Die Kaiserin in Edinburgh: ISECS Conference 2019

Am 17. Juli präsentieren wir die Kaiserinnen in Edinburgh: Im Rahmen des aller vier Jahre stattfindenden Weltkongresses der International Society for Eighteenth Century Studies werden die Kaiserinnen der Zeit um 1700 einen Auftritt haben. Marion Romberg und Katrin Keller präsentieren Ergebnisse des Projektes “Kaiserin und Reich”, während Ines Peper neue Erkenntnisse zur Konversion von Kaiserin Elisabeth Christine vorstellen wird. Aus diesem Anlass veröffentlicht der Blog diesmal den englischen Text des Beitrages von Katrin Keller zum gedruckten Echo des Todes von Kaiserin Eleonore Magdalena im Januar 1720.

Lucerna abscondita: How to Memorialize an Empress

Eleonore Magdalene of Neuburg, the third wife of emperor Leopold I, must be counted today among the forgotten Habsburg women. This applies on the one hand to historical research. A study on her imperial household, one on the converts’ fund endowed in her last will, and one from the perspective of musical history constitute all the research attention she has received in the past 20 years. On the other hand, it is even more true regarding the public. Even attentive visitors to Vienna with an interest in history tend to pass by her sarcophagus in the Capuchin Crypt, which is the only publicly visible mark of her person remaining in the city.

Yet it was not always so. When Eleonore Magdalene passed away on January 19, 1720, shortly after her 65th birthday, the ensuing media echo was considerable. The aim of my contribution is, on the one hand, to use the example of this empress to demonstrate the diversity of the public communication of her death. On the other, I will interrogate the key contents of printed books and pamphlets issued on this occasion to see what picture they painted of the empress as a imperial consort. Which fields of action can we recognize that were deemed appropriate to the station of an empress regent or a dowager empress? Was the media presentation of the event and of her person situated in discourses of rule and in a dynastic context?


The first to learn of the dowager empress’s passing were, of course, the members of the imperial court. Her body, dressed in a religious habit, was laid in repose for three days in her apartments in the Imperial Palace, for the dignitaries of the court as well as the population of the city and its environs to take their leave of her. Then, on January 23, an elaborate funeral cortege conveyed her from the Palace to the Capuchin Crypt, certainly attended by a large number of Vienna’s inhabitants as spectators.

At the beginning of March, three-day exequies were held in the Augustinian Church, the de facto imperial court church, with a castrum doloris constructed for the occasion. Its inscriptions, like the three sermons preached during the exequies, extolled the merits and the virtues of the deceased.

Memorial services with sermons and ephemeral architecture displaying Eleonore Magdalene’s merits to the wider urban public also took place in many other Viennese churches between the end of January and the end of March. The Wienerisches Diarium, the most important Viennese newspaper of the 18th century, reported them in greater or lesser detail. Similar memorials are attested for the capitals of several Habsburg provinces, such as Brno, Prague, Olomouc, or Innsbruck. At Freiburg im Breisgau, the administrative seat of the Anterior Austrian possessions, or in Naples and Messina as the residences of Habsburg viceroys, castra doloris were erected and memorial services held at the initiative of imperial officeholders. The same was done in cities of the Holy Roman Empire such as Augsburg, Passau, Salzburg, Arnstadt, or Ratisbon, and especially in the residences of princes who were brothers of the deceased: Koblenz, Heidelberg, and Augsburg. In each of these places, one or more religious services saw clerical orators rise to describe the late empress’s person in greater or lesser detail to their listeners.

But even outside the major cities, the death of the empress called for memorializing her. In abbeys and noble manors throughout the Habsburg Monarchy, there might also be sermons or castra doloris, though we have only sketchy information on their distribution. In the Holy Roman Empire, the organizations of the Free Imperial Knights (Ritterkantone) mandated a three-month mourning period, or at the least a ringing of the church bells, on the fiefs of their members. Bells also tolled in the possessions of the Teutonic Order scattered throughout the Empire, and presumably in several bishoprics, with daily repetitions for two weeks.

This spectrum of performatively actualized memory and propagation using oral and nonverbal media was supplemented by print. This included, for one thing, newspapers, which I will not describe in detail here. To give only one example, the Wienerisches Diarium of course reported to its readership in great detail, first on the illness of the dowager empress, then on her death and the multitude of exequies held in Vienna. It also repeatedly mentioned memorials in other places.

