It is no secret that we monarchs do not marry for love, and the Habsburgs are certainly no exception. Oh, sure, Franz Joseph and I had our pre-wedding crush on one another (as you know, I was a teenager, and fell in love with the idea of love, as teenagers do), but that soon faded, became stained, and crumbled to dust.
Do I sound bitter? No, I’m really not. I’ve made peace with my lot, as Franz has with his. Though the Emperor continued to idolize the notion of me, a few years into marriage off he went, like they all do, to find his greener pastures.
But I’m not here (for once) to belabor my own raw deal. Instead, I bring to you the legend that all Viennese children are taught to venerate. The one pure Austrian love story. No, it’s not Maria and Captain von Trapp, but you’re on the right track.
The union of Maria Theresa and Franz Stephan is thought to be the only dynastic Habsburg union where love thrived. Their profound fondness for each other blossomed with each of the sixteen babies they made (including, let’s not forget, the tragically disgraced Marie Antoinette). Can you imagine giving birth sixteen times and not going into Pavlovian paralysis at the sight of a frisky mate? I gave birth only a quarter as many times and the door was closed for good after the last one.
Maria Theresa is venerated as the ideal mother, a fertility icon, if you will. Her patience and good-heartedness are legendary, and she was tested quite a bit. Though Franz Stephan loved his wife, that didn’t stop him from taking multiple mistresses, but MT took it in stride. She had a feverish, sanctimonious, pious view on the role of a woman:
Women’s duty is resignation before God and one’s fellow human beings. The world does not dispense us from this duty. Women are always in the wrong, however their husbands may behave.
Enabling. Isn’t that what it’s called in today’s parlance? Resignation before God? Really? How freeing to embrace this mindset! How much easier one’s life would be if one could simply swallow the vomit and be done with it. And: “women are always in the wrong” stated completely without irony? Oh, dear, dear, Maria Theresa, how hard you made it for those who had to follow in your footsteps along the varnished and cold surfaces of Schönbrunn!
When it comes to bad behavior by husbands, I much prefer the reaction of the modern woman. But, alas, I lived over a century ago, before the invention of the 9-iron. Or even an automobile, for that matter!