13 May 1717 – 29 November 1780
Born at Hofburg Palace in Vienna Austria
Died at Hofburg Palace in Vienna, Austria
Archduchess Maria Theresa of Austria would have 2 sisters:
Maria Anna in September 1718 (September 18th 1718-
Maria Amalia in November 1724 (November 24th 1724-
The birth of Maria Theresa, full name Maria Theresia Walburga Amalia Christina, was a momentous occasion since her father, Charles VI, would ensure at great cost, that she would be heiress to the Habsburg realms from the moment she was born.
Her father was the only surviving male member of the House of Habsburg and needed a son who would prevent the extinction of his dynasty and succeed him.
The birth of Maria Theresa was said to be a great disappointment not only to him but the people of Vienna, a disappointment which he would personally never overcome.
Reports which described her baptism, stressed that the child was carried ahead of her cousins, Maria Josepha and Maria Amalia, who were the daughters of her father’s elder brother Joseph 1, his predecessor. It was both a sign and unmistakable blatant show to others, to make it perfectly clear, that his daughter Maria Theresa would outrank them all.
Their grandfather, Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I, had his sons sign the Mutual Pact of Succession, a remarkable agreement of that time which gave precedence to the daughters of the elder brother in succession, but this was a political move just to make sure that everybody knew what the situation was.
Maria Theresa replaced Maria Josepha as heiress presumptive to the Habsburg realms the moment she was born, Charles VI had issued the Pragmatic Sanction of 1713 which had placed his own daughters ahead of his nieces in the line of succession.
Charles VI was forced to seek the approval of other European powers in disinheriting his nieces for which they negotiated harsh terms in the 1731 Treaty of Vienna.
One of the demands from Great Britain was that Austria abolish the Ostend Company. Formed in 1722, the private trading company operated the hugely profitable trade route with the East and West Indies and was a major competition for Great Britain. This was agreed to in return for its recognition of the Pragmatic Sanction. This expense show just how vital it was that Maria Theresa would be next in line to rule the empire of Charles Vl.
Great Britain, France, Saxony-
France, Spain, Saxony-
There was a close resemblance between the 3 sisters as numerous portraits would depict.
A Prussian ambassador noted that Maria Theresa had large blue eyes, a wide mouth, fair hair tinged slightly red and a notably strong body.
At a time when large families of nobility would often marry relatives, neither of her parents nor grandparents were closely related to one another. This resulted in Maria Theresa being one of the few members of the House of Habsburg who were not inbred since her father Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor and her mother Princess Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-
Maria Theresa’s grandfather Leopold l had
married his own niece Margaret Theresa of Spain. Whilst Philip ll of Spain also married his niece Anna of Austria, as did Philip lV of Spain with his niece Mariana of Austria, all members of the Habsburg dynasty.
His 7th child would be Charles Vl, father of Maria Theresa.
Maria Theresa was said to be a serious and reserved child who enjoyed archery and singing. She also would speak and even write in Viennese German, which was spoken by her servants and some Ladies-
Her father banned her from horse riding, thought to be due to the risks involved, it was however only realistic to protect her after all the political manoeuvring that had undergone since her birth. She would later take intense lessons in preparation for her Hungarian coronation ceremony. She would be crowned KING of Hungary as women were not considered fit to rule Hungary.
Her family would stage opera productions in their palaces, often conducted by her father Charles Vl, in which she immersed herself and relished every moment.
She was educated under the guidance of the Jesuit priests, which was strict in accordance with the church, but it was said that they failed to educate her to the level expected, with her spelling and punctuation being termed unconventional. Her Latin was said to be good, but that would be the end of positive comments. She lacked the formal manner and speech which had been so important and had characterized her Habsburg predecessors. It was largely thanks to Countess Marie Karoline Von Fuchs-
Maria Theresa loved the arts from an early age and was well educated in painting, drawing, dancing and music. These were the main requirements for any woman of the age preparing for the role of
However, her deep-
She was only 14 years of age when her father allowed her to attend meetings of the council, although he would never actually discuss the affairs of state with her. Having spent his last years of life securing his daughter’s inheritance, Charles Vl still carried with him his disappointment of not having a son and failed to prepare his daughter for the role of Sovereign, let alone one of a huge empire.
