Monday 21 April 2014

The Ill-Fated Archduchess Elisabeth of Austria

Duchess Elisabeth of Württemberg (Elisabeth Wilhelmine Luise; Treptow, Brandenburg, Germany, 21st April 1767 - Vienna, Austria, 18th February 1790)

Elisabeth of Württemberg by Johann Baptist von Lampi the Elder, 1785
Duchess Elisabeth of Württemberg by Johann Baptist von Lampi the Elder, 1785

Our guest today is, perhaps, a lesser known member of European nobility. Despite a long-planned and illustrious political marriage, Elisabeth was fated to live a short life. Although she was to become a favourite of an ailing Emperor and married an Emperor-in-waiting, her ill health ensured that she was never to see her own husband assume the throne of the Holy Roman Empire.

Elisabeth was one of a dozen offspring born to Frederick II Eugene, Duke of Württemberg,  and his wife, Sophia Dorothea of Brandenburg-Schwedt. Like so many children of her class, it was intended from the start that she would make an expedient political marriage and negotiations swiftly began to secure her a fiancé. The groom-to-be was eventually named as Francis, nephew of Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II and the man who would one day hold that title himself.

Elisabeth of Württemberg by Johann Baptist von Lampi the Elder
Duchess Elisabeth of Württemberg by Johann Baptist von Lampi the Elder

When Elisabeth was 15 she travelled from Brandenburg to Vienna and took up resident with the sisters of the Salesianerinnenkloster. In her new home she converted to Catholicism in preparation for her marriage and completed her education. Here she remained until 1788 when, on 6th January, she married the twenty year old Francis. As the couple settled into life together the new Archduchess swiftly became a favourite of her new husband's uncle, Emperor Joseph II, who had brokered the marriage to his nephew. He found her charming and refreshing company and she came to view Joseph in a grandfatherly light, spending long hours in his company. Her affection was of great comfort to the Emperor; his health was falling and he had faced a series of high profile political failures that left him disillusioned and unhappy.

Francis I by Leopold Kupelwieser, 1805
Francis I by Leopold Kupelwieser, 1805

In late 1789 Elisabeth fell pregnant and her condition was to have a huge impact on her health. The cheerful, charming young lady grew weaker by the day and after she attended the Emperor's Anointing of the Sick on 15th February 1790, Elisabeth passed out and was rushed to her chambers. Two days later she went into labour and suffered for a day and night before she gave birth to the extremely premature Archduchess Ludovika Elisabeth on 18th February. Although the little girl would survive for 16 months, Elisabeth passed away within hours of delivering her daughter and just two days later, her beloved uncle-in-law also lay dead.

The ill-fated Archduchess was interred in the Imperial Crypt in Vienna; her infant daughter and the deceased Emperor were laid to rest in the same crypt.

Life in the Georgian Court, true tales of 18th century royalty, is available at the links below.
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nirak88 said...

I first heard of her in a lecture on Mozart today. Curious, I read more on her here and is sad to discover her life was short and tragic. She appears to be sweet and darling.

Catherine Curzon said...

I agree, she is a very appealing character!

Carly said...

Great article, but just a note: she would have been Archduchess Elisabeth of Austria, not Archduchess of Wurttemburg, which did not employ the latter title. Her title at birth was Duchess of Wurttemburg (so she'd be Archduchess Elisabeth of Austria, Duchess of Wurttemburg if latter title was hereditary).

Catherine Curzon said...

Oops, now amended - merci!