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Archduke Maximilian Franz of Austria (December 8, 1756 – July 26, 1801) was Elector of Cologne and Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights. He was the youngest child of Holy Roman Emperor Franz I and his wife Holy Roman Empress Maria Theresa, who was the Queen of Bohemia, Hungary, Croatia and Archduchess of Austria in her own right.

Archduke Maximilian Franz was a brother to Archduchess Marie Antoinette of Austria, Queen of France and Navarre as the wife of King Louis XVI or France and Navarre.

Archduke Maximilian Franz was the last fully functioning Elector of Cologne and the second employer and patron of the young Ludwig van Beethoven.

Maximilian Franz was born December 8, 1756, on his father’s 48th birthday, in the Hofburg Palace, Vienna. In 1780, he succeeded his uncle Prince Charles Alexander of Lorraine as Hochmeister (Grand Master) of the Deutscher Orden (Teutonic Knights).

In 1784, he became Archbishop and Elector of Cologne, living in the Electoral residence at Bonn. He remained in that office until his death in exile. In his capacity as chancellor of the Holy Roman Empire for Italy and as the Pope’s deputy he crowned as Emperor in Frankfurt first his brother Leopold II in 1790, and in 1792 his nephew Franz II.

At the same time as he became Elector of Cologne, Maximilian Franz was elected to the related Bishopric of Münster and held court in Bonn, as the Archbishop-Electors of Cologne had been forced to do since the late Middle Ages.

A keen patron of music, Maximilian Franz maintained a court musical establishment in which Beethoven’s father was a tenor, thus playing an important role in the son’s early career as a member of the same musical body of which his grandfather, also named Ludwig van Beethoven, had been Kapellmeister.

The court organist, Christian Gottlob Neefe, was Beethoven’s early mentor and teacher. Recognising his young pupil’s gift both as a performer and as a composer, Neefe brought Beethoven to the court, advising Maximilian Franz to appoint him as assistant organist.

Maximilian Franz, too, recognised the extraordinary abilities of the young Beethoven. In 1787, he gave Beethoven leave to visit Vienna to become a pupil of Mozart, but the visit was cut short by news of the last illness of Beethoven’s mother, and evidence is lacking for any contact with Mozart.

In 1792, the Redoute was opened, making Godesberg a spa town. Beethoven played in the orchestra. After a concert given there in the presence of Joseph Haydn, another visit for studies in Vienna was planned. Beethoven went on full salary to Vienna to study with Haydn, Antonio Salieri and others. The Elector Maximilian Franz maintained an interest in the young Beethoven’s progress, and several reports from Haydn to Maximilian Franz detailing it are extant.

The prince anticipated that Beethoven would return to Bonn and continue working for him, but due to the subsequent political and military situation his subject never returned, choosing to pursue a career in Vienna.

Maximilian Franz’s rule over most of the Electorate ended in 1794, when his domains were overrun by the troops of Revolutionary France. During the French Revolutionary Wars, Cologne and Bonn were both occupied by the French army in the second half of 1794.

As the French approached, Maximilian Franz left Bonn, as it turned out never to return, and his territories on the left bank of the Rhine eventually passed to France under the terms of the Treaty of Lunéville (1801). The Archbishop’s court ceased to exist.

Archduke Maximilian Franz of Austria (left) with his sister, Queen Marie Antoinette of France and Navarre and her husband King Louis XVI of France and Navarre

Although Maximilian Franz still retained his territories on the right bank of the Rhine, including Münster and the Duchy of Westphalia, the Elector, grossly corpulent and plagued by ill health, took up residence in Vienna after the loss of his capital and remained there until his death at the age of 44, at Hetzendorf Palace in 1801. The dismantling of the court made Beethoven’s relocation to Vienna permanent, and his stipend was terminated.

Beethoven planned to dedicate his First Symphony to his former patron, but the latter died before it was completed.

The Electorate of Cologne was secularised in the course of the German mediatisation of 1802–1803.