Secretive Facts About Maria Christina, The Habsburg's Golden Child

November 10, 2023 | Brendan Da Costa

Secretive Facts About Maria Christina, The Habsburg's Golden Child


Maria Christina, Duchess of Teschen was the fifth and favorite child of Maria Theresa, the Holy Roman Empress—and her privilege in life made her the envy of her siblings.


1. She Always Got Her Way

Maria Christina, Duchess of Teschen, couldn’t help it if she was the prettiest, smartest and most talented of her siblings. She definitely couldn’t help it if her mother, the powerful Holy Roman Empress, Maria Theresa, loved her more than them. She always got what she wanted—including a secret lover—even as her siblings grew dangerously envious.

Maria Christina, Duchess of Teschen  paintingMarcello Bacciarelli, Wikimedia Commons

2. She Was Her Mother’s Birthday Gift

Perhaps one of the reasons why Maria Theresa preferred Maria Christina to her other children was that they shared a birthday. Little Maria Christina was born on her mother’s 25th birthday in May of 1742. As the fifth child in a brood of sixteen, she could easily have passed into obscurity. But she was too remarkable a little Habsburg for that.

Maria Theresa painting  in blue dressMartin van Meytens, Wikimedia Commons

3. She Had An Intense Sibling Rivalry

From the very day that Maria Christina was born, it was obvious to everyone that she was her mother’s favorite child. Throughout her life, the Empress made little effort to conceal her favoritism for Maria Christina—and the consequences were disastrous. This discord sowed the seeds for a sixteen-way sibling rivalry that nearly tore the Habsburg Empire apart.

As it turns out, Europe wasn’t big enough for all of them.

Maria Christina, Duchess of Teschen paintingMartin van Meytens, Wikimedia Commons

4. She Was Strong-Willed

Maria Christina’s parents, the Emperor and Empress, adored her—but had to admit she was a handful. From an early age, they noticed that she was every bit as strong-willed as her iron-bound mother. They described her personality as “capricious and spirited”. As such, they made every attempt to ensure that she received a proper education.

Maria Christina, Duchess of Teschen familyMaria Christina, Duchess of Teschen, Wikimedia Commons

5. She Could Throw A Tantrum

In an attempt to tame some of her more “capricious” traits, Maria Christina's parents gave her one of the best governesses in all of Europe, Princess Maria Karoline von Trautson-Falkenstein. But—being something of a wild child—Maria Christina didn’t like her and, after what we presume were some royal tantrums, convinced her parents to get her a new governess.

Maria Christina, Duchess of Teschen paintingJohann Baptist von Lampi the Elder, Wikimedia Commons

6. She Was Artistic

Maria Christina's new governess, Countess Maria Anna Vasquez, managed to iron out her rougher edges. Under this new tutelage she blossomed into a “beautiful and highly intelligent” young woman. But her beauty and intellect weren’t her greatest assets. She was also a very gifted artist who, in another life, might have had her paintings hanging in the Louvre.

Archduke Joseph with Empress Maria Theresa, Princess Isabella of Parma and Archduchess Maria ChristinaMartin van Meytens, Wikimedia Commons

7. She Was Truly Talented

Being an archduchess, there was never any chance that Maria Christina could have pursued the life of a painter. But, her doting mother proudly indulged her passions and displayed her works in the Imperial Palace. To her credit, even before the age of 18, she had mastered the techniques of Dutch painters and produced high-quality work.

Maria Christina, Duchess of TeschenMaria Christina, Duchess of Teschen, Wikimedia Commons

8. She Spoke Many Languages

As her mother’s favorite, Maria Christina enjoyed opportunities that her sisters simply did not. For one, she received an education in languages and history from a Jesuit priest. She learned to speak perfect Italian and French (which she actually preferred) and was even fluent in English. Unfortunately, her siblings learned to curse her name in as many languages.

Maria Theresa with her familyMartin van Meytens, Wikimedia Commons

9. Her Siblings Criticized Her

Maria Christina’s siblings resented the educational opportunities that their parents gave to her. Not to mention, they had to walk past her artwork as a constant reminder that their mother loved her more. Their reactions were understandable—if cruel. They tried to avoid her and openly criticized the favoritism that their parents showed and the power it gave her over them.

It was a power that she wouldn’t have forever.

