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Maria Theresa
Predecessor Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor
Successor Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor
Holy Roman Empress
Queen consort of the Romans
Tenure 13 September 1745 – 18 August 1765
Queen of Hungary;
Archduchess of Austria
Reign 20 October 1740 – 29 November 1780
Coronation 25 June 1741
Queen of Bohemia
Reign 20 October 1740-1741
1743– 29 November 1780
Coronation 12 May 1743
Spouse Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor
Full name
Maria Theresa Walburga Amalia Christina
House House of Habsburg
Father Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor
Mother Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel
Born 13 May 1717
Hofburg Palace, Vienna
Died 29 November 1780 (aged 63)
Hofburg Palace, Vienna
Burial Imperial Crypt, Vienna
Religion Christian (Roman Catholic)

Maria Theresa (German: Maria Theresia Walburga Amalia Christina;[1] 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 Grand Duchess of Tuscany, Duchess of Lorraine, German Queen and Holy Roman Empress.[2]

She became sovereign 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.[3] Upon the death of her father, Saxony, Prussia, Bavaria and France (the states of Europe that had previously recognised the sanction) repudiated it. Prussia proceeded to invade the affluent Habsburg province of Silesia, sparking an nine year long conflict known as the War of the Austrian Succession.

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, but refused to allow religious toleration. In addition, contemporary travellers thought her regime was bigoted and superstitious.[4]

Though she was expected to cede power to her husband Francis I or son Joseph II, both of whom were officially her co-rulers in Austria and Bohemia, Maria Theresa was the absolute sovereign of her dominions.[5] She criticised and disapproved of many of Joseph's actions. She vehemently resisted the First Partition of Poland, but Joseph and her Chancellor, Prince Kaunitz, forced her to authorise it. Maria Theresa oversaw the unification of the Austrian and Bohemian chancellories. She had sixteen children by Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor, including a queen of France, a queen of Naples, a duchess of Parma and two Holy Roman Emperors. Maria Theresa was intellectually inferior to her sons, but possessed qualities appreciated in a monarch: warm heart, practical mind, firm determination, sound perception, and, most importantly, readiness to acknowledge mental superiority of her advisers. As a young monarch who had to fight two dynastic wars, she believed that her cause should be the cause of her subjects, but in her later years she came to understand that their cause must be hers.[6][7]


Birth and background

The second but eldest surviving child of Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor, and Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, 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 Leopold. The least inbred Habsburg ruler for centuries,[8] she was christened later that day. Most descriptions of her baptism stress that the infant was carried ahead of her cousins, Maria Josepha and Maria Amalia, the daughters of Charles VI's elder brother and predecessor Joseph, before the eyes of Joseph's widow Wilhelmina Amalia of Brunswick, indicating that Maria Theresa would outrank them even though their grandfather Leopold had his sons sign the decree which gave precedence to the daughters of the elder brother.[9][10]

Maria Theresa resembled her mother and a year-younger sister, Archduchess Maria Anna. She had large blue eyes, fair hair with a slight tinge of red and wide mouth. Her body was large and notably strong.[7][11]

Her father, who ruled over vast areas of land in Central Europe, needed a male heir; the Habsburg dominions were hindered by Salic law which prevented females from succeeding. Thus, the birth of Maria Theresa was a great disappointment to him and the people of Vienna; Charles never managed to overcome this feeling.[12][13]

Heiress presumptive

Archduchess Maria Theresa in 1727, by Andreas Möller. The flowers which she carries in the uplifted folds of her dress represent her fertility and expectations to bear children in adulthood.[14]

Four years before the birth of Maria Theresa, Charles VI provided for a male-line succession failure with the Pragmatic Sanction of 1713. The emperor favoured his own daughters over those of his elder brother and predecessor, Joseph I, in the succession, ignoring the decree he had signed during the reign of his father. Charles sought the other European powers' approval. They exacted harsh terms: England demanded that Austria abolish its overseas trading company.[15] In total, Great Britain, France, Saxony-Poland, United Provinces, Spain[16], Venice[17], States of the Church[17], Prussia[18] , Russia[17], Denmark[18], Savoy-Sardinia[18], Bavaria[18], and the Diet of the Holy Roman Empire[18] recognised the sanction. France, Spain, Saxony-Poland, Bavaria and Prussia later reneged.

As a youth, Maria Theresa greatly 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 which she relished in participating in.[19] Charles VI was in the habit of conducting these shows.[20] 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 offbeat. The lack of education resulted in the lack of formal manner and speech which had characterised her Habsburg predecessors.[21] Maria Theresa developed a close relationship with Countess Marie Karoline von Fuchs-Mollard who taught her etiquette. She was educated in drawing and painting, music and dancing - the disciplines which would have prepared her for the role of queen consort. 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.[22][23][24]


Maria Theresa with her husband, Francis III of Lorraine, by Peter Kobler von Ehrensorg, c. 1746.
"She is a princess of the highest spirit and regards her father's losses as her own. She sighs and pines for her Duke of Lorraine all day and all night. If she sleeps it is but to dream of him, if she wakes it is but to talk of him to her lady-in-waiting."
The writings of a British ambassador.[25]

The issue of Maria Theresa's marriage was raised early in her childhood. She was first engaged to be married to Léopold Clément of Lorraine, who was supposed to come to Vienna and meet Maria Theresa in 1723.

