Maria Theresa Walburga Amalia Christina was born May 13, 1717 and became the sovereign of Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Bohemia, Mantua, Milan, Lodomeria and Galicia, the Austrian Netherlands and Parma.
She started her 40-year reign when her father, Emperor Charles VI, died in October 1740.
Upon the death of her father, Saxony, Prussia, Bavaria, and France all repudiated the sanction they had recognised during his lifetime. Prussia proceeded to invade the affluent Habsburg province of Silesia, sparking a nine-year conflict known as the War of the Austrian Succession.
By marriage, she was Duchess of Lorraine, Grand Duchess of Tuscany and Holy Roman Empress.
Maria Theresa and her husband, Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor, had sixteen children, including Queen Marie Antoinette of France, Queen Maria Carolina of Naples, Duchess Maria Amalia of Parma and two Holy Roman Emperors, Joseph II and Leopold II.
Though she was expected to cede power to her husband Francis and Roman Emperor Joseph, both of whom were officially her co-rulers in Austria and Bohemia, Maria Theresa was the absolute sovereign who ruled by the counsel of her advisers.
Maria Theresa understood the importance of her public persona and was able to simultaneously evoke both esteem and affection from her subjects.
Maria Theresa reorganized Austria’s ramshackle military, all of which strengthened Austria’s international standing. As a young monarch who fought two dynastic wars, she believed that her cause should be the cause of her subjects, but in her later years she would believe that their cause must be hers.
Theresian Military Academy
Empress Maria Theresa founded The Theresian Military Academy on December 14, 1751 in the castle of Wiener Newstadt and installed Leopold Josef Graf Daun as its first commander.
In the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-48), Daun had distinguished himself by the careful leadership which was his greatest military quality.
Maria Theresa envisioned the academy as a place where her Austrian Armed Forces could train their officers in lower Austria.
Empress Maria Theresa famously ordered that day;
“Mach er mir tüchtige Officier und rechtschaffene Männer daraus”
(“Make me hard working officers and honest men”)
The Academy accepted 100 noblemen and 100 commoners per year to start their education there.
At first, it took 11 years to complete the Academy but step by step it was shortened to 3 years during wartime.
Seven Year’s War
The Seven Year’s War began with Frederick of Prussia’s invasion of Saxony in August of 1756, and an unsuccessfull attempt by Maria Theresa to reconquer Silesia.
During the peace that preceded the Seven Years’ War, Leopold Josef Graf Daun was engaged in carrying out an elaborate scheme for the reorganization of the Austrian army.
Maria Theresa went on to make Leopold Josef Graf Daun commandant of Vienna and a Knight of the Golden Fleece, and in 1754 he was elevated to the rank of Feldmarschall (Field-Marshal).
Due to his command of the Academy, Leopold Josef Graf Daun was not actively employed in the first campaigns of the war, but in 1757 he was placed at the head of the army which was raised to relieve Prague.
On June 18, 1757 Daun decisively defeated Frederick for the first time in his career in the desperately fought Battle of Kolin. In commemoration of this brilliant exploit, the queen immediately instituted a military order bearing her name, and Daun was awarded the first Grand Cross of that order. The union of the relieving army with the forces of Prince Charles at Prague reduced Daun to the position of second in command, and in that capacity he took part in the pursuit of the Prussians and the victory of Breslau.
In April 1770, Maria Theresa’s youngest daughter, Maria Antonia, married Louis, Dauphin of France, by proxy in Vienna. Maria Antonia’s education was neglected, and when the French showed an interest in her, her mother went about educating her as best she could about the court of Versailles and the French. Maria Theresa kept up a fortnightly correspondence with Maria Antonia, now called Marie Antoinette, in which she often reproached her for laziness and frivolity and scolded her for failing to conceive a child.
Maria Theresa was not just critical of Marie Antoinette. She disliked Leopold’s reserve and often blamed him for being cold. She criticised Maria Carolina for her political activities, Ferdinand for his lack of organisation, and Maria Amalia for her poor French and haughtiness. The only child she did not constantly scold was Maria Christina, who enjoyed her mother’s complete confidence, though she failed to please her mother in one aspect – she did not produce any surviving children.
It is unlikely that Maria Theresa ever completely recovered from the smallpox attack in 1767, as 18th-century writers asserted. She suffered from shortness of breath, fatigue, cough, distress, necrophobia and insomnia. She later developed edema.
The empress then fell ill on November 24, 1780, ostensibly of a chill. Her physician Dr. Störk thought her condition serious. By November 28, 1780, she asked for the last rites, and the next day, at about nine o’clock in the evening, she died surrounded by her remaining children. With her, the House of Habsburg died out and was replaced by the House of Habsburg-Lorraine. Joseph, already co-sovereign of the Habsburg dominions, succeeded her.
The empress is buried in the Imperial Crypt in Vienna next to her husband in a coffin she had inscribed during her lifetime.
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