Archdukes in holy orders


The children of the Habsburgs were not all predestined for political and military office – some made careers in the Catholic Church.

You are the youngest of my children and the eighth archduke. As you thus have the (great) good fortune not to be destined for ruling office, your life will be all the more happy and you will have less responsibility to bear. But your station obliges you to take even greater care of all that pertains to your person. We have made provision for you to have an honourable and adequate position in life.

In 1774 Maria Theresa laid down detailed rules for the life of her son Maximilian Franz

Archduke Maximilian Franz was the youngest son of Maria Theresa and Emperor Franz Stephan. Even when only just thirteen years of age, he was elected coadjutor to the Grand Master of the Order of the Teutonic Knights. At seventeen, he was sent by his mother on one of the grand tours customarily undertaken by the sons of the nobility. On his travels he visited his sisters Marie Antoinette in Paris and Maria Karolina in Naples. Before he departed, Maria Theresa gave him detailed rules as to how he should lead his life, also covering the advantages of the posts that would provide him with his future income. Having originally been intended for the army, Maximilian fell seriously ill after failing to cope with the stress and strain of accompanying his brother Joseph II in the War of the Bavarian Succession. Although no longer considered fit for a military career, he could still step into the posts that his mother had announced to him some years before. In 1780 he was appointed Grand Master of the Teutonic Order and coadjutor and successor of the bishop in Cologne and Münster, Elector Max Friedrich, on whose death in 1784 he succeeded him as Elector-Archbishop of Cologne and Prince-Bishop of Münster. In this capacity he broke with the tradition of his predecessors by having no truck at all with Baroque pomp and splendour – all he did was done simply and economically. His love of music led him to finance Ludwig van Beethoven’s studies with Mozart and Haydn in Vienna. Faced by the advance of the armies of the French Revolution, Maximilian finally had to take flight to Vienna, where he died at Hetzendorf in 1801, having been the last Elector of Cologne.

Archduke Rudolf was the youngest son of Emperor Leopold II. He too was prevented from pursuing a military career by health problems – he suffered from epilepsy and rheumatism. Even as a child, he had a particular interest in music, learning the piano and making the acquaintance of Ludwig van Beethoven when playing at the salon of Prince Lobkowitz. When in 1808 Beethoven received the offer of an appointment of the court in Westphalia, Rudolf was amongst those who ensured that he would stay in Vienna by providing him with an honorary annuity of 4,000 gulden.

The friendship between the two led to Beethoven dedicating several compositions to the Archduke, including the Missa Solemnis, composed for Rudolf’s consecration as Archbishop of Olmütz, where he had been appointed coadjutor at the age of seventeen. In 1819 he became Archbishop and was made a cardinal in 1820. He carried out his duties in a manner far removed from that of an ecclesiastical prince, and his closeness to his people brought him into conflict with the state Church. For example, he promoted the training for the priesthood of country boys from Moravia and was only willing to accept German-language candidates in proportion to the number of German parishes in his archdiocese, or if they were prepared to learn Czech.

Stephan Gruber