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Maximilian III Joseph, “the much beloved” (March 28, 1727 – December 30, 1777), was a Prince-elector of the Holy Roman Empire and Duke of Bavaria from 1745 to 1777.

Born in Munich, Maximilian was the eldest son of Holy Roman Emperor Charles VII (Elector Charles Albrecht of Bavaria) and his wife, Archduchess Maria Amalia of Austria, daughter of Holy Roman Emperor Joseph I and his wife Wilhelmine Amalia of Brunswick-Lüneburg.

Upon his father’s death in January 1745, he inherited a country in the process of being invaded by Austrian armies as part of the War of the Austrian Succession. The 18-year-old Maximilian Joseph wavered between the Peace-party, led by his mother Empress Maria Amalia and Army Commander Friedrich Heinrich von Seckendorff and the War-party, led by Foreign Minister General Ignaz Count of Törring and the French envoy Chavigny.

After the decisive defeat in the Battle of Pfaffenhofen on April 15, Maximilian Joseph quickly abandoned his father’s imperial pretenses as a future Emperor and made peace with Archduchess Maria Theresa (his mother’s first cousin and future Empress-Consort) in the Treaty of Füssen, in which he agreed to support her husband, Grand Duke Franz Stefan of Tuscany, in the upcoming imperial election.

In 1747, Maximilian Joseph married his first cousin, Maria Anna of Saxony, daughter of King Augustus III of Poland (Elector Friedrich August II of Saxony) and his wife Archduchess Maria Josepha of Austria, the eldest child of Joseph I, Holy Roman Emperor and Princess Wilhelmina Amalia of Brunswick-Lüneburg. The marriage remained childless.

During the Seven Years’ War Bavarian forces then fought on the Habsburg side. Maximilian Joseph’s sister Maria Josepha of Bavaria was married in 1765 to Empress Maria Theresa’s son, future Emperor Joseph II. But long-term weakening of Prussia was not in the Bavarian interest, as that country offered the only counterweight to the Habsburg monarchy.

Maximilian Joseph tried, as far as possible, to keep Bavaria out of the wars. Apart from militia troops, he sent only a small force of 4,000 men to join the Austrian army. In 1758/1759 (only a year and half into the war), he withdrew Bavarian auxiliary troops from Austrian service. Together with the Wittelsbach Elector Charles Theodore of the Palatinate he enforced the neutrality of the Empire during the conflict.

Maximilian Joseph was a progressive and enlightened ruler who did much to improve the development of his country. He encouraged agriculture, industry, and exploitation of the mineral wealth of the country, and abolished the Jesuit censorship of the press. In 1747 the Nymphenburg Porcelain Factory was established, while the Codex Maximilianeus bavaricus civilis was written in 1756.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was received by Maximilian III Joseph, who was like his sister Maria Antonia of Bavaria skilled in music and composed, but due to a need for strict frugality no post could be offered. In 1775 La finta giardiniera, an Italian opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, received its first performance at the Salvatortheater in Munich.

In 1770 Maximilian III Joseph established the precursor of the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich.

In 1771 the elector regulated general school attendance. In December 1777 Maximilian Joseph rode in his carriage through Munich; on the ride, as he passed one of the tower clocks, the mechanism broke, and the clock struck 77 times. Commenting to the passengers, Maximilian Joseph decided this was an omen, and that his years had run out. Within days, he was stricken with a strange disease. None of his 15 doctors could diagnose it, but by Christmas, it had become clear that it was a particularly virulent strain of smallpox, called “purple small pox” at the time.

By the last day of the month he was dead without leaving an heir. Maximilian III Joseph is buried in the crypt of the Theatinerkirche in Munich.


As the last of the junior branch of the Wittelsbach dynasty which derived from Ludwig IV, Holy Roman Emperor and had ruled Bavaria since early 14th century, Maximilian III Joseph’s death led to a succession dispute and the brief War of the Bavarian Succession. He was succeeded by his (in the male line) 12th cousin, once removed, the Elector Charles Theodore of the Palatine from the senior branch of the Wittelsbach dynasty.

Charles Theodore did not immediately take up his new title. He had severall, mistresses and many illegitimate children. However, these children could inherit neither the Electorate of Bavaria nor that of the Elector Palatine; Charles Theodore needed territory that he could bequeath to his illegitimate children. Charles Theodore also dreamed of resurrecting the Burgundian Empire of the Middle Ages.

On January 3, 1778, shortly after the death of Maximilian III Joseph, Charles Theodore signed an agreement with Emperor Joseph II to exchange southern Bavaria for part of the Austrian Netherlands.

The plan was strongly opposed by Maria Anna of Saxony, the widow of Maximilian III Joseph, and Charles Theodore’s cousin Charles II August, Duke of Zweibrücken, the head of the House of Palatinate-Birkenfeld and next heir of Bavaria and the Palatinate. They were supported by Friedrich II of Prussia, and most of the German minor states.

The ensuing diplomatic crisis led to the War of the Bavarian Succession, which was ended by the Peace of Teschen (1779). Charles Theodore accepted the Bavarian succession, but agreed that his illegitimate descendants could not inherit Bavaria. Austria acquired the Innviertel, a part of Bavaria in the basin of the Inn River.

Maximilian’s widow Maria Anna of Saxony and Maximilian’s sister Duchess Maria Antonia of Bavaria as well as Maria Anna of Palatinate-Sulzbach, the widow of the former Bavarian Crown Prince Duke Clement Franz of Bavaria negotiated with Max’s reluctant heir and intervened together with King Friedrich II of Prussia and the new elector’s supposed successor, Charles II August, Duke of Zweibrücken, to secure Bavaria’s independence from Austria.