Maria Josepha of Saxony, Archduchess of Austria

by Susan Flantzer
© Unofficial Royalty 2023

Maria Josepha of Saxony, Archduchess of Austria, circa 1910 – 1915; Credit – Wikipedia

Princess Maria Josepha of Saxony was the wife of Archduke Otto Franz of Austria and the mother of Karl I, the last Emperor of Austria. Maria Josepha Louise Philippina Elisabeth Pia Angelica Margaretha was born on May 31, 1867, in Dresden, Kingdom of Saxony, now in the German state of Saxony. She was the fifth of the eight children and the youngest of the four daughters of King Georg of Saxony and Infanta Maria Ana of Portugal. Maria Josepha’s paternal grandparents were King Johann of Saxony and Princess Amalie Auguste of Bavaria. Her maternal grandparents were Queen Maria II of Portugal and her second husband Prince Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha-Koháry.

Maria Josepha had seven siblings:

  • Princess Marie Johanna of Saxony (1860 – 1861), died in infancy
  • Princess Elisabeth of Saxony (1862 – 1863), died in early childhood
  • Princess Mathilde of Saxony (1863 – 1933), unmarried
  • King Friedrich August III of Saxony (1865 – 1932), married Archduchess Louise of Austria, had seven children
  • Prince Johann Georg of Saxony (1869 – 1938), married (1) Duchess Maria Isabella of Württemberg, no children (2) Princess Maria Immacolata of Bourbon-Two Sicilies, no children
  • Prince Maximilian of Saxony (1870 – 1951), ordained as a Roman Catholic priest
  • Prince Albert of Saxony (1875 – 1900), unmarried, died from injuries sustained in a carriage crash caused by Prince Miguel of Braganza

Maria Josepha, circa 1893; Credit – Wikipedia

Maria Josepha was raised in a strict Catholic environment. In 1883, her youngest sibling Albert became very ill. Their mother Maria Ana took care of him intensively for months until he recovered, but overworked herself so much that she died of exhaustion on February 5, 1884, at the age of 40. Maria Ana’s death occurred before her husband, who never remarried, became King of Saxony.

Otto Franz and Maria Josepha at the time of their engagement, 1886; Credit – Wikipedia

On October 2, 1886, in Dresden, Kingdom of Saxony, now in the German state of Saxony, 19-year-old Princess Maria Josepha married her 21-year-old second cousin Archduke Otto Franz of Austria, the son of Archduke Karl Ludwig of Austria and his second wife Princess Maria Annunciata of Bourbon-Two Sicilies. Maria Josepha’s father-in-law Karl Ludwig was the younger brother of Franz Joseph I, Emperor of Austria and Archduke Maximilian of Austria, the executed Emperor of Mexico. Her new husband Otto Franz was the brother of the ill-fated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria whose assassination in 1914 was one of the causes and World War I

The marriage was not a love match. Both Otto Franz’s first cousin Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria and Otto’s brother Franz Ferdinand had snubbed the Saxony court by rejecting Maria Josepha’s elder sister Mathilde as a bride. Relations between Austria-Hungary and Saxony improved only when Otto Franz, under pressure from the Austrian-Hungarian court, married Mathilde’s younger sister Maria Josepha. The marriage of Otto Franz and Maria Josepha was increasingly unhappy. Otto Franz had many affairs and Maria Josepha was very religious and was insultingly called “the nun” by her husband because of the deeply pious beliefs.

Otto Franz and Maria Josepha with their two sons Karl and Maximilian Eugen, circa 1897; Credit – Wikipedia

Maria Josepha and Otto Franz had two sons:

In 1889, Otto Franz’s first cousin Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria died by suicide at his hunting lodge Mayerling. Crown Prince Rudolf, the only son of Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria, had no sons, so the succession would pass to Emperor Franz Joseph’s brother Archduke Karl Ludwig and his eldest son Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Maria Josepha’s father-in-law and brother-in-law. There have been suggestions that Karl Ludwig renounced his succession rights in favor of his son Franz Ferdinand. However, an act of renunciation was never formally signed and Karl Ludwig was never officially designated heir to the throne. He was only three years younger than Franz Joseph and not a realistic choice. When Karl Ludwig died in 1896, Maria Josepha’s brother-in-law Franz Ferdinand became the heir to his uncle’s throne.

Meanwhile, Otto Franz was involved in many scandals, including jumping nude from a window in a private dining room in the Hotel Sacher in Vienna in front of a visiting British peeress and being spotted in the hallway at the same hotel about to enter a lady’s room, wearing nothing but a sword. The imperial court gradually became alienated from Otto Franz as did his wife.

Maria Josepha and Otto Franz in 1900; Credit – Wikipedia

By 1900, it was clear that Maria Josepha’s husband Otto Franz had contracted the sexually transmitted disease syphilis. He withdrew from public life and spent a year in Egypt where he temporarily improved. After returning to Austria, Otto Franz became quite ill. He was in agonizing pain for the last two years of his life and was forced to replace his nose with a rubber prosthetic due to the facial deformity caused by syphilis. During the last months of his life, Otto Franz lived in a villa in Währing, a district of Vienna, and was nursed by his last mistress Luise Robinson and by his stepmother, his father’s second wife Maria Theresa of Portugal. On November 1, 1906, Archduke Otto Franz, aged forty-one, died. He was interred in the Imperial Crypt at the Capuchin Church in Vienna, Austria. After the death of her husband, Maria Josepha remained unmarried. The German-Austrian stage and film actor Otto Tressler was a close friend, and possibly Maria Josepha and Otto had a relationship.

