Table of Contributors   Table of Contents   Return to Encyclopedia Home Page

Sophie Friederike Dorothea

Sophie Friederike Dorothea von Habsburg, Archduchess, (1805-1872) Archduchess of Austria, mother of Emperor Franz Joseph I, born January 27, 1805 in Munich; died in Vienna May 28, 1872. Sophie Friederike Dorothea von Wittelsbach was one of five daughters born to King Maximilian Joseph of Bavaria from his second marriage with Friederike Karoline von Baden-Hochberg. A Bavarian Biedermeier princess, Sophie on November 4, 1824 married Archduke Franz Karl von Habsburg, second son of Emperor Francis I (1792-1835), and brother of future Emperor Ferdinand I (1835-1848). Since it was recognized that the epileptic Ferdinand I and Empress Marianna (m. 1831) would have no progeny, many hoped that Sophie and Franz Karl would provide heirs for the Habsburg dynasty. Fulfilling such expectations, Sophie gave birth to Franz Joseph (August 18, 1830), Ferdinand Maximilian (1832), Karl Ludwig (1833), Marianne (1835-1840), and Ludwig Viktor (1842). Resigned that she would never be empress because of her husband's mental incapacities; Archduchess Sophie, a vibrant, "dominating" personality, devoted her life to the future of her sons, especially Franz Joseph and Ferdinand Max.

Conservative, protectively maternal, and fervently religious, Sophie became a partisan of Chancellor Metternich and a leading member of the "Pious Party" at the Habsburg court during the Pre-March era. Other prominent adherents were Metternich and Joseph Othmar von Rauscher, after 1844 tutor in philosophy and religion to the young archdukes and subsequently Cardinal-Archbishop of Vienna. The archduchess conscientiously supervised her sons' lessons, wherein she stressed duty, piety, formality, responsibility, obedience, and the respect due a monarch, all of which shaped the outlook of Austria's post-1848 ruler.

The events of 1848, which Sophie confronted with spirit, courage, and faith, dramatically altered Habsburg personal and political relationships. There is little evidence to support the March 1848 popular rumors that Sophie and Franz Karl were instrumental in prompting Metternich's resignation nor that they advocated a constitution on March 13-14. Sophie did not wish to tie her son's hands by constitutional concessions when he assumed the throne and, subsequently, she penned a letter of profound gratitude to the exiled Metternich. In April she emotionally entrusted her first-born son to Field Marshal Count Joseph Radetzky and his army in northern Italy. Sophie and Empress Marianna were instrumental in spiriting Emperor Ferdinand from tumultuous Vienna to loyal Innsbruck in mid-May. There she opposed Ferdinand's precipitate abdication, to avoid the impression that her son would mount the throne by radical means, but she did sanction Baron Joseph Jelacic's measures to restore order in Croatia and Hungary. As Habsburg males and courtiers dithered and the "responsible" ministry reacted to popular demonstrations, Sophie in 1848 emerged as the strongest personality in the imperial family, as "the only man at court". The public regarded her as the leader of the court Camarilla. In late October the Viennese Reichstag simultaneously demanded amnesty for Minister of War Theodor Latour's murderers and exile for Archduchess Sophie.

When the court fled to Olmütz on October 7, only practical Sophie remembered the need to take money for living expenses! At Olmötz Archduchess Sophie, Empress Marianna, Minister President Prince Felix Schwarzenberg, and Field Marshal Prince Alfred Windischgrätz instrumented on December 2, 1848 Ferdinand's hitherto delayed abdication and Franz Joseph's accession. Suspect during the revolutionary months, she regained some public acclaim when she and Franz Karl celebrated their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary on November 4, 1849. Her sisters, including Queen Elisabeth of Prussia, were present for this occasion and the "Bavarian ladies" were credited with easing the 1848-1849 political tensions in the Germanies that had arisen between the Austrian and Prussian governments.

As the young Emperor's mother, Sophie initially presided as first lady at the Habsburg court, although she constantly worried about post-revolutionary dangers to her son. Publicly, the Concordat of 1855 reflected her religious sentiments. Privately, emotional tension characterized the post-1854 mother-in-law and niece/daughter-in-law relationship between the dignified but domineering Sophie and Franz Joseph's free-spirited cousin and child-bride Elisabeth of Bavaria. Something of a "gray eminence" at court, Sophie suffered the Habsburg losses to Italy in 1859 and to Prussia in 1866 and profoundly mourned the 1867 death in Mexico of her second son Maximilian. In the summer of 1871, when the new German Emperor Wilhelm I announced his impeding visit to Ischl, Sophie precipitously left her summer residence. After her death on May 28, 1872, the Swiss ambassador recorded the widely-shared opinion that among all the women at the Habsburg court, Archduchess Sophie had possessed "the most important political presence."
Kenneth W. Rock


Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie. Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot, 1893, XXXV, 772-775.

Corti, Egon Caesar, Count. Vom Kind zum Kaiser. Graz: Pustet, 1950.

Corti, Egon Caesar, Count, and Hans Sokol. Franz Joseph. Graz: Styria, 1960.

Kiszling, Rudolf, et al. Die Revolution im Kaisertum Österreich 1848-49. 2 vols. Vienna: Universum, 1948.

Macartney, C. A. The Habsburg Empire 1790-1918. New York: Macmillan, 1969.

Martin, Gunther. "Frauen um Kaiser Franz Joseph." Kaiser Franz Joseph von Österreich oder der Verfall eines Prinzips. Robert Waissenberger (ed.) Catalog of the 64th Sonderausstellung des Historischen Museums der Stadt Wien, Hermesvilla, 1980-81. Vienna: Verlag der Museum der Stadt Wien, 1980, 94-106.

Rath, R. John. The Viennese Revolution of 1848. Austin: Univ. of Texas Press, 1957.

Reinöhl, Fritz. "Aus dem Tagebuch der Erzherzogin Sophie." Historische Blätter, IV (1931) 109-136.

Schnürer, Franz, ed. Briefe Kaiser Franz Josephs an seine Mutter 1838-1872 Munich: J. Kosel & F. Pustet, 1930.

Walter, Friedrich. Die Österreichische Zentralverwaltung. III. Abteilung, . I. "Die Geschichte der Ministerien Kolowrat, Ficquelmont, Pillersdorf, Wessenberg-Doblhoff und Schwarzenberg." Vienna: Adolf Holzhausens Nachfolger, 1964.

Wurzbach, Constant von, ed. Biographisches Lexikon des Kaiserthums Österreich Vienna: K. K. Hof- und Staatsdruckerei, 1861, VI, 149-150.

Table of Contributors   Table of Contents   Return to Encyclopedia Home Page

JGC revised this file ( on November 25, 2004

Please E-mail comments or suggestions to

© 1999, 2004 James Chastain.