Maria Christina, Duchess Of Teschen paintingUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

10. Her Mother Broke Her Heart

Maria Christina was aware that her siblings didn’t like her and resented the privileges she had as the favorite child of the Empress. But being the apple of her powerful mother’s eye had other downsides. When at 17, she fell in love with Duke Louis Eugene of Württemberg, she learned just what those drawbacks were. Namely, devastating heartbreak.

Ludwig Eugen Von WürttembergPhilipp Friedrich von Hetsch, Wikimedia Commons

11. She Had To Marry For Power

As a member of the Imperial Habsburg family, the Emperor and Empress expected Maria Christina and all of her siblings to marry for power and position. So, when Maria Christina fell in love with a lowly duke, the Empress’s reaction was ice cold. Unsurprisingly, her mother did not think that the Duke of Württemberg was good enough for her and ended the romance.

So, she made other arrangements.

Maria Theresa paintingJean-Étienne Liotard, Wikimedia Commons

12. Her Mother Found Her A Match

After breaking off Maria Christina's relationship with Duke Louis Eugene, Maria Theresa went about finding better matches for her daughter. Matches that, she believed, were more fitting for the favorite child of an Empress. She invited two princes from Saxony, Albert and Clemens, to Vienna. Sparks started flying—but not in the direction anyone had expected.

Maria Christina, Duchess of TeschenUnknown author, Wikimedia Commons

13. Her Prince Charming Left

Once he arrived in Vienna, Prince Albert immediately fell in love with Maria Christina while watching her perform in a concert. Sadly, duty called Prince Albert back to his home of Dresden before a true romance could begin. Plus, it seemed as though Maria Christina had her eyes on someone else. It was a forbidden romance that she had to keep a secret.

Albert Casimir, Duke of TeschenMarcello Bacciarelli, Wikimedia Commons

14. Her Sister-In-Law Caught Her Eye

Later that year, Maria Christina's older brother, Joseph II, married Princess Isabella of Parma. By all accounts, Isabella was “beautiful, educated, and very sensitive”. While she wasn’t crazy about marrying into the Imperial Habsburg family and was lukewarm about Joseph II, she found a good friend—and very likely a lot more—in Maria Christina.

Princess Isabella of ParmaJean-Marc Nattier, Wikimedia Commons

15. She Did Things In Secret

In the ensuing years, Maria Christina and Isabella became practically inseparable. In fact, they spent so much time together that courtiers began comparing them to Orpheus and Eurydice. Oftentimes, the two would sneak away together and find hidden corners within the Imperial Palace to…well, we’ll let you figure out what they did in secret.

Isabella of Parma and her daughter Maria TheresiaCircle of Martin van Meytens, Wikimedia Commons

16. She Exchanged Love Letters

Isabella had always wanted a more passionate life, and it’s possible that Maria Christina gave it to her. There’s evidence in the more than 200 letters that Isabella wrote to Maria Christina—in the love language of French, no less—that Maria Christina and Isabella were a lot more than just best friends and sisters-in-law. They shared a deep, intimate bond.

Maria Christina, Duchess of Teschen painting in pink dressMartin van Meytens, CC BY-SA 3.0 , Wikimedia Commons

17. Her Sister-In-Law Was Obsessed

Some of the letters that Isabella wrote to Maria Christina sounded like letters between Romeo and Juliet. The somewhat melancholic (and mostly certainly bipolar) Isabella wrote that “love, that cruel god” tormented her. But they got even more disturbing. She even thought death would be “surely sweet” if only it didn’t mean taking her away from Maria Christina.

Maria Christina, Duchess of TeschenUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

18. She Was Everything To Isabella

In the letters, Isabella also frequently referred to Maria Christina with affectionate language. Language that would definitely suggest they were more than just friends. She variously called her “my dear angel”, “my most precious treasure”, and “my consolation”.

Maria Christina, Duchess of TeschenDaniel Schmidely, Wikimedia Commons

19. She Felt A Deep Shame

Both Maria Christina and Isabella knew that they were playing a dangerous game, getting so close to each other and exchanging these love letters. But the paranoid Isabella was clearly more fearful of what would happen if anyone found out and more uncertain about their romance. She wrote, “for there is nothing in the world as shameful as going against nature”.

Isabella of ParmaUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

20. She Lost Her Lover

Whatever relationship Maria Christina had with Isabella ended suddenly—and very tragically. In 1763, Isabella contracted smallpox while pregnant with her second child. Sadly, shortly after giving birth, both Isabella and her baby passed away. Poor Maria Christina was left absolutely heartbroken. Her close relationship with Isabella had only deepened the divides within her family.

