were repeatedly allowed by the dukes [sic] to move ahead so that they would be better able to see.”2 Maria was anointed with oil and received the sceptre, orb and crown associated with the office of the Queen of Bohemia. She briefly stumbled on a fold in the carpet on her way out of the cathedral and was helped up by her sister-in-law Anna. Unfortunately, they did not have much time to enjoy the celebrations surrounding the coronation. Prague was consumed by plague, and they needed to move on to Frankfurt for the imperial election.

In November, Maximilian was chosen as the King of the Romans and thus as his father’s successor to the Imperial crown. Maria was now not only a Queen but could look towards becoming an Empress as well. They were also crowned as King and Queen of Hungary the following year. On 25 July 1564, Maria’s father-in-law died “as if in sleep without any pains.”3 Ferdinand had remained lucid until the end and had kissed the portrait of his late wife as his family gathered around him.4 Maximilian was elected as the new Holy Roman Emperor two years later.

Ferdinand left five unmarried daughters who needed to be taken care of. Margrete – at 28 years old – had already been given permission to enter a convent and her sisters Magdalena and Helene joined her in seeking a religious life. Barbara married Alfonso II d’Este, Duke of Ferrara, Modena and Reggio in 1565, while Joanna married Francesco I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, later that same year. Now that the older generation was taken care of, Maria’s daughters would be next. Finally, in 1567 and 1568, Maria gave birth to her last two daughters. Margaret survived to adulthood, but Eleanore would die at the age of 11.

The deaths of Maria’s brother King Philip’s only son Carlos and Philip’s third wife Elisabeth in 1568 led to a change in groom for Maria’s eldest daughter Anna. Instead of her first cousin, she would now marry her uncle Philip herself and become Queen of Spain. Maximilian later confessed that he loved Anna “more than all the others together.”5 Not much later, the betrothal between King Charles IX of France and Maria’s younger daughter Elisabeth was also confirmed.

As Holy Roman Empress, Maria’s role evolved as she now was requested to act as a mediator between successive popes, her brother Philip II and her husband, Maximilian. Maximilian later wrote that “she would make a great Embassy on her part and on mine.”6 Nevertheless, the final decision always remained with her husband, and he stated, “If I wanted to do everything my wife […] wants, I would have a lot to do.”7 Her daily life as Empress was rather monotonous, and her contact was limited to her inner circle. However, she did have a leading role in ceremonial events. She attended mass daily with her household servants and her children. She often dined with her husband, and they also often spent their evenings together.

In September 1676, Maximilian fell ill, but the doctors were unable to agree on a treatment. He was in a lot of pain and even summoned a woman named Magdalena Streicher, who was known as a healer. He became more depressed as the days passed and had heart palpitations. Despite his illness, he continued the business of government until the very end. He refused to take the last rites of the Catholic Church, much to Maria’s horror. When he died at 9 in the morning on 12 October 1576, Maria was at Mass, even though she had barely moved from his bedside the previous weeks. The shock of his death, while she was absent, was devastating for her.

Maximilian was succeeded by their 24-year-old son Rudolf. And while he and his siblings appeared in public shortly after Maximilian’s death, Maria remained secluded. She had fainted upon hearing the news of her husband’s death and had to be taken unconscious to her rooms, where she remained for a long time. Until the funeral in March, Maria spent her days in prayer and “when she is alone, it is my understanding that she never stops crying.”8 She would later confess that she feared that she might follow in the footsteps of her grandmother Queen Joanna of Castile, who suffered a mental breakdown at the death of her husband.9

Maria decided that her husband would be buried in the St Vitus Cathedral, and she would stay in the castle of Prague on the same grounds as the cathedral to be near her husband.

Read part three here.

  1. The Queen’s Apprentice by Joseph F. Patrouch p.163
  2. The Queen’s Apprentice by Joseph F. Patrouch p.163
  3. The Queen’s Apprentice by Joseph F. Patrouch p.244
  4. Maria of Austria, Holy Roman Empress (1528-1603) by Rubén González Cuerva p.88
  5. Maria of Austria, Holy Roman Empress (1528-1603) by Rubén González Cuerva p.107-108
  6. Maria of Austria, Holy Roman Empress (1528-1603) by Rubén González Cuerva p.98
  7. Maria of Austria, Holy Roman Empress (1528-1603) by Rubén González Cuerva p.98
  8. Maria of Austria, Holy Roman Empress (1528-1603) by Rubén González Cuerva p.148
  9. Maria of Austria, Holy Roman Empress (1528-1603) by Rubén González Cuerva p.149

About Moniek Bloks 2762 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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