Maria Theresa of Austria (1717–1780)
Maria Theresa of Austria (1717–1780)
Habsburg monarch who ascended a throne threatened on all sides, repulsed most of her adversaries, and instituted a series of social and administrative reforms largely credited with ensuring the survival of the Habsburg empire through the 19th century . Name variations: Maria Theresia (German spelling). Pronunciation: tay-RAY-zee-ah. Born on May 13, 1717, in Vienna, Austria; died on November 29, 1780, in Vienna; daughter of Charles VI, Holy Roman emperor (r. 1711–1740), and Elizabeth Christina of Brunswick-Wolfenbuttel (1691–1750); educated at home by Jesuit tutors; married Francis Stephen, duke of Lorraine, later Holy Roman emperor (r. 1745–1765) as Francis I; children: 16, of whom six died before the age of 17, including Johanna (d. 1762) and Josepha (d. 1767); those surviving to adulthood include: Joseph II (1741–1790) emperor of Austria (r. 1765–1790), who succeeded his mother and became Holy Roman emperor; Leopold II (1747–1792), grand duke of Tuscany, Holy Roman emperor (r. 1790–1792); Maximilian Francis (who became elector of Cologne); Maria Carolina (1752–1814, who married into the Bourbon family and became queen of Naples and the Two Sicilies); Maria Amalia (1746–1804, who married the duke of Parma); Marie Antoinette (1755–1793, who married Louis XVI and became queen of France); Elizabeth of Austria (1743–1808, who became abbess in Innsbruck); Ferdinand (1754–1806, who was governor general of Lombardy in Milano and married Maria Beatrice of Modena ); Maria Christina (1742–1798, who married Duke Albert of Saxony-Teschen and became duchess and governor-general of Austrian Netherlands); Maria Anna (who became abbess of Klagenfurt).
Succeeded to her father's hereditary domains (1740), which she was forced to defend against an overwhelming armed coalition in the Austrian Succession War (1740–48); led the anti-Prussian coalition during the Seven Years' War (1756–63); participated with Prussia and Russia in the First Polish Partition (1772); intervened to end the Bavarian Succession War (1778–79), promoted by her son, Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II; with aid of two highly capable ministers, Counts Haugwitz and Kaunitz, instituted far-reaching reforms in virtually every domain of public life, the most durable of which were the foundation of a progressive educational system and the modernization of the realm's administrative structure; therefore, considered an "enlightened despot" by some, but not all, scholars.
Tradition has it that a disarmingly pretty Austrian archduchess, barely 24 years of age and utterly unprepared to assume the reins of state in her ethnically diverse and geographically far-flung domains, appeared before the Hungarian Diet at Pressburg on September 11, 1741, to plead for military aid against a mighty European coalition, including France, Bavaria, Saxony and Spain, and led by "the monster"—as she called him—her arch-enemy, Frederick II the Great, king of Prussia. Her treasury was empty, her troops scattered and demoralized, and her richest province, Silesia, was in enemy hands. Choked with emotion, and cradling her whimpering infant son, Joseph (II), in her arms, she delivered a passionate address to the assembly, moving the hearts of the chivalrous Hungarian magnates, otherwise known for their intractable relations with Vienna. Rising to their feet in an outburst of sympathy, the Magyars pledged their "life and blood" to defend the young queen and mother. The striking scene has been memorialized in art and literature, and Austrian schoolchildren can recount the episode by heart. But, as with much high drama in history, the facts were embellished by later generations—her plea for help and the appearance with her baby were actually separate incidents—while an essential core of truth kept the myth alive.
