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Study Of Maria Theresa History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

Maria Theresa Walburga Amalia Christina (13 May 1717 – 29 November 1780) was the only female ruler of the Habsburg dominions and the last of the House of Habsburg. She was the sovereign of Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Bohemia, 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.

She started her 40-year reign when her father, Emperor Charles VI, died in October 1740. Charles VI paved the way for her accession with the Pragmatic Sanction of 1713, as the Habsburg lands were bound by Salic law which prevented female succession. Upon the death of her father, Saxony, Prussia,Bavaria and France repudiated the sanction they had recognised during his lifetime. Prussia proceeded to invade the affluent Habsburg province of Silesia, sparking a nine-year conflict known as the War of the Austrian Succession. Maria Theresa would later unsuccessfully try to reconquer Silesia during theSeven YearsHYPERLINK “’_War”‘HYPERLINK “’_War” War.

She married Francis Stephen of Lorraine and had sixteen children, including Queen Marie Antoinette of France, Queen Maria HYPERLINK “”Carolina of Naples, DuchessMaria Amalia of Parma and two Holy Roman Emperors, Joseph II and Leopold II. Though she was expected to cede power to Francis and Joseph, both of whom were officially her co-rulers in Austria and Bohemia. Maria Theresa was the absolute sovereign who ruled by the counsel of her advisers. She criticised and disapproved of many of Joseph’s actions. Although she is considered to have been intellectually inferior to both Joseph and Leopold. Maria Theresa understood the importance of her public persona and was able to simultaneously evoke both esteem and affection from her subjects.

Maria Theresa promulgated financial and educational reforms, with the assistance of Count Friedrich Wilhelm von Haugwitz and Gottfried van Swieten, promoted commerce and the development of agriculture, and reorganised Austria’s ramshackle military, all of which strengthened Austria’s international standing. However, she refused to allow religious toleration and contemporary travellers thought her regime was bigoted and superstitious. As a young monarch who fought two dynastic wars, she believed that her cause should be the cause of her subjects, but in her later years she realized that their cause must be hers.

Early Life and Background

The second but eldest surviving child of Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI and Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick, Archduchess Maria Theresa was born early in the morning of 13 May 1717 at the Hofburg Palace, Vienna, shortly after the death of her elder brother, Archduke Leopold. She was baptised in the evening that day. Her aunt and her grandmother, Empress Wilhelmine Amalia and Empress Eleanor Magdalene, were her godmothers. Most descriptions of her baptism stress that the infant was carried ahead of her cousins, Archduchesses Maria Josepha and Maria Amalia, the daughters of Charles VI’s elder brother and predecessor, Joseph I, before the eyes of Joseph’s widow, Wilhelmine Amalia of Brunswick-Lüneburg. It was clear that Maria Theresa would outrank them, even though their grandfather, Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I, had his sons sign the decree which gave precedence to the daughters of the elder brother. Her father was the only surviving male member of the House of Habsburg and hoped for a son who would prevent the extinction of his dynasty and succeed him. Thus, the birth of Maria Theresa was a great disappointment to him and the people of Vienna; Charles never managed to overcome this feeling.

Archduchess Maria Theresa in 1727 , by Andreas Muller. The

flowers which she carries in the uplifted folds of her dress represent her fertility and expectations to bear children in adulthood.

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 nieces behind his own daughters in the line of succession. Charles sought the other European powers’ approval for disinheriting his nieces. They exacted harsh terms: in the Treaty of Vienna (1731), Great Britain demanded that Austria abolish the Ostend Company in return for its recognition of the Pragmatic Sanction. In total, Great Britain, France, Saxony-Poland, United Provinces, Spain, Venice, States of the Church, Prussia, Russia, Denmark, Savoy-Sardinia, Bavaria and the Diet of the Holy Roman Empire recognised the sanction. France, Spain, Saxony-Poland, Bavaria and Prussia later reneged.

Little more than a year after her birth, Maria Theresa was joined by a sister, Archduchess Maria Anna, and another one, named Maria Amalia, was born in 1724. The portraits of the imperial family show that Maria Theresa resembled Empress Elisabeth Christine and Archduchess Maria Anna. The Prussian ambassador noted that she had large blue eyes, fair hair with a slight tinge of red, a wide mouth and a notably strong body. Neither her parents nor her grandparents were closely related to each other, making Maria Theresa one of few members of the House of Habsburg who were not inbred.

