1770 | Vienna

Advice to the Once and Future Queen

“A wife should be submissive in everything to her husband.”

My dear daughter,

Do not take any recommendations; listen to no one, if you would be at peace. Have no curiosity—this is a fault which I fear greatly for you; avoid all familiarity with your inferiors. Ask of Monsieur and Madame de Noailles, and even exact of them, under all circumstances, advice as to what, as a foreigner and being desirous of pleasing the nation, you should do, and that they should tell you frankly if there be anything in your bearing, discourse, or any point which you should correct. Reply amiably to everyone, and with grace and dignity; you can if you will. You must learn to refuse. After Strasbourg you must accept nothing without taking counsel of Monsieur and Madame de Noailles, and you should refer to them everyone who would speak to you of his personal affairs, saying frankly that being a stranger yourself, you cannot undertake to recommend anyone to the king. If you wish you may add, in order to make your reply more emphatic, “The empress, my mother, has expressly forbidden me to undertake any recommendations.” Do not be ashamed to ask advice of anyone, and do nothing on your own responsibility. In the king you will find a tender father who will also be your friend if you deserve it. Put entire confidence in him; you will run no risk. Love him, obey him, seek to divine his thoughts; you cannot do enough on this moment when I am losing you. Concerning the dauphin I shall say nothing; you know my delicacy on this point. A wife should be submissive in everything to her husband and should have no thought but to please him and do his will. The only true happiness in this world lies in a happy marriage; I know whereof I speak. Everything depends on the wife if she be yielding, sweet, and amusing. I counsel you, my dear daughter, to reread this letter on the twenty-first of every month. I beg you to be true to me on this point. My only fear for you is negligence in your prayers and studies—and lukewarmness succeeds negligence. Fight against it, for it is more dangerous than a more reprehensible, even wicked state; one can conquer that more easily. Love your family; be affectionate to them—to your aunts as well as to your brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law. Suffer no evil speaking; you must either silence the persons or escape it by withdrawing from them. If you value your peace of mind, you must from the start avoid this pitfall, which I greatly fear for you knowing your curiosity.

Your mother.


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Holy Roman empress Maria Theresa.

Maria Theresa

From a letter. Upon the sudden death of her father, Emperor Charles VI, in 1740, Maria Theresa at the age of twenty-three ascended the throne. Her disputed claims to the Habsburg empire prompted the War of the Austrian Succession. Her eleventh daughter, Marie-Antoinette, was married in 1770 to the dauphin Louis-Auguste, who became Louis XVI four years later. Until her death in 1780, Maria Theresa continued to proffer extensive epistolary advice and criticism to the queen of France.