On October 20, 1740, the Habsburg dynast and Holy Roman emperor Charles VI died, leaving to his daughter a grand array of crown domains and connected territories. These included the hereditary Habsburg lands (Erblande) of Upper and Lower Austria, Inner Austria (Styria, Carinthia, Carniola), Tyrol, Vorarlberg and Freiburg-im-Breisgau; also the Kingdom of Bohemia, Margravate of Moravia, Duchies of Upper and Lower Silesia, Kingdom of Hungary (with Croatia and Slavonia), Principality of Transylvania, Duchy of Milano (Lombardy), and the Austrian Netherlands (modern Belgium). Yet the structural nature of this impressive legacy implied significant difficulties for its administration. For one, the Habsburg lands included important geographically non-contiguous regions (Belgium, Lombardy), both hard to defend and coveted by rival powers. In addition, its ethnic and religious diversity made for a heterogeneous and hard-to-manage mass of subjects. Finally, traditions of limited self-rule, jealously guarded by regional and local estates, rendered it politically difficult to manage.
Charles VI also left behind a government in disarray. The Habsburg domains were being managed by a gerontocratic ministry; indeed, the average age of permanent members of the Privy Conference was 71. The state was in a severe fiscal crisis, total debt amounting to 103 million florins, with only 87,000 florins available on hand. Lastly, the realm was virtually defenseless, for only half the army was in any state resembling combat preparedness.
If the domestic outlook was bleak, Charles' foreign policy legacy hardly looked any better. Not having achieved his aims of succeeding to the Spanish throne—and thus re-uniting the empire of Charles V, during the Spanish Succession War (1701–14)—he had been defeated twice more in the course of six years, during the Polish Succession War (1733–38) and the Fourth Austro-Russian-Turkish War (1737–39). Both conflicts had entailed the painful loss of territory, in Italy (Naples and Sicily) and on his southeast flank (northern Serbia and parts of Walachia). Habsburg prestige—at its peak after the Turks had been stopped at the gates of Vienna in 1683 and humiliated in the Treaties of Carlowitz (1699) and Passarowitz (1718)—had plummeted to new depths.
Not surprisingly, looking back on the early days of her reign from the vantage point of 1756–57, Maria Theresa was to write: "No one, I believe, will disagree that it would be hard to find an example, in history, of a crowned head of state succeeding to the throne under more difficult circumstances than I." Not only were the circumstances of succession extremely difficult, but the young successor was singularly unprepared for the duties of a monarch.
Maria Theresa was born on May 13, 1717, in the Vienna Hofburg. Her older brother Leopold, the designated successor, had recently died, and the arrival of a girl was a disappointment to court and town alike. Unlike many other Habsburgers, she was through-and-through German, since her parents and grandparents were all ethnic Germans and Germanophones. Significantly, religion played an important role in both parents' lives, as it was to do in Maria Theresa's. Her mother Elizabeth Christina of Brunswick-Wolfenbuttel was born and raised in Brunswick in the Calvinist faith and had reluctantly agreed to convert to Catholicism upon marriage; some sources contend she remained a crypto-Protestant long after conversion. Charles VI was of a fairly simple and devout faith, stressing outward signs of belief, such as frequent local pilgrimages to shrines of the Virgin. He appears to have been an attentive father who saw his children, of whom he had four, almost daily. Unfortunately for Maria Theresa, however, she was not given the education befitting an heir to empire.
Elizabeth Christina of Brunswick-Wolfenbuttel (1691–1750)
Holy Roman empress . Name variations: Elizabeth Christina of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel; Elizabeth Christina of Brunswick; Elizabeth of Brunswick; Elizabeth Christine. Born Elizabeth Christine of Brunswick-Lünebrug-Wolfenbüttel, princess of the German house of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, on August 28, 1691, in Wolfenbüttel; died on December 21, 1750, in Vienna; daughter of Ludwig Rudolf also known as Louis Rudolph, duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel; her younger sister Charlotte of Brunswick-Wolfenbuttel (1694–1715) married Alexis, son of Peter the Great of Russia; married Charles VI (1685–1740), Holy Roman emperor (r. 1711–1740); children: Leopold (died in infancy in 1716); Maria Theresa of Austria (1717–1780); Maria Anna (1718–1744) and Maria Amalia (1724–1730).