Instead, news reached Vienna that he had died of smallpox, which upset Maria Theresa. Léopold Clément's older brother, Francis Stephen, was invited to Vienna, but Maria Theresa's father considered other possibilities (such as marrying her to the future Charles III of Spain) before announcing the engagement of the couple.[26] France demanded that Maria Theresa's fiancé surrender his ancestral Duchy of Lorraine to accommodate the deposed King of Poland.[27]

Maria Theresa married Francis III of Lorraine on 12 February 1736. Francis was Emperor Charles VI's favourite candidate for Maria Theresa's hand.[28] Francis was to receive the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, in exchange for his renunciation of Lorraine, upon the incumbent, childless Grand Duke's death.[29] Until then, Maria Theresa was Duchess of Lorraine. He tended to leave the day to day administration to Maria Theresa. Unlike many princesses of her time, she married for love, but the marriage suffered because of Francis's infidelity.[30][31]

Francis III became grand duke of Tuscany on 9 July 1737, and Maria Theresa its grand duchess. In 1738, following Francis's dismissal from his military post, Charles VI sent the young couple to make their formal entry into Tuscany. A triumphal arch was erected at the Porta Galla in celebration, where it remains today. Their stay in Florence was brief. Charles VI soon recalled them, as he feared he might die while his heiress was miles away in Tuscany.[32] In the summer of 1738, Austria suffered defeats during the ongoing Russo-Turkish War. The Turks reversed Austrian gains in Serbia, Wallachia and Bosnia. The Viennese rioted at the cost of the war. Francis Stephen was popularly despised, as he was thought to be a cowardly French spy.[32] The war was concluded the next year with the Treaty of Belgrade.


Maria Theresa's procession through the Graben, 22 November 1740. The pregnant queen is on way to hear High Mass at St. Stephen's Cathedral before receiving homage.[33]

Charles VI died on 20 October 1740 at the Favorita Palace, Vienna. It is thought that his death was caused by consumption of poisonous mushrooms. He left Austria in an impoverished state. It was bankrupted by the recent Turkish war and the War of the Polish Succession;[34] the treasury contained only 100,000 florins. The army numbered only 80,000 men; most of whom had not been paid in months, but were nevertheless remarkably loyal and devoted to their new sovereign.[35][36]

The new sovereign found herself in a difficult situation. She did not know enough about matters of state and she was unaware of the weakness of her father's ministers. She decided to rely on her father's advice to retain his councillors and defer to her husband, whom she considered to be more experienced, on other matters. Both decisions, though natural, would prove to be unfortunate. Ten years later, Maria Theresa bitterly recalls the circumstances under which she had ascended in her Political Testament:

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.[24][37]

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.[33]

She dismissed the possibility that other countries might try to seize her territories and immediately started ensuring the imperial dignity for herself; since she was precluded from being elected Holy Roman Empress, she wanted to secure the imperial office for her husband whom she had already made co-ruler of the Austrian and Bohemian lands on 21 November 1740. The main challenger to this ambition, as well as to her inherited crowns, would prove to be Charles Albert of Bavaria, the husband of Maria Theresa's deprived cousin Maria Amalia.[38][39]

War of the Austrian Succession

"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."
Prussian ambassador's letter to Frederick the Great.[40]
Maria Theresa's lifetime enemy, King Frederick II of Prussia, to whom she referred as "that evil man", by Antoine Pesne.[41]
Maria Theresa being crowned King of Hungary, St. Martin's Cathedral, Pressburg.

George II of Great Britain told Austria he would be honouring "the engagements I am under".[17] Frederick II of Prussia (The Great), whose father had recognised the Pragmatic Sanction,[42] assured Austria of the "purity of his intentions".[43] He even went as far as writing a letter of condolence to Francis that assured him of Prussia's support of his imperial candidature.[44] In December, Frederick sent an envoy to Vienna to request the cession of the Duchy of Silesia, a mineral-rich Austrian crownland on Prussia's border. Francis and Maria Theresa blankly refused.[45] At that stage, Prussia had already invaded Silesia. Great Britain offered Maria Theresa the use of 12,000 troops if all attempts at mediation failed.[46] General Maximilian von Browne commanded the Austrian troops against Frederick, managing to gather a force of 6,000 men.[47]

As Austria was short of experienced military commanders, Maria Theresa released Marshall Neipperg from prison, having been imprisoned by her father for his poor performance in the Turkish War. Neipperg took command of the Austrian troops in March. The Austrians suffered a crushing defeat that April at the Battle of Mollwitz. France drew up a plan to partition Austria between Prussia, Bavaria, Saxony and Spain.[48] The thought of this worried England. Marshall Belle-Isle joined Frederick at Olmütz. Vienna was in a panic, as none of Maria Theresa's advisors expected France to betray them. Francis urged Maria Theresa to reach a rapprochement with Prussia, as did England.[49] Maria Theresa reluctantly agreed to negotiations.[50] George II, unbeknownst to Maria Theresa, offered Frederick Glogau, Schwiebus and Grünberg. Frederick rejected the offer, and aligned himself with France in June.[50]

