Marie-Thérèse d’Autriche

Marie-Thérèse d’Autriche was born on September 10 in 1638, five days after her future husband, which made many believe they were meant for each other.


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Marie-Thérèse d’Autriche in circa 1645, painted by Juan Bautista Martínez del Mazo. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

As daughter of the reining King of Spain Philip IV and his Queen Élisabeth de France, sister of Louis XIII, Marie-Thérèse was Infanta of Spain – meaning as much as Princess – from the day she was born at the Royal Monastery of El Escorial. Her French mother Élisabeth married Philip, back then heir to the crown, in 1615. Negotiations for this marriage started three years previously in 1612, as Élisabeth was ten years old. Her marriage was one of two to bind the Royal House of France with that of Spain. While Élisabeth married Philip, Philip’s sister Anne d’Autriche was married to Élisabeth’s brother Louis XIII. Thus making Marie-Thérèse and her future husband, Louis XIV, double cousins and Anne aunt and mother-in-law to Marie-Thérèse. (Marie-Thérèse and Anne were called d’Autriche -of Austria- and not of Spain, because the French made no difference between the Austrian Habsburgs and the Spanish Habsburgs.)

The marriage of Marie-Thérèse’s parents was a not too happy one. Élisabeth had problems to adjust to the Spanish court, Philip had mistresses and between 1621 and 1627 the couple lost five children in infancy. Élisabeth died as Marie-Thérèse was six years old in 1644. Her mother had been pregnant twelve times during her marriage and all but two children, Marie-Thérèse and her brother Baltasar Carlos, born in 1629, had died already. Baltasar Carlos did not live long either, he died two years after his mother.

Marie-Thérèse was now he only surviving child of Élisabeth and Philip, and since the Spanish were not bound to the Salic Law, which prevents female children from succeeding to the crown, Marie-Thérèse was also the heiress presumptive of her father. She remained so until 1657. Her father married again in 1649. His bride had been actually engaged to his son Baltasar Carlos and after the death of the latter, Philip decided to marry her himself. He was forty-four-years old and the uncle of his fourteen-year old bride Mariana of Austria.

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La infanta María Teresa by Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez.

The future Queen of France grew up at the Spanish court and largely isolated. Her upbringing was strict and religious, but she only received only little education. Although the possibility to marry her to her French cousin was considered quite early, Marie-Thérèse was not really taught how to speak French, something that would cause her a headache later on. She was brought up in a theological and profoundly Catholic spirit, and other matters such as arts, music, dance, everything a future Queen should know, quite neglected.

A other marriage prospect that was considered for Marie-Thérèse was Ferdinand IV, the King of Romans and heir to the Holy Roman Emperor, as well as older brother of Marie-Thérèse’s new step-mum. Ferdinand died in 1654 due to small pox and it was afterwards suggested Marie-Thérèse should marry the new heir to the Emperor, the future Leopold I. While becoming Holy Roman Empress was quite the thing, Marie-Thérèse was way more inclined towards Louis XIV. She had the idea stuck in her head and after all she had heard, her cousin was quite dashing. (Leopold I would later marry the Marie-Thérèse’s half-sister Margarita Teresa, the one in Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez famous painting Las Meninas.)

Getting hitched with said dashing French King Marie-Thérèse favoured proved a little difficult. Spain and France were at war. They had been so since 1635. On top of that, her papa had no intention to marry his daughter off to France. Luckily for Marie-Thérèse, she had someone in France who, although they never met before, thought quite favourably of such a marriage. It was her aunt and the mama of the Prince Charming. Anne d’Autriche even had a portrait of her niece in her bath chambers. Another ally was Cardinal Mazarin, the Prime Minister of France. Both brought the idea of marrying Marie-Thérèse to Louis XIV to Spain, but Philip declined. Marie-Thérèse was during this time the sole heir of the Spanish crown and marrying her to France would mean that Spain would become French after the death of Philip. Her papa and step-mother were way more inclined to marry her to Austria.

