Maria Theresia, * 1717
Maria Theresia. Painting by M. v. Meytens, 1759 (Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna).
Maria Theresia, b. Vienna, May 13, 1717, d. Vienna, Nov. 29, 1780, Archduchess of Austria, Queen of Hungary and Bohemia in 1740. From 1745 called herself "Roman Empress". Feb. 12, 1736 married Duke Franz Stephan of Lorraine, who was 9 years her senior (from 1737 Grand Duke of Tuscany, from 1745 Emperor under the name of Franz I); after her father's death (Karl VI) in 1740 M. T. took over the reign over the Habsburg countries under the Pragmatic Sanction and ruled the Habsburg Empire with more authority than her father. The initial loss of the Imperial crown weighed heavily on her. She was gratified, however, when her husband was elected Emperor in 1745 and her son Joseph II became Roman King in 1764, feeling that Divine order had been restored.
The rule of M. T. (see: Maria Theresia, Age of) was marked by the implementation of major reforms which effected considerable modernisation in all the Habsburg territories: M. T. modernised the administration, reorganised the army (and established a military academy in the town of Wiener Neustadt), eased the life of the peasants (e.g. by limiting the amount of forced labour), introduced compulsory school attendance, abolished torture and reduced the influence of the Church (abolition of the Jesuits 1773).
M. T. had 16 children, (11 girls, 5 boys), 3 of whom died when still in their infancy, 3 more in their teenage years. 2 sons became regents (Joseph II and Leopold II), 2 daughters and her youngest son remained unmarried. In her younger years M. T. was lively and impulsive, she had an adequate, not overly thorough education, she spoke German with a Viennese accent, as well as Latin, Spanish, French and Italian and she loved music (all her children learnt to play musical instruments) and enjoyed gambling. She was always deeply attached to her husband, whom she made co-regent in 1740; as a widow she always (from August 18, 1765 onwards) wore mourning, used back-edged stationary and became deeply pessimistic. She nevertheless exhibited an outstanding sense of responsibility, reliability and diligence to the last.
She was a devout believer in God, her faith having its roots in Austrian Baroque Catholicism. She made many donations to churches and vehemently rejected religious tolerance. Was strictly opposed to any sort of indecent behaviour, also in entertainments and on the stage (founded the "Commission against Immoral Conduct"). From her youth M. T. tended to overweight, and walked with difficulty in old age. This is why she had a lift installed in her main residence, Schönbrunn Palace. She was constantly preoccupied about her children, had them vaccinated against smallpox (a completely new procedure at that time, also in order to give a good example) and always tried to keep up her influence on her daughters (Marie Christine, Maria Amalia, Maria Karolina and Marie Antoinette), some of whom were married to princes of the vast House of Bourbon, France.
When she died, there was no great mourning among the Austrian people, and it was only later that M. T. became a symbol of strength and was seen as an exemplary mother. However, even during her lifetime her picture was found in many abbeys and palaces; in the 18th and 19th centuries many monuments were dedicated to her in several towns throughout the Monarchy (Klagenfurt, B. F. Moll 1765; Vienna Belvedere, F. X. Messerschmidt 1766; Festive hall of the University of Vienna, J. Pechan 1886; State Archive, E. von Hellmer 1880; Military Academy Wiener Neustadt, H. Gasser 1862; Theresienfeld, A. Grath 1928). The most important monument is in Vienna, (C. von Zumbusch und Baron C. von Hasenauer) off Ringstrasse, in the park between the Kunsthistorisches Museum and the Museum of Natural History, and dates from 1888. The sarcophagus in the family vault (Kapuzinergruft) is of high artistic value (double coffin together with Franz I by B. F. Moll).
Literature: G. and G. Mraz, M. T. Ihr Leben und ihre Zeit in Bildern und Dokumenten, 1979; W. Koschatzky (ed.), M. T. und ihre Zeit, 1979; G. Fussenegger, M. T., 1980; V. L. Tapié, M. T., 21994; NDB.
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