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Maria Theresa of Austria

This page is about Maria Theresa of Austria (often only known as Empress Maria Theresa), ruler of the Habsburg Empire from 1740-1780. Also see Maria Theresa of Spain, a less known relative of hers, who was the queen consort of Louis XIV of France.

H.I.M. Maria Theresa, Holy Roman Empress, Queen of Hungary and Bohemia, Archduchess of Austria, Duchess of Parma, Piacenza, and Guastalla
H.I.M. Maria Theresa, Holy Roman Empress, Queen of Hungary and Bohemia, Archduchess of Austria, Duchess of Parma, Piacenza, and Guastalla

Maria Theresa (May 13, 1717November 29, 1780) was a Habsburg by birth and became Archduchess of Austria, and Queen of Hungary and Bohemia from 1740 to 1780. She became empress when her husband was elected Holy Roman Emperor. She was undoubtedly one of the most powerful women of her time, ruling over most of central Europe.

Her Imperial and Royal Highness Maria Theresa, Princess Imperial and Archduchess of Austria, Princess Royal of Hungary and Bohemia was the eldest daughter of Charles VI whose sole male heir - his son Leopold Johann - died as an infant in 1716. In 1713 Charles issued the Pragmatic Sanction which guaranteed his daughter the right to succeed to the Austrian throne and inherit his united lands on his death. While many European monarchs agreed to the Pragmatic Sanction when it was issued, on Charles' death (1740) the War of Austrian Succession began.

At the time, Maria Theresa was married to Francis Stephen of Lorraine with whom she had sixteen children. Her youngest daughter was Marie Antoinette who would be promised in marriage to Louis, heir apparent to the king of France, who was later crowned King Louis XVI. She had 16 children by him, with 6 daughters (all of whom were named "Marie _______") and 5 sons surviving to adulthood. She made him co-regent of her Austrian dominions, but she actually kept most of the power to herself.

Maria Theresa's father had assumed that she would yield the true power to her husband. Because of this, her father had not given Maria Theresa any information on the workings of the government, leaving her to learn the job on her own. Additionally, the army was weak and the treasury depleted due to two wars near the end of her father's reign.

The War of the Austrian Succession began with Frederick II of Prussia invading and occupying Silesia. While Bavaria and France also invaded Austrian western territories, it was Frederick (later known as Frederick the Great) who became Maria Theresa's main foe during her reign. Therefore she focused her internal and external policies on defeating Prussia and regaining the lands that had been taken from Austria.

In 1748, France gave the Austrian Low Countries that it conquered back to Maria Theresa. In exchange, Maria Theresa ceded Parma, Piacenza, and Guastalla to the Infante Felipe of Spain.

She doubled the number of troops in the army, changed taxes to guarantee a steady annual income to support the government and military. She centralized the government by combining the Austrian and Bohemian chancelleries, formerly separate, into one administrative office. Before this, justice and administration were overseen by the same officials, but she created a supreme court with the sole responsibility for upholding justice in her lands. These reforms strengthened the economy. She dropped the Kingdom of Great Britain as an ally on the advice of her state chancellor, Wenzel Anton von Kaunitz, and allied with Russia and France. In 1752 she established a military academy, and in 1754 she established an academy of engineering science. She also demanded that the University of Vienna be given the resources to make the medical faculty more efficient. When she felt her army was strong enough, she prepared to attack Prussia in 1756. Frederick II attacked first however, invading Saxony, another ally of Austria, beginning the Seven Years' War. The war ended in 1763 with Maria Theresa signing the Treaty of Hubertusberg which recognized Prussian ownership of Silesia.

Her husband died two years later. Her devotion to him was so great that she dressed in mourning clothes until her own death 15 years later and became more closeted from her people. Her focus changed from attempting to regain Silesia, to maintaining the peace. She also recognized Joseph II, her eldest son, as coregent and emperor. She only allowed him limited powers because she felt he was too rash and arrogant.

In the later years of her reign, she focused on reforming the laws regarding serfs. In 1771, she issued the Robot Patent , a reform that regulated the serf's labor payments in her lands, providing them some relief.

She died in 1780, the only female to rule during the 650-year-long Habsburg dynasty. Her son Joseph II succeeded her.

Names in other languages: German/Dutch: Maria Theresia, Czech: Marie Terezie, Hungarian/Slovak: Mária Terézia, Croatian/Slovenian: Marija Terezija.

See also: Maria Theresa Thaler

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Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04