By July, attempts at conciliation had completely collapsed. Maurice de Saxe crossed the Rhine frontier into the Holy Roman Empire, and Saxony abruptly abandoned Austria for the French.[42] The Electoral Palatinate combined forced with the Electorate of Cologne and the Electorate of Bavaria. George II declared the Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg to be neutral.[51]

Maria Theresa had herself crowned King of Hungary on 25 June 1741 after spending months honing the equestrian skills necessary for the ceremony and negotiating with the Diet.[52] On 26 October, Charles Albert of Bavaria captured Prague and declared himself King of Bohemia. Charles Albert sold Frederick the County of Glatz at a reduced price in exchange for his electoral vote and was elected Holy Roman Emperor on 24 January 1742. The same day, Austrian troops under Ludwig Andreas von Khevenhüller captured Munich, the Emperor's capital.[53] The Treaty of Breslau of June 1742 ended hostilities between Austria and Prussia. French troops fled Bohemia in the winter of the same year. On 12 May 1743, Maria Theresa had herself crowned King of Bohemia in St. Vitus Cathedral.[54][55]

Prussia became anxious at Austrian advances on the Rhine frontier, and Frederick sacked Prague in August 1744. The plans of France fell apart when Charles Albert died in January 1745. The French over-ran the Austrian Netherlands in May.[56]

Francis was elected Holy Roman Emperor on 13 September 1745. Prussia recognised Francis as emperor, and Maria Theresa once again recognised the loss in Prussia by the Treaty of Breslau in December 1745.[57] England and France were determined to end the war. It dragged on for another three years, with fighting in Northern Italy and the Austrian Netherlands. The Treaty of Aix-La-Chapelle, which concluded the 8-year long conflict, recognised Prussia's possession of Silesia and Maria Theresa ceded the Duchy of Parma to King Charles VII of Naples.[58]

Seven Years War

Frederick's invasion of Saxony in August 1756 began the Seven Years' War. Empress Maria Theresa and Kaunitz wished to exit the war with possession of Silesia.[59] Austria was aligned with France and Russia; England with Prussia and Portugal. Giving Austria huge subsidies came back to haunt France. She could not bolster defences in New France; the British easily captured Louisbourg in 1758, and went on to conquer all of New France.[60]

Maximilian von Browne commanded the Austrian troops. Following the indecisive Battle of Lobositz in 1756, he was replaced by Prince Charles of Lorraine, Maria Theresa's brother-in-law.[61] Frederick was startled by Lobositz; he eventually re-grouped for another attack in June 1757. The Battle of Kolin that followed was a decisive victory for Austria. Frederick lost one third of his troops, and before the battle was over, he had fled the scene.[62]

Maria Theresa openly bemoaned French losses in 1758. France, having secured the Anglo-Hanoverian neutrality for the rest of the conflict,[63] in September 1757, lost it in January of the next year. France suffered a crushing defeat at Krefeld that June. French forces withdrew to the Rhine.[63]

In 1759, peace negotiations at The Hague came to nothing.[64] The series of Franco-Austrian losses were reversed until, in 1762, the Empress Elizabeth of Russia died. Her successor Peter III greatly admired Frederick, and at once withdrew Russia's support from the French coalition. Prussia proceeded to kick the Austrians out of Saxony, and the French out of Hesse-Kassel. Naturally, it was feared that Frederick would now invade Austria and France,[65] and they capitulated. The peace treaties, Hubertusburg and Paris, exacted harsh terms on France, as she was forced to relinquish most of her American colonies. For Austria, though, it was status quo ante bellum.[65]

Family life

Maria Theresa with her family, 1754, by Martin van Meytens

Over the course of twenty years, Maria Theresa gave birth to sixteen children, thirteen of whom survived infancy. The first child, Maria Elisabeth (1737-1740), came a little less than a year after the wedding. Again, the child's gender caused great disappointment and so would the next two births, for the first three children born to Maria Theresa were female, including Maria Anna, the eldest surviving child of Maria Theresa, and Maria Carolina (1740-1741). While fighting to preserve her inheritance, Maria Theresa gave birth to a son and named him after Saint Joseph to whom she had repeatedly prayed for a male child during the pregnancy. Maria Theresa's favourite child, Maria Christina, was born on her 25th birthday, four days before the defeat of the Austrian army in Chotusitz. Five more children were born during the war: Maria Elisabeth, Charles, Maria Amalia, Leopold and Maria Carolina (1748-1748). During this period, there was no rest for Maria Theresa during pregnancies or around the births; the war and child-bearing were carried on simultaneously. Five children were born during the peace between the War of the Austrian Succession and the Seven Years' War: Maria Johanna, Maria Josepha, Maria Carolina, Ferdinand and Maria Antonia (future "Marie Antoinette"). She delivered her last child, Maximilian Francis, during the Seven Years' War, aged 39.[66] Maria Theresa asserted that, had she not been almost always pregnant, she would have gone into battle herself.[41][67]

Maria Theresa's mother, Empress Elisabeth Christine, died in 1750. Four years later, Maria Theresa's governess, Marie Karoline von Fuchs-Mollard, died. The Empress showed her gratitude to Countess Fuchs by having her buried in the Imperial Crypt along with the members of the imperial family.[68]

