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Facts about Maria Theresa

Vienna History: Maria Theresa Facts

April 6, 2017 10:00 am by

Discover more about Empress Maria Theresa, one of Austria’s best-known historic rulers

The only female ruler of the Habsburg dominions and the last of the House of Habsburg, Maria Theresa ruled for 40 years and is still considered one of the most important and colourful rulers in European history. Marking the tercentenary of the birth of the Empress, the Maria Theresa:  Strategist – Mother – Reformer exhibition explores the life and influence of this famous monarch. Find out some of our favourite facts about Maria Theresa below…

Maria Theresa gave birth to many, many children

Theresa and her husband wound up having sixteen children over the course of their marriage. She gave birth to five sons and eleven daughters, one of whom was Marie Antoinette and would later go on to become the queen of France.

Maria Theresa married for love, not for political gain

While it was standard for royal families to marry off their daughters for political advantages, Theresa’s father Emperor Charles VI ignored the advice of his advisors and allowed her to marry for love. She chose to marry Duke Francis Stephen of Lorraine, however on the proviso that he give up his territory in exchange for Tuscany.

Emperor Charles VI passed a pragmatic sanction to ensure his daughter became Empress after his death

To ensure that his family remained in power after his death, Emperor Charles VI fought to pass a pragmatic sanction that gave his eldest daughter Maria Theresa authority of the empire after his death. While he did try desperately to have a son, time was against him and he passed away when Maria Theresa was just 23 without one and the power passed into her hands.

When Maria Theresa became empress, she was woefully unprepared

While her father had involved her to a certain degree in the political inner workings from a young age, her early education focused primarily on ladylike pursuits and she had a steep learning curve once she came into power. She used her own keen sense of justice and also surrounded herself with trusted advisors to make judgment calls and became one of the empire’s most successful rulers.

One of her first challenges was a war with King Frederick II of Prussia

Following Empress Maria Theresa’s succession, rulers who had previously agreed to Emperor Charles VI’s pragmatic sanction reneged and joined forces in a war against her empire. Bavaria, France and Prussia all joined forces against her with King Frederick II of Prussia at its helm and the war waged on for eight years (1740-1748). It came to an end when a peace treaty was struck on the condition that Theresa concede three of her Italian territories, the most painful of which was losing Silesia to Prussia.

Facts about Maria Theresa

While Maria Theresa was a good ruler, she was not very tolerant of other religious cultures

Maria Theresa was openly anti-semitic and once said in a letter, “I know of no greater plague than this race, which on account of its deceit, usury and avarice is driving my subjects into beggary.” She even went as far as to ban the Jewish community from Prague, where she suspected that they were serving as foreign spies. She also held no love for Protestants, who she banned as well, but later allowed to worship in private.

After the death of her husband, Maria Theresa allowed her son Joseph II to rule alongside her

The death of Francis Stephen strongly impacted the empress and she dressed in mourning clothes until the day she passed. She decided to take a step back and crowned her son coregent to share some of the political duties, however she was wary of his judgment and remained strongly involved in decision making. They also clashed on a number of issues, including religious tolerance.

Maria Theresa introduced great educational reforms

Maria Theresa made many reforms that changed the lives of the serfdom, one of the most progressive being that she introduced education for the serfdom. It became compulsory for boys and girls aged 6 to 12 to attend school.

The empress contracted smallpox, but survived

When Maria Theresa’s daughter-in-law Maria Josepha of Bavaria fell ill with smallpox, the empress (who was then in her fifties at the time) wound up catching the illness as well. While Maria Josepha passed away, Theresa survived though it impacted her health for the rest of her life.

Maria Theresa’s efforts to restore Austria to former glory succeeded and continued to impact Europe after her death

The empress passed away in 1780 of what is believed to be a heart attack and her son and coregent Joseph II succeeded the throne after her. Although her reign had started with intense difficulties, she was able to make great fiscal, social and educational reforms and was seen to be a largely successful ruler.