The question of Maria Theresa's marriage was raised early in her childhood. She would be first engaged to marry Leopold Clement of Lorraine, who was supposed to visit Vienna to meet the Archduchess in 1723 when she was just 6 years old. However, he died of smallpox before they would ever meet. Shortly after the death of Leopold Clement, his younger brother, Francis Stephen, was invited to Vienna.
The list of ‘candidates’ for the hand of Maria Theresa was not short. Unlike these days when royalty marry commoners (UK Prince Charles and Prince William), the eighteenth century was a minefield of alliances, much of which were through marriage.
Francis Stephen had been the favourite for Maria Theresa's hand but her father had to consider other possibilities. Religious differences prevented him from arranging his daughter's marriage to the Calvinist prince Frederick of Prussia, later to be known as Frederick The Great
Following battle victories during the 7 year war.
In 1725, she was betrothed to Charles of Spain and her sister, Maria Anna, to Philip of Spain. However, he was forced to renounce the pact by other European powers.
The pact, which had been made with the Dowager Queen of Spain, Elisabeth Farnese, would have resulted in the marriage of heirs to the thrones of Spain and Austria destroying the European balance of power.
Maria Theresa, who had become close to Francis Stephen, was relieved. Although Francis Stephen would remain at the Imperial Court until 1729, when he ascended the throne of Lorraine. He would only be formally accepted as suitor for Maria Theresa's hand on 31 January 1736 but the couple would marry on February 12th 1736.
A brief explanation to highlight the political complexities
Ever since the death of the Polish king Sigismund II Augustus in 1572, Polish kings were elected by Polish nobility and not through birth.
There was a war from 1733 – 1738 known as the
The war revolved around Poland, Rhineland and Italy and
During the war, Louis XV of France demanded that Francis Stephen, Maria Theresa’s fiancé, surrender his ancestral Duchy of Lorraine in order to support his own father-
The war ended with the Treaty of Vienna in 1738, and an estimated 100,000 dead and wounded. Augustus lll was confirmed as King of Poland and his opponent Stanislaw l was awarded the Duchy of Lorraine. The Duchy of Parma went to Austria while the crowns of Naples and Sicily would go to Charles of Parma, all resulting in territorial gains for the Bourbons.
Gian Gastone's death on 9 July 1737 (the end of the Medici dynasty) meant that Francis Stephen ceded Lorraine and became Grand Duke of Tuscany.
In 1738, Charles VI arranged for the Maria Theresa and Francis Stephen to make their formal entry into Florence, the regional capital of Tuscany where a triumphal arch was erected at the Porta Galla in celebration. Their time in Florence would be short-
In 1738 Austria suffered humiliating defeats during the Russo-
Riots ensued across Vienna at the cost of the war, together with open hostility and hatred towards Francis Stephen who was seen as a cowardly French spy. The war was ended the following year with the treaty of Belgrade.
Maria Theresa the Duchess of Lorraine, held true love for her husband which was described as being strong and possessive. Letters she had sent him just before their marriage, expressed her eagerness to see him. On the other hand, his letters were cold and formal. She was known to be extremely jealous of her husband and his infidelity, which would go on to become the greatest problem of their marriage. Maria Wilhelmina von Neipperg, later to become Princess of Auersperg, would become his best known mistress after making her appearance in court in 1755 at the age of 17.
Emperor Charles VI died on October 20 1740, most probably of mushroom poisoning. The advice of Prince Eugene of Savoy to concentrate on filling the treasury and equipping the military was ignored. Instead, Charles Vl gave more credence to gathering the support of fellow royals and making various pacts with no financial gain. He had spent virtually his entire reign securing the Pragmatic Sanction in order for Maria Theresa to succeed him, but had left Austria an impoverished nation. Bankrupted by the recent Turkish war and the earlier ware of the polish succession, the treasury held just 100,000 florins which was claimed by his widow. An 80,000 army, unpaid for months, remained impressively loyal and devoted to their new Sovereign.
Maria Theresa found herself in a desperate situation as her succession to the empire of her father found her at the young age of 23. She was unaware of the ineptitude of her father’s ministers whilst herself not knowing enough on the matters of state. She took the earlier advice of her father to retain his councillors and defer to her husband, Francis Stephen, believing he held more experience, something she would later greatly regret.
