“À l’occassion de la nouvelle année” – Maria Carolina’s New Year Letter to Emperor Franz

In recognition of the New Year and the new semester slowly dawning upon us all, we felt it would be appropriate to share with you one of the letters from Maria Carolina’s correspondence and our project. And one of the most appropriate is a short and sweet but also sharp letter written by Maria Carolina to Franz ‘on the occasion of the New Year’ of 1809.
Leopold II in the circle of his family on the arrival of both Sicilian Majesties in Vienna
Image: Leopold II in the circle of his family on the arrival of both Sicilian Majesties in Vienna, unknown artist, ca. 1790. (Credit: (British Museum 2011,7060.1)

In recognition of the New Year and the new semester slowly dawning upon us all, we felt it would be appropriate to share with you one of the letters from Maria Carolina’s correspondence and our project. And one of the most appropriate is a short and sweet but also sharp letter written by Maria Carolina to Franz ‘on the occasion of the New Year’ of 1809. What follows is a transcription of her original letter along with an English translation and a brief discussion of the major themes within the letter.  


The Letter:




Mon bien cher Neveux, quoique votre Silence me Soit penible et humiliant, je ne veux point manquer d’ecrire à Votre Majesté Impériale. Je Suis Mere, et Mere tendre Attachée, J’ai des Enfans et petits Enfans dont une grande portion auprès de vous. C’est par ces titres que je ne puis rester entierement par vous oublier, et que je desire me rappeler à votre Souvenir pour vous recommander Tant d’etre chers à mon Coeur, àfin que vous Soyiez toujours leurs amis et Protecteur. C’est à L’occassion de la nouvelle année que je vous presente mes Voeux les plus Sincères, àfin que cette nouvelle annee qui va Comencer Soit pour vous une Source de bonheurs, Consolations et Gloire. Bien des Circonstances peuvent Se donner dans Cette nouvelle année où votre Protection peut nous prouver que vous n’avez pas Entierement Oublié des doubles Oncle et Tantes, beaux Parens qui Sont malheureux Sans leur faute mais honetes et Loyals. C’est avec Connfiance dans votre Caractére honete, Vertueux quand il Suit Ses propres impulsions. C’est avec ces Sentimens que je reccomande moi et ma chere famille à votre bonté et protèction, et que J’ai L’honeur d’être avec un bien Sincer, respectueux Attachement,


Monsieur mon bien cher Neveu et Gendre

de Votre Majesté Imperiale,


La tres attachée Tante, Belle

Mere et Servante

                                                                                                                                Charlotte MP


Palerme, le 5 janvier



My dearest nephews, though your silence is painful and humiliating for me, I do not want to fail to write to Your Imperial Majesty. I am a Mother, and a tenderly loving Mother, I have Children and grandchildren, a large portion of whom are with you. It is by these titles that I cannot rest entirely by forgetting you, and that I wish to recall myself to your remembrance and to recommend to you So many dears ones to my heart, so that you may always be their friend and Protector. It is on the occasion of the New Year that I present to you my most Sincere Wishes, so that this new year, which is about to begin, may be for you a Source of happiness, Consolation and Glory. Many Circumstances can be given in This new year where your Protection can prove to us that you have not Entirely Forgotten double Uncle and Aunts, beautiful Parents who Are unhappy Through no means of their own but [are] Honest and Loyal. It is with Confidence in your Honest, Righteous Character when one Follows one’s own impulses. It is with these Sentiments that I commend myself and my dear family to your kindness and protection, and that I have the honour to be with a good Sincere, respectful Attachment,


Sir, my very dear Nephew and Son-in-law,

Your Imperial Majesty,


Your very affectionate Aunt, Mother-in-law

And Servant,

                                                                                                                                Charlotte MP


Palermo, 5th January 1809.



Amounting to less than 250 words and a rather short letter by Maria Carolina’s typical standard, this letter to Franz, however, allows for a number of interesting observations. The first is the obviously deferential tone which Maria Carolina addresses the Emperor. Franz was her junior by age and relation—she being his aunt twice over and thrice after one of his subsequent marriages as well as his mother-in-law following his second marriage to Marie Therese of Naples-Sicily—but she still acknowledged him as the head of her dynasty after the death of her brother, his father Emperor Leopold II in 1792. From that point on, Maria Carolina struck up a continuous line of correspondence with Franz, writing to him multiple times every year until her own death in 1814, totalling nearly 350 letters at least.

