Marie Antoinette’s sisters 32

The Secret Diary of a Princess examines in some detail the often strained relationships that Marie Antoinette had with her sisters. The Imperial court at Vienna must have been a really weird place to grow up with such a domineering mother in Maria Theresa, who on one hand expected her daughters to obey without question and on the other expected them to be as forceful and politically savvy as she was herself as well as expecting them to bow their heads meekly and marry whatever princelings she chose for them, despite the fact that she herself had fought to be allowed to choose her own husband and was forever praising the wonders of conjugal love.

Marie Antoinette was Maria Theresa’s second to last child out of seventeen (thirteen of whom survived the pitfalls and dangers of eighteenth century childhood) and her youngest daughter out of eight who survived infancy. The atmosphere in which Marie Antoinette grew up must have been bewildering to such a sensitive child – on one hand the court was dominated by her mother and at the same time was a very feminine place, unsurprising with so many pretty princesses about the place, daydreaming of marriage and glorious futures.

Archduchess Maria Anna Josepha Antonia, born on the 6th of October 1738 and died on the 19th November 1789. Maria Anna was known as Marianna and was the heiress presumptive to the Imperial throne until the birth of her brother Joseph in 1741.

The Archduchess Maria Christina Johanna Josepha Antonia, born on the 13th May 1742 and died on the 24th June 1798. Maria Christina was known to the family as ‘Mimi’ and was her mother’s obvious favourite, who she adored and pandered to above all of her other children because they shared the same birthday.

The Archduchess Maria Elisabeth Josepha, born on the 13th August 1743 and died on 22nd September 1808. Lovely Elisabeth was said to be the most beautiful and charming of Maria Theresa’s daughters and was clearly destined to make a splendid match with some overseas prince. She was not particularly intelligent but was an excellent musician like all of her siblings and was graceful and flirtatious too.

The Archduchess Maria Amalia Josepha Johanna Antonia, born on the 26th February 1746 and died on 18th June 1804. I’ve already written about Amalia at some length here as the story of her romance with Karl of Zweibrucken is so interesting.

The Archduchess Maria Johanna Gabriella Josepha Antonia, born on the 4th February 1750 and died on the 23rd December 1762, at the age of twelve. Not much is known about Johanna before she died of smallpox as a young girl.

The Archduchess Maria Josepha Gabriella Johanna Antonia Anna, born on the 19th March 1751 and died on the 15th October 1767, at the age of sixteen. Many families, particularly large ones, have one particular member who ‘glues’ all of the others together and whose role is to smooth down quarrels and generally be liked and get along with everyone. That would appear to have been Josepha’s place amongst the brood of Maria Theresa.

The Archduchess Maria Carolina Louisa Josepha Johanna Antonia was born on the 13th August 1752 and died on the 8th September 1814. Known to her family as Carlotta or Charlotte, Carolina was a charming, hot headed and strong willed girl who it was said reminded the Empress of herself as a young girl, something that seems to have provided her with as much anxiety as pride.

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32 thoughts on “Marie Antoinette’s sisters

  • monica

    Lovely portraits and a very interesting write-up as well….. I just love these sisters (except Mimi, ha)…. by the way, don’t you have a solo one of Amalia cut from their group portrait of Il Parnasso Confuso?

  • Lucy

    I love this post- and I swear Melanie, you probably have a book in all these posts as well! Seriously, your next book (besides that lovely historical fiction one you’re working on at leisure)- you must write a non-fiction- you’ve got all the material!
    About the sisters…personally, I find them all gorgeous in their own way..maybe it’s those absolutely ravishing gowns- their fashion sense is exquisite.


    • Melanie Post author

      Yes, I am sure you are right as it must have been horrible for her. I think I was just temporarily projecting a bit of twenty first century shuddering at the thought of a young girl being married to someone like Louis XV onto the situation, which I normally manage not to do. I’m sure that Elizabeth would have much rather have been married and I am sure that she would have made a very good Queen. In fact, I wonder if there would have been a Madame du Barry if she had gone to France? :)

  • Catherine Delors

    Probably not, Melanie. Louis XV was deeply religious and would have loved a pretty, brilliant bride like her. He could be faithful and remained so for years to Queen Marie L.
    As for very young women marrying far older men, it was, as you know, not at all unusual at all in the 18th century…

    • Melanie Post author

      Yes, that’s true. It’s a shame that the marriage didn’t come about as it would probably have been a very good thing for France and both Louis and Elizabeth. Aparently she was quite flirtatious so it’s possible, probable even that marrying someone like Louis would have held no terrors for her. :)

      Maria Theresa seems to have brought her daughters up to be made of quite stern stuff when it came to sex. They may have been devout and closely watched at court but they all seem to have gone to their marriages with very decided opinions about what it should entail. The unusual example of having happily married parents probably influenced them a great deal as well.

