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Empress Maria Theresa Appraises the Character of Joseph II, her Son and Co-Regent (September 14, 1776)

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After this long sermon, which you must pardon me, for it comes from overtenderness of heart towards you and my countries, I will show you a picture of yourself, with all your gifts and attractions. You are a coquette of wit, and run after it wherever you think to find it, without discrimination. A bon mot, a witticism, found in a book or uttered by someone, obsesses you, you apply it at the first opportunity without considering whether it is appropriate, like your sister Elisabeth with her beauty: If she pleases the Swiss guard or a Prince, that is enough for her; she asks for no more.’

In ending this letter, I take your head between my hands, embrace you tenderly and pray that you may forgive me the tedium of this long scolding; look only at the heart from which it comes. All I wish is to see you esteemed and loved by the world as you deserve. I remain, ever your good old mother.

Source of English translation: C.A. Macartney, ed., The Habsburg and Hohenzollern Dynasties in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. The Documentary History of Western Civilization. New York, Evanston, and London: Harper & Row, 1970, pp. 185-87. Introduction, editorial notes, chronology, translations by the editor; and compilation copyright © 1970 by C.A. Macartney. Used by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

Source of original French text: Maria Theresia und Joseph II. Ihre Correspondenz [Maria Theresa and Joseph II. Their Correspondence], vol. 1, pp. 199ff. [Maria Theresa's letter appears here in the original French.]

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