While material on her childhood is sparse, it is clear that Maria Theresa's training was characteristic of any princess at a typical 18th-century Catholic court. Jesuit tutors and a governess, Countess Charlotte Fuchs , oversaw her daily exercises. Language instruction figured prominently, and Maria Theresa became fluent in French. Her Latin was also excellent, her Italian fair, she had little Spanish, and her written German remained erratic throughout life. The scholar and court historiographer, Gottfried Wilhelm Spannagl, taught her mainly church and world history with a significantly anti-papal tendency. Mathematics lessons were administered by the famous astronomer and geometer Johann Jakob von Marinoni. Finishing touches were provided by the drawing, riding, and music masters. Indeed,
much stress was placed on music, and Maria Theresa became a good clavacin player and sang well, appearing in a court musical drama at age eight. Most sources point out the irony that Charles VI invested so much effort into securing his daughter's title politically, while leaving her completely untutored in the art of statecraft. Austrian historian Adam Wandruszka has speculated that Charles was perhaps hoping that his son-in-law, Francis Stephen (Francis I), would in fact take over the reins of state, leaving his daughter with the title alone.
Maria Theresa had three siblings. Leopold, Charles' only son, died in infancy (1716). Maria Theresa was born next, followed by two more daughters, Maria Anna (1718–1744) and Maria Amalia (1724–1730). While Charles VI long hoped to father a male heir, and made opulent offerings to churches and frequent pilgrimages to shrines of the Virgin in an effort to obtain divine help, his last years were plagued with the succession issue. This he attempted to solve with a unique document, issued early in his reign and indicating an almost uncanny foresight. The Pragmatic Sanction of April 19, 1713, proclaimed a complex female succession—in the absence of a male heir—beginning with the direct progeny of Charles VI; and it declared all Habsburg lands "indivisible and inseparable." Thus, it was both a legal attempt at securing the throne for his eldest daughter, and a constitutional charter proclaiming the territorial unity of the realm.
The problem with this highly innovative settlement was how to gain its acceptance with the Habsburg estates and the family of European monarchs. The former raised no significant obstacles, but the latter virtually had to be bribed for support. In the end, Russia, Prussia (Charles promised aid in the acquisition of the Duchy of Berg), and the Empire signed on by 1732; and France (he pledged help in its quest for the Duchy of Lorraine) joined in 1735. To sweeten the deal for the colonial powers—Spain, England, and Holland also gave their support by 1732—Charles had to dissolve the Ostende Trading Co., a promising enterprise founded in 1714. Bavaria held out until 1745. Yet the Pragmatic Sanction proved a worthless piece of paper, for an array of signatories descended upon Maria Theresa shortly after her succession, eager to exploit her weakness.
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She is very ambitious and possesses talents in more than one area; herein I must do her justice.
The assault was led by Frederick II, who had recently inherited a bursting treasury and modernized army from his father, Frederick William I. On December 16, 1740, Frederick kept his "rendez-vous with glory," as he put it, and invaded the rich province of Silesia, attaining his objective in a four-week campaign. The fat province was a rich prize: counting over a million souls, it included fine farmland, rich forests, mineral deposits, and a thriving weaving industry; it was easily the most productive of Habsburg lands. Able to justify his act outwardly through dubious legal claims, his real motives were clearly territorial expansion and a thirst for personal glory. Though he had offered Maria Theresa financial and military aid in exchange for the province, she had refused, since acceptance was tantamount to abrogation of the indivisibility provision of the Pragmatic Sanction. By July 1741, Saxony, Bavaria, France and Spain had formed a coalition with Prussia, intent on despoiling Austria territorially. According to their cynical pact, largely outlined in the Treaty of Nymphenburg, the allies were to support Bavaria's claim to the Austrian Erblande and Elector Charles Albert's bid for the imperial crown; France was to obtain Belgium, Spain to obtain Lombardy, and Saxony to obtain Moravia. Maria Theresa's main ally, Britain, provided meager subsidies, and virtually no troops, for these were needed overseas—and to protect the dynastic home of Hanover against possible French aggression.