      I usually manage not to impose my own modern notions onto people from the past, but sometimes it just creeps out before I can stop it! I’m usual fairly sanguine about it though. :)

  • Catherine Delors

    Quite possibly. I think a book about MA’s sisters sounds like a great idea.
    If I may make an unsolicited suggestion, your book has a very attractive cover, but doesn’t stand out in your sidebar. I would change the background color of the sidebar or frame the cover to pull it out of the shadows. And put it at the very top of the sidebar, of course. You don’t want to keep it confidential… I have been doing much thinking lately about blog design, so pardon my impertinence.

    • Melanie Post author

      I’m quite amazed that no one has produced a book about Marie Antoinette’s sisters yet as they had such interesting and diverse lives. :)

      Oh no, thank you for the suggestion and you are definitely right about the book! I have just started sorting my blog out a bit and have been trying to get to grips with making it look a bit more striking! I have had a few people scold me lately about being too self deprecating about my book and for almost apologising about it so should get over it really! :)

      Thank you! :)

  • C Beccia

    I love your blog (found you through Tea at Trianon). I didn’t know Louis XV had eyes on Elizabeth. She was very beautiful. I do see resemblance in all the girls. It’s sad that so many children were born deformed. I am guessing (no medical background here) that many children were injured during birth.

    Thanks for the post!

    • Melanie Post author

      Thank you! :)

      It’s interesting isn’t it that there was so much deformity at the time and I imagine that you are right that birth injuries in the eighteenth century were not so easily avoided or rectified as they are now. It’s terribly sad. :/

      • Valerie1755

        I’m a few months off this discussion, so forgive me…but, I think a lot of these deformities & birth defects were perhaps due to the constant inbreeding of royal families at this time, especially the Habsburgs, who were possibly one of the most inbred of them all. An infamous example is the unfortunate physicial & mental defects of Charles II of Spain. His inhertiance of the jutting Habsburg lower lip was so profound that he had trouble chewing his food and he suffered from sexual, intellectual & emotional problems throughout his life. When one considers the practice of royal family intermarriage it is not all surprising that Charles II’s aunt the Empress Maria Anna of Spain was also his grandmother.

  • barbara

    well, this is new for me. I am happy to have found you because my sis and I are French freaks re Marie Antoinette. Two older ladies with an abiding interest in the French court. Two very older ladies, but we have fun with this. My sis says there is a Marie Adelaide; I think she must mean Maria Amalia. Could this be right? Now that I have found you I am so interested in continuing this both because of the subject and because of your interesting background and would like to know more about you and your books and etc. I live in N.C. USA and am an oil painter, jewelry maker, caretaker of an 84 yr old husband, Nana to a 4 yr old boy whom I adore; my sis lives in New York and we speak 3 x a week about all of these subjects. I have a varied and interesting background, well travelled and have met lots of amazing people. This “French” thing seems to be consuming us now because I guess actually we would both liked to have been “naughty girls”. I really WAS but it’s behind me now, sadly. I love red hair and you look darling and I want to know more. How can I find your books? I am very new at this, so pls. be kind and patient. Hope to learn much more from you, Sincerely Barbara

    • Melanie Post author

      Hello! I’m totally thrilled by your comment and hope you stick around so we can have chats! :)

      Your sister might be thinking of Marie Adélaïde de Savoie, Duchesse de Bourgogne, who was the delight of Louis XIV’s old age and the mother of Louis XV. She was said to be very charming indeed. I plan to write a post about her soon. :)

      You sound fascinating! Never mind me. Wow, you do so much! What sort of things do you like to paint? Tell me more! :)

      My first book, which is about the young Marie Antoinette is available from here – It’s available as a book or a download. :)

      Hope to speak to you again soon and thank you so much for the lovely, lovely comment! It’s really brightened up my Saturday! xx

  • japee

    What happened to the eldest girl, Maria Elisabeth? I mean not the prettiest girl, but the eldest whose name was also Maria Elisabeth. I wanna know why did the little girl died. And her portraits show it, too. But it’s okay if you can’t find any infos. about her.

    I love your article. I enjoyed your blog. I don’t know Maria Christina was mean after seeing her portrait on a historical website. What happened to Maria Johanna and Josepha were sad. What also happened to Elisabeth was bad and sad.

  • Sophia

    Actually I might have some

    I read that Maria Anna did indeed was sickly and that it was because of her accompanying her mother the empress during the war of the sucession.

    She may in short have suffered malnutrition as a child due the frequent moving around.

    I also read that she used her sickness to stay away from the court and it intrigues and instead focusing on intellectual pursuits.She was to become known as “The scholarly Duchess”

    • Madame Guillotine Post author

      If you read the post, you’ll see that I never said she had a missing arm or leg! I said that no one is sure what the disability entailed but it was ‘perhaps a shortness in one leg or a hunchback’. Where did I say anything about missing limbs?

  • jp

    It is also not also true that Maria Anna is not allowed to live in court. She was not denied. In fact, she was even an sponsor of Marie Antoinette’s christening.

