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Maria Theresa, Austria’s great warrior-empress

Posted in Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Royalty, War on Thursday, 20 December 2012

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This edited article about Maria Theresa originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 800 published on 14th May 1977.

Maria Theresa Monument, picture, image, illustration

Maria Theresa Monument, Vienna

When The Holy Roman Emperor, Charles VI, died in 1740, he had no son to succeed him. It was his wish that his daughter, Maria Theresa, should assume power on his death but his kingdom was widespread and weak and those countries who had pledged support for Maria Theresa soon realised that they could turn the situation to their own advantage.

The king of its mighty neighbour, Frederick the Great of Prussia, marched into Silesia, a province of Austria, and took it over. France and Bavaria declared war, and Charles Albert of Bavaria was elected as the new Holy Roman Emperor.

Maria Theresa, who was born on 13th May, 1717, was a beautiful young woman of strong and noble character: she could not give up her inheritance. She appealed eloquently to her Hungarian subjects and won them over to her side.

When her enemies attacked, she hit back and clung on, and fortune favoured her. The new Emperor died and Maria Theresa’s husband Francis of Lorraine, whom she married in 1736, was elected in his place as Francis I.

A peace was patched up in 1748 with the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, by which Maria Theresa was accepted as ruler of the lands of her father – the duchy of Austria, and the kingdoms of Hungary and Bohemia.

With the raw materials of power in her hands, the young Empress began to build up her Empire, which had been stricken by war and poor government. She reformed the army and the administration of the many lands under her rule. She encouraged trade and a wider measure of religious tolerance. She set herself to raise the living standards of her people, and to this end introduced industrial, agricultural and medical reforms.

But war was not over for Maria Theresa – it could not be, with Frederick of Prussia as a neighbour. But although circumstances made her a warrior queen, she still strove for the peace which would make her empire prosperous. Her last political victory was the signing of the Peace of Teschen in 1779, by which her diplomacy averted another terrible struggle with Prussia.

Maria Theresa was now seriously ill, but after this success she felt that she could face death calmly. She died on 29th November, 1780.

The Empress was survived by 11 of her 16 children, one of whom was Marie Antoinette.

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