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Franz I (French: François Étienne; German: Franz Stefan; December 8, 1708 – August 18, 1765) was Holy Roman Emperor (1745–1765), Archduke of Austria (1740–1765), Duke of Lorraine and Bar (1729–1737), and Grand Duke of Tuscany (1737–1765).

Franz Stefan was elected Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire because his wife, Archduchess Maria Theresa of Austria, (daughter of Emperor Charles VI) was unable to be elected Empress in her own right due to the Empire went by the Salic Law which bared women from holding the Imperial title in her own right.

Emperor Franz was the last non-Habsburg monarch of both the Empire and Austria, which were effectively governed by Maria Theresa. The couple were the founders of the Habsburg-Lorraine dynasty, and their marriage produced sixteen children, among them was Archduchess Marie Antoinette the wife of King Louis XVI or France and Navarre.

Franz I Stefan, Holy Roman Emperor, Grand Duke of Tuscany

Franz Stefan was the fourth (but oldest surviving) son of Leopold, Duke of Lorraine, and the French princess Élisabeth Charlotte d’Orléans.

Paternal Ancestry

Franz Stefan’s father Leopold was the son of Charles V, Duke of Lorraine, and his wife Archduchess Eleonora Maria of Austria, a half-sister of Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor Franz Stefan’s Paternal grandmother, Archduchess Eleonora Maria of Austria, was the daughter of Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III and his wife, Eleanora of Mantua.

Archduchess Eleanor Maria Anna of Austria was a Habsburg. However, she also had strong Habsburg ancestry through her descent from her great-grandfather, Albrecht V, Duke of Bavaria who’s own mother, Archduchess Anna of Austria, who was the third of fifteen children of Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I (1503–1564) from his marriage with the Jagiellonian princess Anna of Bohemia and Hungary (1503–1547).

Archduchess Anna of Austria’s siblings included: Elizabeth, Queen of Poland, Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II, Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II, Catherine, Queen of Poland, Eleanor, Duchess of Mantua, Barbara, Duchess of Ferrara, Charles II, Archduke of Austria and Johanna, Duchess of Tuscany.

Maternal Ancestry

Franz Stefan’s mother, Élisabeth Charlotte d’Orléans, was the daughter of Philippe I, Duke of Orléans, (brother of King Louis XIV of France and Navarre) and of his second wife Elizabeth Charlotte of the Palatine.

Franz Stefan’s maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Charlotte of the Palatine, was the daughter of Charles I Ludwig, Elector Palatine and his wife Charlotte of Hesse-Cassel. Elizabeth Charlotte was named after her paternal grandmother Elizabeth Stuart and her own mother.

Charles Ludwig of the Palatinate was the second son of Friedrich V of the Palatinate, the “Winter King” of Bohemia, and of Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of King James I-VI of England and Scotland and sister of Charles I of England of England and Scotland. This demonstrates how the House of Habsburg-Lorraine descends from the Kings and Queens of England and Scotland.

The Paternal and Maternal Ancestry of Emperor Franz I demonstrates a very strong Habsburg ancestry and connection. Though the House of Habsburg ceased in the male line with the death of Emperor Charles VI, his descendants through his daughter Archduchess Maria Theresa and her husband Franz Stefan of Lorraine have continued the Habsburg dynasty.

Although the dynasty is officially named Habsburg-Lorraine we can see that the House of Habsburg still exists because of Franz Stefan’s many paths of descent from the House of Habsburg

Duke Leopold died in 1729, and was succeeded by his son, under the French spelling of François Étienne, and became the Duke of Lorraine and Bar.

Emperor Charles VI favoured the family, who, besides being his cousins, had served the house of Austria with distinction. He had designed to marry his daughter Maria Theresa to Franz’s older brother Leopold Clement. On Leopold Clement’s death, Charles adopted the younger brother as his future son-in-law.

Archduchess Maria Theresa, Queen of Bohemia Hungary and Croatia, Archduchess of Austria and Holy Roman Empress

Prior to accepting Franz Stefan as the husband for his daughter, the Emperor considered other possibilities. Religious differences prevented him from arranging his daughter’s marriage to the Protestant prince Friedrich of Prussia the future King Friedrich II the Great of Prussia, his wife’s future rival. In 1725, he betrothed her to Infante Carlos of Spain (Carlos III of Spain) and her sister, Maria Anna, to Infante Felipe of Spain (The reigning Duke of Parma).

Other European powers compelled him to renounce the pact he had made with the Queen of Spain, Elisabeth Farnese. Maria Theresa, who had become close to Franz Stefan, was relieved.

On January 31, 1736 Franz agreed to marry Maria Theresa. He hesitated three times (and laid down the feather before signing). Especially his mother Élisabeth Charlotte d’Orléans and his brother Prince Charles Alexander of Lorraine were against the loss of Lorraine.

On February 12, 1736 Franz married Maria Theresa. In 1738, he left the Duchy of Lorraine and Bar for the deposed Polish king Stanisław Leszczyński in exchange for the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, as one of the terms ending the War of the Polish Succession.

Following the death of his father-in-law Charles VI in 1740, Franz was elected Emperor and his wife became the ruler of the hereditary Habsburg domains. Maria Theresa gave her husband responsibility for the empire’s financial affairs, which he handled well.

Though she was expected to cede power to her husband, Emperor Franz I, and later her eldest son, Emperor Joseph II, who were officially her co-rulers in Austria and Bohemia, Maria Theresa was the absolute sovereign who ruled with the counsel of her advisers.

Franz was a serial adulterer; many of his affairs well-known and indiscreet, notably one with Princess Maria Wilhelmina of Auersperg, who was thirty years his junior. This particular affair was remarked upon in the letters and journals of visitors to the court and in those of his children.

Franz died suddenly at the age of 56 in his carriage while returning from the opera at Innsbruck on August 18, 1765. He is buried in tomb number 55 in the Imperial Crypt in Vienna.

Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor, King of Bohemia, Hungary and Croatia

Franz was succeeded as Emperor by his eldest son, Joseph II, and as Grand Duke of Tuscany by his younger son, Peter Leopold (later Emperor Leopold II). Maria Theresa retained the government of her dominions until her own death in 1780.

The new Emperor was made co-regent (Co-Ruler) by his mother in the hereditary Austrian dominions. As emperor, he had little true power, and his mother had resolved that neither her husband nor her son should ever deprive her of sovereign control in her hereditary dominions.

With the death of Maria Theresa on November 29, 1780 Emperor Joseph II also became King of Bohemia, Hungary and Croatia and was free to pursue his own policy, and he immediately directed his government on a new course, attempting to realize his ideal of enlightened despotism acting on a definite system for the good of all.