After having completed the 40 days mourning period, Elisabeth – now called la Reine blanche (the White Queen), as, by custom, white clothing was worn by the widow of the deceased King of France after the initial mourning period – was compelled by her father to return to Vienna.
Shortly before, Emperor Maximilian II made the proposition of a new marriage for her, this time with her deceased husband’s brother and successor, King Henri III of France; however, she, as well as Henri, firmly refused. By letters patent dated November 21, 1575, Henri III gave her the County of La Marche as her dower; In addition, she received the title of Duchess of Berry and in 1577 she obtained the duchies of Auvergne and Bourbon in exchange.
On August 28, 1575, Elisabeth visited her almost three-year-old daughter in Amboise for the last time, and on December 5, she left Paris.
Widowhood and death
Back in Vienna, Elisabeth lived at first in the residence of her childhood, Stallburg. On October 12, 1576, her beloved father Maximilian II died, and her brother Rudolph II succeeded him as Holy Roman Emperor.
Her last great tragedy came on April 5, 1578, when her five-and-half-year-old daughter Marie Elisabeth died.
When a new proposal of marriage was made to her, this time from King Felipe II of Spain after the death of his wife Anna in 1580, she again refused; according to Brantôme, she replied to the offer with the famous phrase: “The Queens of France do not remarry” (Les Reines de France ne se remarient point), once said by Blanche of Navarre, widow of King Philippe VI.
In France, where Busbecq managed her properties, Elisabeth built a Jesuit college in Bourges, although she never received the monetary revenues from her domains.
In early 1580, Elisabeth bought some lands near Stallburg and founded the Convent of Poor Clares Mary, Queen of Angels (Klarissinnenkloster Maria, Königin der Engel), also known as the Queen’s Monastery (Königinkloster).
Elisabeth henceforth devoted her life to following the example of her convent’s holy patron in the exercise of piety, relief of the poor, and health care. Even impoverished daughters of the nobility found her support. She also financed the restoration of the All Saints Chapel in Hradčany, Prague, which had been destroyed in a fire in 1541.
Elisabeth acquired several relics for her convent. In 1588, by consent of her brother, Maximilian, as Coadjutor of the Teutonic Order, some of the bones of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary were sent to her from Marburg.
After her departure from France, Elisabeth maintained a regular correspondence with her sister-in-law Queen Margaret of Navarre, and when the latter was ostracised from the rest of the royal family, she made half of the revenues she received from France available to her. Brantôme relates that on one occasion, Elisabeth sent to Margaret two books written by her (now lost): a devotional work (Sur la parole de Dieu) and a historical work (Sur les événements considérables qui arrivèrent en France de son temps).
Elisabeth died on January 22, 1592 victim of pleurisy, and was buried under a simple marble slab in the church of her convent.
In the course of the Josephinist reforms, the Queen’s monastery was closed in 1782 in order to create the Lutheran City Church. By order of Emperor Joseph II, Elisabeth’s remains were transferred to one of the crypts beneath St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna.
In her will, Elizabeth donated money not only to the poor and sick, but also included funds for prayers for her late husband in the convent’s church.
The Spanish, German, French, Italian, and Latin books from her library, a number of works of the Jesuit preacher Georg Scherer, a book of prophecies of the French astrologer Nostradamus written in 1571, and the tragedy of Antigone of the ancient Greek poet Sophocles were left to her brother, Emperor Rudolph II. Her wedding ring was given to another brother Ernst.