Shortly after finishing giving birth to the younger children, Maria Theresa was confronted with the task of marrying off the elder ones. She led the marriage negotiations along with the campaigns of her wars and the duties of state. She treated her children with affection but used them as pawns in dynastical games and sacrificed their happiness for the benefit of the state.[7][69] A devoted but self-conscious mother, she wrote to all of her children at least once a week and believed herself entitled to exercise authority over her children regardless of their age and rank.[70]

The dowager empress with family, 1776, by Heinrich Füger

Maria Theresa came down with a severe attack of smallpox shortly after her fiftieth birthday in May 1767, caught from her daughter-in-law and empress, Maria Josepha of Bavaria.[71] Maria Theresa survived, but the new empress did not. Maria Theresa forced her daughter Archduchess Maria Josepha to pray with her in the Imperial Crypt next to the unsealed tomb of Empress Maria Josepha. Maria Josepha started showing smallpox rash two days after visiting the crypt and soon died. Maria Carolina was to replace her as the pre-determined bride of King Ferdinand IV of Naples. Maria Theresa blamed herself for her daughter's death for the rest of her life because, at the time, the concept of an extended incubation period was largely unknown and it was believed that Maria Josepha had caught smallpox from the body of the late empress.[72]

In April 1770, Maria Theresa's youngest daughter, Maria Antonia, married Louis, Dauphin of France, by proxy in Vienna. Maria Antonia's education was neglected, and when the French showed an interest in her, her mother went about educating her as best she could about the court of Versailles and the French. Maria Theresa kept up a fortnightly correspondence with Maria Antonia, now called Marie Antoinette, in which she often reproached her for laziness and frivolity and scolded her for failing to conceive a child. She disliked Leopold's reserve and often blamed him for being cold. She criticised Ferdinand's lack of organisation, Maria Amalia's poor French and haughtiness, and Maria Carolina for her political activities. The only child she did not constantly scold was Maria Christina, who enjoyed her mother's complete confidence, though she failed to please her mother in one aspect: she did not produce any surviving children. One of Maria Theresa's greatest wishes was to have as many grandchildren as possible, but she had only about two dozen at the time of her death, of which all the eldest surviving daughters were named after her.[70][73]



Religious views and policies

Maria Theresa and her family celebrating Saint Nicholas, by Archduchess Maria Christina, in 1762. The painting depicts the bourgeois cosiness of the imperial family's home.[74]

Like all members of the House of Habsburg, Maria Theresa was a Roman Catholic, and a devout one as well. She believed that religious unity was necessary for a peaceful public life and explicitly rejected the idea of religious toleration. However, she never allowed the Church to interfere with what she considered to be prerogatives of a monarch and kept Rome at arm's length. She controlled the selection of archbishops, bishops and abbots.[75]

Her approach to religious piety differed from the approach of her predecessors, as she was influenced by Jansenist ideas. The empress actively supported conversion to Roman Catholicism by securing pensions to the converts. She tolerated Greek Catholics and emphasised their equal status with Roman Catholics.[75][76][77]

Besides her devotion to Christianity, she was widely known for her ascetic lifestyle, especially during her 15-year-long widowhood.[78]


Her relationship with the Jesuits was of complex nature. Members of this order educated her, served as her confessors and supervised the religious education of her eldest son. The Jesuits were powerful and influential in the early years of Maria Theresa's reign. However, the queen's ministers managed to convince her that they posed a danger to her monarchical authority. Not without much hesitation and regret, she issued a decree which removed them from all the institutions of the monarchy and carried it out thoroughly. She forbade the publication of Pope Clement XIII's bull which was in favour of the Jesuits and promptly confiscated their property when Pope Clement XIV suppressed the order.[79]

Jews and Protestants

"The world's most famous coin," the Maria Theresa thaler. The Latin inscription is M[ARIA] THERESIA D[EI] G[RATIA] R[OMANORVM] IMP[ERATRIX] HV[NGARIAE] BO[HEMIAE] REG[INA], or in English, "Maria Theresa, by the Grace of God, Empress of the Romans, Queen of Hungary and Bohemia." This particular coin was struck in Vienna in 1890, although production continued for more than a century after her death, always with the frozen date of 1780.

Though she eventually gave up trying to convert her non-Catholic subjects to Roman Catholicism, Maria Theresa regarded both the Jews and Protestants as dangerous to the state and actively tried to suppress them.[80] The empress was probably the most anti-Semitic monarch of her day, having inherited all traditional prejudices of her ancestors and acquired new ones. This highly personal feature was a product of deep religious devotion and was not kept secret in her time.[81] In 1777, she wrote of the Jews:

I know of no greater plague than this race, which on account of its deceit, usury and avarice is driving my subjects into beggary. Therefore as far as possible, the Jews are to be kept away and avoided.[82]