The correspondence between Maria Carolina and Franz was rather one-sided, however. Of the letters that do still exist and the mentions of those which were sent, Franz only penned a small fraction of the total—around 30 letters in fact. His infrequent contact with Maria Carolina was a fact she often felt pained to mention; she did not want to chastise him out of respect but she could not often let the issue pass without remark. This is something clearly exemplified within this letter as the very first line makes plain felling of ‘pain’ and ‘embarrassment’ at not having heard from him for so long. Indeed when she came to write this letter, she had not received any personal word from Franz for over a year since December 1807.

The intervening year, 1808, had been rather straining on the relationship between the pair. Franz had chosen to remarry following the death of Marie Therese in April 1807 but failed to announce this decision to his former mother-in-law by the time of the wedding to Maria Ludovika of Modena in January 1808. Maria Carolina was gravely hurt as she had learned about the event from the newspapers and then received confirmation through relatives. She sent Franz a rare rebuke for not having personally informed her.[1] Franz’s failure to acknowledge even this reprimand must have further damaged their relationship and sown greater seeds of doubt within Maria Carolina’s mind. When Franz finally did reply on 3rd March 1809 in response to this letter, he briefly conveyed his regret for not writing sooner but swiftly moved on to the sad news of the death of his son, Archduke Johann Nepomuk, a few days earlier.[2]

By 1809, Maria Carolina could ill-afford any diminishment in her bond with Franz. Her repeated mention of his ‘protection’ and her desire for him to remember her family are hints at the wider stakes at play. In December 1806, the royal Bourbon family of Naples-Sicily were forced to flee to the island of Sicily as a result of the French invasion of the Italian peninsula and the installation of Joseph Bonaparte as King of Naples. In the de-facto Sicilian capital of Palermo, Maria Carolina festered away in quasi-exile. She suffered from poor health since her arrival, turning to opium as a source of pain relief. Yet she remained sharp and focused on restoring themselves to their rightful throne in Naples. 

Franz, as the emperor of Austria and previous adversary to the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, seemed a linchpin in her designs for reacquiring Naples. She pressed the need for reunification often to him. In 1808, she bluntly argued, “Sicily cannot exist without the Kingdom of Naples. Proximity, habit, and a thousand reciprocal needs make this union necessary; the history of time past proves it.”[3] Maria Carolina belonged those hoping that Austria would re-initiate the fight against France and overturn the gains made by Napoleon’s forces. Further convinced by his advisers, Franz ultimately elected to go to war and 1809 would prove a fateful, but disastrous year for the hopes of Franz and Maria Carolina. Austria’s defeat within months led to the fall of Vienna in May, the flight of the imperial family to Buda, and the humiliating conclusion of the Treaty of Schönbrunn in October wherein Franz upheld previous French gains and signed away the territories of Salzburg and much of the Adriatic coast. 

Neither Franz nor Maria Carolina could had foreseen such a debilitating loss ahead of them as she wrote this letter. Rather things had seemed to improve in some ways. One year earlier, her first letter of the new year decried her desperate sadness and she still mourned the loss of her daughter to Franz.[4] She now made no mention of it and spoke instead of the happiness which the new year could bring and which wished sincerely for Franz.

Yet she knew, in any case, her options were limited. She relied increasingly on the British for protection at sea to ward off any threat of a French naval invasion but to reconquer Naples, she required an army—Franz’s army. As a result, and as evidenced here, Maria Carolina strove to reposition herself and her situation to the forefront of Franz’s mind. It was a simple letter but, at the same time, a significant one.

By Jonathan Singerton


[1] Maria Carolina to Franz, 9th December 1807, Haus-, Hof-, und Staatsarchiv [HHStA], Hausarchiv [HA], Sammelbände [SB], Karton [K] 41-2, fols. 255-257r.

[2] Franz to Maria Carolina, 3rd March 1809, Archivio di Stato di Napoli [ASNa], Archivio Borbone [AB], Busta 100, fol. 22.

[3] “La Sicile, Sans le Royaume de naples ne peut éxister. La proximité, L’habitude, milles besoins réciproques rend necessaire Cette union ; L’histoire des temps passe le prouve. ” Maria Carolina to Franz, 15th February 1808, HHStA, HA, SB, K. 42-3-12, fols. 7-10r.

[4] Maria Carolina to Franz, 26th January 1808, HHStA, HA, SB, K. 42-3-12, fol. 3.

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