Maria Christina, Duchess of Teschen wearing blue bowJean-Étienne Liotard, Wikimedia Commons

21. Her Prince Charming Came Back

For Maria Christina, the loss of one lover meant the arrival of another. Prince Albert returned to Vienna to express his deepest condolences to the Imperial family for Isabella’s passing—and to swoop in and save Maria Christina. As the two spent time together, Maria Christina fell head over heels for him just as her mother had hoped. There was just one problem.

Albert of Saxony-Teschen and his wife Marie Christine of AustriaUnknown author, Wikimedia Commons

22. She Had To Pull Some Strings

Prince Albert was a far more suitable match for Maria Christina than the her teenaged romance, the Duke of Württemberg, had been. He was certainly a better match than her now-deceased sister-in-law. Nevertheless, they had a huge problem in front of them. Prince Albert believed that he didn’t have a high enough rank in order to seek Maria Christina’s hand in marriage and feared that her father would turn him down.

But being the favorite came with some perks.

Prince Albert of Saxony, Duke of TeschenUnknown author, CC BY-SA 4.0 , Wikimedia Commons

23. Her Father Didn’t Approve

Maria Christina's father, the Emperor Francis I, had already chosen a man for her. He intended for her to marry her first cousin, Prince Benedetto of Savoy, Duke of Chablais, for political reasons. However, Maria Christina appealed to her mother who, not able to deny her favorite child twice, advised her to be patient. She would arrange everything.

Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor in golden clothesMartin van Meytens, Wikimedia Commons

24. She Had To Hide Her Feelings

In 1765, wedding bells were in the air. Unfortunately, they were not for Maria Christina. Instead, the Imperial family traveled to Innsbruck for her brother Leopold’s wedding. With all of the royal families in Europe gathered for the celebration, Maria Christina and Prince Albert had to keep their distance from each other. But fate brought them together.

Leopold II, Holy Roman EmperorAnton Raphael Mengs, Wikimedia Commons

25. She Got Her Wish

Shortly after Leopold’s wedding, Maria Christina got the freedom she wished for—but she had to pay a devastating price for it. Her father passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. With her mother on her side, Maria Christina knew that she could marry the man she loved. Even if it meant turning her siblings into bitter rivals and sparking a family feud that would see heads roll.

Maria Theresa with her daughter ChristinaUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

26. She Moved Into Her Love Nest

Free to pursue her heart, Maria Christina and Prince Albert moved to Pressburg (modern day Bratislava) and started living in style. With the support of her mother—and the seething, blood-boiling, all-consuming envy of her siblings—she dropped a small fortune on renovations for the local castle to meet her imperial standards.

Albert Casimir and Maria ChristinaHeinrich Füger, Wikimedia Commons

27. Her Mother Showered Her With Gifts

In addition to the mountain of money that she had given Maria Christina for renovating the castle in Pressburg, Maria Theresa showered the lovebirds with other gifts. Sure, Maria appreciated the expensive furniture and tableware, but it was the titles, land grants, lordships and duchies that had her siblings seeing red and turning green with jealousy.

Burned Bratislava (Pressburg) Castle, mid-1800sLudwig Rohbock, Wikimedia Commons

28. Her Guests Mourned At Her Wedding

Finally, Maria Christina got what she had always wanted: A big wedding with the man she loved. The two had an extravagant wedding at Schloss Hof—but the celebrations had a dark shadow hanging over them.  While Maria Christina wore a white, pearl-decorated dress, her guests all wore black in mourning for the late emperor, her father. They might also have been mourning their familial love for her.

Schloss Hof, castleElena Marie Meyer, CC BY-SA 4.0 , Wikimedia Commons

29. She Caused Alienation Within The Family

Quite apart from the outlandish gifts that Maria Theresa had given her daughter as part of her marriage, Maria Christina’s siblings resented her freedom. The fact that Maria Theresa had allowed Maria Christina to marry for love caused a rift in the Habsburg family with her younger sister, Maria Amalia, becoming estranged from her mother over it.

Maria Amalia with her sisters Maria Elisabeth, Maria Josepha and Maria Carolina in 1765Johann Franz Greipel, Wikimedia Commons

30. Her Marriage Was Delightful

Regardless of what her siblings thought, Maria Christina settled into a happy marriage with the man of her dreams. She and Prince Albert corresponded frequently with the Dowager Empress, visited Vienna often, collected art and hosted massive festivals. But it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Their happy marriage was about to hit a hurdle.