The situation changed in 1657 as a male heir was born to Philip and the war with the French pushed Spain into bankruptcy. It was again proposed that Marie-Thérèse should marry Louis XIV to bring peace to both Kingdoms, but Philip still wasn’t really sure about it.

What about Louis XIV? The only woman he wanted to marry during this time was his Italian beauty Marie Mancini, but Louis had not much say in the matter.

It is due to Cardinal Mazarin that Louis XIV and Marie-Thérèse joined in holy matrimony. The Cardinal tricked Philip into agreeing to the match that would end the war between them. The young Sun King had uttered his desire to marry Marie Mancini, which made the matter a little urgent. Thus the Cardinal arranged for a sort of pretended courting, not with Marie Mancini, but with Marguerite-Yolande de Savoie. This Savoyan Princesse was the second daughter of the Duc de Savoie and Christine de France, a sister of Louis XIII and sister-in-law to Marie-Thérèse’s papa. The French started negotiations for the match and Louis XIV was sent to Lyon to meet with Marguerite-Yolande de Savoie. Louis XIV did not show much interest in the Princesse, he was way too busy with ogling Marie Mancini and dancing with her. It did make an impression of Philip IV however, as he heard of the meeting the words “it cannot be, and will not be” supposedly left his lips and a special envoy was sent to France at once.

Marie-Thérèse might have rejoiced as she heard of it, but it still took a while until the matter was fully settled. France stopped the negotiations with Savoy and entered into negotiations with Spain that lastet for months, since not only a marriage had to be settled but also a peace treaty. Finally, on October 17 of 1659, the Marschall de Grammont arrived as special envoy in Madrid to ask for the hand of Marie-Thérèse on behalf of Louis XIV. The next month, on November 7, all negotiations were finally settled. Marie-Thérèse’s dowry was a special issue during the negotiations. Spain insisted that Marie-Thérèse had to give up her claims, and with it the claims of any future children, to the Spanish crown, in order to prevent France from taking over Spain in the future. But Cardinal Mazarin was a smart man, smart enough to demand a large amount of money, 500000 Écu d’or, from Spain in turn, money that he know Spain was unable to pay.

In the summer of 1660, it was finally time to marry. Marie-Thérèse was married to Louis XIV by proxy in Fuenterrabia on June 3 and left for France for France. The next day she the met family, already as Queen of France and in company of her papa. Until then Marie-Thérèse had never seen her husband in person before. It was not planned that she would meet him until June 6, but the groom was curious and snuck his way into the pavilion of the family reunion.

Meeting of Philip IV of Spain and Louis XIV at Pheasant Island.

During the official first meeting of the King of France and the new Queen of France, both Kingdoms made formally peace. For the curious onlookers it must have been a strange scene. The French wore fashionable and colourful outfits, while the Spanish were dressed in humble outfits of dark colours, something that had been fashionable a century ago in the eyes of the French. Large carpets covered the floor and marked the borders of France and Spain, to prevent that either of the Monarchs accidentally entered the Kingdom of the other. The new Queen of France, dressed in a silver gown of Spanish cut, had to remain on the Spanish side of the carpets until the following day. Tears fell plenty as Marie-Thérèse said goodbye to her papa, who she would never see again, for tradition prevented foreign Princesses and Queens to return to their native lands even for a quick visit. Marie-Thérèse was French now, stripped, clad in French fashion, and handed over to her husband on June 7.

On June 9, Marie-Thérèse and Louis XIV were married of French soil in a grand ceremony at Saint-Jean-de-Luz. The bride wore a expensive gown with embroidered fleur-de-lis and a crown on her blonde head. The door through which the couple entered the church was walled up afterwards. Legend has it that it was done to represent the closing of the troubles between France and Spain, but the locals were more of the opinion it was done so no other couple could walk into the church to be married in their footsteps.

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Marie-Thérèse in state robes.

