WCW: Empress Maria Theresa


Maria Theresa (1717-1780) ruled a vast domain in central Europe in her own right: Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Bohemia, Transylvania, Mantua, Milan, Lodomeria and Galicia, the Austrian Netherlands, and Parma. By marriage, she was Duchess of Lorraine, Grand Duchess of Tuscany, and Holy Roman Empress. Her ascendancy to the throne sparked a war in the 1740s.

Gabriello Mattei, Portrait of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria (1717-1780), c. 1736-40, Uffizi Gallery

Gabriello Mattei, Portrait of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria (1717-1780), c. 1736-40, Uffizi Gallery

She was known for making dynastic marriages with her many, many children (she gave birth to 16, 13 of whom survived) including the future Queen Marie Antoinette of France. She’s one of the “enlightened despots” of the 18th century, passing many reforms but maintaining central control of power.

Matthias de Visch, Portrait of empress Maria-Theresia, 1749, Groeningemuseum.

Matthias de Visch, Portrait of empress Maria-Theresia, 1749, Groeningemuseum

In her later years, she co-ruled with her son, Emperor Joseph II, but she kept the reins of power.

Empress Maria Theresa with her family by Heinrich Füger, 1776, Belvedere, Vienna

Maria Theresa has been on screen many times — she’s often the focus in German-speaking films and has a bit part in films about Marie Antoinette. Unfortunately, I can’t find images of some of the earlier and more obscure films, but here’s what I could track down!


Julia Serda and Agnes Straub in Fridericus Rex (1922)

A four-part film series about King Friedrich II of Prussia.

1922 Fridericus Rex

This looks appropriately regal!

Lola Chlud in Der junge Baron Neuhaus (1934)

An adaptation of a stage play about a handsome baron who catches the empress’s disapproving eye. I think.

1934 Der junge Baron Neuhaus

It’s pretty, but it’s VERY 1930s!

1934 Der junge Baron Neuhaus


Alma Kruger in Marie Antoinette (1938)

She sends her daughter off to marry the French dauphin, then worries about her from afar, in this biography of the French queen.

1938 Marie-Antoinette

Dour widow is dour.


Käthe Dorsch in Trenck, der Pandur (1940)

A fictional take on a famous military officer, “garnished with espionage and twisted love affairs,” per Wikipedia.

1940 Trenck le téméraire

I’m assuming that’s the empress on the right, but I actually have no idea. The hair looks very 1930s, and the hat is cute!


Paula Wessely in Maria Theresia (1951)

A big screen biopic.

1951 Maria Theresia

Sparkly, and not bad with the hair!

1951 Maria Theresia

Okay now we see the bullet bras and modern makeup…


Marianne Schönauer in Der Kurier der Kaiserin (1971)

A TWENTY SIX part TV series about a courier who works for the empress.

1971 Der Kurier der Kaiserin

Oh 1970s costuming, how you make me laugh | (Photo by Arthur Grimm/United Archives via Getty Images)


Mária Medgyesi in Vivát, Benyovszky ! (1975)

A Hungarian/Czechoslovakian film about a real-life Hungarian nobleman.

1975 Vivát, Benyovszky !

Is that Maria Theresa in the Marge Simpson wig? Maybe!


Sylvia Kristel in The Fifth Musketeer (1979)

“When French King Louis XIV (Beau Bridges) learns that his twin brother, Philippe (Beau Bridges), could usurp his crown, he sets out to imprison him in the Bastille prison but four loyal musketeers are protecting Philippe,” says Wikipedia. Why Maria Theresa turns up, I have no idea.

1979 Le Cinquième Mousquetaire

I have questions!


Marianne Schönauer, Ulli Fessl, and Jasmine Chirazzi in Maria Theresia (1980)

What I think is a TV biopic about the empress.

1980 Kaiserin Maria Theresia


1980 Kaiserin Maria Theresia


1980 Kaiserin Maria Theresia

Okay I like the canopy!


Silvana De Santis in Ferdinando e Carolina (1999)

“On his deathbed in the 1820s, King Ferdinando I of Naples tries to escape the ghosts of his bloody kingship by remembering his younger days when he was allowed to go hunting, have fun, and invent love games. Then he was obliged to marry Maria Carolina of Austria, daughter of Empress Maria Theresa, in a political marriage. They unexpectedly became happy lovers, until court power games divided them and a different historical season arrived,” per Wikipedia.

1999 Ferdinando e Carolina

Nice cap and ruffles!


Henriette Richter-Roehl in Trenck – Zwei Herzen gegen die Krone (2003)

Another story about the military officer who apparently falls in love with one of the empress’s daughters and also does some fancy stuff during the war with Prussia.

2002 Trenck l’insoumis. Un amour en Prusse

Okay, she doesn’t seem old enough to be a mom, so maybe she’s the daughter? (Photo by Peter Bischoff/Getty Images)


Marianne Faithfull in Marie Antoinette (2006)

She’s the ever-chastising mother in this biopic about the French queen.

2006 Marie Antoinette

Swathed in black.

2006 Marie Antoinette

But she looks regal!


Yasmina Djaballah in Die Deutschen, Preussens Friedrich und die Kaiserin” (2008)

One episode of what I think is a historical docudrama, this one about the rivalry between Maria Theresa and Prussian King Friedreich II.

2008 Preussens Friedrich und die Kaiserin

Clearly a low-budget production.


Marie-Luise Stockinger and Stefanie Reinsperger in Maria Theresia (2017-19)

A TV miniseries biopic about the empress, which we recapped and reviewed in depth!