At the same time, and this will be my focus in the body of this presentation, a conspicuously large number of printed pamphlets and books appeared on the occasion of the empress’s passing, most of them within the year 1720. These included one separately printed elegy – other poems appeared as part of larger works –, nine descriptions of memorial festivities and their arrangements, eleven funeral sermons, some very long, and one biography written in Latin, which by the end of the decade would see translations into German, Italian, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. The sermons were published either in Latin or in German. Two thirds of the works were shorter than 100 printed pages, though only four had fewer than 12 pages.

It is hardly surprising, given the subject and the character of these writings as texts of religious edification, that most of the known authors were clergymen, primarily members of the Society of Jesus. For the number and for the volume of the writings, the high rank of the deceased was undoubtedly a crucial criterion. This is evident simply from the fact that all other Early Modern empresses had likewise received printed homages at their death (see table). Further motives for composing and especially for printing these texts, however, included the desire of their authors or sponsors for documentation of their efforts, as well as an apparent interest on the part of the reading public.

The most widely distributed of all these works was certainly the biography of the empress, written by the Viennese Jesuit Franz Wagner. First published in Latin, it was almost immediately also issued in German. It seems to have been mainly the latter version that found the interest of a broader public. A favourable review in the German edition of the Acta Eruditorum must have contributed to this. And as soon as 1723, the well-known journalist David Fassmann made use of it in composing one of his “conversations in the realms of the dead” for his moral weekly Gespräche in dem Reiche derer Todten.

This fictitious dialogue between empress Eleonore Magdalene and queen Marie-Thérèse of France, the late consort to Louis XIV, uses some passages from Wagner’s book verbatim. Fassmann’s very popular historical and political journal, published from 1718 to 1739 in Leipzig, is known to have enjoyed a circulation of some 3.000 copies per issue. Its contents, aiming both to entertain and to educate, thus reached a substantially wider public than did the purely religious funeral sermons – wider in quantitative terms, in social position, but above all, in a confessional perspective.


Regardless of these differing target audiences, the texts published in the Protestant centre of Leipzig, both Fassmann’s dialogue and the review probably written by the noted journalist Christian Gottlieb Jöcher, emphasized much the same highlights in their portraits of the empress as did the writings of Catholic regular clergy and preachers.

Thus, the review began by clearly stating that the author of the “Life and Virtues of Eleonore Magdalene Theresa, Roman Empress” had written an “encomium of her exceptional piety”. It added that this was the more justified as “the impeccable conduct of this princess … had won even before her death the general esteem of all Europe”. In his summary of the contents, the reviewer similarly concentrated entirely on the virtuous and God-pleasing conduct of the late empress. The same is true for her fictitious statements in Fassmann’s dialogue. Here, too, her virtuous and pious life is the focus, along with the great intimacy and trust between her and her husband Leopold I. Their relationship is presented in the dialogue explicitly as an antithesis to the marriage of queen Marie-Thérèse of France.

The emphasis in the memorial sermons and speeches from the various cities of the Habsburg hereditary lands and the Holy Roman Empire is very similar. Many of these, however, do not follow a chronological sequence, as Wagner does in his biography, but arrange their narrative on the basis of the Biblical passages chosen as mottoes. The prior of the Premonstratensian abbey of Hradisko in Moravia, for example, referred to the saying Nemo autem lucernam accendit et in abscondito ponit, “No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden” (Luke 11:33), and therefore entitled his sermon “Lucerna abscondita”, “The Hidden Lamp”. The argumentation is most frequently developed in three parts, corresponding to the three sermons to be preached over the course of the exequies. In a few cases, general theological topics predominate, leaving little space for the accounts of the empress herself.

Nonetheless, all passages concerning the late empress foreground her virtues. Among these, her intense, at times even excessive piety, her humility and charity, her renunciation of worldly splendour and luxury are given pride of place. Usually they are contrasted with her high-ranking ancestry and her status as a crowned empress, directly relating her “God-pleasing” or “saintly” conduct in life to her rank, which further enhances its estimation.


While the virtuous, pious empress is thus at the centre of all the writings published after her death, nonetheless both texts and performative ceremonies always also contain references to her as the imperial consort.

