Maria Theresa of Austria – ‘Let others wage war: thou, happy Austria, marry’ (Part four)




maria theresa
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Read part three here.

The death of Francis meant that Maria Theresa had to rebuild her world. In the months following his death, she remained in deep mourning. In her prayer book, she recorded the exact length of his life, to the hour: “Emperor Francis, my husband, lived 56 years, 8 months, 10 days and died on August 18, 1765, at 9.30 P.M. So he lived: months 680, weeks 2,958 1/2, Days 20,778, Hours 496,991. My happy marriage lasted 29 years, 6 months and 6 days.”1

Meanwhile, her son Joseph was becoming antsy. He was ready to take over power, but Maria Theresa wasn’t ready to just hand it all over. The Council of Electors eventually gave her an ultimatum – share the throne with Joseph or abdicate. She conceded, and on 18 November 1765, a co-regency between the Holy Roman Empire and the Habsburg monarchy was declared. The Grand Duchy of Tuscany passed to their second son Leopold, and he and his new wife arrived in Florence in September 1765. Meanwhile, Joseph’s wife, now Empress Maria Josepha, lived a solitary life.

On 8 April 1766, Maria Theresa’s second surviving daughter Maria Christina married Prince Albert of Saxony, and through her dowry, they became Duke and Duchess of Teschen. They were also appointed governors of the Austrian Netherlands. It only added to her grief. Maria Theresa wrote, “My heart has received such a blow which it feels especially on a day such as this. In eight months, I have lost the most adorable husband… and a daughter who after the loss of her father was my chief object, my consolation, my friend.”2 Marrying her children well now became Maria Theresa’s chief goal.

On 14 January 1767, another granddaughter was born “to the great disappointment of this place [Florence] and Vienna.”3 Leopold’s wife Maria Luisa had given birth to a daughter – also named Maria Theresa. The Empress “wanted a grandson to console her under the despair she is in [over her fights with] the Emperor.”4 Even with shared power, Joseph was not happy. A third granddaughter was born on 6 May 1767 – to Maria Christina and Prince Albert. Tragically, the little girl lived for just one day, and Maria Christina would never have any other children.

On 28 May 1767, the long-suffering Empress Maria Josepha died – quite unexpectedly – of smallpox. At the time of her death, Maria Theresa had five marriageable daughters5, but smallpox would throw Maria Theresa’s marriage plans for a spin. Once the beauty of the family, Maria Elisabeth was left disfigured by the disease and so was taken off the marriage market. Maria Theresa, herself, also fell ill but survived. Thus, her third-youngest daughter Maria Josepha was matched with King Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies (then just the King of Naples). Days before her departure, Maria Theresa took her daughter to pray at the improperly sealed tomb of Empress Maria Josepha. It is unclear if Maria Josepha was already ill or if she contracted the disease for the late Empress’s body as she fell ill rather quickly after the visit, but whatever the case, the young Archduchess died on 15 October 1767. She was just 16 years old.

Maria Theresa was now down to three marriageable daughters. She left the choice for a new Queen of Naples between Maria Amalia and Maria Carolina to the King. He chose Maria Carolina, and so Maria Amalia was chosen for the Duke of Parma. Neither of the Archduchesses was happy with their chosen husbands. In the midst of all the marriage talk, Maria Theresa finally got a grandson. Maria Luisa gave birth to a son named Francis on 12 February 1768. It would have been Maria Theresa and Francis’s 32nd wedding anniversary, and Maria Theresa was beside herself with joy. She ran into the Hofburg’s imperial theatre, interrupted the play and shouted, “My Poldy’s got a boy!”6 Joseph took a serious interest in his young nephew, who would one day become the Emperor.

Two months later, Maria Carolina married the King of Naples in a proxy ceremony, and she left for Naples that very afternoon. The family gathered in the courtyard at Schönbrunn to bid the young Queen farewell. Maria Carolina jumped out of the carriage at the last second to give her youngest sister Marie Antoinette a final hug.

Tragedy struck once more in early 1769. The young Archduchess Maria Theresa, the only surviving child of Emperor Joseph and his first wife Isabella, fell ill with pleurisy. The 7-year-old archduchess could be heard crying throughout the Hofburg, but she refused all food and water as she became sicker. She died in her father’s arms on 23 January 1769. She was laid to rest next to her mother. Her grief-stricken father asked to keep her writings and her “white dimity dressing-gown embroidered with flowers.”7

That same year, Maria Amalia became Duchess of Parma, despite already being “violently in love” with Prince Charles of Zweibrücken.8 That Maria Theresa forced her daughter to marry the Duke of Parma permanently fractured their relationship. On 1 July 1769, a similar scene took place in the courtyard of Schönbrunn, and Maria Amalia curtseyed deep before her mother. They would never see each other again.

There was now just one daughter to be married off – Marie Antoinette. Her chosen husband would be the Dauphin of France – Louis Auguste. His father, Louis Ferdinand, had died in 1765, and so Louis Auguste was the heir of his grandfather King Louis XV. His mother, too, had died – in 1767. Maria Theresa had long sought a marriage with France, but Marie Antoinette was now her only option left with all the shuffling. It wasn’t until the wedding date was set that Maria Theresa realised how unprepared Maria Antoinette was for the task ahead.

Read part five here.

  1. In Destiny’s Hands: Five Tragic Rulers, Children of Maria Theresa by Justin C. Vovk p.47
  2. In Destiny’s Hands: Five Tragic Rulers, Children of Maria Theresa by Justin C. Vovk p.51
  3. In Destiny’s Hands: Five Tragic Rulers, Children of Maria Theresa by Justin C. Vovk p.55
  4. In Destiny’s Hands: Five Tragic Rulers, Children of Maria Theresa by Justin C. Vovk p.55
  5. Her eldest surviving daughter Maria Anna was already in ill-health and was not considered marriageable
  6. In Destiny’s Hands: Five Tragic Rulers, Children of Maria Theresa by Justin C. Vovk p.61
  7. In Destiny’s Hands: Five Tragic Rulers, Children of Maria Theresa by Justin C. Vovk p.87
  8. In Destiny’s Hands: Five Tragic Rulers, Children of Maria Theresa by Justin C. Vovk p.75






About Moniek Bloks 2085 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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