F****d Up Royal, or in this case Imperial, Marriages #31

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The late Diana, Princess of Wales had nothing on this chick. Born Princess Maria Josehpa of Bavaria, Archduke Joseph, the heir apparent to the Holy Roman Empire, only married her because his mother, anxious for him to breed an heir to the throne after the sudden death of his first wife, made him do it. Not only did he let his betrothed know this virtually the moment he met her, but his coldness and emotional abuse toward Maria Josepha became so blatant that one of his sisters, Archduchess Maria Christina, wrote a friend stating she’d rather hang herself than endure such treatment. Despite this, Empress Maria Josepha genuinely loved her husband and tried desperately to fulfill her primary dynastic obligation before dying of smallpox 2 years after they married. Needless to write, this marriage was childless.

This marital nightmare began in 1765. Shortly after meeting his fiancĂ©, the Archduke described her in a letter as plain and heavyset with bad teeth and an unappealing complexion. His opinion hadn’t changed by the wedding day, and in a letter to his new father-in-law, excerpted in the second volume of the Memoirs of the courts of Berlin, Dresden, Warsaw and Vienna by Sir Nathaniel Wraxall, he vowed to be a friend to his wife since he doubted he could ever love her. He nonetheless described her as “irreproachable.” That assessment was apparently shared by most of the Imperial court. The new Archduchess, however, deeply loved her new husband.

The romantic irony of Joseph’s second marriage was that it was a complete role reversal from his first; for during his initial foray into matrimony it was the future emperor who pined to no avail for a mortality obsessed, and possibly bisexual wife, Isabella of Parma, who did not love him in return. Like the late Diana, Princess of Wales, Archduchess Maria Josepha had to contend with at least a third party in her marriage. Unlike Diana, however, the other woman in this particular union was a ghost.

Joseph’s neglect of his wife soon became so blatant that not only did he refer to himself as a “bachelor husband” in a letter he wrote to his brother Leopold after becoming Emperor, but also admitted that he only saw his wife twice a day: once at breakfast, and then at night when he only had sex with her for procreative purposes. Maria Josepha, all too aware of her husband’s lack of sentiment toward her, is reported to have grown terrified of him and to have trembled in his presence.

Matters were made worse when her father-in-law, Emperor Francis l, died and the new Emperor Joseph ll and Empress Maria Josepha ascended the throne. Now the pressure on them to conceive became extremely intense. Joseph ll wrote further in his letter to Archduke Leopold, excerpted in Derek Beales’ Joseph ll, In the Shadow of Maria Teresa,complaining that his wife suffered from some sort of physical “disturbance,” but didn’t appear to be pregnant. He reiterated that he was happy to live a bachelor life despite being married. Empress Maria Josepha apparently confided her sorrows in her servants, causing her mistress of the household to retire rather than serving an empress that was so utterly desperate, lonely and miserable.

Nature soon took its course, but not in the form of a pregnancy. Maria Josepha instead became infected with smallpox, from which she died in 1767. Although he wasn’t by his wife’s bedside when she expired, Joseph ll later expressed regret to his sister-in-law, Archduchess Maria Antonia, for not having treated his wife more respectfully while she was alive. His regret, however, did not extend to his Wittlesbach in-laws; for 11 years later he attempted to seize a large portion of Bavaria on the grounds that his second marriage entitled him to it. The Bavarians managed to repel his advances, and Joseph ultimately was only able to take control of a small province. All’s well that ends well.