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Maria Theresa the Holy Roman Empress

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Maria Theresia was born on May 13, 1717, and died November 29, 1780, in Vienna. She was the Archduchess of Austria, Queen of Hungary, Queen of Bohemi; wife, and then widow, of Francis I Stephen of Lorraine, elected emperor in 1745. The founder of the Lorraine branch of the Habsburg Dynasty. The reign of Maria Theresa was called the time of Enlightenment and active reforms. She is one of the members of the dynasty enjoying the greatest popularity. Among her children are two emperors, Joseph II and Leopold II, as well as the French queen Marie Antoinette and the Queen of Sicily Maria Carolina.

Political Events

She was the eldest daughter of Emperor Charles VI and his wife Elisabeth Christina Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel. His heir, by virtue of Pragmatic sanction, received a purely male education, which prepared her for the administration of an enormous state. At the age of 14, she was already present at the meetings of the State Council. In 1736, she married the Duke of Lorraine Franz Stefan. After entering the throne in 1740, she was, from the very first day, face-to-face with a lot of problems and fighting for the “Austrian inheritance”. The Aachen Peace in 1748 resolved this issue in favor of Maria Theresa, who, however, lost Silesia to Prussia.

Maria Theresa was crowned the Hungarian queen on June 25, 1741, in the Gothic St. Martin’s Cathedral in the city of Presburg. In 1745, Maria Theresa’s husband was crowned Emperor under the name of Franz I. In the Seven Years’ War, from 1756 to 1763, Maria Theresia took part with the aim of winning Silesia, but failed; Silesia remained at the mercy of Frederick II, the king of Prussia. In 1765 Emperor Franz I died, and the widowed Maria Theresa appointed as co-ruler her son Emperor Joseph II; limiting, however, his activities to the court, financial and military affairs, and not even giving him complete independence. In 1772, Maria Theresa took part in the first sectioning of Poland and received Galicia. She forced the Ottoman Empire to give her Bukovina in 1775. In 1778, Maria Theresa claimed Bavaria.

Internal Reforms

An especially important activity of Maria-Theresa was domestic management of the country. All the time, when she was free from wars, she carried out reforms to the administration, where bribery and all kinds of lawlessness ad run rampant, to streamline finances, improve judicial procedures and legislation, and reorganize the military that had fallen into disarray. Before Maria Theresa, Austria was one of the most backward countries in all respects. The schools and the press were run by the Jesuits. The government was afraid to touch the outdated procedures in the administration, the court, and the financial department. She was Catholic, and opposed reformist ideas of the eighteenth century and supported clerical-aristocratic absolutism. Nevertheless, due to external circumstances, she was forced in the public interest to introduce necessary reforms in its’ subordinate areas. These reforms mainly affected the Czech-German hereditary lands and did not affect Hungary, since the latter maintained the old order. Assisting Maria Theresa in the reorganization were Count Gaugwitz, later Prince Kaunitz, and Earl Hotek. The feudal power of the landlords was limited and subordinated to the control of the state. A lot of attention was paid by Maria Theresa to the improvement of agriculture, the maintenance of crafts, the development of factory production, the expansion of domestic and foreign trade, and the opening of new consulates and ports.


She took good care of the sciences and the arts, in which she was actively assisted by Gerhard von Sweeten: she founded universities, higher schools for drawing, painting and architecture, reformed gymnasiums, brought the total number of schools to 6000, libraries to Prague and Innsbruck, organized excellent observatories in Vienna and Graz. She limited the influence of the church to public education and strengthened the importance of public authority in this area. The Jesuit Order more and more obeyed the leadership of state power regarding education. Even with her love of art, Maria Theresa still preferred not to spend surplus money. After accession to the throne, she sharply reduced the number of members of the court orchestra and cut musicians’ pay.


In the field of finance, Hotek made a great deal for Austria: due to his skillful management of finances, Maria Theresa could lead the Seven Years’ War. A fair distribution of taxes was introduced, and privileged classes, the nobility and the clergy, were now forced to pay them. Land reform was carried out based on measurement of land holdings and classifying the paying population.


In 1749, she laid the foundation for the separation of judicial and administrative power. In the years 1752-1763, three separate departments or ministries were set up. Beginning in 1753, work began on the development of a common civil code of law, which was to replace the local customary laws. A commission was formed for this purpose, whose work laid the foundation for the legislation of 1811. In 1767, the Theresian Code was issued, and a year later, a new criminal code of laws, “Nemesis Theresiana”.


Maria-Theresa left her state significantly improved, with an army of 260,000 men and with a greatly increased prestige in Europe. Energetic, active, intelligent, Maria-Theresa possessed great charm. In private life, she was an impeccable wife and mother. She had 16 children, of whom 10 survived. In Vienna, there is a magnificent monument in honor of Maria Theresa and her closest associates.

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