Maria Theresa is astonishing in many aspects. Besides her career as an Empress she was a mother who bore sixteen children all of whom were interesting individuals themselves. This is a story about them.
Maria Theresa had sixteen children, but three of them died as infants so I’m not going to put them on the list with the others. Her first child and a daughter Maria Elisabeth died aged three, her third child Maria Carolina died aged one and finally another Maria Carolina died the same day she was born (fortunately she had been baptized and that was a great relief for Maria Theresa).
On the left: Francis I, Maria Anna and Maria Christina, in the middle: 1st row: Maria Josepha, Maria Amalia and Maria Johanna, 2nd row: Ferdinand and Maria Carolina, on the right: Joseph II, Leopold, Maria Elisabeth, Empress Maria Theresa and Charles Joseph. Note that Maria Antoinette and Maximilian Francis aren’t painted because they were born after 1754; the year this portrait was made.
1. Archduchess Maria Anna Josepha Antonia of Austria (6 October 1738 – 19 November 1789)
Maria Anna was intelligent but psychically disabled. She had a lump on her back and was of weak health; those are only one of the reasons why she was unable to find a royal husband. Quiet and introverted, she was her father’s favourite and spent her days drawing, painting and reading. Showing an interest in chemistry, physics and archeology (interests considered unsuitable for her gender) she conducted experiments in chemistry, financed archaeological exhumations, artists and scientist.
2. Joseph II. (13 March 1741 – 20 February 1790)
Joseph had a difficult relationship with his mother because their ideas and points of view always clashed. He was introverted and spent his youth withdrawn from the court, finding pleasure in reading Voltaire and Rousseau. Enlightenment ideas certainly weren’t what his mother would support. On the court of Schonbrunn you had Maria Theresa and Jesuits on one side and Joseph, a melancholic dreamer on the other side. After the death of his lovely wife Isabella, whom he loved very much (unfortunately I can’t say the same for her) he became even more depressed and sad, spending days in his chamber and finding comfort in solitude.
3. Maria Christina Johanna Josepha Antonia ”Mimi” (13 May 1742 – 24 June 1798)
Maria Christina was her mother’s favourite and they shared the same birthday. Cold and reserved, she was much disliked by her siblings, not to mention that she revealed their secrets to her mother. She was beautiful, intelligent and artistically gifted; the painting you see above is her auto portrait. Knowing how to manipulate her mother, she was the only one of all her siblings being allowed to marry whom she pleases.
4. Archduchess Maria Elisabeth Josepha of Austria (13 August 1743 – 22 September 1808)
Maria Elisabeth was the most beautiful daughter, but each beauty is short-lived, and in her twenties she survived smallpox that left her with scars. Before the disease, Liesl, as she was called, was known as a ‘coquette’ on the court; something that made her bossy mother furious. Also known for her sharp tongue, she became even more cheeky after the disease because she was vain and missed her beauty and attention it brought. Who would blame her? She never married and lived with her older sister Maria Anna.
5. Archduke Charles Joseph (1 February 1745 – 18 January 1761)
Charles was her mother’s favourite son and enjoyed her full attention and love. However, he despised his older brother Joseph and the two often conflicted with the Empress always on Charles’ side. Their feuds ended when Charles died in 1761, only two weeks away from his sixteenth birthday.
6. Maria Amalia of Austria (26 February 1746 – 18 June 1804)
Maria Amalia was beautiful, proud and charming. She excelled in music and art, but also studied history, dancing, orthography, painting, acting and a little bit of math; as her other siblings did. Aged 22 she fell in love with Charles, Duke of Zweibrucken but she was forced to marry a man she didn’t love (which was nothing unusual at that time) – Duke of Parma. Embittered by this experience, she remained estranged from her mother and even named her first daughter Caroline, not Maria Theresa as her mother wished it. Still, she was close to her sisters Maria Carolina and Marie Antoinette and exchanged letters, portraits, dresses and other gifts with them.
7. Leopold II. (5 May 1747 – 1 March 1792)
Leopold was close to his brother Joseph and they shared the same views about enlightenment. His early education for a priest turned him against the church. Although he had a mistress when he was younger, he married Maria Louisa of Spain and they had sixteen children together.
8. Archduchess Maria Johanna Gabriela Josepha Antonia (4 February 1750 – 23 December 1762)
Maria Johanna loved all her siblings but was especially close to her younger sister Maria Josepha; two girls shared tutors and chambers at Schonbrunn. Sadly, Johanna died aged twelve. After the inoculation she fell ill with smallpox; ironic? Nevertheless, in her short life she excelled at all her studies, showing particular interest in drawing, singing and acting.
9. Archduchess Maria Josepha Gabriela Johanna Antonia Anna (19 March 1751 – 15 October 1767)
Maria Josepha was a favourite of her brother Joseph who described her as “delightfully pretty, pliant by nature.” Being very close to Maria Johanna she was saddened by her early death and since then, terrified of dying of smallpox. Her worst dreams came true in October 1767; the day she was due to travel to Naples in order to marry Ferdinand (who later married her sister Caroline) she fell ill with smallpox and died aged sixteen.
10. Maria Carolina of Austria (13 August 1752 – 8 September 1814)
Maria Carolina shared the same birthday with her sister Elisabeth and is believed to have resembled her mother the most. Out of all her siblings she loved her younger sister Maria Antonia the most. Only four months away from her fourteenth birthday, she was already married to not so handsome, not so attractive and not so clean Ferdinand of Naples. Obviously Ferdinand wasted no time on Austrian court and since his bride-to-be died, he simply picked another sister. How easy.
11. Archduke Ferdinand of Austria-Este (1 June 1754 – 24 December 1806)
Ferdinand was Maria Theresa’s fourth son and fourteenth child. He married Maria Beatrice d’Este who bore him ten children. Festivals for their wedding included Mozart’s opera Ascanio in Alba.
12. Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna (2 November 1755 – 16 October 1793)
The most popular daughter of Maria Theresa (in the 18th century the same as today) was fun-loving, sparkling and artistically gifted. She loved dancing, singing and playing instruments. Described as graceful, she had both manners and appearance. Her education was quite poor, on the other hand. In May 1770. she was sent to France and married Louis (future Louis XVI.) at the age of fourteen; her husband wasn’t much older though.
13. Archduke Maximilian Francis of Austria (8 December 1756 – 26 July 1801)
As an adult he became Archbishop of Cologne and lived in Bonn. He supported musicians and artist, showing particular fondness for Beethoven.
Who is your favourite Maria Theresa’s child? I must confess that, apart from Marie Antoinette whom I simply adore, I’m fond of Joseph II and Maria Amalia. Also, Maria Josepha’s destiny makes me sad, but my pity can’t help her now nor would it then.