Karl and Zita’s wedding: (L – R) Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Archduchess Maria Josepha, Emperor Franz Joseph, Karl, and Zita; Credit – Wikipedia

On October 21, 1911, Maria Josepha’s son Karl married Princess Zita of Bourbon-Parma, the daughter of the deposed Robert I, Duke of Parma and his second wife, Maria Antonia of Portugal at Schwarzau Castle, an Austrian home of Zita’s family. 

Maria Josepha’s son Karl I, the last Emperor of Austria; Credit – Wikipedia

Maria Josepha’s brother-in-law Archduke Franz Ferdinand was the heir to the Austrian throne until his assassination on June 28, 1914, an event that was one of the causes of World War I. Franz Ferdinand had been allowed to make a morganatic marriage with the condition that the children of the marriage would not have succession rights. Upon Franz Ferdinand’s death, Maria Josepha’s son Karl became the heir to the Austrian throne. He succeeded to the throne as Emperor Karl I of Austria upon the death of Emperor Franz Joseph I in 1916. Karl reigned until the monarchy was abolished in 1918, at the end of World War I.

At the end of World War I, the armistice required that the Austrian-Hungarian Empire allow for autonomy and self-determination of the government of its various ethnic populations. The various areas proclaimed independence and by October 1918 there was not much left of the empire. On November 11, 1918, the same day as the armistice ending World War I, Karl issued a proclamation in which he recognized the rights of the people of Austria to determine their form of government and released his government officials from their loyalty to him. On November 13, 1918, Karl issued a similar proclamation for Hungary. Karl did not use the term “abdicate” in his proclamations and would never admit that he abdicated.

On March 23, 1919, Karl and his family, including his mother Maria Josepha, left for Switzerland. On April 3, 1919, the Austrian Parliament passed the Habsburg Law which forbade Karl or his wife Zita from ever returning to Austria. The law also prevented other Habsburgs from returning to Austria unless they renounced all intentions of claiming the throne and accepted the condition of living as ordinary citizens. In 1921, Karl returned to Hungary twice, attempting to regain the throne of Hungary. After the second attempt, the Council of Allied Powers decided to exile Karl and his family to the Portuguese island of Madeira. In March 1922, Karl caught a cold which developed into bronchitis and further developed into pneumonia. After suffering two heart attacks and respiratory failure, Karl died on April 1, 1922, at the age of 34. Due to the Habsburg Law, Karl could not be buried in the Imperial Crypt in Vienna, Austria. He was buried at the Church of Our Lady of the Mount on the island of Madeira in Portugal.

The restrictions on the Habsburgs entering Austria were eventually rescinded, but only for those Habsburgs born after April 10, 1919. In 1982, the restrictions were eased and after 63 years, Karl’s widow Zita could return to Austria for visits. When Zita died in 1989, the government of Austria allowed her funeral to take place in Austria provided that the Habsburg family pay the cost and Zita was allowed to be buried in the Habsburg traditional burial site, the Imperial Crypt at the Capuchin Church in Vienna, Austria. However, the remains of her husband Karl are still interred in Portugal.

Beatification of Karl in 2004

Maria Josepha had raised Karl with a very religious upbringing, and upon marrying Princess Zita of Bourbon-Parma, also a very devout Roman Catholic, Karl told her, “Now, we must help each other to get to Heaven.” Karl was beatified on October 3, 2004, by Pope John Paul II, and he is known as Blessed Karl of Austria. Beatification is the third of four steps toward sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church.

Tomb of Maria Josepha, to the right of her husband’s tomb in the Imperial Crypt at the Capuchin Church in Vienna; Credit –

After Karl and his family were exiled to the Portuguese island of Madeira, Maria Josepha settled in Bavaria, Germany where she lived in Geiselgasteig near Munich. Because of Allied bombings during World War II, Maria Josepha moved to the safety of Wildenwart Castle in Chiemgau, Bavaria, Germany. The castle belonged to the former Bavarian royal family, and Maria Josepha lived there with Princess Hildegard and Princess Helmtrud, two unmarried daughters of Ludwig III, the last King of Bavaria. Maria Josepha died at Wildenwart Castle on May 28, 1944, at the age of 76, and was allowed to be buried in the New Vault of the Imperial Crypt at the Capuchin Church in Vienna, beside her husband.

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Works Cited

  • Flantzer, Susan. (2014) Karl I, Emperor of Austria, Unofficial Royalty. Available at: (Accessed: 29 May 2023).
  • Flantzer, Susan. (2023) Archduke Otto Franz of Austria, Unofficial Royalty. Available at: (Accessed: 29 May 2023).
  • Maria Josepha von Sachsen (1867–1944) (2023) Wikipedia (German). Available at: (Accessed: 29 May 2023).
  • Princess Maria Josepha of Saxony (1867–1944) (2023) Wikipedia. Available at: (Accessed: 29 May 2023).
  • Wheatcroft, Andrew, 1995. The Habsburgs. London: Viking.

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