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Maria Theresa of Austria

From: Austria
Fields: Government and Politics
Key Words/Phrases: sovereign of Austria and Hungary
Maria Theresa (1717-80), archduchess of Austria and queen of Hungary and Bohemia (1740-80), who strengthened and unified the Austrian monarchy in the 18th century. Born in Vienna on May 13, 1717, she was the daughter of Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI. In 1736 she married Francis Stephen of Lorraine (later Holy Roman Emperor Francis I), and the couple eventually had 16 children, including two future emperors, Joseph II and Leopold II, and Marie Antoinette, later queen of France.

Succession and Rule Charles VI's efforts to guarantee Maria Theresa's succession as ruler of the Habsburg dominions led to the War of the Austrian Succession (see Austrian Succession, War of the). The war lost her Austrian Silesia, but she was able to retain her other dominions, and in 1745 she acquired the title of Holy Roman emperor for her husband. In the years after the war Maria Theresa accomplished sweeping internal reforms that strengthened her central administration and revitalized the army. With her state chancellor, Wenzel Anton von Kaunitz, she also drastically reordered Austria's foreign policy, abandoning the traditional alignment with Great Britain in favor of collaboration with France and Russia against Prussia. After trying without success to reconquer Silesia in the Seven Years' War (1756-63), she turned to a more pacific policy. On the advice of Kaunitz and her son Joseph, however, she participated in the first partition of Poland (1772), thereby acquiring Galicia. After Francis's death in 1765 Maria Theresa recognized Joseph as coregent but retained ultimate authority for herself. She largely resisted her son's desires for further internal reforms, although she did abolish serfdom on crown lands. Often pondering abdication, she always demurred because she considered Joseph too rash, particularly in his religious policies. She died on November 29, 1780, in Vienna.

Evaluation Pious and faithful but unfriendly toward the Enlightenment, Maria Theresa has often been dismissed as a traditional dynast. Her actions derived from a conviction that she held a trust from God and from a maternalistic conception of her responsibilities. She was, however, intensely pragmatic, conscious of the obligations of power, and a shrewd judge of her ministers.

Contributed by: William J. McGill, Jr.

"Maria Theresa" Microsoft? Encarta.
Copyright? 1995 Microsoft Corporation.


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