Schloss Hof © Schloß Schönbrunn Kultur- und Betriebsges.m.b.H._Severin Wurnig (1)_panorama

In the footsteps of Maria Theresa and her daughters

In the footsteps of Maria Theresa and her daughters along the Danube

The great Maria Theresa is one of the few Habsburg women who, along with Empress Elisabeth, is known beyond the German-speaking borders. She stands for political assertiveness, baroque joie de vivre and palace culture, but also for her immense wealth of children and the associated strokes of fate as well as the odd life paths of her individual sons and daughters.

It is the latter whose work along the Road of Emperors and Kings we take a look at here. How did Maria Theresa and her daughters shape individual stations along the route, what influence did they have on art and culture? And above all: where can we still encounter her secular legacy today? Which places allow us to travel back in time to the 18th century, to a world between courtly intrigues, powdery pastel-coloured hoop skirts, glittering banquets and, especially for women, almost insurmountable social constraints? Come with us on a Maria Theresa-like search for traces along the Danube!

Maria Theresa as ruler with sceptre, archducal hat and house crown. Oil painting by Martin van Meytens (attributed), c. 1745
Maria Theresa as ruler with sceptre, archducal hat and house crown. Oil painting by Martin van Meytens (attributed), c. 1745 © Schloß Schönbrunn Kultur- und Betriebsges.m.b.H. / Fotograf: Edgar Knaack
Schlossmuseum Linz © Gisela Gruber
Schlossmuseum Linz © Gisela Gruber
The Linz Castle

In order to be able to classify the daughters, one should first take a closer look at the mother. Let us begin with Maria Theresa herself: As a role model for her daughters who was hard to surpass, she guided their marital destinies with an iron hand. When she appeared in public, the blonde princess must have appeared stately and imposing and radiantly beautiful at the same time! The astonished children were certainly told about the glittering pageants of their mother – including the elaborate hereditary homage ceremony in Linz Palace: her entry into the city in 1743 was already cheered by thousands of Upper Austrians. As part of the time-honoured ceremony, the glamorously decorated nobility escorted the Empress from the Linz Castle to the Office of the Holy Spirit in the city parish church.

The Austrian hereditary lands, which included Upper and Lower Austria, automatically passed to the new head of state, but with the help of the hereditary homage ritual Maria Theresa affirmed both her own status as sovereign and the now 18 hereditary offices. Curiously, there was even a master huntsman who waited outside the church with his bloodhound. The dog collars used for this over the years are still on display in the Linz Palace Museum. If you want to take a look at the cultural and regional history of Upper Austria and at the same time walk along Baroque-Habsburg paths, you should visit Austria’s largest universal museum!

Burg Clam bei Nacht
Burg Clam Nachtaufnahme ©Burg Clam
Clam Castle

Which noble houses were actually held in high favour by Maria Theresa and her family? I recommend a trip to Clam Castle, about two hours from Linz: its former inhabitants were elevated from the status of counts to barons by diploma from the ruler in 1759, and not without reason. The family is still successful today: instead of stately balls, the Clam family, who incidentally still live in the castle, organise top-class open-air concerts. In July 2022, for example, there is the now legendary Clam Rock 2022 with Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, John Cale and The Sweet. It’s worth checking out the concerts website every now and then.

Thanks be to Maria Theresa for the spectacular concert experiences that take place on the Meierhof meadow in front of the castle for up to 10,000 participants.

Those who prefer the museum aspect of a visit to the castle can also simply look at the castle from the inside and outside. The armoury, the porcelain collection and the castle pharmacy are unique. The herbs used in the 18th century to treat all kinds of ailments are wonderfully illustrated here.

Starhemberg Castle (c)Andreas Kranzmayr
Starhemberg Castle (c)Andreas Kranzmayr
Starhemberg Castle in Eferding

Starhemberg Castle is also not far from Linz. The infamous Maria Ernestine Esterházy Starhemberg also sprang from this princely family: Maria Theresa’s daughters will certainly have paraded her as a bad example! After all, the unhappy countess cheated on her husband, Count Ferenc Esterházy de Galántha, tried – now pregnant! – tried to flee with her lover, Count Schulenburg, but this resulted in her being forced into a convent in Constance. After fleeing again and giving up her child to an orphanage, as Maria Theresa had ordered, Schulenburg was sentenced to death in Vienna, but was pardoned at the request of her husband(!).

After many years in exile, Maria Ernestine reconciled with Esterhazy. In the Princely Museum in Eferding, the exciting life and work of this ancient noble family is illuminated.

One of Maria Theresa’s daughters in particular developed as the ruler envisioned: We are talking about Marie Christine, who was called Mimi by her mother. She was the only one of the daughters who was allowed to marry for love. Was this preference perhaps also due to the fact that they both celebrated their birthdays on the same day (13 May)?

Self-portrait of Archduchess Marie Christine, c. 1763 ©Schloß Schönbrunn Kultur- und Betriebsges.m.b.H./Sascha Rieger/Collection KHM Gemäldegalerie
Hof Palace

Albert von Sachsen-Teschen married her in 1766 at Hof Palace, Prince Eugene’s incomparable Marchfeld palace. The castle chapel where the wedding ceremony took place can be explored during the tour of the castle. As the father, Emperor Franz Stephan I, had died in Innsbruck shortly before, all those present wore black – with the exception of the bride, who, it is said, appeared like a swan among ravens in a white, gem-studded dress.