Maria Christina, Duchess of Teschen in white dress and jewelsJohann Zoffany, Wikimedia Commons

31. She Was Barren

A little over a year into their marriage, Maria Christina became pregnant with the couples’ first—and tragically— only child. Their daughter, Maria Christina Theresa only survived one day after birth. To make matters worse, both Maria Christina and Prince Albert fell ill, she with puerperal fever and he with smallpox. When they recovered, it became apparent that they couldn’t have children of their own.

Albert Casimir, Duke of TeschenUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

32. She Took Her Brother’s Son

Maria Christina was accustomed to getting what she wanted, especially from her family. Following the loss of her own child and the couples’ inability to conceive on their own, she made a bizarre appeal to her brother Leopold.

Surprisingly, she managed to convince him to give her and Prince Albert one of his younger sons, Archduke Charles, to raise as their own.

Charles, Archduke of AustriaThomas Lawrence, Wikimedia Commons

33. Her Mother Left Her At The Mercy Of Her Siblings

As the favorite child of Europe’s most powerful matriarch, Maris Christina had always enjoyed the finer things in life. Unlike her siblings, she had never had to worry about petty things like politics…or money.

That all changed when her mother Maria Theresa passed away in November of 1780. Her siblings were now free to hate her openly.

Maria TheresaAnton von Maron, Wikimedia Commons

34. Her Brother Hated Her Most

Maria Christina’s older brother, Joseph II, ascended to the throne after their mother’s passing. He held more venom for Maria Christina than the rest of her siblings—and the likely reason why was scandalous. It’s possible that he had a little extra hatred for Maria Christina due to the relationship she’d had with his first wife Isabella of Parma.

And, without her mother’s protection against his jealousy, she was about to feel the full, venomous sting of envy.

Joseph II, Holy Roman EmperorAnton von Maron, Wikimedia Commons

35. Her Brother Kicked Her Out

Almost as soon as he ascended to the throne, Joseph II booted Maria Christina and Prince Albert out of Vienna and shipped them off to the Austrian Netherlands. After appointing her governor of a nearly impossible region to govern, he drastically reduced her income and nearly cut her out of their mother’s will. His animosity towards her would cost her everything.

Royal Palace LaekenChemical Engineer, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

36. Her Brother Set Her Up To Fail

Seeing the tense social situation in the Austrian Netherlands, Maria Christina pleaded with her brother to change his approach to the region. But, even after a visit to Vienna, she was not able to convince him to reverse course. Their simmering sibling rivalry was about to boil over with bloody consequences for the whole family—and all of Europe.

Maria Christina, Duchess of TeschenMartin van Meytens, Wikimedia Commons

37. She Tried To Play Nice

To her credit, Maria Christina tried to endear herself to her siblings after their mother’s passing. Sadly, it was far too late. When she and Prince Albert visited her sister, Queen Marie Antoinette in Paris, for example, she got the full arctic blast of her sister’s notoriously cold shoulder.

Marie AntoinetteÉlisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, Wikimedia Commons

38. Her Sister Ignored Her

While staying at the Palace of Versailles, Maria Christina tried to get closer to her sister. She formally requested to see Marie Antoinette’s favorite retreat, the Petit Trianon, where she frequently hung out with her best friends. Marie Antoinette, however, basically told her sister to “eat cake” and ignored the request.

She would live to regret that lack of hospitality.

Palace of VersaillesUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

39. She Escaped A Mob

When Maria Christina returned to Brussels, her brother’s reforms had—as she had predicted—resulted in turmoil. The consequences were terrifying. She wrote to her brother how “[people] thronging in thousands” had broken into her palace and forced her to undo her brother’s Imperial decrees before sending her and Prince Albert fleeing across Europe for their lives.

Maria Christina, Duchess of TeschenJoseph Hickel, Wikimedia Commons

40. She Kept Her Head

Fortunately for Maria Christina, her brother’s tyrannical and vindictive rule came to a sudden end. Joseph II passed away and Maria Christina's other brother, Leopold II, ascended to the throne. As the two had a much better relationship, he took her advice and rescinded many of Joseph II’s reforms, allowing Maria Christina to return to Brussels—and keep her head.

The same, however, could not be said for her sister, Marie Antoinette.

