Habsburg Lands 1712-1740
Domestic Policy
Hansburg Lands

Austria under Maria Theresia, Domestic Policy 1740-1780

When Maria Theresia succeeded Charles VI., she was 23 years of age. She inherited a country heavily in debt, with an inadequate army and a council of experienced advisers. It turned out that the Pragmatic Sanction was a document of limited value, as many foreign powers disregarded it once Charles VI. had died.
The first years of her rule, Maria Theresia was occupied with defending her inheritance. In order to gain the support of the Hungarians, she made a number of concessions to the Hungarian diet assembled at Pozsony (Bratislava, Pressburg) in 1741. Among the few other reforms implemented during the war was limiting the influence the Jesuits had over censorship.
From 1745 onward - the War of Austrian Succession was militarily over - Maria Theresia could afford to concentrate her attention on domestic reform. A first administrative reform was intended to centralize the administration (of the many Habsburg territories) to facilitate decisionmaking. Maria Theresia followed Italian Historian Lodovico Muratori in blaming the Catholic church, notably the Jesuit Order and its hold on education, for both widespread superstition and inefficiency in administration, army and society. The Jesuit Order was stripped of its control over censorship (1741/1759); higher education was reformed (1749/1753). Elementary schooling was placed under state supervision. In order to facilitate education, basic education in the mother tongue was promoted (in the multiethnic Habsburg Empire an important matter).
A second administrative reform was undertaken in the later part of the Seven Years War, Wenzel Anton von Kaunitz being the most influential politician.
Maria Theresia continued the policy of suppressing protestantism in the Austrian and Bohemian Lands; Protestants were forced to convert, Conversion Houses were established for the reeducation of protestants; stubborn protestants were forced to transmigrate to Transylvania. Maria Theresia was anti-Semitic; at several instances, she cancelled orders containing measures directed against the Jewish community at the advice of her councellors. The Orthodox Serbian community living in the Military Border Zone, however, enjoyed freedom of religion guarded by the Illyrian Commission.
In 1776, Maria Theresia abolished torture.

Maria Theresia ruled absolute only over a few regions of her Empire - over the Banat and the Military Border Zone, as well as over Carinthia whose estates had refused to accept her taxation demands. She respected the estates of the other Austrian and Bohemian Lands, however the Viennese administration clearly was dominant over them. Hungary, Milan and the Austrian Netherlands were given a more lenient treatment. Maria Theresia's education reform may qualify as enlightened; her policy toward religious minorities was in contradiction to the ideas of enlightenment. The cameralist economic philosophy, emphasizing national economy over freedom of trade, nonetheless was beneficial to the Habsburg Lands.

Biography : Maria Theresia, from Dr. Pavlac's Women's History Site at King's College
Biography : Joseph II., from Catholic Encyclopedia
Chronology Joseph II., from Austrian Coins; Chronology Maria Theresia, from Austrian Coins
Geschichte der Universität Wien, chronological table by Bettina Wallner
Biography of Wenzel Anton von Kaunitz, from Catholic Encyclopedia, from aeiou
Biography of Friedrich Wilhelm Graf von Haugwitz, from aeiou
Biography of Ignaz Felbinger, from aeiou
Austria : under Maria Theresa, from Jewish Encyclopedia
Kurz-Informationen zur Geschichte der evangelischen Kirche i. Ö. (Brief Information on the History of Lutheran Churches in Austria), posted by Evangelische Pfarrgemeinde Schwechat, in German
Zeittafel Kärnten 1732-1795 (Timeline Carinthia 1732-1795), from Archiv Verlag, in German
Zeittafel Tirol 1490-1813 (Timeline Tyrol 1490-1813), from Die Geschichte Tirols, in German
DOCUMENTS Documents on the History of Austria, from Eurodocs
Luise Gottsched : The Empress Maria Theresa, 1749, from Modern History Sourcebook
Map of Central Europe / Austrian Lands c. 1780, from Freeman's Historical Geography (1903), posted by Perry Castaneda Library, Univ. of Texas, Map Coll.
REFERENCE Charles W. Ingrao, The Habsburg Monarchy 1618-1815, Cambridge : UP 1994

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on November 12th 2004

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