The Greatest of Austrian Rulers
1717 – 1780 A.D.
This noted woman, archduchess of Austria, queen of Hungary and Bohemia, and empress of Germany, born at Vienna, May 13, 1717, was the eldest daughter of George VI of Austria, emperor of Germany. In 1724 Charles, by his will, known as the Pragmatic Sanction, regulated the order of succession in the House of Austria, declaring that, in default of male issue, his eldest daughter should be heiress of all the Austrian dominions, and her children after her. The Pragmatic Sanction was guaranteed by the Diet of the Empire, and by all German princes, and by several powers of Europe, but not by the Bourbons. In 1736 she married Francis of Lorraine, to whom she gave equal share in the government upon the death of her father in 1740.
At the time of her accession the monarchy was exhausted, the finances embarrassed, the people discontented and the army weak. To add to the gravity of the situation, Prussia, Bavaria, Saxony, and Sardinia, abetted by France, put forward claims to the whole or to portions of her dominions. Maria Theresa, however, went immediately to Vienna, and took possession of Austria, Bohemia, and her other German states. She then repaired to Presburg, took the oaths to the Constitution of Hungary, and was solemnly proclaimed queen of that kingdom in 1741. Frederick of Prussia offered the young queen his friendship on condition of her giving up to him Silesia, which she resolutely refused, and he then invaded that province. The Elector of Bavaria, assisted by the French, also invaded Austria and pushed his troops as far as Vienna. The queen took refuge in Presburg, where she convoked the Hungarian Diet; and appearing in the midst of them with her infant son in her arms, she made a heart-stirring appeal to their loyalty. The Hungarian nobles, drawing their swords, unanimously exclaimed, “We will die for our queen, Maria Theresa!” Any they raised an army and drove the French and Bavarian’s out of the hereditary states.
In the meantime, Charles Albert, Elector of Bavaria, was chosen emperor of German, under the name Charles VII; and Frederick of Prussia soon made peace with Maria Theresa, who was obliged to surrender Silesia to him.
In 1745 Charles VII died, and Francis, Maria Theresa’s husband, was elected emperor. Three years later the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle terminated the war of the Austrian succession, and there ensued a period of peace. During this period, Maria Theresa instituted important financial reforms, did her utmost to foster agriculture, manufactures, and commerce, and improved and nearly doubled the national revenues, whilst the burdens were diminished.
In 1756 began the Seven Years’ War, between France, Austria, and Russia on the one side, and Prussia on the other, to confirm Frederick in the possession of Silesia. This was ended i 1763, leaving Austria and Prussia with the same boundaries as before. On the conclusion of hostilities the empress renewed her efforts to promote the national prosperity, ameliorating the condition of the peasantry, mitigating the penal code, founding schools, organizing charitable societies, in short, promoting the welfare of her subjects by all the wise arts of peaceful progress.
After the death of her husband, in 1765, the queen mother associated her son Joseph, elected king of the Romans in 1764, with herself in the government of the hereditary states. She, however, retained the administration of the government until her death, November 29, 1780.
Personally, Maria Theresa was a woman of majestic and winning appearance, and she was animated by truly regal sentiments and an undaunted spirit; by this rare union of feminine tact with masculine energy and restless activity, she not only won the affection and even enthusiastic admiration of her subjects, but she raised Austria from the most wretched condition to a position of assured power. Although a zealous Roman Catholic, she maintained the rights of her own crown against the court of Rome, and endeavored to correct some of the worst abuses of the Church.
Maria Theresa was the mother of sixteen children, all born within twenty years, ten of whom survived her. Among these, Joseph II succeeded her; Leopold, Grand Duke of Tuscany, followed his brother on the imperial throne as Leopold II; Ferdinand became Duke of Modena; and Marie Antoinette was married to Louis XVI of France.
Reference: Woman: Her Position, Influence, and Achievement Throughout the Civilized World published by the King-Richardson Co. in 1903.