Maria Theresa was a serious and reserved child who enjoyed singing and archery. She was barred from horse riding by her father, but she would later learn the basics for the sake of her Hungarian coronation ceremony. The imperial family staged opera productions, often conducted by Charles VI, in which she relished participating. Her education was overseen by Jesuits. Contemporaries thought her Latin to be quite good, but in all else, the Jesuits did not educate her well. Her spelling and punctuation were unconventional and she lacked the formal manner and speech which had characterised her Habsburg predecessors. Maria Theresa developed a close relationship with Countess Marie Karoline von Fuchs-Mollard, who taught her etiquette. She was educated in drawing, painting, music and dancing – the disciplines which would have prepared her for the role of queen consort. Her father allowed her to attend meetings of the council from the age of 14 but never discussed the affairs of state with her. Even though he had spent the last decades of his life securing Maria Theresa’s inheritance, Charles always expected a son and never had his daughter prepared for her future role as sovereign.


Maria Theresa was as conservative in manners of state as in those of religion, but implemented significant reforms to strengthen Austria’s military and bureaucratic efficiency. She employed Count HYPERLINK “”Friedrich Wilhelm von Haugwitz, who modernised the empire by creating a standing army of 108,000 men, paid for with 14 million guldenextracted from each crown-land. The central government was responsible for the army, although Haugwitz instituted taxation of the nobility, who never before had to pay taxes. Maria Theresa oversaw the unification of the Austrian and Bohemian chancellories in May 1749.

Maria Theresa doubled the state revenue between 1754 and 1764, though her attempt to tax clergy and nobility was only partially successful. These financial reforms greatly improved the economy.

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 who advised her. The council of state lacked executive or legislative authority, but nevertheless showed the difference between the form of government employed by Frederick II of Prussia. Unlike the latter, Maria Theresa was not an autocrat who acted as her own minister. Prussia would adopt this form of government only after 1807.

In 1771, she and Joseph issued the Robot Patent, a reform that regulated a serf’s labor payments in her lands, which provided some relief. Financially, in 1775, the Monarchy’s budget was balanced for the first time in history.


Maria Theresa holding a theatre mask(1744), by Martin van Meytens. She regarded the theatre as a source of amusement and national pride and insisted upon observing special rules to achieve a high moral tone.

Gerard van Swieten, whom Maria Theresa had recruited following the death of her sister, Archduchess Maria Anna, founded the Vienna General Hospital, revamped Austria’s educational system and served as the Empress’s personal physician.

After calling in van Swieten, Maria Theresa asked him to study the problem of infant mortality in Austria. Following his recommendation, she made a decree that autopsies would be mandatory for all hospital deaths in the city of Graz, Austria’s second largest city. This law – still in effect today – combined with the relatively stable population of Graz, resulted in one of the most important and complete autopsy records in the world. Her decision to have her children inoculated after the smallpox epidemic of 1767 was responsible for changing Austrian physicians’ negative view of inoculation. The empress herself inaugurated inoculation in Austria by hosting a dinner for the first sixty-five inoculated children in Schönbrunn Palace, waiting on the children herself.

Civil rights

Among other reforms was the Codex Theresianus, begun in 1752 and finished in 1766, that defined civil rights. In 1776, Austria outlawed witch burningsand torture, and, for the first time in Austrian history, took capital punishment off the penal code, as it was replaced with forced labor. It was later reintroduced, but the progressive nature of these reforms remains noted. Much unlike Joseph, but with the support of religious authorities, Maria Theresa was opposed to the abolition of torture. Born and raised between Baroque and Rococo eras, she found it hard to fit into the intellectual sphere of the Enlightenment, which is why she only slowly followed humanitarian reforms on the continent.

Main reforms concerning the Roman Catholic Church were initiated and carried out under Maria Theresa, while the reforms under her son concerned their non-Catholic subjects. The ecclesiastic policies of Maria Theresa, like those of her devout predecessors, were based on primacy of government control in the relations between the Church and the State, but not of organization of the Church. Maria Theresa banned the creation of new burial grounds without the prior permission of the government, thus deploring the wasteful and unhygienic burial customs.


Maria Theresa as widow in 1773, by Anton von Maron. Peace holds the olive crown above her head, reaffirming Maria Theresa’s monarchical status. This was the last commissioned state portrait of Maria Theresa.

Aware of the inadequacy of bureaucracy in Austria and, in order to improve it, Maria Theresa reformed education in 1775. In a new school system based on the Prussian one, all children of both genders from the ages of six to twelve had to attend school. Education reform was met with hostility from many villages; Maria Theresa crushed the dissent by ordering the arrest of all those opposed. Although the idea had merit, the reforms were not as successful as they were expected to be; in some parts of Austria, half of the population was illiterate well into the 19th century.

The empress permitted non-Catholics to attend university and allowed the introduction of secular subjects (such as law), which influenced the decline of theology as the main foundation of university education.

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