Archduchess Maria Josepha of Austria

Archduchess Maria Josepha of Austria (Maria Josepha Gabriella Johanna Antonia Anna; 19 March 1751 – 15 October 1767) was the duodenary daughter of Holy Roman Emperor Francis I and Holy Roman Empress Maria Theresa. She died of smallpox at the age of 16 and was buried in the Imperial Crypt in Vienna, Austria.

Maria Josepha
Maria Josepha of Austria - Anton Raphael Mengs - 1767.jpg
Portrait by Anton Raphael Mengs, 1767
Born(1751-03-19)19 March 1751
Hofburg Palace, Vienna, Archduchy of Austria, Holy Roman Empire
Died15 October 1767(1767-10-15) (aged 16)
Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna
  • English: Maria Josepha Gabriella Joanna Antonia Anne
  • German: Maria Josefa Gabriele Johanna Antonia Anna
FatherFrancis I, Holy Roman Emperor
MotherEmpress Maria Theresa



Maria Josepha seated at the harpsichord in 1762 (watercolor by Liotard)

Born on 19 March 1751, Maria Josepha Gabriella Johanna Antonia Anna was the ninth but sixth surviving daughter of Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor and Empress Maria Theresa. Maria Josepha was the favourite of her brother Archduke Joesph.[1]

After the death of her sister-in-law Princess Isabella of Parma, Maria Josepha was the most important female at court after her mother, niece and sister. She lost that position during May 1767 when her elder brother, Archduke Joseph, married his second cousin Maria Josepha of Bavaria.

Empress Maria Theresa wanted her fourth eldest surviving daughter, Archduchess Maria Amalia, to marry King Ferdinand of Naples and Sicily for political reasons; however, after Ferdinand's father Charles III of Spain objected to the five-year age difference, Maria Josepha, as the next eldest daughter, was left as the next candidate for Ferdinand's hand in marriage.[2] She and Ferdinand were the same age, and Maria Josepha was considered "delightfully pretty, pliant by nature”.[2][1]

A portrait of an Austrian archduchess, a daughter of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria. This portrait is presumed to be Archduchess Maria Josepha, however, many also believe that this portrait is Archduchess Maria Josepha’s sister, Archduchess Maria Antoina. If the portrait is in fact Maria Josepha, this portrait would mark the year 1762 - the year she would be 16. The portrait is attributed to Martin van Meytens.


Maria Josepha had been terrified of dying of smallpox ever since the death of her elder sister Archduchess Maria Johanna Gabriela in 1762.[1] Her fears were realised when she died of smallpox on the very day she was to have left Vienna for her journey across the Alps to marry Ferdinand.[3] Popular belief holds that she contracted smallpox because her mother, Maria Theresa, insisted that she go and pray at the improperly sealed tomb of her sister-in-law, Empress Maria Josepha, whom had recently died of the disease—because they shared the same name.[2] However, the rash appeared two days after Maria Josepha visited the vault, and there is an incubation period of about one week after initial infection before symptoms of a rash appear. Therefore the archduchess must have been infected before visiting the vault.[4]

She is buried in vault number 46 at the Imperial Crypt Vaults of the Imperial Crypt in Vienna. After her death, her younger sister, Archduchess Maria Carolina, was given as a bride to the king of Naples in her place.[5]



  1. ^ a b c Barger, Brittani (14 October 2017). "The tragic death of Maria Josepha of Austria". History of Royal Women. Retrieved 11 May 2022.
  2. ^ a b c Fraser, Antonia (2001). Marie Antoinette, The Journey. Anchor. p. 28. ISBN 0-7538-1305-X.
  3. ^ "Maria Theresa's children". Die Welt der Habsburger. Retrieved 11 May 2022.
  4. ^ Hopkins, Donald R. (2002). The greatest killer: smallpox in history, with a new introduction. University of Chicago Press. p. 64. ISBN 0-226-35168-8.
  5. ^ Fraser, p. 29.
  6. ^ Genealogie ascendante jusqu'au quatrieme degre inclusivement de tous les Rois et Princes de maisons souveraines de l'Europe actuellement vivans [Genealogy up to the fourth degree inclusive of all the Kings and Princes of sovereign houses of Europe currently living] (in French). Bourdeaux: Frederic Guillaume Birnstiel. 1768. p. 1.