She imposed extremely harsh taxes on her Jewish subjects and, in December 1744, she proposed expelling the Jews from her hereditary dominions to her ministers. Her first intention was to expel all Jews by 1 January, but accepted the advice of her ministers who were concerned by the number of future expellees and had them expelled by June. She also transferred Protestants from Austria to Transylvania and cut down the number of religious holidays and monastic orders. In 1777, Maria Theresa abandoned the idea of expelling Moravian Protestants after Joseph, who was opposed to her intentions, threatened to abdicate as emperor and co-ruler. Finally, the empress was forced to grant them some toleration by allowing them to worship privately. Joseph regarded his mother's religious policies as "unjust, impious, impossible, harmful and ridiculous".[79][80][83]

In the third decade of her reign, influenced by her Jewish courtier Abraham Mendel Theben, Maria Theresa issued edicts which offered a sort of protection to the Jews. She forbade forceful conversion of Jewish children to Christianity in 1762. The next year, the empress forbade Catholic clergy to extract surplice fee from the Jews. In 1764, she ordered the release of those Jews who had been jailed for a blood libel in the village of Orkuta. Notwithstanding her strong Judeophobia, Maria Theresa supported Jewish commercial and industrial activity.[84][85]


Maria Theresa in 1762, by Jean-Étienne Liotard

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.[86] She employed Count Friedrich Wilhelm von Haugwitz to modernise her empire. Haugwitz created a standing army of 108,000 men, paid for with 14 million gulden extracted from each crown-land of the empire. The central government was responsible for the army. Haugwitz instituted taxation of the nobility, who never before had to pay taxes.[87] The Austrian and Bohemian chancelleries were merged in May 1749.[88]

Maria Theresa doubled the state revenue between 1754 and 1764, though her attempt to tax clergy and nobility was only partially successful.[86][89] These financial reforms greatly improved the economy.[90]

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 forms of government employed by Maria Theresa and 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.[83]

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 budget was balanced for the first time in memory.[91]


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.[92]

Gerard van Swieten, whom Maria Theresa 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.

Infant mortality was a big problem in Austria. After calling in van Swieten, she asked him to study the problem, then followed his recommendation and 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, has resulted in one of the most important and complete autopsy records in the world.[93][94] Her decision to have her children inoculated after the epidemic of 1767 was responsible for the change of physicians' negative view of inoculation.[95][96] 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.[97]

Civil rights

Among other reforms was the Codex Theresianus, begun in 1752 and finished in 1766, that defined civil rights.[89] In 1776, Austria outlawed witch burnings and 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, Maria Theresa was opposed to the abolition of torture and was supported by religious authorities. Born and raised between Baroque and Rococo eras, she was not able to fully overcome inherited and developed prejudices. 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.[98]


"She is most unusually ambitious and hopes to make the House of Austria more renowned than it has ever been."
Prussian ambassador's letter to Frederick II of Prussia.[99]
"That woman's achievements are those of a great man."
The writings of Frederick II of Prussia.[100]

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.[101] Maria Theresa banned the creation of new burial grounds without the prior permission of the government, thus deploring the wasteful and unhygienic burial customs.[102]


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.[103]

Maria Theresa was aware of the inadequacy of bureaucracy in Austria and, in order to improve it, reformed education in 1775. All children of both genders from the ages of six to twelve had to attend school. The new school system was based on the Prussian one. Education reform was met with hostility from many villages; Maria Theresa crushed the dissent by ordering the arrest of all those opposed to the reforms. Although the idea was good, the reforms were not as successful as they were expected to be; in some parts of Austria, half of the population was still illiterate in the 19th century.[83][104]

The empress permitted non-Catholics to attend university and allowed the introduction of secular subjects (such as law) into the universities which influenced the decline of theology as the main foundation of university education.[76][86]

Late reign

Emperor Francis I died on 18 August 1765, while he and the court were in Innsbruck celebrating the wedding of his second son Leopold. Maria Theresa was devastated. Their eldest son, Joseph, was elected Holy Roman Emperor. Maria Theresa abandoned all ornamentation, had her hair cut short, painted her rooms black and dressed in mourning for the rest of her life. She completely withdrew from court life, public events, and theater. Throughout her widowhood, she spent the whole August and the eighteenth of each month alone in her chamber, which negatively affected her mental health.[105][106] She described her state of mind shortly after Francis's death:

I hardly know myself now, for I have become like an animal with no true life or reasoning power.[105]

She declared Joseph to be Francis's successor as co-ruler of her realms. From now on, mother and son had frequent ideological disagreements.[2] The 22 million gulden that Joseph inherited from his father was injected into the treasury. Maria Theresa had another loss in February 1766: Haugwitz died. She gave her son absolute control over the military following the death of Count Leopold Joseph von Daun.[107]

Joseph, Maria Theresa's eldest son and co-ruler in 1775, by Anton von Maron

The relationship between Maria Theresa and Joseph was complicated and their personalities clashed. The latter was intellectually superior to the former, but the mother's force of personality often made Joseph cower. Sometimes, she openly admired his talents and achievements, but criticised him behind his back.[108] She wrote:

We never see each other except at dinner... His temper gets worse every day... Please burn this letter... I just try to avoid public scandal.[108]

In another letter, also addressed to Joseph's companion, she complained:

He avoids me... I am the only person in his way and so I am an obstruction and a burden... Abdication alone can remedy matters.[108]

