Maria Theresa (German language: Maria Theresia Walburga Amalia Christina May 13, 1717 – November 29, 1780) was the only female ruler of the Habsburg dominions and the last of the House of Habsburg. She was the sovereign of Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Bohemia, Mantua, Milan, Lodomeria and Galicia, the Austrian Netherlands, and Parma. By marriage, she was Duchess of Lorraine, Grand Duchess of Tuscany, German Queen and Holy Roman Empress.
She became sovereign when her father, Emperor Charles VI, died in October 1740. Charles VI paved the way for her accession with the Pragmatic Sanction of 1713, as the Habsburg lands were bound by Salic law which prevented female succession. Upon the death of her father, Saxony, Prussia, Bavaria and France (the states of Europe that had previously recognised the sanction) repudiated it. Prussia proceeded to invade the affluent Habsburg province of Silesia, sparking a nine year long conflict known as the War of the Austrian Succession.
Maria Theresa promulgated financial and educational reforms, with the assistance of Count Friedrich Wilhelm von Haugwitz and Gottfried van Swieten, promoted commerce and the development of agriculture, and reorganised Austria's ramshackle military, all of which strengthened Austria's international standing, but refused to allow the Jews to take over Austria.
Henceforth no Jew, no matter under what name, will be allowed to remain here without my written permission. I know of no other troublesome pest within the state than this race, which impoverished the people by their fraud, usury and money-lending and commits all deeds which an honorable man despises. Subsequently they have to be removed and excluded from here as much as possible.
—Maria Theresa of Austria
Though she was expected to cede power to her husband Francis I or son Joseph II, both of whom were officially her co-rulers in Austria and Bohemia, Maria Theresa was the absolute sovereign of her dominions. She criticised and disapproved of many of Joseph's actions. She vehemently resisted the First Partition of Poland, but Joseph and her Chancellor, Prince Kaunitz, forced her to authorise it. Maria Theresa oversaw the unification of the Austrian and Bohemian chancellories. She had sixteen children by Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor, including a queen of France, a queen of Naples, a duchess of Parma and two Holy Roman Emperors. Maria Theresa was intellectually inferior to her sons, but possessed qualities appreciated in a monarch: warm heart, practical mind, firm determination, sound perception, and, most importantly, readiness to acknowledge mental superiority of her advisers. As a young monarch who had to fight two dynastic wars, she believed that her cause should be the cause of her subjects, but in her later years she came to understand that their cause must be hers.
- English language sources also refer to her as Maria Theresia. As she was the second Maria to reign over the Austrian Netherlands (after Mary the Rich) and Hungary (after Mary of Anjou), she is sometimes listed as Maria II Theresa. Ellenius, 210.
- Marie Theresa. (2009). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 22 April 2009, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
- Crankshaw, 11–12.
- Dawson Beales, 39.
- Kann, 157.
- Russell Richards Treasure, 410.