The Admirable Counsel Francis of Lorraine Left for His Children

November 18, 2021

Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor, Duke of Lorraine

On the 18th of August, 1765, Francis of Lorraine had a stroke of apoplexy, while sitting at table during the wedding feast. In dying he left to his children, under the title, “Instructions to my Children both for their Spiritual and Temporal Lives,” some admirable counsel, bearing the stamp of lofty wisdom and true Christian spirit; but in which, faithful perhaps to the patriarchal customs of the House of Austria, he spoke as an individual rather than as a sovereign, as head of the family rather than as head of the empire.

The Imperial Family

“’T is to prove to you after my death that I loved you during my lifetime that I leave to you these instructions, as rules by which you may regulate your conduct, and as precepts from which I have ever derived benefit.” He exhorted them above all to remain sincere upholders of the Catholic faith and believers in God, “who alone can give us not only our eternal heritage, which is our real happiness, but our only true satisfaction in this world…. It is an essential point, and one which I know not how to impress upon you strongly enough, never under any circumstances whatsoever to deceive yourselves about what is wrong, or try to think it innocent…. The world where you must pass your life is but transitory; there is nought save eternity that is without end. Let this reflection prevent your fixing your affections upon anything here too strongly; but as God himself has sanctioned amusements, and that we should take delight in all that His bounty has so lavishly provided for the gratification of our senses, it is right for us to enjoy them according to His permission…. We should enjoy the pleasures of this life innocently; for so soon as they lead us into evil, of whatever sort it may be, they cease to be pleasures, and become a source of remorse and chagrin…. We are not put into this world for our pleasure only, and God has granted all these diversions but as a relaxation for the spirit…. When it is necessary to command, do not do so without previous consideration of what you command, and the reasons for and against, and then give the order gently…. charity toward the poor, “which is a good deed in the sight of God, and makes one beloved in this world,” he adds, ⸺“The chief care of a sovereign should be not to burden his subjects in order to sustain a luxury which is not needful to the support and tranquility of these same subjects, nor to the preservation and good of the State…

The Duke of Lorraine and Imperial troops crossing the Rhine before Strasbourg, during the War of the Austrian Succession.

“But I do not mean to say by that, that we should not live conformably to the state to which God has called us, and in which he wishes us to live according to his laws; but the two are easily reconciled…”

He traces for them a veritable rule of life, year by year, week by week, day by day, hour by hour, and finishes with these grave words: ⸺

Emperor Francis I lying in state.

“I recommend you to take two days in every year to prepare for death, as though you were sure that those two were the last days of your life; and thus you will accustom yourself to know what you ought to do under those circumstances, and when your last moment arrives, you will not be surprised, but will know what you have to do…. You will recognize the utility of this by the practice of it, and it will do you an infinity of good without doing you any harm; for you will be doing calmly what perhaps illness or lack of time may prevent your doing.

“I herewith command you,” he concluded, “to read these instructions twice yearly; they come from a father who loves you above everything, and who has thought it necessary to leave you this testimony of his tender affection, which you cannot better reciprocate than by loving one another with the same tenderness he bequeaths to all of you.”

The Life of Marie Antoinette, Volume 1 By Maxime de La Rocheterie, Chapter 1, pg 5-7.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 804

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