A large banquet followed the wedding ceremony, music was played, people danced and the tables were filled with all sort of delicious things. Marie-Thérèse probably thought she was in heaven. It came as a bit of a shock to her as the groom rose earlier than she expected from the tables uttering his desire to retire and blushing Marie-Thérèse whispered to her aunt and mother-in-law that she is not quite sure if it is not a bit early for that.

The newlyweds retired to a Hôtel provided to them, the groom quite eager to get the matter done, the bride hesitant in first, but when informed the groom was already in a state of undress and waiting, urged her maids to hurry with getting her in a equal state of undress. The next morning, both groom and bride were observed to look rather pleased.

The couple made the traditional Joyous Entry into Paris on August 26 in 1660. The Parisians cheered along with the nobility, members of the church and parlement, as Louis and his bride received the keys to the city. It was Louis, although it was supposed to be Marie-Thérèse’s great hour, who got most of the praise. Interestingly, many of the women who played a great role thus far in his life and would play one later on, were all gathered at the same spot during the ceremony. Anne d’Autriche, Anne Marie Martinozzi, Olympe Mancini, Marie Mancini, Hortense Mancini, Marie Anne Mancini, Madame de Venel, Madame Scarron, Henriette Marie de France and her daughter Henriette d’Angleterre, a certain Françoise that would later go by the name Athénaïs and Louise de La Vallière, all watched from the balcony of the Hôtel de Beauvais, which was owned by Catherine Bellier.

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Anne d’Autriche with Louis, le Grand Dauphin, and Marie-Thérèse in cirve 1665.

For Marie-Thérèse is must have been like a dream come true. She married the most handsome, most glorious, most dashing King in all of Europe… In Spain she was seen as a sweet and shy girl, that resembled her mother greatly, but her groom was probably quite disappointed. Marie-Thérèse was small, had a plump figure due to her extreme consume of sweets, especially chocolate, and this extreme consume had put her teeth in a terrible state. She hardly spoke a word of French and when she did, her accent was so harsh that nobody really understood what she said. She was not the smartest and more awkward than graceful. A bit of a silly girl with a childish spirit, no interest in politics, no clue about fashion or anything else that could be helpful when one is Queen. For Louis, the only plus points might have been her blonde hair and blue eyes. His wife was a bit of a bore to him, compared to the women he had contact with before and all those graceful young things that caught his glance and forced a blush on his cheeks. Along with chocolate and oranges, which she introduced to the French court, Marie-Thérèse brought some Spanish ladies with her as companions and spent plenty of time in their company. Her newly appointed French ladies were in quite the huff about it, but poor Marie-Thérèse simply did not understand much of what they said.

In first, it seemed to be a somewhat happy match. Louis XIV even ordered his Grand Maréchal du Logis to ensure the Queen and himself were never to be set apart, no matter how small the house in which they lodged was and seems to have been faithful to his wife in the first year… but then came the distractions in form of pretty young things. Marie-Thérèse had no interest in dancing, reading or the arts. She preferred to eat sweets and gamble. Those pretty young things were graceful dancers, avid readers and familiar with the arts. Marie-Thérèse thought, in her childish way, that a King could only love a Princesse of Royal Blood and in first it never occurred to her that this might not be the case.

For Louis, she was only really important twice in her life. The first time as she gave birth to a healthy heir on November 1 in 1661. The second time as he could lay claim to the Spanish Netherlands on behalf of her after her father’s death and due to the fact that her dowry was never fully paid.

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Marie Thérèse d’Autriche painted by François de Troy.

As Marie-Thérèse got the idea that a King might be very well able to love someone who is not of Royal Blood and started to complain about it to her only true friend in France, Anne d’Autriche, and the latter reprimanded her son continuously about it, poor Marie-Thérèse did herself more harm than good. Louis was also a little annoyed that his wife was always surrounded by her Spanish entourage and not her French ladies, as it should be, and sent almost every one of the Spanish entourage back home. Marie-Thérèse had agreed to it, but probably not because she thought it was a great idea. More because she wanted to please her Louis. This was always her one goal, but it never really worked out. It was clear to see that Marie-Thérèse was utterly in love with Louis, she would blush at remarks about it, and she did her very best to appeal to him, yet in vain. She tried new fashions if someone told her the King liked this or that, but only looked even more awkward dolled up like that. Wore the fashionable heels to appear taller and landed often on her behind, because she could not walk in them. She giggled with her ladies if the King looked at her and hardly got a word out when he spoke to her. Louis intimidated her… and he knew it. Sometimes it even amused him.

