Empress of the Holy Roman Empire
Maria Theresa was born Maria Theresia
on May 13, 1717. The daughter of Emperor Charles VI of the Holy Roman Empire and his Bavarian wife, Elizabeth von Braunschweig-Wolfenbuttel,
Maria was the product of the couple after their son, Leopold, had died young. In 1713, four years before Maria's birth, Charles
VI signed the Pragmatic Sanction, a family law that stated that all the Hapsburg lands would fall to the eldest daughter in
the case of there being no male heir. As Maria grew up at the Hofburg Palace and the summer retreat of Laxenburg with her
sister Maria Anna, her father worked to get the surrounding kingdoms to accept the Pragmatic Sanction so they would accept
Maria Theresa as the Empress of the Holy Roman Empire when she ascended the throne.
Maria fell in love with a young man named
Francis Stephan in her early teenage years. From the Duchy of Lorraine, Francis was the son of Elisabeth Charlotte d'Orléans,
a French princess whose brother, the Duc d'Orléans, had acted as regent for Louis XV during Louis' childhood. On his
father's side was Hapsburg blood, and Francis Stephan was accepted into Viennese society in 1723 at the age of 14. In 1729,
his father, the Duc de la Lorraine, died, leaving the 18-year-old as the hereditary successor, a line that had begun in the
time of Charlemagne. However, Francis lost the duchy in 1735 to King Louis XV's father-in-law, who had been the King of Poland.
Lorraine eventually became part of France, though Francis received the Duchy of Tuscany.
While Maria's head was in the clouds
thinking about Francis, Charles VI attempted to find her a more suitable husband, including the heir to the Spanish throne.
However, Maria refused and Francis and Maria were married on February 14, 1736. Unexpectedly, Emperor Charles VI died on October
20, 1740, at the age of 56, leaving an untrained Maria as the Empress of the Holy Roman Empire. The eight year War of Austrian
Succession exploded, with many nations taking advantage of the ill-prepared empress and tearing her empire apart. She lost
one of the most expensive and cultured areas of the empire, Silesia, to Prussia. With the treaty that ended the war, the Peace
of Aix-la-Chapelle, signed in 1748, Maria never recovered Silesia, and remained enemies with the Prussian ruler, Frederick
II, for life. The empire that remained included: Austria, Bohemia, Moravia, Hungary, Romania, and parts of Yugoslavia, Belgium,
Milan, and Tuscany. Francis was crowned Emperor after the war, Maria's king consort.
After the tragic war that had destroyed
Maria's power, Maria began to rebuild the empire. Her armies were trained and reformed thanks to Chancellor Haugwitz. The
empire began to strengthen, and Maria was universally admired. The number of troops was doubled and taxes were changed to
guarantee income for the government and army. The Austrian and Bohemian chancelleries were combined into one. Justice and
administration were overseen by the same officials, but a supreme court was set up to ensure peace and judgement in her empire.
The reforms strengthened the economy. Great Britain was dropped as an ally and Maria set up a military academy and an academy
for engineering science. The University of Vienna was given a better medical faculty. Once the armies were strong enough,
Maria prepared them for war against Prussia. Prussia attacked first, causing the Seven Years' War, and in the end, Maria was
forced to recognize Silesia as a Prussian territory in the Treaty of Hubertusburg of 1763. Two years later, Francis Stephan
died of heart problems.
Maria Theresa and Francis Stephan had 15 children, three of which
died in infancy:
- Maria Anna, 1738-1789
- Joseph II, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, 1741-1790
- Maria Christine, 1742-1798
- Maria Elizabeth, 1743-1808
- Charles Joseph, 1745-1761
- Maria Amalia, 1746-1804
- Leopold II, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, 1747-1792
- Maria Joanna, 1748-1763
- Maria Josepha, 1751-1767
- Maria Carolina, 1752-1816
- Ferdinand, 1754-1806
- Maria Antonia, 1755-1793
- Maximillian Francis, 1756-1801
To Maria, her children were pawns to use
to strengthen her empire. She married them off for alliances and lands, not caring whether they loved their wives or husbands.
Joseph was married to Isabella of Parma, the granddaughter of King Louis XV of France. They had a child, named Maria Theresa
after her grandmother, who died when she was 8. Isabella was a depressed creature, and when she died at the age of 22, Joseph
married Maria Josepha of Bavaria, who died of smallpox in 1767. Maria Josepha was hated by everyone. She was an ugly, dour
girl. One of Maria Theresa's daughters, Maria Josepha (who by coincidence had the same name as Joseph's wife), visited the
tomb of the dead Maria Josepha at the orders of Maria Theresa to show at least a sign of mourning, though the family was glad
to have the spinster woman off their backs. Maria Josepha caught the smallpox from the tomb and died three days later. Maria
Christina, Maria Theresa's third child, married Albert of Saxe-Teschen Stattsholder of the Netherlands to strengthen Austrian
ties with the Netherlands and Belgium. Maria Amalia married Ferdinand, the Duke of Parma, a Bourbon from Isabella of Parma's
family, strengthening French ties, who had been an enemy of Austria during the Austrian Wars of Succession. Leopold married
Maria Louise of Spain, a distant relative as a branch of the Hapsburgs ruled Spain also. Maria Carolina married Ferdinand
of Naples-Sicily. The marriage, like a few others in the family, was a depressing one. Carolina hated her husband, but she
had to learn to love him and bear his heirs. Ferdinand married Beatrice of Modena, a princess of Milan, a territory of the
empire, to have powers in the Italian areas of the empire. Perhaps the most tragic marriage was that of Maria Antonia (Marie
Antoinette) and Louis, the Dauphin of France and the later Louis XVI. Out of the many family marriages, the two were fond
of each other and had simple love, but their illustrious lifestyle and ill-preparedness to rule led them into the French Revolution,
costing them their heads. An error that Maria Theresa made in the upbringing of her many children is that most of the brides
she raised were in no war prepared for their roles. Whether as queen or duchess, the girls knew nothing of statecraft, just
as Maria Theresa had been raised. But contrary to what Maria Theresa presumed, her girls did not have her tactics nor her
skill. The girls who were not married either died young or did not have suitors, or they were stricken with an illness. Maria
Elizabeth caught smallpox and was terribly pitted and ugly. She would have been the bride of Ferdinand of Naples-Sicily, but
after her disfigurement, the role passed to Maria Carolina.
Although Maria and Francis loved one another,
affairs did surmount. Francis tended to take ladies from the court to bed, and had a liking to Princess Charlotte, who later
retired to a convent and became the Abbess of Remiremont. It is rumored that Maria Theresa had a liking to her sister, Maria
Anna's, widow, Charles of Lorraine, Francis' brother.