At first, developments were nothing less than grim. The bulk of her troops was stationed on the geographical periphery of her lands, where they were of little use, and both her husband, Francis Stephen (Francis I), and his brother, Charles of Lorraine, proved incompetent military leaders. Scores of Bohemian and Upper Austrian nobles deserted the young archduchess and, by December 1741, Elector Charles Albert of Bavaria, leading the Franco-Bavarian-Saxon forces, had taken both Linz and Prague and crowned himself king of Bohemia; in 1742, he was elected Holy Roman Emperor Charles VII—the first non-Habsburg emperor since 1437. Yet after these initial setbacks, Maria Theresa was able to recoup all her territorial losses, except Silesia. While Frederick II had given her a breather by withdrawing from the conflict for a time, and the Hungarian estates finally came through with a contingent of 22,000 intrepid infantry and 14,000 hard-fighting horse, her personal courage and fortitude in adversity can hardly be overestimated in assessing the causes of her survival. Following various interim arrangements, an overall settlement was reached in the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (October 18, 1748), in which Maria Theresa accepted the Prussian acquisition of Silesia, gave up Parma, Piacenza and Guastalla to the Spanish Infant Philip, but all the Powers finally recognized the Pragmatic Sanction. In fact, the treaty was considered little more than a ceasefire by contemporaries, and both Prussia and Habsburg began preparing for the next duel: Frederick, by consolidating his hold on Silesia; and Maria Theresa, by putting her army and administration in order.
The First Theresian Reforms issued directly from the realization that, in times of war, she had to overcome her dependence on unreliable foreign and wavering domestic support. Given the ethnic and political diversity of her land, Maria Theresa sought the cooperation of her subjects, rather than disciplining them by force—contrary to most other contemporary monarchs. Thus, both impetus and mode of implementation characterize the reforms as pragmatically oriented. The ultimate goal—were it to stand a chance against Frederician Prussia—was to regain Silesia, and to attain that goal the Habsburg state needed a thorough restructuring.
The centerpiece of the post-1748 reforms was the anti-feudal administrative transformations directed by Count Frederick William
Haugwitz, who is largely credited for bringing Habsburg government into modernity. Influenced by the Prussian model to such an extent that detractors accused him of the "Prussification" of Austria, Haugwitz centralized the political and financial administration of the German and Bohemian lands—the domains of prime economic and strategic importance—in Vienna, drastically reducing the powers of the regional estates in the process. Not surprisingly, German historian Heinz Duchhardt has aptly labeled the transformation "much more than just an administrative reform, but rather a fundamental constitutional and state reform." Haugwitz wanted an army of 200,000 men and annual revenues of 15 million florins (compared with 6 million in 1748). To that end, regional diets no longer administered the collection of revenue and military affairs; this was now done by the gubernium, a province-level agency directly answerable to the Directorium in Publicis et Cameralibus, or State Chancery, the new streamlined central governing council. On the local level Kreise, or districts, were headed by trained civil servants (Kreishauptmann). Far-off Belgium, Lombardy and the traditionally independent-minded Hungarian nobility were largely left with their special status, another indication of Maria Theresa's pragmatism and diplomacy.
In fiscal affairs, centralized and expanded collection of revenue met with much regional opposition—not all of which was successfully overcome—but nonetheless resulted in a dramatically increased income. Diets were made to vote taxes for ten years as against the previous one, guaranteeing the crown both greater disposable income and continuity of planning; and nobles and clergy were taxed for the first time. Commercial policy was classically mercantilist. The importation of luxury items as gilded coaches and brocade was banned, and luxury manufacturing in Vienna (e.g. porcelain) stimulated, as were mining and textile fabrication in Bohemia, Styria, and Carinthia. Domestic duties in the dynastic territories were lowered, while stiff tariff walls were erected on the outside. Finally, a monetary reform created a new silver coin—the famous Maria Theresa taler, soon to become the primary currency used in the Balkans and throughout the Near East. In the domain of law, Haugwitz established the Oberste Justizstelle, a judiciary agency independent of the rest of the administration, thus laying the cornerstone for a modern legal system.