During her lying in repose at the Viennese court, for example, this was manifested in her crowns: the imperial crown as well as those of Bohemia and Hungary were displayed on her catafalque, albeit as copies. The imperial crown was also present on the castra doloris and frequently mentioned in the sermons. Commonly, this occurred in the form of a reference to her coronation as empress on January 19, 1690, in Augsburg, which the preachers connected with her death on January 19, 1720, the latter being described as obtaining a crown in heaven and thus parallelized with the worldly coronation.

The empress as an active princely personage, the consors regni, is not a major theme at first glance in the texts or emblems. A closer look, however, shows that they do, in fact, contain references to the empress’s possibilities for action and to her dynastic role. A central part is played by Eleonore Magdalene’s practices of piety, which certainly cannot be taken for an expression of purely individual saintliness. As a member of the Habsburg ruling house, which deliberately displayed its specific pietas Austriaca as a dynastic hallmark, Eleonore Magdalene had publicly represented this piety through her visits to churches and monasteries, attendance at pilgrimages and processions, and so forth, thereby performing a duty of imperial rule. This is particularly significant regarding the empress’s veneration of the Eucharist, which was frequently stressed. This practice was deliberately employed and recognized as a dynastic hallmark of the Habsburg house, with reference to emperor Rudolf I.

Her piety was, moreover, one of the elements justifying the praise of the late empress as a mulier fortis, a strong woman who supported her imperial husband with her own strength drawn from prayer. The Viennese court preacher, Franz Brean, even used the Bible verse Mulierem fortem quis inveniet? as the motto for his three sermons in the Augustinian Church. Several texts pointed to the empress as having proven her patience and fortitude in difficult times, such as during the flight of the imperial court from the plague in 1679 to 1681, the retreat before the Ottomans in 1683, the insurgency in Hungary, or the loss of children and close relatives. Some preachers went so far as to ascribe to Eleonore Magdalene’s successful prayers and the strength of her faith a crucial role in emperor Leopold’s military successes. In this, they were directly propagating both the claims of the house of Habsburg founded on pietas Austriaca and the empress’s importance to the latter.

Repeatedly, the sermons elaborate on the close relationship between Eleonore Magdalene and her husband Leopold I. She is said to have attended to his well-being in every respect, to have shared his passions for hunting and music. The emperor, it is added, displayed his appreciation by consulting her advice and trusting her with his secret thoughts and writings. Franz Wagner reports the latter and furthermore points out that the empress decoded secret letters for her consort, a circumstance also incorporated into his account by Fassmann.

The imperial couple as an exemplary marriage is thus a widespread image in the texts, one that simultaneously portrayed the ideal princely working couple to contemporary readers. Prayer, advice, and intercession were key fields of action for the empress as imperial consort. Unlike most of her Habsburg predecessors, however, empress Eleonore Magdalene also experienced the situation of a regency.

After the unexpected death without male issue of her older son Joseph I in 1711, an interim solution had to be found in Vienna for the months that would pass before Charles III of Spain, soon to be emperor Charles VI, could return from the Iberian Peninsula to his hereditary lands. From April to September 1711, his mother therefore exercised the regency for the Habsburg lands, while the business of the Holy Roman Empire was conducted by its vicars, the electors of the Palatinate and of Saxony, pending the election of a new emperor. This regency, said to have been handled by her with wisdom and clemency, is never omitted in the accounts of the empress’s life. Almost invariably the authors connect it directly with the Peace Treaty of Szatmár, which ended the long-standing insurrection in Hungary in April 1711. One of her encomiasts refers to her at this time as a “true regent”, another as the “ruler”, clearly indicating the expansion of her powers. Eleonore Magdalene might not have been ruling in her own right, but she was authorized by the mandate of her absent son, the heir to all the prerogatives of rule.

