Marie Antoinette & her sister Maria Anna

archduchess marianne
(public domain)

Archduchess Maria Anna, or Marianne of Austria, was born on 6 October 1738 at the Hofburg Palace as the eldest surviving daughter of Empress Maria Theresa and Francis of Lorraine. She was briefly the heiress presumptive from the death of her elder sister until the birth of her younger brother Joseph. She was baptised the day after her birth.

She received an education, but not much was expected of her, and her mother never thought to prepare her daughters better than she herself had been prepared. Her daughters were “born to obey, and have to learn to do so betimes… Under no circumstances must they be permitted to feel fear, be it of thunderstorms, fire, spooks, witches or similar nonsense, and the servants must neither discuss such matters among themselves nor tell any ghost stories. As the princess must not be afraid of illnesses, you will talk to them about any of these quite naturally, even of smallpox. And of death also, for it is well to familiarise them with the thought of it…”1

She was one of her mother’s least favourite daughters and developed a close relationship with her father. Maria Anna always resented her mother’s preferential treatment and acted out in response, trying to put herself in the spotlight.

When her younger sister Marie Antoinette was born in 1755, the 17-year-old Maria Anna acted as a proxy for one of her godparents, the Queen of Portugal (Mariana Victoria of Spain). Maria Anna suffered from bad health and nearly died when she contracted pneumonia in 1757. She was even given last rites, and her recovery seemed miraculous. Her lungs were permanently damaged, and she ended up with spinal tuberculosis, which caused a curvature of the spine. To hide this, she wore wide collars and loosely draped scarves. When no suitor appeared for her hand, she became withdrawn. In her diaries, only uncovered in 1910, she confessed she loved someone for 21 years but never revealed their identity.

She became interested in religious life when she visited a small monastery in 1765 on her way to the wedding of her brother Leopold. Her father’s death that same year was a blow to her. She wrote, “God… suddenly and terribly took away my much-loved father, the one who was my only support, my only pleasure. He suddenly took him away. This death knocked me to the ground, this death put an end to all joys and entertainments for a year. […] I confess it, I was so violent, so exaggerated in my sorrow, as I was unfortunately in everything.”2

Her brother Leopold later wrote, “Marianna has no influence, she lives a secluded life.. she had much talent and ambition… sees herself completely despised and insulted by the Empress and Emperor who never look her in the face and inflict the worst insults on her. […] She is full of mistrust and secrets…”3

In 1766, she was made abbess of the Imperial and Royal Convert for Noble Ladies in Prague, but she had no intention of actually living there. Not much later, she returned to the first monastery she first visited in Klagenfurt and became its abbess. A palace was built for her nearby, although she still spent much time at home during her mother’s lifetime. When her mother died in 1780, she moved permanently to Klagenfurt.

Maria Anna began to build her mineral and insect collection and wrote a book on her mother’s politics. She was even an avid painter and artist. She was made an honorary member of the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna in 1767. While at the monastery, she became interested in archaeology and personally donated 30,000 florins for excavations, and she took part in the excavations. These hobbies were considered to be unsuitable for a woman, and many turned their noses up at her.

Her younger sister Maria Antoinette spent one night at Klagenfurt on her way to Versailles to marry the Dauphin of France. When her brother Leopold visited in 1784, he wrote, “She is well and leads a pleasant life, she lives very bountifully and very simply, does much good, and so she is also gladly seen.”4 Only one other sister, Maria Amalia, visited her. She kept up correspondence with Maria Amalia and Maria Carolina, but there was very little contact with Marie Antoinette.

Maria Anna died on 19 November 1789, leaving everything she had to the monastery at Klagenfurt. At the time, Marie Antoinette was under guard at the Tuileries with her family.


  1. Empress Maria Theresa by Robert Pick p.221
  2. Die Töchter Maria Theresias by Friedrich Weissensteiner p.43
  3. Die Töchter Maria Theresias by Friedrich Weissensteiner p.43
  4. Die Töchter Maria Theresias by Friedrich Weissensteiner p.51

About Moniek Bloks 2763 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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