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Margaret Theresa of Spain 1651-1673

Margaret Theresa of Spain, 12 July 1651 – 12 March 1673. She was, by marriage, Holy Roman Empress, German Queen, Archduchess of Austria and Queen of Hungary and Bohemia. She was the daughter of King Philip IV of Spain and the elder full-sister of Charles II, the last of the Spanish Habsburgs. She is the central figure in the famous Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez, and the subject of many of his later paintings

12 July 1651
Royal Alcazar,

12 March 1673
(aged 21)
Hofburg Palace,

Leopold I
Holy Roman Emperor

During her six years of marriage, Margaret gave birth to four children, of whom only one survived infancy.

.1 Ferdinand Wenceslaus
28 September 1667 – 13 January 1668

.2 Maria Antonia Josepha Benedicta Rosalia Petronella
18 January 1669 – 24 December 1692

.3 John Leopold
born and died 20 February 1670

.4 Maria Anna
9 February 1672 – 23 February 1672


Philip IV of Spain

Mariana of Austria

Margaret Theresa was born on 12 July 1651 in Madrid as the first child of King Philip IV of Spain born from his second marriage with his niece Mariana of Austria. Because of this avunculate marriage (a marriage with a parent’s sibling or with a sibling’s child i.e., between an uncle and a niece or between an aunt and a nephew.) Margaret’s mother was nearly thirty years younger than her father.

Margaret’s paternal grandparents were King Philip III of Spain and his wife Archduchess Margaret of Austria. Her maternal grandparents were Ferdinand III, Holy Roman Emperor and his wife Infanta Maria Anna of Spain, the daughter of her paternal grandparents.

Margaret had a swelling in her neck resulting from an enlarged thyroid gland but didn’t develop the serious health issues and disabilities (because of the close consanguinity of her parents) that her brother Charles had shown since his birth.During her childhood she was once seriously ill, but survived. According to contemporaries, Margaret had an attractive appearance and lively character. Her parents and close friends called her the “little angel”. She grew up in the Queen’s chambers in the Royal Alcazar of Madrid surrounded by many maids and servants. The Infanta loved boiled sweets, which she constantly hid from the physicians. This led to Dental abscesses and the severe decay of her baby teeth.

Both Margaret’s father and maternal grandfather Emperor Ferdinand III loved her deeply. In his private letters King Philip IV called her “my joy”. At the same time, Margaret was brought up in accordance with the strict etiquette of the Madrid court, and received a good education. In the second half of the 1650s discussion began about a marriage between Margaret and the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I (who was her maternal uncle and paternal cousin). However, the Madrid court hesitated to agree to this proposal, because the infanta could inherit the Spanish crown if her little brother died. The Spanish ambassador in France, suggested the infanta as a possible bride for King Charles II of England. However, King Philip IV rejected this idea, replying that the King of England should look for a wife in France.

On 6 April 1663, the betrothal between Margaret and Leopold I was finally announced. In the marriage contract signed on 18 December, besides the customary dowry, was as a gift from her father, the famous Wittelsbach -Graff Diamond. It was also stipulated that Margaret should maintain her position in the line of succession to the Spanish throne and would pass her rights to her descendants. On 28 April 1666 Margaret traveled from Madrid to Vienna, accompanied by her personal retinue. The Infanta arrived at Denia, where she rested for some days before embarking on the Spanish Royal fleet on 16 July, in turn escorted by ships of the Order of Malta and the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.

After spending almost all September in Milan, the Infanta continued the journey through Venice, arriving in early October in Trento. At every stop Margaret received celebrations in her honor. On 25 November at the district of Schottwien, twelve miles from Vienna the Emperor came to receive his bride. On 5 December 1666, the solemn entry of the Infanta in Vienna took place and the official marriage ceremony was celebrated seven days later, on 12 December. The celebrations that took place in the Austrian capital on the occasion of the imperial marriage (which were among the most splendid of all the Baroque era) lasted almost two years.

The wedding festivities started with a fireworks display accompanied by cannon fire – an inherent part of many grand Baroque celebrations. The Emperor ordered the construction of an open-air theatre, with a capacity of 5,000 people. It is in this theatre, in July 1668 (on the occasion of Margaret’s birthday), that the opera Il pomo d’oro (The Golden Apple), premiered. Despite the age difference, Leopold I’s unattractive appearance and Margaret’s swelling in the neck, they had a happy marriage.The Empress always called her husband “Uncle” and he called her “Gretl”.The couple had many common interests, especially in art and music.

Maria Antonia, only surviving child was born on 18 January 1669. The Empress was intensely anti-Semitic, and inspired her husband to expel the Jews from Vienna, because she believed that they were to blame for her children’s deaths. During the Corpus Christi celebration of 1670, the Emperor ordered the destruction of the Vienna synagogue and a church was built on the site on his orders.

Even after her marriage, Margaret kept her Spanish customs and ways. She did not speak German, and the arrogance of her native retinue led to a strong anti -Spanish sentiment among the imperial court. The courtiers openly expressed the hope that the weak Empress would soon die and thus give Leopold the opportunity of a second marriage. During her last pregnancy Margaret fell ill with bronchitis this, along with her already weakened health due to four living childbirths and miscarriages during her marriage, caused her early death on 12 March 1673, at the age of 21.

Only four months later, the widower Emperor – despite his grief for the death of his “only Margareta” (as he remembered her) entered into a second marriage with Archduchess Claudia Felicitas of Austria, member of the Tyrol branch of the House of Habsburg.

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