Of course, after much contemplation, she chose not to abdicate. Joseph himself often threatened to resign as co-regent and emperor, but he, too, was induced not to do so. Her threats of abdication were rarely taken seriously; Maria Theresa believed that her recovery from smallpox in 1767 was a sign that God wished her to reign until death. It was in Joseph's interest that she remains sovereign, for he often blamed her for his failures and thus avoided taking on responsibilities of a monarch.[108]

Joseph and Prince Kaunitz arranged the First Partition of Poland despite Maria Theresa's protestations. Her sense of justice pushed her to reject the idea of partition which would hurt the Polish people. The duo argued that it was too late to abort now. Besides, Maria Theresa herself agreed with the partition when she realised that Frederick II of Prussia and Catherine II of Russia would do it with or without Austrian participation. As sovereign of Hungary, Maria Theresa claimed and eventually took Galicia and Lodomeira which Hungarian monarchs claimed since the 13th century; in the words of Frederick, "the more she cried, the more she took".[109][110][111]

Death and aftermath

Maria Theresa and her husband are interred in the double tomb which she had inscribed as a widow.
"She never bothers about her health, but relies entirely upon her vigorous body for strength and endurance. She is warm-blooded and, even in the middle of winter, often sits by an open window... Her physician scolds her dreadfully about this, but she only laughs at him."
Prussian ambassador's letter to Frederick the Great, c. 1748.[99]

It is unlikely that Maria Theresa ever completely recovered from the smallpox attack in 1767, as 18th-century writers asserted. She suffered from shortness of breath, fatigue, cough, distress, necrophobia and insomnia. She later developed edema.[112]

The empress fell ill on 24 November 1780, ostensibly of a chill. Her physician Dr. Störk thought her condition serious. By 28 November, she was asking for the last rites, and the next day, at about nine o'clock in the evening, she died surrounded by her remaining children. With her, the House of Habsburg died out and was replaced by the House of Habsburg-Lorraine. Joseph, already co-sovereign of the Habsburg dominions, succeeded her.[113][114]

Maria Theresa left a revitalised empire that influenced the rest of Europe throughout the 19th century. Her descendants followed her example and continued reforming the empire. The acquisition of the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria gave the empire an even more multinational character that would ultimately lead to its destruction.[115]

Her introduction of compulsory schooling, as a means of Germanisation, eventually triggered the revival of the Czech culture.[116][117][118]

The empress is buried in the Imperial Crypt in Vienna next to her husband in a coffin she had had inscribed during her lifetime.[119]

Full title

Maria Theresa's Coat of Arms

Her title after the death of her husband was:

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 Hennegau, 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.[120][121]


