Joseph II – Reform Emperor – Son and Successor of Maria Theresa

Josef ii hp

Why was Joseph II called the Reform Emperor? When did he take over the reins of government and how long did he rule together with Maria Theresa? What was his imperial private life like?

Joseph II was born as the fourth child and eagerly awaited son on March 13, 1741. It was important to consolidate Maria Theresa’s claims to the throne and finally a male heir to the throne could be presented.

Accordingly, he was spoiled and developed into a headstrong, precocious child. When his father, Francis Stephen of Lorraine, died in 1765, he became co-regent with Maria Theresa for fifteen years and sole regent after her death in 1780.

He was a representative of enlightened absolutism and his motto was: “Everything for the people, nothing by the people”, according to which the subjects were left without a say. He was to implement an ambitious reform program (Tolerance Patent, Josephinism, abolition of serfdom).

He had all the contemplative monasteries and religious orders (not used for teaching or nursing) abolished. Therefore, in 1782, even the then Pope Pius VI came to Vienna to mitigate this monastic reform, which, however, did not bring much.

The opening of the Augarten (1775) and the Prater (1766) to the general public as well as the establishment of the Vienna General Hospital (1784) can be traced back to him. The Josephinum bears his name and houses one of the largest wax model collections in the world. In doing so, he laid an important foundation for medical research.

Toward the end of his reign, however, he had to reverse some reforms. Above all, the funeral reform in the form of the savings or folding coffin, did not prevail.

Maria Theresa decided to marry him to Isabella of Bourbon-Parma in accordance with the Habsburg marriage policy. He was lucky and got one of the prettiest princesses in Europe as his wife. Joseph adored her, but Isabella was more attracted to Marie Christine, one of Joseph’s sisters.

The marriage produced two girls, Maria Theresa, who died at the age of 8, and Maria Christine, who died immediately after birth. Isabella died only a few days later of smallpox after three years of marriage at the age of 22. Joseph was desperate without his beloved wife and without a male heir to the throne.

So he had to marry again and the choice fell on Maria Josepha of Bavaria. The marriage was considered unhappy, may never have been consummated, and remained childless. His second wife also died of smallpox two years after marriage. A third marriage was no longer an option for Joseph II. He himself died of tuberculosis at the age of 49 and rests in the Capuchin tomb in a simple coffin, in keeping with his reform policy.



Share this post

More contributions


Planning a European city break?

Organising a journey might feel overwhelming, particularly when venturing to an unfamiliar city or country. But with Go City, it’s how the best city breaks

read more "

Information on data protection
We use technologies such as cookies, LocalStorage, etc. to customize your browsing experience, to personalize content and ads, to provide social media features, and to analyze traffic to our website. We also share information about how our site is used with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Our partners may combine this information with other data that you have provided to them or that you have collected as part of using the Services (incl. US providers). You can find more information about the use of your data in our data protection declaration.

data protection
This website uses cookies so that we can offer you the best possible user experience. You can find more information about the use of your data in our data protection declaration.

Strictly Necessary Cookies
Strictly Necessary Cookie should be enabled at all times so that we can save your preferences for cookie settings.

Marketing & Statistics
This website uses Google Analytics to collect anonymous information such as the number of visitors to the site and the most popular pages. Leave this cookie enabled helps us to improve our website.

Google Tag Manager
This is a tag management system. Using the Google Tag Manager, tags can be integrated centrally via a user interface. Tags are small pieces of code that represent activitiescan track. Script codes from other tools are integrated via the Google Tag Manager. The Tag Manager makes it possible to control when a specific tag is triggered.