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.