Maria Theresa

Nation: Austria

Empress

Birth Date: May 13, 1717
Austria Maria Theresa Empress Cover
I. Birth and Childhood
II. Appearance and Personality
III. Accession
IV. War of the Austrian Succession
[Video] Biography
I. Birth and Childhood
Maria Theresa, Archduchess of Austria, was born on May 13, 1717. She was the daughter of Charles VI of the House of Hapsburg, which had ruled Austria for more than four hundred years and of Elizabeth of Brunswick.

She was reared in almost Spartan simplicity of dress and food. From Jesuit textbooks she learned history and geography, and she spoke several languages, none of which however could she ever write or spell quite correctly. However chiefly she was taught the preeminent dignity and power of the Hapsburgs, and the necessary indivisibility of the Austrian state. She learned to hunt, to shoot, and to dance. At suppers of state, she and her little sister were sometimes allowed to present to their stately mother her gloves and fan when the emperor rose. She had an aversion to business and great diffidence of her own capacity. Though the emperor took her to the council of state at the time of the Polish election, when she was only sixteen, he yet failed to give her any real knowledge of the commonest forms of business. In this austere court, never seeing a smile on her father's face, she grew up, "the prettiest little maiden in the world," to a radiant woman heir-expectant to the throne by virtue of the Pragmatic Sanction, an order of state by means of which the Emperor Charles VI had undertaken to settle the Austrian succession.

Brackett, A. C. (1894). Maria Theresa. In C. F. Horne (Ed.), Great men and famous women: A series of pen and pencil sketches of the lives of more than 200 of the most prominent personages in history (Vol. 4, p. 221). New York: S. Hess.
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II. Appearance and Personality
At nineteen, Maria Theresa was "beautiful to soul and eye," tall and slight, with brilliant complexion, sparkling gray eyes, and a profusion of golden wavy hair. She had an aquiline nose — strange to say for a Hapsburg — an exceedingly lovely mouth, and very beautiful hands and arms. Her voice was sharp but musical, and her quick speech and animated gestures betrayed an ardent and impetuous nature, though she never lost her high and dignified bearing. Her anger was easily roused, but never lasted long, especially when a fault had been committed against herself, and when she knew that she had been too angry she tried to atone by overflowing kindness. She needed only to be convinced that a thing was wrong, in order to give it up. Whatever she did she did with her whole heart, and gratitude was one of her strongest characteristics. She kept a constant and steadfast soul, and her nature was delicate and refined.

Brackett, A. C. (1894). Maria Theresa. In C. F. Horne (Ed.), Great men and famous women: A series of pen and pencil sketches of the lives of more than 200 of the most prominent personages in history (Vol. 4, pp. 221-222). New York: S. Hess.
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III. Accession
At nineteen, largely through her own persistence, Maria Theresa escaped being made a sacrifice to the political needs of Austria in being given to the heir of Philip V of Spain. She instead married the man of her choice, Francis Stephen, the grandson of that Duke of Lorraine who, in 1683 together with John Sobieski, King of Poland, had Saved Vienna from the Turks. Her husband was a handsome man with suave manners, kind-hearted, though not strong nor brilliant. To him she bore five sons and eleven daughters. She was looking forward to the birth of her eldest son when, at the age of twenty-three, October 20, 1740, she was proclaimed by the heralds Sovereign Archduchess of Austria, Queen of Hungary and Bohemia. Her father lay dead in Vienna, and all the cares and anxieties of government had fallen upon her shoulders.

Brackett, A. C. (1894). Maria Theresa. In C. F. Horne (Ed.), Great men and famous women: A series of pen and pencil sketches of the lives of more than 200 of the most prominent personages in history (Vol. 4, p. 222). New York: S. Hess.
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IV. War of the Austrian Succession
On November 1, 1740, Maria Theresa was joyfully creating her husband Grand Master of the Order of the Golden Fleece, and coregent, and conferring upon him the Bohemian electoral vote. In less than six weeks from that day the Elector of Bavaria had laid formal claim to her throne, Friedrich II of Prussia had marched his troops into Silesia, one of her finest provinces, calling it his own. The War of the Austrian Succession ensued and lasted for seven years. The ruler of Austria had met with Hapsburg scorn the proposition of the King of Prussia that he would support her right to the throne, provided she would give up Silesia.

The young girl who had displayed an aversion for business was now a woman with talent for its details, only eager for instruction in order to make up her own mind. The army had to be increased and improved, and the people aroused to enthusiasm, if Friedrich was to be checked. Furthermore, it was not Friedrich alone that was to be feared, for a great coalition of European powers was formed against her, and she had but England and Saxony to depend on for help, while the enemy was already within her dominions.

On March 13, 1741, her son Joseph was born, and by September 11th the young mother was in Hungary to urge its people to come to the aid of the threatened country in its extremity. In deep mourning and still pale and delicate, holding the little archduke in her arms, her appeal to the Hungarian nobles roused them to lofty enthusiasm and gained their unswerving devotion. She never forgot this, and when she lay dying, spoke of them with grateful affection.

The war went on with varying fortunes, but she kept heart and hope, though by the end of 1741 the powers were plotting the partition of Austria as a probable event. By 1743, the luck had changed. The Austrian army had redeemed itself, and Maria Theresa was fancying that she should be able to conquer Prussia. It was about this time that she began greatly to rely on Wenzel Anton, Prince of Kaunitz-Rietberg. He afterward became Prime Minister and shaped for all the after-years of her reign the policy of her rule. The old ministers left her by her father were not able to meet the new difficulties, and the sovereign was often in great anxiety amid conflicting and hesitating counsels, for it was nothing less than the very existence of the country that was at stake.

Maria Theresa was thirty-one years old when the war came to an end by the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle, the particulars of which were entrusted to Kaunitz while he was ambassador at London. By that treaty Maria Theresa gained the final guarantee of the Pragmatic Sanction, though she had to cede two of her Italian duchies to the Spanish Bourbons, and Glatz and the much-desired Silesia to the "bad neighbor," as she always called Friedrich. She was twenty-eight when she had the pleasure of seeing her husband elected Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, gaining his wife the title of Empress. Thus she was often spoken of as the Empress-Queen.

Brackett, A. C. (1894). Maria Theresa. In C. F. Horne (Ed.), Great men and famous women: A series of pen and pencil sketches of the lives of more than 200 of the most prominent personages in history (Vol. 4, pp. 222-223). New York: S. Hess.
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