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Women of Royalty
Maria Theresa
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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. 
 
Family Life
 
Maria Theresa and Francis Stephan had 15 children, three of which died in infancy:
 
  1. Maria Anna, 1738-1789
  2. Joseph II, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, 1741-1790
  3. Maria Christine, 1742-1798
  4. Maria Elizabeth, 1743-1808
  5. Charles Joseph, 1745-1761
  6. Maria Amalia, 1746-1804
  7. Leopold II, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, 1747-1792
  8. Maria Joanna, 1748-1763
  9. Maria Josepha, 1751-1767
  10. Maria Carolina, 1752-1816
  11. Ferdinand, 1754-1806
  12. Maria Antonia, 1755-1793
  13. 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.

Later Life    
 
     After her husband's death, Maria Theresa painted her rooms black and wore mourning clothes for the rest of her life. She turned her attention towards marrying of her children to strengthen the empire. One by one, the girls would dissapear from their rooms at Hofburg or Schloss Schonbrunn and be on their way to a new country. She also made her eldest son, Joseph, emperor and co-regent. She attempted to regain Silesia once again, however, she eventually had to give up and turned her views towards peace. She reformed the laws regarding the serfs. In 1771, the Robot Patent was issued that regulated the serf's labor in payments.
     On November 29, 1780, Maria Theresa died. At her death, when doctors attempted to give her alcohol to put her to sleep, she said she'd rather meet God awake. In the 650 years of Hapsburg reign in Austria, Maria Theresa was the only woman to rule in her own right. She was succeeded by her son, Joseph, who became Emperor Joseph II of the Holy Roman Empire.