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Archduchess Maria of Austria (June 21, 1528 – February 26, 1603) was Holy Roman Empress and queen consort of Bohemia and Hungary as the spouse of Maximilian II, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia and Hungary. She served as regent of Spain in the absence of her father Holy Roman Emperor Charles V from 1548 until 1551, and in the absence of her brother Felipe II of Spain from 1558 to 1561.

Archduchess Maria of Austria

Archduchess Maria was born in Madrid, Spain to Charles V (Carlos I) Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, and Infanta Isabella of Portugal. She grew up mostly between Toledo and Valladolid with her siblings, Felipe and Joanna. They built a strong family bond despite their father’s regular absences. Maria and her brother, Philip, shared similar strong personal views and policies which they retained during the rest of their lives.

On September 15, 1548, aged twenty, she married her first cousin Archduke Maximilian of Austria, the eldest son of the Habsburg Archduke Ferdinand I, younger brother of Emperor Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, and the Jagiellonian princess Anne of Bohemia and Hungary (1503–1547).

He was named after his great-grandfather, Emperor Maximilian I. At the time of his birth, his father Ferdinand succeeded his brother-in-law King Louis II in the Kingdom of Bohemia and the Kingdom of Hungary, laying the grounds for the global Habsburg Monarchy. Maximilian II was crowned King of Bohemia in Prague on May 14, 1562 and elected King of Germany (King of the Romans) on November 24,1562. On September 8, 1563 he was crowned King of Hungary and Croatia in the Hungarian capital Pressburg (Pozsony in Hungarian; now Bratislava, Slovakia). On July 24, 1564 he succeeded his father Ferdinand I as ruler of the Holy Roman Empire.

The couple had sixteen children during the course of a twenty-eight-year marriage.

Maximilian II, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Hungary and Bohemia.

While her father was occupied with German affairs, Maria and Maximilian acted as regents of Spain from 1548 to 1551 during the absence of Prince Felipe. Maria stayed at the Spanish court until August 1551, and in 1552, the couple moved to live at the court of Maximilian’s father in Vienna. In 1558, Maria returned to Madrid and acted as regent of Spain during the absence of her brother, now King Felipe II, from 1558 to 1561.


After her return to Germany, her husband eventually succeeded his father Ferdinand I, at his death, as ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, Bohemia and Hungary, which he ruled from 1564 to his death in 1576. Maria was a devout Catholic and frequently disagreed with her religiously ambiguous husband.

During her life in Austria, Maria was reportedly ill at ease in a country which was not entirely Catholic, and she surrounded herself with a circle of strictly Catholic courtiers, many of whom she had brought with her from Spain. Her court was organized by her Spanish chief lady-in-waiting Maria de Requenes in a Spanish manner, and among her favorite companions was her Spanish lady-in-waiting Margarita de Cardona.

In 1576, Maximilian died. Maria remained at the Imperial Court for six years after his death. She had great influence over her sons, the future emperors Rudolf and Matthias.

Maria returned to Spain in 1582, taking her youngest surviving child Archduchess Margaret with her. Archduchess Margaret promised to marry Felipe II of Spain, who had lost his fourth wife, his niece and Maria’s her oldest daughter, Archduchess Anna in 1580. This would haven Felipe’s second marriage to one of his nieces. Archduchess Margaret finally refused to marry her uncle and instead took the veil as a Poor Clare. Commenting that she was very happy to live in “a country without heretics”, Maria settled in the Convent of Las Descalzas Reales in Madrid, where she lived until her death in 1603.

Maria exerted some influence together with Queen Margaret, the wife of her grandson, Felipe III of Spain. Margaret
was the daughter of Archduke Charles II of Austria and Maria-Anna of Bavaria and thus the paternal granddaughter of the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I and the sister of the future Emperor Ferdinand II. Queen Margaret would be one of three women at Felipe III’s court who would apply considerable influence over the king.