Her regrets would be voiced Ten years later when Maria Theresa recalled in her Political Testament the circumstances under which she had ascended: "I found myself without money, without credit, without army, without experience and knowledge of my own and finally, also without any counsel because each one of them at first wanted to wait and see how things would develop."
She dismissed the concerns by others who voiced the possibility that other countries seizing her territories, and immediately started ensuring the imperial dignity for herself.
Since a woman could not be elected Holy Roman Empress, Maria Theresa wanted to secure the imperial office for her husband. However, Francis Stephen did not possess enough land or rank within the Holy Roman Empire. In order to make him eligible for the imperial throne and to enable him to vote in the imperial elections as elector of Bohemia, Maria Theresa made Francis Stephen co-
However, it took more than a year for the Diet of Hungary (legislative institution in the medieval kingdom of Hungary from the 1290s) to accept Francis Stephen as co-
The first display of the new queen's authority was the formal act of homage of the Lower Austrian Estates to her on 22 November 1740. It was an elaborate public event which served as a formal recognition and legitimation of her accession. The oath of fealty to Maria Theresa was taken on the same day in Hofburg.
Immediately after her accession, a number of European sovereigns who had recognised Maria Theresa as heiress, then broke their promises. Queen Elisabeth of Spain and Elector Charles Albert of Bavaria, married to Maria Theresa's deprived cousin Maria Amalia and supported by Empress Wilhelmine Amalia, wanted portions of her inheritance reinstated.
Maria Theresa secured the recognition of King Charles Emmanuel III of Sardinia, in November 1740.
Whilst her weak husband Francis Stephen wanted to give the offer consideration, Queen Maria Theresa and her advisers were not, fearing that any violation of the Pragmatic Sanction would invalidate the entire document.
Maria Theresa's firmness soon assured Francis Stephen that they should fight for Silesia and she was confident that she would retain "the jewel of the House of Austria". The invasion of Silesia by Frederick was the start of a lifelong enmity; she referred to him as "that evil man".
Prussian ambassador's letter to Frederick the Great
‘She has, as you well know, a terrible hatred for France, with which nation it is most difficult for her to keep on good terms, but she controls this passion except when she thinks to her advantage to display it. She detests Your Majesty, but acknowledges your ability. She cannot forget the loss of Silesia, nor her grief over the soldiers she lost in wars with you’.
Neipperg took command of the Austrian troops in March and in April 1741 the Austrians suffered a crushing defeat at the Battle of Mollwitz. France quickly drew up a plan to partition Austria between Prussia, Bavaria, Saxony and Spain, throwing Vienna into a panic as none of Maria Theresa's advisors expected France to betray them.
Francis Stephen urged Maria Theresa to reach a rapprochement with Prussia, as did Great Britain. Maria Theresa reluctantly agreed to negotiations.
Contrary to all expectations, a significant amount of support for the young Queen came from Hungary. Her coronation as queen of Hungary took place in St. Martin's Cathedral, Pressburg, formerly Pozsony on 25 June 1741 after she had spent months honing the equestrian skills necessary for the ceremony.
To appease those who considered her sex to be the most serious obstacle, Maria Theresa assumed masculine titles and Maria Theresa was thereafter archduke and king.. That was however the official standing and she would be addressed as Queen. No 18th-
By July of 1741 all attempts at conciliation had completely collapsed. Maria Theresa's ally, the Elector of Saxony, now became her enemy and George II declared the Electorate of Brunswick-
The Queen was once again in need of help from Hungary and in order to obtain it she granted favours to the Hungarian noblemen and flattered them without conceding to all of their demands. She had already won their support when she appeared in Pressburg in September 1741, hoping to persuade the Diet (parliament) to call a mass conscription and recognise Francis Stephen as her co-
In the same year of 1741, the Austrian authorities informed Maria Theresa that the Bohemian populace would prefer to have Charles Albert instead of Maria Theresa as sovereign.
Maria Theresa, desperate and burdened by pregnancy, wrote plaintively to her sister: "I don't know if a town will remain to me for my delivery." She bitterly vowed to spare nothing and no one to defend her kingdom when she wrote to the Bohemian chancellor, Count Philip Kinsky: "My mind is made up. We must put everything at stake to save Bohemia."
Maria Theresa made the recovery of Bohemia her main priority and French troops fled Bohemia in the winter of the same year. On 12 May 1743, Maria Theresa had herself crowned Queen of Bohemia in St. Vitus Cathedral.