See also


  1. ^ English language sources also refer to her as Maria Theresia. As she was the second Maria to reign over the Austrian Netherlands (after Mary the Rich) and Hungary (after Mary of Anjou), she is sometimes listed as Maria II Theresa. Ellenius, 210.
  2. ^ a b Marie Theresa. (2009). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 22 April 2009, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
  3. ^ Crankshaw, 11-12.
  4. ^ Dawson Beales, 69.
  5. ^ Dawson Beales, 39.
  6. ^ Kann, 157.
  7. ^ a b c Russell Richards Treasure, 410.
  8. ^ Members of the Habsburg dynasty often married their close relatives; examples of such inbreeding were uncle-niece pairs (Maria Theresa's grandfather Leopold and Margaret Theresa of Spain, Philip II of Spain and Anna of Austria, Philip IV of Spain and Mariana of Austria, etc). Maria Theresa, however, descended from Leopold I's third wife who wasn't closely related to him, and her parents were only distantly related, making Maria Theresa the least inbred Habsburg ruler for centuries (her family tree). Dawson Beales, 21.
  9. ^ Crankshaw, 17.
  10. ^ Mahan, 5-6.
  11. ^ Mahan, 228.
  12. ^ Mahan, 11-12.
  13. ^ Morris, 8.
  14. ^ Levy, 122.
  15. ^ Crankshaw, 24.
  16. ^ Jones, 89.
  17. ^ a b c d Crankshaw, 37.
  18. ^ a b c d e Pragmatic Sanction of Emperor Charles VI, Encyclopedia Britannica, retrieved 15 October 2009.
  19. ^ Crankshaw, 19.
  20. ^ Cranshaw, 20-21.
  21. ^ Rather than using the formal manner and speech, Maria Theresa spoke (and sometimes wrote) Viennese German which she picked up from her servants and laidies-in-waiting. Spielman, 206.
  22. ^ Crankshaw, 20.
  23. ^ Mahan, 22.
  24. ^ a b Browning, 37.
  25. ^ Mahan, 36.
  26. ^ Mahan, 26.
  27. ^ Maria Theresa's father compelled Francis to renounce his rights to Lorraine and told him: "No renunciation, no archduchess." Dawson Beales, 21.
  28. ^ Crankshaw, 22.
  29. ^ Crankshaw, 25.
  30. ^ "Maria Theresa of Austria". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913. 
  31. ^ Mahan, 261.
  32. ^ a b Crankshaw, 26.
  33. ^ a b Spielman, 207.
  34. ^ Crankshaw, 3.
  35. ^ Saperstein, 33.
  36. ^ Roider, 22, 103.
  37. ^ Dawson Beales, 24.
  38. ^ Browning, 38.
  39. ^ Dawson Beales, 183.
  40. ^ At the end of the War of the Austrian Succession, Count Podewils was sent as an ambassador to the Austrian court by King Frederick II of Prussia. Podewils wrote detailed descriptions of Maria Theresa's physical appearance and how she spent her days. Mahan, 230.
  41. ^ a b Holborn, 218.
  42. ^ a b Crankshaw, 75.
  43. ^ Crankshaw, 42.
  44. ^ Crankshaw, 41.
  45. ^ Crankshaw, 43.
  46. ^ Crankshaw, 48.
  47. ^ Crankshaw, 51.
  48. ^ Crankshaw, 56.
  49. ^ Crankshaw, 57.
  50. ^ a b Crankshaw, 58.
  51. ^ Crankshaw, 77.
  52. ^ To appease those who considered her sex to be the most serious obstacle, Maria Theresa assumed masculine titles. Thus, in nomenclature, Maria Theresa was archduke and king; normally, however, she was styled as queen. No 18th-century commentary saw this crossing of gendered titles as inappropriate or impossible. Levy, 118; Browning, 67.
  53. ^ Crankshaw, 93.
  54. ^ Crankshaw, 96.
  55. ^ LeCaine Agnew, 84.
  56. ^ Crankshaw, 97.
  57. ^ Crankshaw, 99.
  58. ^ Crankshaw, 100.
  59. ^ Crankshaw, 238.
  60. ^ Jones, 242.
  61. ^ Crankshaw, 240.
  62. ^ Crankshaw, 242.
  63. ^ a b Lever, 243.
  64. ^ Lever, 255.
  65. ^ a b Lever, 257.
  66. ^ Mahan, 266-271, 313.
  67. ^ Dawson Beales, 21, 39.
  68. ^ Mahan, 22.
  69. ^ Mahan, 271.
  70. ^ a b Dawson Beales, 194.
  71. ^ Crankshaw, 273.
  72. ^ It takes at least a week for the smallpox rash to appear after a person is infected. Since the rash appeared two days after Maria Josepha had visited the vault, the Archduchess must have been infected much before visiting the vault. Hopkins, 64.
  73. ^ The eldest surviving daughters of Maria Theresa's children were Maria Theresa of Austria (by Joseph), Maria Theresa of Tuscany (by Leopold), Maria Theresa of Naples and Sicily (by Maria Carolina), Maria Theresa of Austria-Este (by Ferdinand) and Maria Theresa of France (by Marie Antoinette).
  74. ^ Fraser, Antonia, 15.
  75. ^ a b Mahan, 251.
  76. ^ a b Crankshaw, 308.
  77. ^ Himka, 5.
  78. ^ Saperstein, 449.
  79. ^ a b Mahan, 254.
  80. ^ a b Dawson Beales, 14.
  81. ^ Saperstein, 446.
  82. ^ Saperstein, 447.
  83. ^ a b c Holborn, 222.
  84. ^ Patai, 203.
  85. ^ Penslar, 32-33.
  86. ^ a b c Byrne, 38.
  87. ^ Crankshaw, 192.
  88. ^ Holborn, 221.
  89. ^ a b Crankshaw, 195.
  90. ^ Crankshaw, 196.
  91. ^ Crankshaw, 306.
  92. ^ Morris, 92-93.
  93. ^ Barnes, Broda (1976). Hypothyroidism: the unsuspected illness. HarperCollins. ISBN 069001029X. 
  94. ^ Langer, Stephan (2000). Solved: The Riddle of Illness.. McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0658002937. "... A prime mover in clinical research on the thyroid gland for half a century, the late Broda O. Barnes, MD, Ph.D., was also a prime mover behind the writing of ..." 
  95. ^ Dawson Beales, 158.
  96. ^ Melograni & Cochrane, 27.
  97. ^ Hopkins, 64-65.
  98. ^ Kann, 154, 179.
  99. ^ a b Mahan, 230.
  100. ^ Fraser, David, 134.
  101. ^ Kann, 187.
  102. ^ Crankshaw, 310.
  103. ^ Levy, 116-117.
  104. ^ Grell & Porter, 200.
  105. ^ a b Crankshaw, 267.
  106. ^ Levy, 112.
  107. ^ Crankshaw, 268, 271.
  108. ^ a b c d Dawson Beales, 183-184.
  109. ^ Crankshaw, 285.
  110. ^ Ingrao, 195.
  111. ^ Magocsi, 92.
  112. ^ Mahan, 334.
  113. ^ Crankshaw, 336-338.
  114. ^ Leland Goldsmith, 272.
  115. ^ Del Testa, Lemoine & Strickland, 119.
  116. ^ Di Duca, 15.
  117. ^ Carroll, 38.
  118. ^ Glajar, 75.
  119. ^ Mahan, 335.
  120. ^ Roider, 1.
  121. ^ In German: Maria Theresia von Gottes Gnaden Heilige Römische Kaiserinwitwe, Königin zu Ungarn, Böhmen, Dalmatien, Kroatien, Slavonien, Gallizien, Lodomerien, usw., Erzherzogin zu Österreich, Herzogin zu Burgund, zu Steyer, zu Kärnten und zu Crain, Großfürstin zu Siebenbürgen, Markgräfin zu Mähren, Herzogin zu Braband, zu Limburg, zu Luxemburg und zu Geldern, zu Württemberg, zu Ober- und Nieder-Schlesien, zu Milan, zu Mantua, zu Parma, zu Piacenza, zu Guastala, zu Auschwitz und Zator, Fürstin zu Schwaben, gefürstete Gräfin zu Habsburg, zu Flandern, zu Tirol, zu Hennegau, zu Kyburg, zu Görz und zu Gradisca, Markgräfin des Heiligen Römischen Reiches, zu Burgau, zu Ober- und Nieder-Lausitz, Gräfin zu Namur, Frau auf der Windischen Mark und zu Mecheln, Herzoginwitwe zu Lothringen und Baar, Großherzoginwitwe zu Toskana