To implement Haugwitz's comprehensive changes, an educational reform was essential, for an army of loyal and trained bureaucrats was necessary to staff the renovated ship of state. To meet this need, the Theresianum, a civil servant academy, was founded in 1746 and followed by the Oriental Academy, a diplomatic school for service in the Balkans, in 1754.
Military reforms included the creation of the General War Commissary as an independent ministry, the new contributionale tax, to be paid in cash and not in kind, the strategic redistribution of forces throughout the provinces, and the foundation of two academies in Vienna—the aristocratic Military Academy (1752) and the Engineering Academy (1754). With increased funding and improved training, Haugwitz was able to field a modernized army of 180,000 men by 1756. These, Maria Theresa was soon to need, in yet another struggle with Frederick II.
Meanwhile, the major players of the Austrian Succession War had had time to reflect on the relationship with their partners during that conflict. Maria Theresa was disappointed with Britain's paltry aid and constant pressure to make peace with Prussia in order to concentrate on France—Britain's primary rival. Given the success of her domestic reforms, it appeared Maria Theresa need no longer depend on the Court of St. James in times of distress. Count Wenzel Anton von Kaunitz, who directed foreign policy from 1753 on, strongly favored giving up the alliance with Britain and seeking an understanding with France, in the belief that the real strategic threat came not from that state in the traditional theaters of the Low Countries and northern Italy, but from Prussia and in Silesia. For its part, France realized that the days of Habsburg encirclement under Charles V were long gone, while the real menace came from Britain overseas. Britain, however, had signed the Westminster Convention with Prussia (1756), in which Prussia pledged to help defend Hanover against France. France considered this proof of its former ally's perfidy. Therefore France, after some wooing, embraced its inveterate foe, Austria, and contemporary observers marvelled at the new Bourbon-Habsburg rapprochement, writing of the grand renversement des alliances, or Diplomatic Revolution. Maria Theresa, characteristically overcoming her moral qualms in pragmatic state affairs, even sent Louis XV's mistress, Madame de Pompadour , costly presents out of gratitude for her behind-the-scenes role in forging the new Vienna-Versailles axis.
Frederick II kept a wary eye cocked on these developments, knowing that Maria Theresa's goal was the forging of a coalition to aid her in regaining Silesia. In fact, her ambitions were greater: both Frederick's general threat to the peace of the Empire, and the concomitant advance of Protestantism were to be checked. To this end, she agreed with France that Prussia was to be dismantled. Habsburg would regain Silesia, Sweden would acquire Stettin, and Saxony would get Magdeburg. A joint attack on Prussia, with Russian aid, was scheduled, but Frederick II got wind of the plan and launched a preemptive strike, attacking Saxony on August 29,1756. With Prussia out in the open as the aggressor, an overwhelming alliance including Russia, France, Austria, Saxony, Sweden and a number of German principalities, converged their forces on Prussia, whose sole ally was Britain, with its usual subsidies.
