Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel – The longest-serving Holy Roman Empress (Part two)

elisabeth christine
(public domain)

Read part one here.

On 13 May 1717, Maria Theresa Walburga Amalia Christina, the future heiress, was born. Although her father certainly loved her, he could never bring himself to see her as his inevitable heir. Another daughter, named Maria Anna, was born in 1718 but then, it would be quite a while before Elisabeth Christine would fall pregnant again. As if the large doses of liquor weren’t doing enough damage already, Elisabeth Christine’s bedchamber was decorated with erotic images of manly beauty. Following an old superstition that Kings should be crowned in Prague before they could father male heirs, Charles duly had himself crowned in Prague. A fourth pregnancy in 1725 ended with the birth of Maria Amalia, who would die before her sixth birthday. 

In desperation, Charles went on numerous pilgrimages to the shrine of Mariazell, while Elisabeth Christine was prescribed a rich diet that eventually led to her becoming so large that she was unable to walk unaided. She became short of breath, suffered from insomnia and dropsy. Despite not being able to settle without a son, Charles was openly distraught when Maria Amalia died in 1730 and would not let the court painter finish a portrait of the entire family. He also wrote of his concern for Elisabeth Christine in his diary when she was sick, calling her by her nickname “White Liz.” During her long tenure as Empress, Elisabeth Christine, like her predecessors, was a zealous advocate of religious observance, even more so than her husband. She was a generous patron of charitable causes and convents.

As was the custom, Elisabeth Christine and Charles saw their daughters at a set hour, mostly daily. Charles gave Maria Theresa the nickname “Mutz”  but to the girls “Mami” was their governess and not Elisabeth Christine. During her daughter’s reign, it was noted that Elisabeth Christine “hardly was much beloved” by her daughter.1 The education of her daughters was mainly focussed on religion and Maria Theresa learned to speak French, Italian and some Spanish. Although her mother tongue was German, she only wrote it (semi-)phonetically. She was also taught music and singing. The girls were not taught to ride as ladies were not supposed to mount a horse.

In 1736, the marriage of her eldest daughter to Francis Stephen of Lorraine was arranged. He had lived at the Viennese court before he had succeeded as Duke of Lorraine. On 31 January, Francis asked first the Emperor and then Elisabeth Christine for the hand of their firstborn daughter and they were married on 12 February 1736. The bride entered the church flanked by her mother and her aunt Wilhelmine Amalie.

Almost a year to the date later, Elisabeth Christine became a grandmother for the first time with the birth of Maria Elisabeth. The family had fervently hoped for a boy, but over time the little girl became a favourite of her grandfather, and he nicknamed her “Liesl.” Tragically, she would die before her fourth birthday. The following year, Maria Theresa gave birth to Maria Anna, her first child to survive to adulthood. In 1740, a third daughter – named Maria Carolina – was born but she died shortly after her first birthday. Elisabeth Christine’s husband had always been in rather good health, but by the summer of 1740, he still had no grandsons. By July, it appeared that Maria Theresa was pregnant for the fourth time. In October, Charles went to Neusiedel Lake to go hunting as usual but the weather was particularly bad. He arrived at his hunting lodge with mild stomach pains but didn’t think much of it.

Over the next few days, the pain worsened and even a stew of mushrooms did not settle his stomach. He fell violently ill during the night and he was brought back to Vienna as he vomited and fainted along the way. His family gathered around him, though he ordered Maria Theresa to stay away as he feared that she would have a miscarriage. He spent the next week settling his affairs and provided Elisabeth Christine with a considerable income. On 20 October 1740, he died at the age of 55 and despite his best attempts at settling the succession on Maria Theresa, his death set off the War of the Austrian Succession. Five months later, Maria Theresa gave birth to a son and heir – he was named Joseph.

The following years were difficult as suddenly Elisabeth Christine’s sister-in-law Wilhelmine Amalie became her rival as her daughter Maria Amalia and son-in-law Charles Albert claimed the throne as well. Charles Albert managed to be elected Holy Roman Emperor and reigned until his death in 1745. It was Maria Amalia who persuaded her son to make peace with Maria Theresa and so Elisabeth Christine saw her son-in-law Francis elected Holy Roman Emperor in 1745, making Maria Theresa Empress. By then, she was also recognised as the sovereign of Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Bohemia, Transylvania, Mantua, Milan, Lodomeria and Galicia, the Austrian Netherlands, and Parma.

Elisabeth Christine had no political influence during her daughter’s reign and she used Hetzendorf Castle as her widow’s residence. She would live to see seven more children born to Maria Theresa. Her second surviving daughter Maria Anna married Francis’s younger brother Charles Alexander in 1744 but she tragically died in childbirth with their first child later that year.

With her health destroyed by the many “fertility treatments,” 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 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.

  1. Empress Maria Theresa; the earlier years, 1717-1757 by Robert Pick p.15

About Moniek Bloks 2764 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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