Archduchess Maria Josepha of Austria (Maria Josepha Gabriela Johanna Antonia Anna), the twelfth child of Maria Theresa I, Holy Roman Empress and Francis of Lorraine, was born on 19 March 1751 in Hofburg Palace in Vienna, Austria.
The Archduchess, who was described as “delightfully pretty, pliant by nature” in Marie Antoinette, The Journey by Antonia Fraser, would have a short life, but she did survive past infancy unlike many of her other siblings.
Maria Theresa had initially planned to marry Maria Josepha’s older sister, Archduchess Maria Amalia to the son of King Charles II of Spain, Ferdinand of Naples and Sicily; however, the five year age difference between Maria Amalia and Ferdinand resulted in an objection by the King of Spain. Therefore, Maria Theresa elected to marry off Maria Josepha to Ferdinand since they were the same age.
This union would never come to fruition, as Maria Josepha’s biggest fear became a reality. She was afraid of dying from smallpox just like her older sister Archduchess Maria Johanna Gabriela only a few years before the arrangement of her, Maria Josepha, marriage to Ferdinand.
Maria Josepha had been encouraged to visit the (improperly sealed) crypt of her deceased sister-in-law of the same name before making her trip to marry Ferdinand. Some believe that it was on this visit that she contracted the deadly disease, but studies have shown that it was not the case. It takes about a week for the illness to begin showing symptoms, and it was only two days after her visit to the tomb that she developed the smallpox rash making it impossible for her to have been infected during her visit.
On the day that she was due to begin her travels across the Alps to Ferdinand in 1767, she, too, fell victim to smallpox and died at just 16-years-old. She was buried in Vienna in a vault at the Imperial Crypt Vaults of the Imperial Crypt.
After Maria Josepha’s untimely death, Maria Theresa then chose to marry off one of her other daughters, (the third) Archduchess Maria Carolina to Ferdinand. She would go on to become the Queen of Naples and Sicily through this union.