The first phase of the Seven Years' War was marked by Prussian successes. With his superior generalship, initiative, the strategic benefits of an inner line, and the initial disarray and problems of motivation of the anti-Prussian coalition—France's prime interests still lay in the colonial conflict with Britain—Frederick racked up a series of spectacular victories against overwhelming odds at Rossbach (November 5, 1757, against France and the Empire) and Leuthen (December 5, 1757, against Maria Theresa), earning his epithet "the Great." Soon Saxony was in his hands. But at Kunersdorf (August 13, 1759), Frederick's luck ran out, and his army was devastated by Habsburg and Russian forces. Yet the allies, still lacking strategic coordination, failed to deliver the coup de grâce, an error which Frederick termed the "miracle of the House of Brandenburg." Though the battle did usher in a succession of Prussian defeats, the conflict had become a war of attrition, resulting in the general exhaustion of all parties. On January 5, 1762, Empress Elizabeth Petrovna of Russia died and was succeeded by the Prussophile Peter III, who changed sides and joined Frederick, but was soon murdered and succeeded by his wife, Catherine II the Great . The new empress, for her part, chose to remain neutral, prompting Sweden to desert the anti-Prussian coalition, as well. France, meanwhile, had been expelled from Canada by the British and made a preliminary separate peace with that power, to be followed by the definitive Treaty of Paris (February 2, 1763). The grand coalition, forged by Maria Theresa to humble "the monster," had crumbled. Alone and exhausted, she made peace with Frederick in the Treaty of Hubertusburg (February 2, 1763), bitterly recognizing his acquisition of Silesia. She had lost the war, failing to attain any of her objectives.
The end of the Seven Years' War was a watershed in Maria Theresa's reign in more ways than one. As in 1748, the defeat of 1763 provoked a round of introspection and reform. This time, however, Kaunitz provided the ministerial leadership. Francis Stephen, Maria Theresa's husband and co-regent since 1740, had died in 1765 and was succeeded as co-regent—and Holy Roman emperor—by her eldest son, Joseph II (born 1741), who was to inject many reforms with a dose of Enlightenment thought. Joseph read such moderate Enlightenment authors as the political scientist Pufendorf or the historian Muratori, but also admired more radical thinkers his mother abhorred, even holding her arch-foe, Frederick II, in secret esteem. His own character differed markedly from that of his mother; while very intelligent and perceptive, he was also impatient, daring, and uncompromising to a fault. Given his more radical ideas about social reform, particularly in the area of religious policy, and his more aggressively expansionist foreign policy—both of which he shared with Kaunitz—he was bound to clash with his mother, the pragmatic and essentially peaceable "mother of her people," as she was often called. While Maria Theresa retained final authority, Joseph II was a highly active co-regent who attempted to assert his policies at every turn. Thus, their relationship was often strained.
The first concern in 1763 was fiscal reform, for state debt had doubled to 280 million florins since 1740. Cameralist ideas of thinkers like Justi and Sonnenfels convinced Maria Theresa that some social reform was necessary to boost revenue. (The economic theory of cameralism advocated a strong public administration of a centralized industrial economy.) This meant broadening the tax base and paying special attention to agriculture and the peasantry. Productivity was to be enhanced, and feudal burdens reduced. She therefore issued a number of decrees to limit or reduce the robot (forced labor the peasant owed his lord, in practice over 100 days per year in many regions of the realm), fix the customary feudal dues, prohibit noble land encroachment on peasant land, and provide for better enforcement of government regulations in these matters. Joseph's frequent fact-finding missions into the countryside, where he often traveled under the alias of "Count Falkenstein," contributed firsthand information, and anecdotes of his plowing a peasant's field were widely circulated. Outside the hereditary domains of Austria, the impact of these reforms was real but limited by aristocratic intransigence and the deep-rooted traditions of regional independence, particularly in Hungary. In her own lands, where she exercised greater control, Maria Theresa instituted the highly progressive Raab system (after Councillor Franz Anton von Raab): the robot was commuted to cash payments, and the demesne—or crown lands—were parcelled out to peasant small-holders. These small-holders became personally free, were given long or hereditary leases, and paid cash rents. The system was highly successful, soon generating 50% more output than before its initiation. Sadly, Maria Theresa's hopes that the nobility throughout her realm would emulate this enlightened approach to agrarian policy came to nought.