2017 Maria Theresia

There’s some good and lots of questionable in this.

2017 Maria Theresia

Like, the wigs. Are dire.

2017 Maria Theresia ep1

WHAT is going on with that bodice??!! It’s dumpy and weird.

2019 Maria Theresia ep3

There’s a lot of stapled-on stomachers.

2019 Maria Theresia ep3

Some elegant ensembles!

2019 Maria Theresia ep3

The hair gets better. On the women.


Gerti Drassi in Universum History, “Maria Theresia: Majestät und Mutter” (2017)

What I think is another TV docudrama series.

2017 Universum History - Maria Theresia - Majestät und Mutter

I like the hood!

2017 Universum History - Maria Theresia - Majestät und Mutter

Wait, I think this is a different actress? And shitty lace.

2017 Universum History - Maria Theresia - Majestät und Mutter

Older, mourning Maria Theresa (ORF/Roman Zach-Kiesling)


Anne-Céline Pellarini in La Guerre des trônes, la véritable histoire de l’Europe (2021)

A French TV docudrama about the history of Europe from the 100 Years War to the mid-18th century.

2021 La Guerre des trônes, la véritable histoire de l'Europe

NICE hair!


Ursula Strauss in Maria Theresia: The Pinnacle of Power (2022)

Technically this is season three of Maria Theresia (2017), but it’s come out long enough after that it feels separate to me!

2022 Maria Theresia- The Pinnacle of Power

Saying goodbye to Marie Antoinette? Who has discovered aniline dyes?

2022 Maria Theresia- The Pinnacle of Power

Oh good, her wig is eating her face, and pretty sure that’s a rewear from one of the earlier seasons.

2022 Maria Theresia- The Pinnacle of Power

I’m going to focus on the gold embroidery and not the crappy lace and shitty wig.


Marthe Keller in Marie Antoinette (2022)

The empress is the usual doubting mother who attempts to control her daughter, Marie Antoinette, from afar.

2022 Marie Antoinette

She’s nicely, appropriately dressed!



What’s your favorite on-screen portrayal of Empress Maria Theresa?


About the author



Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

14 Responses

  1. Katie O.

    Most of what I know about Maria Theresa comes from reading Nancy Goldstone’s excellent book “In the Shadow of the Empress”. She sounds like a fascinating person, and it would be wonderful if one day a good production could make a biopic about her. In the meantime, I guess I’ll stick to laughing at some of these atrocious wigs lol.

  2. Mary

    The Maria Theresa in “Fifth Muskateer” must be MT of Spain, Louis XIV’s wife (and cousin).

    • Coco

      “A time portal has opened, leading all the aristocratic Maria Theresas throughout history to converge on Versailles right before the wedding of Louis XIV. Will he be able to find his intended bride and save European diplomacy? Will his identical twin brother cause mischief as always? Or will an Austrian interloper win the king’s heart, forcing a choice of whether or not to stay in his own century?”

    • Nico

      Yep! Also referred to as MT of Austria (as a Habsburg) though she was Spanish, hence the confusion.

  3. florenceandtheai

    The second image from The Pinnacle of Power screams (to me) “How the Empress Would Look with a Mullet,” and I can’t stop giggling. Like Habsburg Billy Ray Cyrus. Oh Kendra, thank you!

  4. Andrew.

    Maria Theresa is still seen regularly in many parts of the world as she is depicted on the high-silver ‘Maria Theresa Thaler’ coin. Still being minted by the Austrian government, the MTT continues in circulation in much of the Arab world and East Africa.

  5. lilly+knox

    A WCW of Empress Messalina would be so fun :) films featuring her are mostly pornographic nonsense, but it’s camp!

  6. M.E. Lawrence

    Wait a minute–Beau Bridges played the Sun King? And Marianne Faithfull was Maria Theresa at some point? (Although it’s true her mother was Austro-Hungarian.) I have questions too!

    • ED

      In chorus: They cast BEAU BRIDGES as His Late Majesty King Louis XIV?

      What a dark horse that man must me (though really, if he were to he cast as any historic person I’d have suggested Ronald Reagan).

      • Cheryl from Maryland

        Bruce Campbell in the 2nd season of TV Fargo IS THE ONLY ACCEPTABLE PORTRAYAL OF REAGAN.

  7. ED

    Interestingly Ms. Marianne Faithful has the strongest aura of “Absolute Boss” in this selection of Empresses – though honourable mention to the Maria Theresa in mourning weeds from UNIVERSUM HISTORY for having a fine disinheriting look worthy of Queen Victoria at her least amused.

    Oh, and I’ll give MARIE ANTOINETTE (2023) this – Emperor Joseph roars in and leaves teeth marks in the fabric of Versailles, compensating for his mother hanging over poor Madame Antoine (and the show) like a bird of ill omen.

  8. Damnitz

    Although I dislike the production I think that Marie-Luise Stockinger did a good job in “Maria Theresia”. She was one of the few reasons to see that madness. “Der Kurier der Kaiserin” is the most entertaining series or film about her. It’s comletely silly. You see Marianne Schönauer there only in the opening credits and in the first episode. I suppose that there should be a lot more films including Maria Theresia especially if they are about Frederick II or Mozart.

  9. Karin

    Documentaries with drama inserts like Universum History or ZDF History have notoriously bad costuming. Whilst the documentaries are often interesting, the absolutely terrible drama scenes, which usually also add nothing to the documentaries, always make me cringe. I would prefer that they were left out if they are so badly made. But I think these channels think their audiences won’t get it if there’s no drama scenes…!