  • Browning, Reed: The War of the Austrian Succession Palgrave Macmillan 1995 ISBN 0312125615
  • Byrne, James M: Religion and the Enlightenment: from Descartes to Kant Westminster John Knox Press 1997 ISBN 0664257607
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  • Crankshaw, Edward: Maria Theresa, Longman publishers 1969
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External links

Maria Theresa of Austria
Born: 13 May 1717 Died: 29 November 1780
German royalty
Preceded by
Maria Amalia of Austria
Holy Roman Empress
Succeeded by
Maria Josepha of Bavaria
German Queen
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Emperor Charles VI
Queen of Bohemia
Succeeded by
Emperor Charles VII
Duchess of Parma and Piacenza
Succeeded by
Archduchess of Austria
with Francis I (1740-1765)
Joseph II (1765-1780)
Succeeded by
Emperor Joseph II
Queen of Hungary
Queen of Croatia
Duchess of Milan
Duchess of Mantua
Duchess of Luxembourg
Ruler of the Austrian Netherlands
Preceded by
Emperor Charles VII
Queen of Bohemia
with Francis I (1743-1765)
Joseph II (1765-1780)
New title
Queen of Lodomeria and Galicia
Italian nobility
Preceded by
Anna Maria Franziska of Saxe-Lauenburg
Grand Duchess consort of Tuscany
Succeeded by
Maria Luisa of Spain
French nobility
Preceded by
Élisabeth Charlotte d'Orléans
Duchess consort of Lorraine and Bar
Succeeded by
Catherine Opalińska

Simple English

Maria Theresa
File:Kaiserin Maria Theresia (HRR).jpg
Spouse Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor
Archduchess Maria Anna
Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor
Maria Christina, Duchess of Teschen
Archduchess Maria Elisabeth
Archduke Charles Joseph
Maria Amalia, Duchess of Parma
Leopold II, Holy Roman Emperor
Archduchess Maria Johanna Gabriela
Archduchess Maria Josepha
Maria Carolina, Queen of Naples
Ferdinand, Duke of Modena
Marie Antoinette, Queen of France
Archduke Maximilian Francis
Father Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor
Mother Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel
Born May 13, 1717(1717-05-13)
Hofburg, Vienna, Austria
Died May 13, 1717 (aged -64)
Hofburg, Vienna, Austria
Burial 3 December 1780
Imperial Crypt, Vienne

Maria Theresa of Austria (May 13, 1717November 29, 1780) was the only female head of the Habsburg Dynasty. She was the Holy Roman Empress, queen of Hungary and Bohemia, and archduchess of Austria. During her rule she changed the royal palace outside Vienna (the Austrian capital) to look much like Versailles. Vienna itself became an important center for the arts, especially music. Maria Theresa added support to her absolute power by tightening her hold on the government. She also improved conditions for the peasants.


Maria Theresa was born in Vienna, Austria, on May 13 1717. Her parents were Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor and Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel.

Maria Theresa was married to Duke Francis Stephan I of Lorraine for love. They had sixteen children who are named here:

  • Archduchess Maria Elisabeth of Austria (1737-1740).
  • Archduchess Maria Anna of Austria (1738-1789).
  • Archduchess Maria Carolina of Austria (1740-1741).
  • Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II (1741-1790)
  • Archduchess Maria Christina of Austria, Duchess of Teschen (1742-1798)
  • Archduchess Maria Elisabeth of Austria (1743-1808).
  • Archduke Charles Joseph of Austria (1745-1761).
  • Archduchess Maria Amalia of Austria (1746-1804)
  • Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II (1747-1792)
  • Archduchess Maria Carolina of Austria (stillborn 1748).
  • Archduchess Maria Johanna Gabriela of Austria (1750-1762).
  • Archduchess Maria Josepha of Austria (1751-1767).
  • Queen Maria Carolina of Austria of Naples and Sicily (1752-1814)
  • Queen Marie Antoinette of France and Navarre, born Maria Antonia (1755-1793)
  • Archduke Maximilian Francis of Austria (1756-1801)

Maria Theresa died in Vienna, Austria, on November 29, 1780. She was the Archduchess of Austria and queen of bohemia and Hungary. Oldest daughter of Charles VI.


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