As Louis started his affair with Louise de La Vallière, Marie-Thérèse was beside herself with grief and anger. She could not stand to even look at Louise. Naive as she was, she was the last to realise her hubby was ogling someone and usually the last one to be informed of something. Louis already ogled Madame de Montespan for quite some time, while Marie-Thérèse still thought Louise de La Vallière was the enemy. As she finally realised what was going on, the betrayal of Madame de Montespan, one of her ladies and someone she thought to be a friend, hit her hard. How Madame de Montespan treated her openly with disrespect was even worse… yet she never stopped to love her Louis.

Eventually Marie-Thérèse arranged herself with the fact that her husband had mistresses, which made her life with Louis not necessarily easier. The Queen withdrew more and more into her own little world, in company of her last Spanish retinue, a horde of small dogs and a group of dwarfs to amuse her. Marie-Thérèse spent her days with eating garlic and drinking chocolate, while her husband’s mistresses acted Queen. At night she had attacks of fright, thinking ghosts hunt her, and was unable to sleep unless her maid Maria Molina reads her a story and held her hand… even when the King shares her bed. Rumours have it, that Louis XIV was always in a bit of a fight with Maria Molina to get her to leave when he took in mind to perform his duties as husband. Maria Molina was not too fond of leaving Marie-Thérèse’s side.

Her life at the French court was not too easy and apart from the grief caused by several mistresses, the Queen also had to bury most of her children at an early age. In the duration of ten years, Marie-Thérèse gave birth to six children of which five had died until the year 1672.

Marie-Thérèse d’Autriche towards the end of her life.

Louis de France, le Grand Dauphin, born on November 1 in 1661 was the only one of her children to survive infancy. Anne-Élisabeth de France, her first daughter, was born on 18 November in 1662 and died December 30 the same year. Marie-Anne de France was born on November 16 in 1664 and died on December 26 in the same year. Marie-Thérèse de France, called Madame Royale, was born on the 2nd January in 1667 and died aged five on the 1st of March in 1672. Philippe-Charles de France born on August 5 in 1668 died on July 10 in 1671. Her last child, a boy named Louis-François de France, was born on June 14 in 1672 and died aged four months and three weeks on November 4 in 1672. (There are plenty of rumours about the birth of Marie-Anne de France and that she might have not died early, but was instead taken away from court to hide the fact that she was born black and fathered by a dwarf. You can read them here.)

With the rise of Madame de Maintenon and the downfall of Madame de Montespan, a little light returned to the Queen’s life. Madame de Maintenon urged Louis XIV to spent more time with his wife and Louis followed the advice. Marie-Thérèse was in first a little suspicious and hesitant, but her heart warmed again and she famously declared “God has sent Madame de Maintenon to restore the King’s heart to me and never before has he treated me with so much tenderness.”

Marie-Thérèse’s early death was a surprise to everyone, but due to Madame de Maintenon, her last years as Queen had been a little more endurable. As she returned from a trip of inspecting Royal fortresses built by Vauban, on July 20 in 1683, she seemed in quite a good health, but this changed quickly. A abscess formed under her left arm and the Queen had to remain in bed. The usual treatment of the doctors, in from of bleeding and purging, weakened her body quickly. The abscess turned purple and purulent, showing signs of septicaemia. Although Marie-Thérèse’s pain was great, she never complained, but realising her time on earth came to an end is said to have uttered the words “Since I have been Queen, I only had one happy day.”

Marie-Thérèse died on July 30 in 1683 and aged forty-four. Her widowed husband said “This is the first grief she ever caused me” and married Madame de Maintenon two months later in secret.

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