Marie Antoinette‘s father, Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor, reigned twenty years and died unexpectedly on 18 August 1765 from a massive apoplexy attack while at Innsbruck. His death greatly affected his wife, Maria Theresa of Austria. In fact, she never recovered and thereafter wore widow weeds much like Queen Victoria. Replacing Francis I was his oldest son, Joseph who became Joseph II and who reigned in conjunction with his mother, Maria Theresa.
In response to Francis I’s death, Maria Theresa and Joseph II wrote separate heartfelt letters to the Archduchesses (Maria Theresa’s daughters and Joseph’s sisters). At the time there were seven of them — Maria Anna, Maria Christina, Maria Elisabeth, Maria Amalia, Maria Josepha, Maria Carolina, and the youngest, Maria Antonia, who was the future Marie Antoinette and nine years old at the time.
The first letter was written by Maria Theresa and reads almost verbatim:
“Alas! my dear daughters, I am unable to console you! your misfortunes are now arrived to the highest pitch: you have lost an incomparable father, and I a husband, a friend, the object of my heart, for forty-two years past. Having been brought up together, our hearts, our sentiments had but the same end in view. All my misfortunes for these twenty-five years, appeared bearable to me with such a support. I find myself now in the state of dejection, under which religion, and you, my dear children, can render supportable to me a life which I shall employ from henceforth in attending only to my salvation. Pray for our good and worthy master.
I send you my blessing, and am always your affectionate mother.”
The second letter related to the death of Francis I, also almost verbatim, was sent to comfort the Archduchesses by their brother Joseph II. His letter read:
“Pardon me, my dearest sisters, if over-whelmed with the most dreadful sorrow, and charged moreover with all the dispositions to be taken, I address you all at once. We have just endured the most dreadful stroke that could ever have befallen us. We have lost the most tender of fathers, and our best friend. Bow the head to the decrees of the Lord!–Let us pray without ceasing for his soul, and be more than ever attached to the only happiness we have remaining, your august mother. Her preservation is my only care in the present dreadful moments. If all the friendship of a brother, who cannot now offer it to you, as you possessed it long ago, appear to be of any service, command me; I shall be comforted in being able to serve you. I embrace you all. I ask only pity for the most unhappy of Sons.
Your very humble servant and brother, JOSEPH.”
- From the London Papers, Oct 8, in Caledonian Mercury, 12 October 1765