On 4 February 1750, Maria Theresa gave birth to another daughter, Maria Johanna. But a family tragedy was to come later that year. With her health destroyed by the many “fertility treatments,” Maria Theresa’s mother, Elisabeth Christine, died on 21 December 1750 at the age of 59. Her heart and entrails were taken from her body and placed in Heart Crypt in the Augustinian Church and the Ducal Crypt in the St. Stephen’s Cathedral respectively. Her body was buried in the Imperial Crypt near her husband. With a tenure of just over 29 years, she was the longest-serving Holy Roman Empress consort.
Over the next five years, another five children were born. Maria Josepha was born on 13 August 1752, Ferdinand was born on 1 June 1754, Marie Antoinette was born on 2 November 1755, and finally, Maximilian Francis was born on 8 December 1756. Of her 16 children, ten would survive to adulthood. When her eldest son Joseph was 8 years old, he was given his own establishment and a Jesuit tutor. Field Marshall Charles Batthyány was appointed to turn him into a soldier.
Her daughters also received an education, though it focussed more on feminine pursuits. The schedule stated time for French, penmanship, reading and spelling, Holy Mass, needlework and the rosary in church. She said her daughters “were born to obey.”1 It probably never even occurred to Maria Theresa to prepare her daughters better for the roles they were bound to play – their minds were never challenged.
By 1760, it was time for the first of her children to marry. Joseph was 19 years old, and the chosen bride was Isabella of Parma, a granddaughter of King Louis XV of France and Maria Leszczyńska. Both Maria Theresa and Joseph adored her, but Isabella’s adoration focussed mainly on her sister-in-law Maria Christina. She had fallen head over heels in love with Maria Christina, and her surviving correspondence is proof of that. Isabella soon became trapped with her own conflicting feelings and she became obsessed with death as the only way out of them. Maria Christina largely returned Isabella feelings, though perhaps not so fatalistically. She even reproached Isabella, “Allow me to tell you that your great longing for death is an outright evil thing.”2
Nevertheless, Maria Theresa became a grandmother on 20 March 1762 with the birth of her namesake granddaughter Maria Theresa. Isabella reportedly suffered two miscarriages in quick succession before falling pregnant for a fourth time in early 1763. During the last month of her pregnancy, Isabella became ill with smallpox. On the third day of her illness, she gave birth to a premature girl, whom she named Christina, and who died moments after being born. Although Maria Theresa nursed her “as if she had been her own child,”3 Isabella died on 27 November 1763. She had predicted her own death that summer as the family returned to Vienna from Laxenburg. As the carriage reached a hill overlooking Vienna, she had stated, “Death is waiting for me there.”4 Joseph was devastated by her death.
However, they could not mourn her death for long. Joseph was the future Emperor, and he needed a son and, thus, another wife. In 1765, he was finally convinced to remarry, and the chosen bride was his second cousin, Maria Josepha of Bavaria (the daughter of Maria Amalia of Austria). He did not like her, and after their first meeting, he wrote, “She is twenty-six. She has never had smallpox, and the very thought of the disease makes me shudder. Her figure is short, thick-set, and without a vestige of charm. Her face is covered with spots and pimples. Her teeth are horrible.”5 He never grew to love her and treated her coldly. Even Maria Christina commented that “if I were his wife and so maltreated I would run away and hang myself on a tree in Schönbrunn.”6
Just 7 months after Joseph’s second wedding, Maria Theresa’s husband Francis died quite suddenly. The family was just celebrating the wedding of Joseph’s brother Leopold to Maria Luisa of Spain on 5 August, where the groom himself had also been dangerously ill with pleurisy. Francis had suffered a slight seizure on 17 August, but he felt better the next day. He collapsed as he walked back to the palace after a theatre performance. He was carried into the anteroom, but by then, he was already dead. Maria Theresa soon arrived and knelt silently beside him. She was devastated and had to finally be carried away by force.
Maria Theresa allowed no one in her rooms for the rest of the evening, and it wasn’t until the following morning that she allowed one of her ladies to help her dress. She also ordered her lady to cut her hair short. She then called her family to her, asked them if they were well and sent them away again. She ordered Francis’s shroud to be sewn in her own room, and she would help with the sewing. She prayed and sewed all day. Joseph silently took over the order of the day. Although he had become the new Holy Roman Emperor, his mother was still Queen of Hungary and Bohemia. If he were to have any power – she would need to give it to him. In her grief, she considered giving him all control.
Maria Theresa was kind to Francis’s mistress Princess Auersperg, even lamented with her how much they had both lost. Francis had left the Princess a sum of money, and Maria Theresa duly paid it. Maria Theresa would dress in mourning for the rest of her life, and on New Year’s Day 1766, she wrote, “I hardly know myself now, for I have become like an animal with no true life or reasoning power. I forget everything.”7
- Empress Maria Theresa; the earlier years, 1717-1757 by Robert Pick p.221
- Maria Theresa by Edward Crankshaw p.259
- In Destiny’s Hands: Five Tragic Rulers, Children of Maria Theresa by Justin C. Vovk p.32
- In Destiny’s Hands: Five Tragic Rulers, Children of Maria Theresa by Justin C. Vovk p.31
- Maria Theresa by Edward Crankshaw p.263
- Maria Theresa by Edward Crankshaw p.264
- Maria Theresa by Edward Crankshaw p.267