Empress and empire – a sounding pair of terms, but also a terra incognita: Virtually nothing is known about the empresses of the Holy Roman Empire in the period after 1500, who were also queens of Hungary and Bohemia at the same time. Empresses play so far in the research on the Habsburg monarchy as the Holy Roman Empire hardly a role. If anything, names of the high Middle Ages are named like Theophanu, Agnes or Kunigunde. But who, outside of the small scientific, knows Maria de Austria or Eleonora Gonzaga?
Somewhat different is the finding certainly for Maria Theresa, and that is especially true for Austria. No historical overview is possible without it, and in terms of tourism, too, it is almost omnipresent, at least in Vienna; outbid only by another woman: Empress Elisabeth. But just as “Sissi” is present as the Empress of Austria, so it is with Maria Theresa in the first place, her role as “Mother of the Land” within the Habsburg monarchy, which is remembered, not her position within the Holy Roman Empire. Her title as “Empress” is often misleading; not infrequently she even appears with the title of Empress of Austria, which she has never been.
The materials that are being made available to the “unknown” Habsburg women before Maria Theresa were collected in the course of a research project. It started on 1 December 2015 and ended at the end of May 2020; it is supported by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF).
In terms of content, the focus lies on the question of the ceremonial and imperial position of the Empress. For this purpose, the coronations of the empresses in the empire are examined–six of the 15 queens and empresses of the early modern period were crowned in a large public ceremony in Frankfurt am Main, Regensburg or Augsburg. Almost all of them also had coronations in Hungary and Bohemia. Based on the preparation and the ceremonial course of these events, it is examined how they and thus the Empress herself were involved in the symbolic communication of reign.
The coronations were attended by a large number of public officials, noble and princely ladies and gentlemen, but also men and women of bourgeois origin. The latter were able to attend at least the trains to the church and in the church, heard salute shots and brought probably even vivat calls themselves. In the church, the respective place of the coronation, only high-ranking men and women were allowed. However, since all coronations arouse considerable media interest, it also became a media event: in printed books, newspapers, one-sheet printing they reported on procedure and equipment.
Empresses, however, appeared also in the media through other events than coronations, such as marriages, births and deaths. Figurative representations such as coins and medals, engravings and paintings are therefore a second focus of the project. The point here is first of all to ask in a kind of inventory what media actually were used to describe conventions of presentation.
An essential objective of the project as a whole is therefore, starting from a survey of the media coverage of the Empress between 1550 and 1740/45, to ask for the first time more about their role in the symbolic-ritual constitution of the Holy Roman Empire as well as within the Habsburg monarchy. This involves both the reconstruction of the process and the circumstances of the coronation as well as the Empresses’ representation in written, printed, painted and formed media.
For both parts of the project materials have been collected and arranged, which are now being made available to an interested public for use. We hope to promote interest in the early modern Habsburg women and to offer assistance for further research.