Maria Theresa, Empress, Queen of Bohemia and Hungary

(1717–1780)
   If ever there was a ruler who grew into the position, it was Maria Theresa. The daughter of Emperor Charles VI (1685–1740), the last Habsburg male ruler to claim direct descent from Rudolph I (1218–1291), her education was socially correct— dancing, languages, history as a series of moral lessons—but had little bearing on the tasks she would face. In 1736, she married Duke Francis Stephen of Lorraine (1708–1765), who was nine years her senior and her earliest important mentor in political and administrative affairs.
   As it became increasingly apparent to Charles VI that the archduchess would be his legitimate heir, he attempted through a series of bilateral agreements, collectively known as the Pragmatic Sanction, to ensure that both the estates of the Habsburg lands and foreign powers would recognize her succession. Charles more or less accomplished this mission, but when he died in 1740, Frederick II of Prussia launched an offensive against the Habsburg lands with the aim of capturing the duchy of Silesia, part of the Bohemian crown and an important center of commerce and industry. The episodic conflict with Prussia, which did not come to an end until 1763, left Silesia in Frederick’s hands. It prompted a major reorientation of Habsburg government, which Maria Theresa and her ministers steered with uncommon skill and resolve. Generally intend196 • MARIA THERESA, EMPRESS, QUEEN OF BOHEMIA AND HUNGARY ing to strengthen the position of the territorial ruler throughout the Habsburg lands, they established procedures for long-term financing of the dynasty’s armies. They brought middle-class officials into the lower levels of their administration to curb the power of the aristocrats, who traditionally held high office. The Theresan regime also encouraged manufacture and trade, in part to compensate for the loss of Silesia, and worked to break down internal barriers to commerce. This was a particular issue in the case of Hungary, which had long been treated as a separate kingdom in fiscal affairs. Interested in making her overwhelmingly agricultural population more productive as well, Maria Theresa supported measures to lighten the burdens of serfdom. She also took steps to modernize elementary education and widen access to it. Though herself very devout, she and her government took steps to reduce the hold that Catholicism had on the intellectual life and economy of the Habsburg lands. Steps were taken to regulate the number of people in clerical vocations, as well as to scale back religious holidays.

Historical dictionary of Austria. . 2014.

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