Maria Josepha, born December 8, 1699 in Vienna, was the daughter of Joseph I, Holy Roman Emperor, and his wife Princess Wilhelmina Amalia of Brunswick-Lüneburg. She was their oldest child with younger brother Archduke Leopold Joseph, who died in infancy, and sister Maria Amalia, later Holy Roman Empress as wife of Charles VII. Maria’s grandfather Emperor Leopold I made arrangements for her to be the heiress presumptive to her uncle Emperor Charles VI, but Charles through the Pragmatic Sanction of 1713 made his daughter Maria Theresa his successor instead.
When considering a husband for Maria Josepha, the candidate had to be Roman Catholic. Augustus II the Strong, King of Poland, suggested his son, Frederick Augustus II, as a possible candidate, but he was Lutheran. Following his father’s example, Frederick converted to Roman Catholicism in 1712, making negotiations possible and Maria Josepha married Frederick on August 20, 1719. The marriage was apparently a happy one with no evidence that either was unfaithful. They enjoyed music, art, and hunting together, and had at least 14 children.
As Frederick’s wife, Maria Josepha became the Electress of Saxony, where they lived at Dresden Castle. Then in 1733, he was elected King of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and Maria was crowned Queen on January 20, 1734. The couple began to divide their time between Saxony and Poland, where Maria was happy to be able to practice her faith openly. She learned to speak Polish and attended sessions of the Polish parliament.
As Queen, Maria Josepha acted informally as the King’s representative in his absence, and participated in affairs of state as well as diplomatic affairs through her correspondence. She was intelligent and ambitious, but is probably best known for her religious devotion. She founded churches and convents and gave alms to both the Catholic and Protestant poor, believing that non-Catholics should have freedom to worship as they chose. Personally, she attended mass at least twice a day and kept devotions in the same way a nun would. In fact, her confessor once told her that this level of devotion was immodest for a lay person.
During the Seven Years War (1755-1764), Maria Josepha and her son Frederick Christian remained in Dresden under house arrest. Although forbidden to correspond with her sons outside Saxony, Maria used invisible ink to aid in the resistance against the Prussian army. In her letter dated September 6, 1757, to the Austrian empress, she says that it would probably be her last. In this she was correct. On November 17, following a stroke, Maria Josepha died. She was buried in the Wettin vault at the Catholic Hofkirche (Catholic Court Church) in Dresden.
Find out what else happened on December 8 in Women’s History.