This touches indirectly on the question of the relationship between monarchical rule and gender, which the memorial writings discuss only peripherally. Franz Wagner’s assertion that until the death of Leopold I, Eleonore Magdalene’s “main business was a mother’s duty” at first glance sums up the contemporary point of view neatly. Yet it is precisely those three authors who must have known Eleonore Magdalene personally who, at a closer look, modify her role. Brean, the court preacher, claims the exceptional virtue of the empress formed the basis of her fortitude and distinguished her from otherwise weak womankind. The preacher at St Stephan’s Cathedral, Franz Peickhard, in his sermon attributed to the empress not only a male soul in a female body, but even the “heart of an emperor”. And Franz Wagner likewise ascribed to her such explicitly male virtues as fearlessness, acuity of mind, and constancy, concluding that she possessed many male virtues, but few female weaknesses. Yet regardless of her “fine intellect, mature reason, and great experience”, he added, Eleonore Magdalene had always paid attention to the advice of others and sought it out, especially from her confessor. These remarks paint a picture of Eleonore as an ideal imperial consort, not only in terms of general virtue and piety. With her “male” qualities, she was all the more qualified to rule jointly with her husband – but precisely as a consort, a woman who, irrespective of her own insight, was to make decisions only after consulting male advisors.

One final point remains to be mentioned that distinguished Eleonore Magdalene as an empress in the eyes of her encomiasts: She was born into a high-ranking princely family of the Holy Roman Empire, accepted into an even higher-ranking one by her marriage to Leopold, and contributed to the continuation of the latter through her many children, especially her three sons, two of whom became emperors. The dynastic role of the princely consort thus receives ample attention, though in a more comprehensive sense than was long the case in academic historiography. She appears in the texts not merely as the mother of the imperial children, as “the fruitful propagator of the Holy Roman Empire”, but also as a link to other European ruling houses.

This casts light on the role of the princely consort for the interconnection of dynasties and spaces of rule. The castrum doloris in the Viennese Augustinian Church, for example, showed Eleonore Magdalene not only as the mother of two emperors and a queen of Portugal, but also as sister to two queens, three electors, and a further six brothers and five sisters who received most of their benefits “by the love and benevolence” of the empress. This was evidently true: Eleonore Magdalene had promoted her siblings, and thus her family of origin, by providing offices, marriages, and intercessions; but I cannot go into detail on this point.

Of course, her function in securing the house of Habsburg (by the birth of many children) and its rule remained of particular importance, nor did it end with her death, though the preachers lamented it. Several of them explicitly encouraged the deceased to continue applying her powerful prayers, the closeness to God conferred by her virtuous conduct, for the benefit of the dynasty. She was to petition in Heaven for a male heir to Charles VI and for the well-being and permanence of the dynasty overall.


If we closely examine the image of the empress in the funeral sermons and memorial writings, it is not exclusively that of a deeply pious woman tormented by lifelong doubt in her own standing before her God, who had recourse to severe penitential practices to assure herself of her state of grace. It is not merely that of a merciful, humble, and charitable consort who was obedient to her husband and gave birth to numerous children, assuring the future of the house of Habsburg for one more generation.

It is also the image of a princely exemplar: Her love of God, the “empress of virtues”, could serve as a model for all her contemporaries. Propagating and memorializing this example was also the goal of many of the published funeral sermons. This exemplary role was itself a major element of princely rule, as the empress herself expressed it. Eleonore Magdalene held that she had “not been raised by Divine mercy to such high dignity for naught, [but that] … it was a duty of conscience for her to everywhere afford the subject populace the sweet odour of her good example.”

The underlying conception of rule, the virtuous “princely spirit”, was propagated in funeral sermons for the empress as well as in her biography, distributed throughout Europe. These theological and panegyrical writings can thus also be situated within the discourse of legitimate rule. At the same time, they showcase fields of action that were considered appropriate for a princely consort. These included not only prayer and practices of piety, though these receive a great deal of space in the texts. They also encompassed securing and promoting the dynasty – both the birth family and the family by marriage – as well as care for the subjects in regard to their spiritual and material well-being. The latter was mainly in evidence in the image of the charitable empress, always willing to petition and intercede – a point touched on only in passing here. Counsel and support to the husband as the principal holder of dynastic power was likewise part of the image of the exemplary consort, as Eleonore Magdalene was undoubtedly seen by her contemporaries.

Übersetzung: Dr. Thomas Stockinger

Diesen Blogbeitrag zitieren
Katrin Keller (2019, 16. Juli). Die Kaiserin in Edinburgh: ISECS Conference 2019. Kaiserin und Reich. Abgerufen am 19. April 2024, von https://doi.org/10.58079/qlj7

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