Francis Stephen was elected Holy Roman Emperor on September 13th 1745. Prussia recognised Francis as emperor, and Maria Theresa once again recognised the loss of Silesia by the Treaty of Breslau in December 1745. The war dragged on for another three years, with fighting in northern Italy and the Austrian Netherlands.
The Habsburg House were Roman Catholics of course, but Maria Theresa was a devout one who took her faith into her daily life and not simply for show. She believed that for a peaceful public life it was essential for there to be religious unity and openly rejected the suggestion of religious tolerance. However, she maintained the separation of church, monarchy and state to some degree and would not permit Rome to interfere in state affairs, she would however control the appointment of bishops, archbishops and abbots.
She proposed to her ministers in December 1744, to have all Jews expelled by January 1st 1745 from her hereditary dominions. The proposal was supported and the edict signed on December 18th 1744, however, her original date of January 1st was changed to June on the advice of her ministers who were concerned over the numbers of Jews needing to be expelled and the time needed to accomplish it.
Maria Theresa’s attention was not solely aimed towards the Jews, she also expelled Protestants to Transylvania and reduced the number of monastic orders and religious holidays. Her plans in 1777 to expel Moravian Protestants were abandoned after her son and co-
Joseph would criticise his mother and not just in private, knowing making his views towards her religious policies known as being ‘unjust, impossible, impious, harmful and ridiculous’. His weakness as a person and spoilt within his very privileged upbringing became clear for all to see. Views are seldom as important as the way they are conveyed or indeed not.
Her religion would help retain the wide support of the people under her rule and she was known for her incredible self-
Her relationship however with the Jesuits, who had educated her and served as her confessors would become complex. The Jesuits were extremely influential and powerful through their links with state and monarchy. However, ministers would be successful in convincing her that the order were a clear risk to her monarchical authority. As though she had waited for such confirmation, and without hesitation, she would issue a decree which removed the Jesuits from all institutions of the monarchy, and would insure that it was carried through to letter.
It can seem conflicting, but despite the Jews being expelled along with Protestants, she would in the 1770’s decade issue edicts to offer state protection to her Jewish subjects. It was believed this was due largely to the influence of one of her Jewish Courtiers Abraham Mende Theben. In 1762 she forbade the forcible conversion of Jewish children to Roman Catholicism and a year later in 1763 she stopped the Catholic clergy from extracting surplice fees from Jews.
In 1764, she ordered the release of Jews who had been jailed for blood libel (Blood libel is an accusation that Jews kidnapped and murdered the children of Christians to use their blood as part of their religious rituals during Jewish holidays) in the village of Orkuta.
Maria Theresa supported Jewish commercial and industrial activity, despite her powerful dislike of Jews.
The life of Maria Theresa was first and foremost the protection and guidance of her empire and her subjects. What seems to be conflicts of policies or beliefs had always it is believed been done for the ‘good of all’, and indeed specific situations from day to day or week to week will have changed policies and beliefs as life and socal and political allegiances were extremely fluid.
Maria Theresa was as conservative in matters of state as she was in those of religion, and would introduce significant reforms to strengthen Austria's military and vast bureaucratic efficiency. She directly employed Count Friedrich Wilhelm von Haugwitz, who modernised her empire by creating a fixed army of 108,000 men, paid for by 14 million gulden extracted from each crown-
Maria Theresa doubled the state revenue between 1754 and 1764, despite her attempt to tax the clergy and nobility were only partly successful. These financial reforms had improved the economy remarkable when compared to how it stood when she took it over from her father.
In 1760, Maria Theresa created the council of state, composed of the state chancellor, three members of the high nobility and three knights, which served as a committee of experienced people to advise her. The council of state lacked any executive or legislative authority, the difference however between this new form of government and that employed by Frederick II of Prussia.
Maria Theresa demonstrated through this modernising of government, that unlike others and Frederick ll as the example, she was not an autocrat acting as her own minister. Prussia would not adopt Maria Theresa’s form of government before 1807.
Maria Theresa made other major reforms such as the Codex Theresianus, which commenced in 1752 and was finalised in 1766, and would clearly define civil rights.