To increase revenue, Joseph proposed to abolish all tax exemptions, as well as the independent administrative status of Hungary, Lombardy, and Belgium. Such radical and unimplementable measures Maria Theresa characteristically refused to take. She did, however, assent to Kaunitz's further centralization and streamlining of administration and finance in the Erblande, which resulted in the revamping of agencies built up by Haugwitz during the first reform period. In addition, Kaunitz succeeded in imposing a general land tax on the nobility, though not in Hungary. Nonetheless, the totality of social, fiscal, and administrative reforms succeeded in increasing annual revenue from 35 million florins in 1763 to 50 million in 1780, and in 1775 Kaunitz balanced the budget for the first time in Habsburg history.
Educational reform after 1763—perhaps her most enduring attainment—was ambitious, despite Maria Theresa's initial disinterest. According to Charles Ingrao, her real motivation was religious, for in 1769 the bishop of Passau had informed her of the ignorance of his parishioners and that many were in fact crypto-Protestants. The reform was directed by the highly enlightened Studienhofkommission (Education Commission). Ironically, its key element was the secularization of schools. This measure, however, was not implemented until after 1773 with the abolition of the Jesuit Order, and despite Maria Theresa's religious qualms. Here, Kaunitz's and Joseph's influence are in evidence. Inspired largely by the Pietist model of Silesian Prussia, with its stress on education as a potent tool for social control, two General School Ordinances for the Erblande (1774) and Hungary (1777) standardized teacher training at mandatory Normal schools, as they did the curriculum. Structurally, the new school system distinguished the Trivialschule (compulsory elementary school), Hauptschule (middle school in the district capital, providing vocational training or preparation for high school), and the Gymnasium (elite high school with a university preparatory curriculum). Again, traditionalist attitudes hampered implementation: peasants grumbled that their children were kept away from the fields, while priests considered the whole scheme too secular. Still, it proved highly successful in increasing the sheer number of schools and students, for by 1780 Austria had surpassed the Prussian model in quantity and quality.
Joseph's imprint was also evident in this period's judicial reform. In 1766, Maria Theresa had created a commission designed to consolidate, but not humanize, existing codes, e.g. she was adamantly against the abolition of torture and the death penalty, despite the influence of Italian jurist Beccaria's book, On Crimes and Punishments (1764). Her code, the Nemesis Theresiana (1768), still allowed impalement, breaking on the wheel, and burning alive. Not until 1776 could Joseph, Kaunitz, and other enlightened advisers force her to abolish torture.
In religious matters, Maria Theresa's stance was a mix of progressivism, traditionalism, and pragmatism, reflecting her modern ideas on the separation of church and state, her deeply felt Catholic personal piety, and contemporary diplomatic realities. In 1765, she instructed her son Leopold (II), shortly before his departure to assume the reins of government in Tuscany: "Be a good son, devoted to the Holy Father in all matters of religion and dogma. But remain sovereign, and do not tolerate the least interference of the Roman curia in matters of state." Not surprisingly, she continued the general Habsburg policy, followed since the 1650s, to strengthen the control of state over church. This included the taxation of the clergy without papal consent, confiscation of Jesuit assets, suppression of monasteries, subjection of Church courts and property to state control, and the abolition of numerous religious holidays. True to her dogmatic nature, however, she was intolerant towards non-Catholics, unlike several other contemporary enlightened monarchs. Believing that the existence of multiple creeds within a realm caused disunity, she tended to infringe on the rights of Lutherans and Calvinists, and particularly of Jews. In one instance, she attempted to forcibly reconvert Moravian Protestants in 1777. Fortunately, Joseph II and Kaunitz were able to prevent the most egregiously intolerant policies. External pressures—this time from the Bourbon courts, with whom she had aligned herself against Frederick II, eventually marrying five of her children into that dynasty—helped push her towards the abolition of the Jesuit Order.
In foreign affairs after 1765, the overall situation was favorable for Habsburg security, though a wary eye towards the ascendant powers Prussia and Russia was always called for. With the Ottomans in decline, Prussia preoccupied with consolidating Silesia, and the French alliance precluding a threat to Belgium or Lombardy, Joseph II and Kaunitz could give policy a more aggressive thrust, albeit only with Maria Theresa's reluctant assent. While dependable allies were still a scarcity, she could now field over 300,000 troops, although their costliness suggested use only in extremis. Two events stand out during the last decade of her rule: the First Polish Partition and the Bavarian Succession War.
