Maria Theresa of Austria
Maria Theresa of Austria
MARIA THERESA OF AUSTRIA
Reigned Oct. 20, 1740, to Nov. 29, 1780; Empress, Queen of Hungary and Bohemia, Archduchess of Austria; b. Vienna, May 13, 1717; d. Vienna. She was married
(1736) to Duke Francis Stephen of Lorraine-Tuscany (later Emperor Francis I 1745–65). The sudden death of her father, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI, forced the inexperienced heiress to assume the government of the Hapsburg domains, which had shortly before her accession been united by the Pragmatic Sanction. This document (1720) decreed that the Austrian Empire was indivisible, and that upon the failure of a male heir, it should devolve upon the eldest daughter of Charles VI. Within a few months, war broke out. During this war Frederick II of Prussia claimed the province of Silesia, and Charles Albert, Prince Elector of Bavaria, who did not recognize the Pragmatic Sanction, claimed other parts of the Hapsburg monarchy. The young queen soon familiarized herself with the heavy responsibilities of high office, took up the challenge to battle her enemies, and ended the struggle honorably, notwithstanding the loss of Silesia. Once peace was established (1748), she started to reorganize, with prudence and fortitude, her heterogeneous domains, which, in response to the demands of her time, she sought to transform into a centralized bureaucracy. In trying to raise financial means and to increase the capacity of the whole population to pay taxes, she met opposition from the Catholic Church. The Church would not and could not relinquish its constitutional position, dating from the Middle Ages, and the economic privileges attached thereto. The resulting disputes between the Catholic Austrian state and the Catholic Church, which had important consequences for both, cannot be understood without knowing the background of the preceding reign.
Church and State. While still a 12-year-old princess, Maria Theresa had received a false picture of the Church. Her teacher of history, the jurist Gottfried Spannagl, had represented the medieval struggle between Emperor and Pope as caused solely by the Pope's lust for power. A few days after her accession to the throne, Maria Theresa wrote to the Pope asking for his moral support. Her letter, however, had not been countersigned by the responsible minister, thereby giving the impression that the young ruler wanted to write a mere private letter; but from this procedure, the inference could also be drawn that the Austrian government intended to infringe upon papal sovereign rights, something that the Queen's ancestors had occasionally attempted. This unfortunate circumstance caused ill feeling and the belated recognition of Maria Theresa by the holy see. The election of Albert of Bavaria to the imperial inheritance, and the War of the Austrian Succession (1740–48) that followed, furthered the estrangement. Notwithstanding repeated protests from the court of Vienna, Pope Benedict XIV could not refuse to recognize this election, since it had met all legal requirements. Maria Theresa allowed herself to be influenced to such an extent by the enmity of her ministers against the papal court that she ordered the sequestration of all benefices on the Austrian territory of the Cardinal Secretary of State Ludovico Valenti, himself an Austrian. Added to this was the violation of papal neutrality by the warring parties, who invaded the Papal States and harrassed papal subjects, especially in Ferrara, Pesaro, Rimini, and Bologna.
All these factors caused new complaints and protests from the Roman Curia. Only years later did the Austrian governor of Milan, Count Beltrame Cristiani, who enjoyed the fullest confidence of the Empress, succeed in convincing her of the injustice of her action against the Pope and his secretary of state and in moving her to release the confiscated properties. Renewed protests by the Roman Curia were provoked by such other imperial ordinances as the enactment that the Lombard clergy could appeal to Rome only by imperial permission. The Republic of Venice was not slow to quote this article as a precedent in its concurrent conflict with Rome. Notwithstanding repeated requests from Benedict XIV, Maria Theresa steadfastly refused to repeal this ordinance; the most she did was to give it an interpretation that would pacify the Pope. At this time, Count Cristiani had entered into promising negotiations with the Holy See about the creation of a church fund for the increase of parishes; to this fund the great foundations and monasteries should contribute. When it appeared, however, that Maria Theresa intended to administer this fund through her civil servants, the Pope feared the disadvantages more than the advantages that would come of state control. The whole undertaking came to nought after the start of the Seven Years' War (1756–63).
