Emperor Ferdinand I of Austria, the eldest son of the Holy Roman Emperor Franz II (later Emperor Franz I of Austria) and his second wife Maria Theresa of the Two Sicilies, who were double first cousins, was born on April 19, 1793, in Vienna, Austria. The overjoyed father wrote to his relatives that “a healthy prince” was born, but that proved to be wrong. Ferdinand was a weak infant with a too-large head and was kept alive only with great difficulty by the doctors and the nursing staff. He was developmentally delayed and suffered from epilepsy, hydrocephalus, neurological problems, and a speech impediment
Ferdinand had eleven siblings with seven surviving childhood. While pregnant with her twelfth child, his mother Maria Theresa fell ill with the lung infection pleurisy. Her doctor bled her and this caused premature labor. Maria Theresa gave birth to her twelfth child who lived only three days. On April 13, 1807, a week after giving birth, Maria Theresa died at the age of 34.
Ferdinand had a half-sister, Archduchess Ludovika Elisabeth of Austria, from his father’s first marriage to Elisabeth of Württemberg. Elizabeth died the day after her daughter’s birth and her daughter died when she was 16 months old. Emperor Franz made two more marriages, both childless, to another first cousin, Maria Ludovika of Austria-Este, who died of tuberculosis and to Caroline Augusta of Bavaria, who survived him.
Ferdinand learned to walk and talk late, and his condition and behavior caused great concern. Because of his frail constitution, he did not receive the education appropriate for the heir to the throne. It was not until 1802, when Ferdinand was nine years old, that he began to receive anything like a formal education. Franz Maria, Freiherr von Carnea-Steffaneo, head of the Imperial Court Library, then took over Ferdinand’s upbringing. He treated Ferdinand with a great deal of understanding and furthered Ferdinand’s development considerably. However, Ferdinand’s mother did not think much of Carnea-Steffaneo and dismissed him.
Ferdinand’s stepmother Maria Ludovica, who married Ferdinand’s father in 1808, dismissed Ferdinand’s teachers whom she considered unfit. She engaged Josef Kalasanz, Freiherr von Erberg, who served as Ferdinand’s tutor from 1809 – 1814. Freiherr von Erberg was a botanist, cultural historian, collector, and patron of the arts and had served as a chamberlain at the Imperial Court. Previously, Ferdinand had been shielded from the public because he had tantrums when he did not get his own way. His new tutor increased Ferdinand’s independence and started teaching him to read and write. Ferdinand also had lessons in riding, dance, fencing, and piano. His drawing talent was encouraged, and he learned about gardening. In 1814, Freiherr von Erberg became ill and he was dismissed. Maria Ludovika decided that Ferdinand’s education was complete, however, he received some additional instruction in military affairs, and in scientific and technical subjects.
In February of 1831, Ferdinand married Maria Anna of Savoy, the daughter of King Victor Emmanuel I of Sardinia and of his wife, Archduchess Maria Teresa of Austria-Este. The marriage was childless and probably never consummated, but the couple remained devoted to each other.
Upon the death of his father on March 2, 1835, Ferdinand became Emperor of Austria, King of Hungary and Croatia and King of Bohemia. Ferdinand has been depicted as feeble-minded and incapable of ruling, but he kept a coherent and legible diary. His epilepsy caused him to have as many as twenty seizures per day, and this severely restricted his ability to rule with any effectiveness. His father’s will stipulated that Ferdinand’s uncle Archduke Ludwig be consulted on government matters and during Ferdinand’s reign a council called the Secret State Conference controlled the government. Ferdinand is famous for telling his cook, “I am the Emperor and I want dumplings” when the cook told him that the apricots needed for the traditional apricot dumplings (German: Marillenknödel) were not in season.
Ferdinand abdicated the throne in favor of his nephew Franz Joseph during the Revolutions of 1848 and lived out the rest of his life at Hradčany Palace in Prague, Kingdom of Bohemia (now the Czech Republic). He died on June 29, 1875, at the age of 82 and was buried in the Ferdinandsgruft (Ferdinand’s Vault) in the Imperial Crypt in Vienna. Maria Anna survived her husband by nine years and died at the age of 80 on May 4, 1884, in Prague (now the Czech Republic) which was then part of the Kingdom of Bohemia. Empress Maria Anna was buried next to her husband in the Imperial Crypt.
Unofficial Royalty: A Visit to the Kaisergruft (Imperial Crypt) in Vienna