Marie-Antoinette was receiving a crash course in basically everything she needed to know as Queen of France, but she continued to be “unruly” and “tomboyish”, much to her mother’s horror. However, we cannot forget that she was still only 15 years old.1 On 19 January 1770, Marie Antoinette married the Dauphin of France in a proxy ceremony in Vienna. Maria Theresa walked her daughter down the aisle where her brother Ferdinand stood in for the groom. She left Austria forever the following day. Maria Theresa clasped her youngest daughter in her arms and whispered to her, “Farewell, my dearest child, a great distance will separate us… Do so much good to the French people that they can say that I have sent them an angel.”2
On 15 October 1771, Maria Theresa’s second youngest son Ferdinand married heiress Maria Beatrice d’Este, and together they became the founders of the House of Austria-Este. He would be the last of her children to marry. Her youngest son Maximilian Francis became Archbishop-Elector of Cologne. As her children left, their families grew, Maria Theresa’s became a grandmother many times over. While Joseph remained unmarried, Leopold and his wife went on to have a total of 16 children, though not all of these would survive to adulthood. Leopold took great pains to convey to his children that they were there to serve the people. He told his children’s tutor, “The princes must be very aware that they are human beings: that they hold their positions only through the sanction of other human beings; that for their part they must discharge all their duties and cares; and that the other people must have the right to expect all benefits that have been granted to them… True greatness is broad, gentle, familiar, and popular, it loses by being seen at close quarters.”3
As her grandchildren were growing up, Maria Theresa’s health began to decline slowly. She wrote, “My hands and my eyes are failing; I shall no longer be able to write to you but by the hand of another.”4 She began feeling overwhelmed trying to reign with her declining health. The following crisis in Poland and disagreements with her son Joseph left her feeling drained. Leopold described the relationship between his mother and brother, “When they are together, there is [sic] unbroken strife and constant arguments… even in the smallest affairs; they are never of the same opinion and fight each other constantly over matters worth nothing.”5
Maria Theresa was also very worried about Maria Antoinette in France. After four years of marriage, she was still not pregnant, but with the death of King Louis XV, she now became Queen of France. At the time, their popularity was probably at a high point, and their tragic fates were still two decades away. Maria Theresa decided to ask Joseph to do something, and so Joseph went to France. He spent six weeks in France, and his visit seemed to have worked. In early 1778, Maria Antoinette was finally pregnant. A healthy baby girl was born in December. She was Maria Theresa’s 25th grandchild.
During the last year of her life, Maria Theresa was often lonely. Joseph had basically abandoned his mother and Vienna, but luckily she was quite close to many of her grandchildren. She spent her days with her state papers, visited her husband’s grave every day and even had a chair brought into the crypt so that she could spend hours there. However, she knew her life was coming to an end.
In early November 1780, she participated in the annual family pheasant hunt and caught a terrible cold. In just a few days time, she was having chest pains and had difficulty breathing. She struggled for several weeks as the family gathered around her. Finally, feeling the end near on 29 November, she told Joseph, “God has asked for my life. I feel it.”6 She refused to take any medication to ease her suffering and remained clear-headed in her final hours. She spoke of successes, failures and children. She soon found it too difficult to breathe lying down and asked Joseph to help move her to a couch. He helped her but said, “Your Majesty is lying uncomfortable.” She replied, “Yes, but well enough to die.” She was gone a few moments later.
On 3 December 1780, she was interred next to her husband in the Imperial Crypt. She had reigned for 40 years and was arguably one of Austria’s most successful rulers. She had “ruled Europe by the power of her genius, she… had no equal amongst the sovereigns of this century.”7
- In Destiny’s Hands: Five Tragic Rulers, Children of Maria Theresa by Justin C. Vovk p.89
- In Destiny’s Hands: Five Tragic Rulers, Children of Maria Theresa by Justin C. Vovk p.91
- In Destiny’s Hands: Five Tragic Rulers, Children of Maria Theresa by Justin C. Vovk p.116
- In Destiny’s Hands: Five Tragic Rulers, Children of Maria Theresa by Justin C. Vovk p.117
- In Destiny’s Hands: Five Tragic Rulers, Children of Maria Theresa by Justin C. Vovk p.119
- In Destiny’s Hands: Five Tragic Rulers, Children of Maria Theresa by Justin C. Vovk p.160
- In Destiny’s Hands: Five Tragic Rulers, Children of Maria Theresa by Justin C. Vovk p.162