The Origins of Josephinism. The tensions between Vienna and Rome were only the symptoms of a fundamental conflict between Church and State in Austria. At the same time, they show clearly the monarch's conception of sovereignty, which was cleverly exploited by Prince Wenzel Anton von Kaunitz, her chancellor. At his counsel the empress initiated the new ecclesiastical policy by ordering an investigation into the privilege Pope Nicholas V had granted Emperor Frederick III in 1451–52. This privilege concerned taxation of the Austrian clergy under certain conditions. The Minister of the Interior, Count Johann Chotek, an upright soldier, explained to her how this privilege had been exercised during all those years. He stressed that the supervision of a papal representative, provided for in the document and exercised subsequently, had in no way harmed the state so that the established practice could safely be continued. The Empress, however, corrected her minister, whom she soon changed in favor of his more adaptable brother, "that in this as in other privileges of my archducal house many rights have been sacrificed." She then ordered a research into all royal archives to discover relevant tax privileges granted by various popes and confirmed as late as 1523 by Adrian VI. But since all these documents presupposed on principle the assent of the Holy See, it was impossible to prove the right of the state to tax the clergy independently of the pope.
The Empress, however, regardless of precedent and without previous negotiations with the Holy See remained firm—and this is a decisive point for the judgment of her unjust and revolutionary action. After 1763, she had her court lawyers construct a new canon law. The teachers of this subject, the jesuits, were replaced by lay professors. In 1767 she signed in effect the first decrees for the Austrian provinces in Italy. The first of these decrees restricted the freedom of communication of the Lombard clergy with the Roman Curia and appointed two political agents to watch over such movements. The second degree created the so-called Giunta Economale, which greatly interfered with episcopal jurisdiction. The third decree renewed the notorious laws against mortmain, interpreting them so that the Church could no longer acquire any considerable real property without the consent of the state. The Cardinal Archbishop of Milan, Giuseppe Pozzobonelli, the leading churchman of Lombardy, thereupon protested and warned the Empress that she could not in conscience promote these laws. Maria Theresa, after hesitation, rejected this protest, and a year later approved the general principles underlying State-Church relations as laid down by Kaunitz and already in effect through the above-named decrees in Austrian Lombardy, which he administered. Again it was Kaunitz who made the Empress reject the representations of the Pope himself. Instead, the new State-Church system was soon formally extended over all Austrian dominions.
Suppression of the Jesuits. Among the numerous decrees and ordinances "in publico-ecclesiaticis" harmful to the Church that followed each other rapidly in the last decade of Maria Theresa's reign and that touched the religious orders in particular, must be counted the suppression of the Society of Jesus (1773). The attitude of the Empress in the affaire célèbre of the age was fateful for religion and government in Austria. The Bourbon courts had used powerful threats to force the Pope to suppress the jesuits. But Clement XIV for a long time could point out that Maria Theresa, as advocata ecclesiae, took the opposite standpoint and had assured the menaced Society of her protection. The Bourbons then intimidated Maria Theresa by reminding her that, in view of her friendly attitude toward the Jesuits, her daughter, Maria Antonia (later Marie Antoinette) could not become queen of France. Thereupon the Empress broke the word she had given the Jesuits. She even wrote to Charles III, King of Spain, who had been the driving force behind the suppression of the Society, that she was glad to be able to oblige him in a matter so close to his heart. At the same time she put such pressure on the Pope, already hard pressed from all sides, that the Pope in the end abandoned to her all Jesuit assets. In the last years of her reign her physical powers failed and her life was darkened also by the conflict with her son and successor, joseph ii, of whose character and reign she had no great hopes.
Bibliography: f. maass, ed., Der Josephinismus: Quellen zu seiner Geschichte in Österreich 1760–1850, 5 v. (Fontes rerum Austriacarum II.71–75; Vienna 1951–61); "Maria Theresia und der Josephinismus." Zeitschrift für katholische Theologie 79 (1957) 201–213. h. von arneth, Geschichte Maria Theresias, 10v. (Vienna 1863–76). e. guglia, Maria Theresia, ihr Leben und ihre Regierung, 2 v. (Munich 1917). p. reinhold, Maria Theresia (Wiesbaden 1958). g. p. gooch, Maria Theresa and other Studies (New York 1951). g. dorschel, Maria Theresias Staatsund Lebensanschauung (Gotha 1908).