Hof Palace also has something very special to offer this year: Until 1 November 2022, the special exhibition “Imperial Table Treasures” will be showing fine porcelain and silver from the imperial silver and table chamber, as was also used on the occasion of Mimi’s wedding. How did the imperial family around Maria Theresa dine, and how glamorous was it on special occasions?

The special programme is rounded off with an exhibition at the neighbouring Niederweiden Palace. There you can take a look behind the scenes – namely into the court kitchen, which worked hard to prepare the imperial banquet table.

„Life Realities of an Archduchess. Children or convent?“

As an aristocratic woman in the 18th century, one had the choice between marrying a possibly disagreeable husband, or entering a convent. For: there always had to be a man (father, husband or brother) in the woman’s life who acted as her guardian in all matters of her life. And who wanted to look after their unmarried daughter or sister all their life?

Often, places were reserved for female babies in aristocratic homes in order to secure their uncertain future. Did they know whether the little creature would develop into an attractive lady who could be easily sold on the marriage market? Because that was the custom of the time: Parents often negotiated the marriage of their daughter, who was supposed to have as good a genetic make-up as possible. Capable of childbearing, submissive to her husband, socially acceptable – that’s what a good match had to be. Female erudition was usually rejected because it would spoil the character.

Bratislava © MS Agency
Bratislava (c) MS Agency
Bratislava Castle

Favourite daughter Mimi and her Albert of Saxe-Teschen – who, incidentally, was later to found the Albertina in Vienna – moved into Bratislava after the wedding ceremony, on the evening of 13 April. The capital of Slovakia, now known as Bratislava, was still the capital of Hungary in the 18th century. The crème de la crème of the higher social class lived here, and the young couple spent a quiet decade in Bratislava Castle. Today, there are numerous paintings from times long past to admire in the historical museum located there. A collection of historical finds and a concert hall, which still functioned as a chapel in the 18th century, give us an insight into the history of the castle and thus also into the lives of Mimi and Albert. Those who climb the castle tower are offered a fantastic panoramic view of the city centre. In good weather and with a clear view, you can even catch a glimpse of Vienna, which is not so far away. Incidentally, Mimi and Albert took advantage of this proximity to visit the imperial capital on many occasions, making Mimi one of the few daughters of Maria Theresa who was still able to see her mother face to face in her later years.

Fancy some more excursions into the 18th century? No problem: The Gallery of the City of Bratislava in the Mirbach Palace was built between 1768-1770, precisely during the reign of Mimi and Albert. The permanent exhibition with Middle Eastern European Baroque paintings and sculptures gives an idea of how splendidly one decorated one’s own four walls as a nobleman in those days.

Budapest © Hungarian Tourism Agency
Budapest © Hungarian Tourism Agency
Buda Castle in Budapest

Did the archducal couple ever go to what is now Budapest? Certainly, as can be seen from Maria Theresa’s written instructions to her beloved daughter: she instructed Mimi to set a second table for the nobles at court in Ofen (at that time Budapest was still divided into two parts, Pest and Ofen). We have already learned how the table was laid in those days from the special exhibitions at Hof and Niederweiden castles. And where did the Habsburgs hold court in Budapest? In Buda Castle, of course, which towers so magnificently over the Danube that a visit is a must for all travellers to Budapest.

The Historical Museum (Budapesti Történeti Múzeum) is just one of the many sights in the castle district. Here, of course, the history of the Habsburgs is also told; after all, Maria Theresa had the residence specially rebuilt in Baroque style and equipped with a throne room! Since many rooms of the castle were destroyed by fire during the Second World War, the focus is now on the gradual restoration of important sections. It is not without a certain romanticism to look at the old paintings and photos and think about how Marie Christine and Albert once strode through the chambers and received high-ranking guests.

Don’t miss St. Stephen’s Hall, originally built in 1902 and now restored! Stephen is considered the first king of Hungary and a national saint, to whom homage was paid even in baroque times. In the hall, which is paneled with wood and covered with gold, one encounters a famous descendant of Marie Christine: the empress (here: queen!) Elisabeth, who is highly revered in Hungary, is depicted as Saint Elisabeth on an altar.

The fact that various Habsburg women also left profound traces in spiritual places of their huge empire will be the seamlessly following topic of the next article following soon!

Sources/Links

„Clam Rock 2022“ – Tickets and Info at oeticket .

Experience Burg Clam 

„Countess Maria Ernestine von Starhemberg (1754 – 1813)“. In: de.esterhazy.net. Online: http://de.esterhazy.net/index.php/Gr%C3%A4fin_Maria_Ernestine_von_Starhemberg_(1754_-_1813) [24.03.2022].

„Krisztinaváros“. In: Wikipedia. Online: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krisztinav%C3%A1ros [31.03.2022].

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„Schloss Linz“. In: Austria-Forum. Online: https://austria-forum.org/af/Heimatlexikon/Schloss_Linz [22.03.2022]. The text and the references are taken by the Austria Forum from the book Österreichisches Burgenlexikon – Schlösser, Burgen und Ruinen (1991) by Georg Clam-Martinic.

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