Leopold II, Holy Roman EmperorSchütz, Carl, Wikimedia Commons

41. She Was Going To Save Her Sister

In June 1791, Maria Christina prepared to welcome her sister, Marie Antoinette, and her family after the chaos of the French Revolution had turned them into refugees. However, before Marie Antoinette could cross the border into her sister’s safe haven, the revolutionary forces captured her. The turn of events brought their sibling rivalry to a head—excuse the pun.

Portrait of Marie AntoinetteJean-Baptiste André Gautier-Dagoty, Wikimedia Commons

42. She Could Have Saved Her

In a desperate attempt to save Marie Antoinette’s life, her supporters appealed to Maria Christina to rescue her sister. But they underestimated the depth of the animosity between the two Habsburg girls. Maria Christina refused to send her own troops into France after her sister, claiming that she would need her brother’s support to do so.

In the end, Marie Antoinette lost her head and Maria Christina got her revenge.

Maria Christina, Duchess of TeschenUnknown author, Wikimedia Commons

43. She Should Buried The Hatchet

As it turns out, Maria Christina might have done well to save her sister. After lopping off Marie Antoinette’s head, the French Revolutionary forces turned their attention toward her. They soundly defeated Austrian forces at the Battle of Jemappes and marched into the Austrian Netherlands. Once again, she found herself fleeing for her life.

She had to hope that her envious siblings would show her the mercy she hadn’t shown Marie Antoinette.

Battle of JemappesHenry Scheffer, Wikimedia Commons

44. She Had No One Left

Following their ultimate expulsion from power, Maria Christina and Prince Albert settled in Dresden for a time. But the years of in-fighting with her family had left them both largely isolated and on the outside of Imperial and royal affairs. No more lavish parties, no more splendid festivals. Just a growing art collection and a lot of regrets.

Maria Christina, Duchess of TeschenRijksmuseum, CC0, Wikimedia Commons

45. Her Health Began To Deteriorate

Eventually, Maria Christina's nephew ascended to the throne and he invited her and Prince Albert back to Vienna. By then, however, her health had taken a turn for the worse and she began experiencing stomach pains. Her deteriorating health condition further drove her into a melancholic state. She knew the end of her story was coming.

Francis II, Holy Roman EmperorJoseph Kreutzinger, Wikimedia Commons

46. She Knew The End Was Coming

On the 23rd of June, 1798 Maria Christina's illness worsened. She knew that the end was near. With a heavy heart, she wrote one final love letter. We know what you’re thinking. No, not to Isabella, but to Prince Albert. In the letter she professed her “deep and lifelong love for him”.

The very next day, she drew her final breath—but not all of her letters survived.

Albert of Saxony, Duke of TeschenJohann August Walther , Wikimedia Commons

47. Her Love Burned—Literally

Sometime after Isabella of Parma and Maria Christina’s deaths, half the evidence of their scandalous romance was destroyed. Someone burned all the letters that Maria Christina had written to Isabella, so we only have half the story of this 18th century tabloid scandal. With that said, the raciest parts of the letters that do survive paint a very vivid picture…

Maria Christina, Duchess of Teschen in pink dressMartin van Meytens, Wikimedia Commons

48. Her Love Letters Were Racy

Some of the wild things that Isabella wrote to Maria Christina were downright risque. Want a sample? Brace yourself, this is pretty racy for 18th century Europe. “I am in the most violent state, sweat runs down my forehead, I am breathless...,” Isabella wrote in one letter. “I kiss thine archangelic little [posterior],” she proclaimed in another. And letters weren’t the only thing that they exchanged.

Isabella of ParmaMartin van Meytens, Wikimedia Commons

49. She Flushed Her Love Down The Toilet

Isabella and Maria Christina also frequently gave each other gifts. But nothing as mundane as jewels or flowers. Isabella gave Maria Christina an early version of a toilet—a chair with a hole under which a chamber pot would be placed. But it got even more bizarre. 

She lovingly wrote to her saying that she hoped she would think of her every time she used it. Gee, thanks…

Isabella Of ParmaAnton Raphael Mengs, Wikimedia Commons

50. She Might Have Been Part Of A Secret Society

Prince Albert commissioned a spectacular cenotaph for Maria Christina so that she could lie, in the afterlife, as she had in life—ie, in luxury. Curiously, however, the cenotaph did not contain a single Christian symbol. Instead, the cenotaph’s sculptor, Antonio Canova, carved “several Freemason motifs” into Maria Christina’s final resting place.

Maria Christina, Duchess of Teschen and Albert Casimir, Duke of TeschenUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons


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