After Female power, published in 2016, the philosopher Élisabeth Badinter looks back on Marie-Thérèse of Austria (1717-1780), the most powerful sovereign of her time, who was also the mother of a family. Married to the Emperor François-Étienne, she gave birth, between 1737 and 1756, no less than sixteen children, of whom the penultimate of the siblings, Marie-Antoinette, born in 1755, would become Queen of France.
→ CRITICAL. Marie-Thérèse the great
“The education of my children has always been my greatest and dearest of my objects”, wrote Marie-Thérèse of Austria, in 1774, a few years before her death. Considered by his contemporaries as a “Tender mother”, she is close to her children, worries about their health and their progress.
This behavior was not very widespread at the time, still marked by Augustinian pedagogy and its repressive education. Marie-Thérèse thus inaugurates “A new stage in the history of bourgeois motherhood, active and responsible for the life and future of each of her children, underlines the author. A mother who announces that of modern times. “
Close to his children
In this first half of the eighteenthe century, Marie-Thérèse of Austria, mother and empress, strives in her way to reconcile family life and professional career. Concerned about her children, she rules a large empire on her own, sometimes works up to fifteen hours a day, leads two wars of seven years, while having a series of pregnancies.
Élisabeth Badinter: “To hold the same speech to all those who place the religious law before the political law”
Anxious mother, melancholy in her hours, Marie-Thérèse feels “In trances” when the disease (scurvy or smallpox) threatens the lives of his children. Three die in infancy, then three more, almost in adulthood. Six bereavements in seven years. Her maternal feelings sometimes conflict with her obligations as sovereign, such as preparing her children to fulfill their mission in the service of the Habsburg Empire. Through their duly negotiated marriage, the girls strengthen alliances with foreign courts. While the boys ensure representation in the provinces.
Upper hand over education
In this perspective, the education of both occupies a central place. The Empress chooses with meticulous care the governesses and governors who will prepare archduchesses and archdukes for their destiny. The Empress keeps the upper hand over their training, taking care to involve her husband in his decisions. A sustained attention that she extends well beyond the boundaries of age and country, when she intervenes with her children who have become adults or has them spied on by “agents”.
The author tells us about the personality of children and the place of each in maternal affection. “Marianne, the sick child”, “the arrogant little Joseph” (future Joseph II), with whom Marie-Thérèse will maintain “Tumultuous and passionate ties”, “Marie-Christine, the charmeuse”, “Léopold, the badly loved”, “Josepha the sacrificed”… Through these moving portraits, we discover a woman not devoid of contradictions, sometimes cruel and unfair, torn between the inclinations of her heart and the requirements of his office.