Maria Theresa would be last the Holy Roman Empress as the Holy Roman Empire was dissolved in 1806 after Austrian forces suffered a defeat at Austerlitz. Francis had to agree to the Treaty of Pressburg between him and Emperor Napoleon, which brought about the final collapse of the Holy Roman Empire and mandated substantial territorial concessions. He then became known as Emperor Francis I of Austria. Napoleon had occupied Vienna in 1805, which had led to the Imperial family having to flee. Maria Theresa wrote to her mother from Olmütz, where she had taken refuge with Emperor Alexander I of Russia, “Our misfortune is very great, and it will cost me at least ten years of my life. I see myself a fugitive, driven from my house, the capital in the hands of the enemy, who advances almost at will. He is only two posts from us. Our army and the Russians are hardly an hour from here… There, beloved mother, you have our wretched situation: and we make such a sad figure before the emperor of Russia and his entire retinue, who have been here since the 18th. You cannot imagine how infinitely unpleasant the whole company is to me… The Czar is handsome and, I believe, a good man, but that is all: the rest is nothing. His troops are good looking, indeed splendid, but in their character, they are worse than the French.”1 Fortunately, they were able to return two weeks later. She wrote, “I know of – I can imagine no greater fortune than to enjoy peace and quiet, as long as this is possible without losing our lands; and my husband thinks the same. It is better to have less, but to enjoy it in peace.”2
As well as being known for being the last Holy Roman Empress, she was particularly noted for being a patron of music. As she was Empress during a particularly difficult time of wars, she tried to amuse herself and give her husband respites from government worries with plays, music, and balls. She commissioned many artists to write music, like for her husband’s birthday and name day, which she would subsequently perform. Much of her musical library has survived to this day, including letters written to her by musicians she patronised, records of the names of musicians who performed with her and the pieces they performed. She did not allow her frequent pregnancies to interfere with her love of performing. In 1802, she participated in the performance of two masses and gave birth to a son two days afterwards. She was back just one month later, taking part in a concert. Her husband also played the violin, and she referred to him as “my beloved fiddler.”3
Maria Theresa also sent music to her sisters in Naples, and they sent Neapolitan scores back to her. Her sister Maria Amalia (later Queen of the French) wrote to her, “Since you have the goodness to ask us for our commissions, I ask you for the music of D. Giovanni Tenorio of Gluck, if it is to be found in Vienna, for I have been told that it is superb, and know of no one to turn to in order to obtain it better than you, dear sister, who is so knowledgeable in this art, and who us so much affection.4
Maria Theresa’s last childbirth would lead to her death. She had become ill in the winter of 1807 with tuberculosis, and the dangerous treatment of bloodletting led to her giving birth prematurely. On 6 April 1807, she gave birth to a daughter, who died after just three days of life. Maria Theresa became dangerously ill with a high fever and died on 13 April, just 34 years old. Joseph Weigl, a composer, wrote, “Now I was struck by the greatest, most painful blow possible. Maria Theresia, my benefactor, my mother, died. With me sighed many thousands of others for whom she cared. Those who knew her personally were bound to her by her kindness, charm and virtue. With her death, I lost everything, and since then, I have never been what I had been earlier. The enthusiastic and energetic joy that she derived from her art, the great animation with which she was able to enliven her surroundings, the condescending sympathy with which she treated even the smallest domestic distress: all of that has disappeared since then. I am unfit for everything that the world offers and live only in my domestic circle with few possessions, happily separate from the whole world: for she was also the author of this domestic happiness that remains for me. May God reward her for all the good she did for us, her memory is permanently buried in my heart.”5
Francis was in Hungary when his wife had gone into labour, and he rushed home to Vienna to be with her. When he arrived, she was in such a state already that he refused to leave her side. On the 12th, she received the last sacraments, and she died early the following morning. Francis was so shocked by her death that he stayed away from the funeral and took his two eldest children to Ofen. Francis wrote to his mother-in-law, “You can imagine my condition after such a happy marriage as it was with my wife and children, a good number of whom still need a mother.”6 The eldest child was just 16, while the youngest was not even two years old. Nine months later, he remarried to Maria Ludovika of Austria-Este.
Maria Theresa and her daughter Amalie Theresa were both buried in the Imperial Crypt in Vienna.
- Empress Marie Therese and Music at the Viennese Court, 1792–1807 by John A. Rice p. 259
- Empress Marie Therese and Music at the Viennese Court, 1792–1807 by John A. Rice p. 260
- Empress Marie Therese and Music at the Viennese Court, 1792–1807 by John A. Rice p. 17
- Empress Marie Therese and Music at the Viennese Court, 1792–1807 by John A. Rice p. 25
- Empress Marie Therese and Music at the Viennese Court, 1792–1807 by John A. Rice p. 261
- Frauen auf Habsburgs Thron – die österreichischen Kaiserinnen by Friedrich Weissensteiner p.33