Although Maria Theresa did not share the cynical statecraft mentality of the day, she participated with Prussia's Frederick the Great and Russia's Catherine the Great in the first partition of Poland in 1772. Indeed, she had little choice. The alternatives, Poland as a Russian satellite or Poland partitioned between Russia and Prussia, would have considerably weakened the position of the Habsburgs. Much has been made of the cynicism of this agreement, and Peter Berglar eloquently denounced it as particularly disgusting because it was "powdered and perfumed, in the rococo fashion." Indeed, the Polish Diet itself was pressured into ratifying the partition on September 30, 1773. Maria Theresa has repeatedly been charged with hypocrisy, her first and most famous accuser being Frederick II himself—everywhere quoted as having said: "She cries, but she always takes." Family correspondence indicates a real moral dilemma on her part, and her acquiescence clearly represented the choice of reason of state over Christian ethics. The richest slice of the Polish cake, Galicia, with its three million inhabitants and its famous salt mines, was her prize.
The Bavarian Succession War (1778–79) can best be characterized as a bungled attempt by Kaunitz and Joseph to profit from Bavarian Elector Maximilian III's death without male issue (December 30, 1777), with subsequent damage control by Maria Theresa. Complex plans included demands for Bavarian territory, and at one point even a trade-off for all of Bavaria, in exchange for Belgium. Austrian troops entered Bavaria on January 16, 1779, but Joseph and Kaunitz not only failed to respect Prussia's justified demands for compensation, but also refused to give up all of Belgium to the Bavarian heir presumptive, Elector Palatine Charles Theodore. These blunders prompted Frederick II to intervene and invade Bohemia, invoking the protection of "German liberty." Blocked by Austrian troops, the war soon degenerated into a winter stand-off, highlighted by soldiers scrounging for potatoes in the frozen ground, earning it the German nickname, der Kartoffelkrieg. Maria Theresa, diplomatically isolated, weary of war, and loath to see her subjects suffering to no avail, secretly met with Frederick II and signed the Treaty of Teschen, ending the conflict on May 13, 1779. Her cool appraisal of the risks to her house, and willingness to sacrifice Habsburg prestige, had prevented a general assault on her domains.
The following winter, her conservatism and good sense would no longer be there to temper her son's more radical policies. She signed her last will on October 15, 1780, and died on November 29, in Vienna. Having suffered long from emphysema, Maria Theresa probably also had cardial bronchitis and hypertension, for she had grown quite obese during the last two decades of life. She bore her final illness with equanimity and dignity, working hard until the very end.
With her husband and close adviser, Francis Stephen, whom she dearly loved, Maria Theresa had 16 children, of which 6 died before the age of 17—mostly of smallpox. Of the children surviving to adulthood, Joseph II succeeded his mother and became Holy Roman emperor; Leopold II became grand duke of Tuscany, then succeeded his brother Joseph; Maximilian Francis became elector of Cologne; Maria Carolina married into the Bourbon family of Naples; Maria Amalia (1746–1804) married into the Bourbon house of Parma; Marie Antoinette married Louis XVI of France; Elizabeth of Austria became abbess in Innsbruck; Ferdinand was governor-general of Lombardy in Milano; Maria Christina , Maria Theresa's favorite daughter, married Duke Albert of Saxony-Teschen; and Maria Anna became abbess of Klagenfurt. After the death of her husband, Maria Theresa always wore mourning.
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Manuscript Document Collections in Vienna Archives:
Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv.
William L. Chew III, Professor of History, Vesalius College, Vrije Universiteit, Brussels, Belgium
"Maria Theresa of Austria (1717–1780)." Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 24, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/women/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/maria-theresa-austria-1717-1780
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