On this day in 1738, Archduchess Maria Anna, sometimes called Marianna, was born in Vienna, the second child of Maria Theresa, Queen of Hungary & Bohemia, and Francis Stephen (I), Holy Roman Emperor.
Maria Anna’s mother, Maria Theresa, was a powerful ruler in her own right, as the first and only ruling Empress of the Habsburg Dynasty. She also became Holy Roman Empress by virtue of her marriage.
A true multi-tasker, Maria Theresa was also mother to sixteen children, most of whom survived to adulthood. Interestingly, all of the girls were named Maria, after their mother; the youngest and most beautiful daughter was Maria Antonia, better known as Marie Antoinette (1755-1793), queen to Louis XVI of France, whose birthday was this past Monday, and whose portrait appears a few posts below this one.
Maria Anna was highly intelligent as well as beautiful, if the painting above, by Martin II Mytens, is any indication. Unfortunately, she also suffered from an obscure physical disability that kept her from participating actively in court life and made her unfit for the marriage market. Because Maria Anna is known to have had a hump in later life, it is thought that the disability may have been osteoporosis or severe arthritis.
Emperor Francis, Maria Theresa, and Family
In any event, Maria Anna’s disability propelled her along a life track that was somewhat different from the ordinary archduchess. Often isolated from and ignored by her family – as was usual in those times; Jane Austen’s brother suffered a similar ostracism from his family – Maria Anna devoted herself to studies – in particular numismatics and mineralogy. Known in her time as the “scholarly duchess,” she is also said to have been an avid collector of minerals.
Ultimately, when the family was unable dispose of Maria Anna in marriage, she was given the position of abbess at the prestigious Imperial and Royal Convent for Noble Ladies in Prague and awarded a huge allowance, which she later gave up for a smaller provision elsewhere.
Maria Anna and her sister, Archduchess Maria Elisabeth, lived together in the same convents until their deaths. Maria Anna died in 1789.
Emperor Joseph II, Maria Anna, and Maria Elisabeth