In 1776, Austria outlawed witch burnings in addition to torture. Physician Ferdinand Leber had proven the unreliability of testimony made under torture, which Maria Theresa listened to and implemented its banning.
It would later be reintroduced to degrees, but the introduction of formal Civil Rights had produced social expectations amongst her subjects at a time of wars and unrest. Maria Theresa openly demonstrated the importance of her subjects to her, through the introduction of these reforms, and indeed she was way ahead of her times in thinking of individuals as having their own individual rights protected by law.
Maria Theresa was ironically opposed to the total abolition of torture, born in a time of wars and conflict, she perhaps saw the introduction of civil rights as being the platform by which to remove the need of torture based upon her subjects having a secure sense of ‘belonging’. It had been claimed that she did find it difficult to fit into the newly developing intellectual sphere of the ‘enlightenment’ movement, which is why she only slowly followed humanitarian reforms on the continent. But from the other stance, it can be argued that Maria Theresa was indeed a modernizer and reformer in a time of wars and conflict and when her borders were under attack throughout her reign with just intermittent periods of peace.
Maria Theresa recruited her private physician Gerard van Swieten, to transform the Austrian health service. With the support of Maria Theresa he went on to found the Vienna General Hospital as well as a chemical laboratory, a botanical garden and introduced clinical instruction. The introduction of medical university education was also a big step forward to formalise the state of medicine. He would also be librarian for Maria Theresa at what was then the Imperial Library since 1745.
She then asked him to research infant mortality in Austria. It would be due to his recommendation, which she followed closely, that she made a decree stating that autopsies would be mandatory for all hospital deaths in the city of Graz.
That law, still in effect today in Austria, combined with the relatively stable population of Graz, resulted in one of the most important and indeed complete autopsy records in the world.
In 1767 Maria Theresa made the decision to inoculate her children following the smallpox epidemic of 1767. Her decision would be responsible for changing the negative view of inoculation among Austrian physicians…in effect single handed.
Maria Theresa took the decision to host a dinner party which would be the inauguration of an inoculation campaign in Austria. The first 65 inoculated children were invited to the dinner party at the Schönbrunn Palace, where Maria Theresa would wait on the children herself.
Aware of the inadequacies of the bureaucratic system in Austria, Maria Theresa took personal charge of reforming education in 1775. She based the new school system on the Prussian one. All children, girls and boys, were required to attend schools from the age of 6 through to 12.
Rural villagers met the reforms with hostility, which was understandable considering that rural life required hard physical labour which required good health and not good education. Maria Theresa crushed the dissent and opposition and continued with her programme. Whilst the programme had merit, the reforms were not at all as successful as expected. In parts of Austria as little as 40% of the population were literate well into the 19th century.
Maria Theresa allowed non-
Maria Theresa seemed to have made a special attempt to have the Universities teach useful and productive subjects for the advancement of the people and indeed the dominions over which she ruled.
Although Maria Theresa craved peace and promoted diplomacy, during the mother and son’s co-
Maria Theresa died on November 29th 1780, at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna, Austria, from where she had reigned for four decades. leaving behind a solid basis for future generations of the family empire. With her death, Joseph II assumed full responsibility as Holy Roman Emperor, a far weaker ruler than Maria Theresa and which would see the end of the Holy Roam Empire appear on the horizon.
Full Title as Widow
Maria Theresa, by the Grace of God, Dowager Empress of the Romans, Queen of Hungary, of Bohemia, of Dalmatia, of Croatia, of Slavonia, of Galicia, of Lodomeria, etc.; Archduchess of Austria; Duchess of Burgundy, of Styria, of Carinthia and of Carniola; Grand Princess of Transylvania; Margravine of Moravia; Duchess of Brabant, of Limburg, of Luxemburg, of Guelders, of Württemberg, of Upper and Lower Silesia, of Milan, of Mantua, of Parma, of Piacenza, of Guastalla, of Auschwitz and of Zator; Princess of Swabia; Princely Countess of Habsburg, of Flanders, of Tyrol, of Hainault, of Kyburg, of Gorizia and of Gradisca; Margravine of Burgau, of Upper and Lower Lusatia; Countess of Namur; Lady of the Wendish Mark and of Mechlin; Dowager Duchess of Lorraine and Bar, Dowager Grand Duchess of Tuscany.
The only female ruler of the Habsburg dominions and the last of the House of Habsburg
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