  • jp

    It is also not also true that Maria Anna is not allowed to live in court. She was not denied. In fact, she was even a sponsor of Marie Antoinette’s christening.

  • monica

    I’m back, Melanie! Re-reading this post of yours, still very much enjoyable….. I do think you should do a book on MA’s sisters. A friend is doing one on Maria Amalia (but will be done after his PhD and I’m “helping” him a bit on the materials). .. but one (in English) on all of Maria Theresa’s girls would be much enjoyable.

    The eldest archduchess Maria Elisabeth (1737-40) was the joy of her grandfather Emperor Charles VI, who liked to play with his “Spring Waltz”; she was a cheerful and lively girl. She had stomach trouble (cramps and vomiting) and died at the arms of her father Franz Stephan at Laxenburg.

    Maria Anna was the MOST intelligent of all the girls, most likely among them all (including the archdukes). She was good at languages, dancing, painting, natural sciences, had a phenomenal memory, and could concentrate very well (unlike most of her siblings). She was lump on her back, a very severe case of rickets and weak lungs.

    I don’t believe Mimi was as intelligent as she was claimed to be, she just knew how to use her feminine wiles early on, and this was “compounded’ by MT’s partiality to her. Neither was Maria Carolina, Queen of Naples & Sicily, that intelligent – she was clueless on how to get rid of that hated Tanucci and it was Mimi who plotted for her during a visit in 1775/76. How do I say it, MC only thought she was very clever but actually wasn’t. She was fond of reading but did she actually understood what she was reading, LOL.

    Maria Amalia’s romance with Karl of Zweibrucken was not so interesting or romantic after all…. Would you believe he asked for the hand of Archduchess Maria Elisabeth in the early 1770s? That just shows he was only mainly interested to marry an archduchess to fulfil his, um, “social ambitions”…. Maria Amalia was much better off with Ferdinand of Parma, whom she loved dearly and who seemed to loved her back (despite having mistresses)!

    It’s always been assumed that Maria Amalia had a frosty relationship with her mother. That is not entirely correct. If one looks at the court records of Parma and some of her letters to her friends, clearly she loved and honored her mother, whatever differences they may have had in 1768-69 regarding her intended. As for the rest of their arguments, clearly she didn’t want to be remote controlled from Vienna so….

  • monica

    Ha, just a bit of grammar error… regarding Maria Carolina, I should’ve written “How do I say it, MC only thought she was very clever but actually wasn’t. She was fond of reading but did she actually understand what she was reading, LOL.”

    I’d like to add that the child closest to Franz Stephan seemd to be, from many accounts, Maria Anna. Father and daughter spent a lot of time together, including the outdoors. And guess who usually accompanied them in their outings? Another younger archduchess but NOT Marie Antoinette. That MA was his favourite child seems to be exaggerated. That unfounded claim just seem to have stemmed from his emotional reaction to MA upon leaving for (and dying in) Innsbruck in 1765. That MA was “cute” and the youngest girl is true but that doesn’t necessarily make her FS’s favourite, does it?

    Maria Elisabeth was not as idle and vain as every author seems to claim either. She was the most gifted in music among all the siblings and built a very impressive musical collection. So she did have a strong interest after al. Maria Theresa just criticised her daughter as having no interests but that’s just MT being herself.

    The other Archduchess Maria Carolina (1740-1741) died suddenly as well. The autopsy didn’t find anything conclusive in her stomach, only a bit of milk, to make her ill. Later on, it was found out that she sorely lacked Vitamin D and she suffered seizures from it. Some of the children suffered from seizures as well but were luckier than her and lived.

  • monica

    Couldn’t resist posting again…. I’m almost sure you know about the German books (at least 2) on Maria Theresa’s daughters? But one in English would be excellent!

    As for the archduckes, the good looking ones were Joseph, Karl, and Ferdinand. Leopold was not bad looking but didn’t look like his brothers. Maximilian was not at all good looking.

    Also, did you know that the remains of MT and FS’s children (excluding the 3 girls who died young and Maria Elisabeth) and the girls, except Maria Carolina and Maria Johanna Gabriella, took after FS in features while MC and MJG took after MT? As for the boys, all took after MT except Joseph (who took after FS). I guess one can conclude that FS was the better looking spouse?

  • monica

    While she had the smallpox, it isn’t true that Archduchess Maria Elisabeth was off the marriage market. She did have two suitors in the early 1770s despite the smallpox scars – Karl of Zweibrucken and her cousin Prince Benedetto, Duke of Chablais.

  • Stewart Cooke

    In her journal for 20 December 1785, Frances Burney quotes Queen Charlotte, the consort of King George III of England, as saying: “‘And, one of the Queen of France’s sisters wears the heel of her shoe before, for a penance; as if God Almighty could care for that!’” Have you ever heard of that and, if you have, do you know which sister she’s referring to?