Joseph Howayek and his son

Rule of mother and son: Joseph II and Maria Theresa

When Joseph II was born in 1741, there was great jubilation over the son and heir to the throne: a triumphal arch was erected, allegorical representations were made - and the Pope even sent consecrated diapers to Vienna. Joseph quickly realized his importance as a future ruler. He developed a tendency to overestimate himself: At the age of ten, Maria Theresa noticed "some untimely ideas of his Highness" in her son. Joseph's upbringing emphasized the virtues of a future emperor: obedience, discipline, and piety.

After the death of Franz I, his son Joseph came to power in 1765: he was crowned Roman-German Emperor Joseph II and acted as co-regent of his mother Maria Theresa in the Habsburg hereditary lands. Maria Theresa remained the dominant supermother until her death in 1780.

Joseph's contemporary image, like his historical image, is controversial: his numerous reforms and the rather rough methods of implementing them damaged his public image. Within the family, there were frequent differences of opinion between Joseph and his mother, who perceived his upheavals as precipitous and misguided. Constant disputes resulted - at the Viennese court even a Maria Theresa and a Joseph faction are said to have arisen. Joseph's successor Leopold II described his brother as a tough, pathologically ambitious contemporary who “tolerated no contradiction” and was full of “arbitrary, violent principles”.

In the 19th century, a cult of Joseph developed among some sections of the population: Republicans, liberals, intellectuals and the peasantry in particular revered him as a reform emperor and a role model for their own concerns. Joseph was stylized as the people's emperor. Like his model Friedrich II, Joseph was influenced by the ideas of the Enlightenment. But he was certainly not revolutionary or democratic. His reforms were at the service of an aggressive and expansionist policy.

Stephan Gruber