Charles VI. 1712-1740
Foreign Policy
Habsburg Lands

Austria under Maria Theresia, Foreign Policy 1740-1780

Emperor Charles VI. was without a son. According to traditional law, a daughter could not inherit. In 1713 the PRAGMATIC SANCTION was passed by the various diets of the Habsburg territorial complex, which accepted Maria Theresia's claim to succession.
When Emperor Charles VI. died in 1740, he left behind a daughter - MARIA THERESIA. As she technically could not inherit the throne, the idea was to get her husband, FRANZ I. STEPHAN VON LOTHRINGEN (de Lorraine) elected. However, Prussia, Saxony, Bavaria and Savoy not only disagreed, but Charles Albert, Duke of Bavaria declared his candidacy, and he was well-supported. Furthermore, Charles Albert claimed to be the legitimate heir of the Austrian and Bohemian lands; with the support of French troops, he occupied Upper Austria and Bohemia, thus neginning the War of Austrian Succession (1741-1748). Already in 1740/1741, Frederick II., King in Prussia, had claimed, invaded an occupied Lower Silesia, beginning the First Silesian War. Spain and, temporarily, Saxony-Poland, joined the side of Austria's enemies. Bohemia, Silesia and Upper Austria were occupied by the enemy; Austria was without allies, only receiving a British subsidy. Saxony-Poland withdrew from the conflict at an early stage.
In this desparate situation, Maria Theresia rallied the Hungarian Diet (traditionally skeptical of the Habsburg Dynasty), raised a new army, signed a peace treaty with Prussia ceding Lower Silesia, drove the Franco-Bavarian troops out of Upper Austria and out of Bohemia, occupied Bavaria itself (1742), pushed as far forward as the Alsace. In Italy, Savoy-Piemont became an Austrian ally, fending off French and Spanish troops on this front. At this moment, Prussia again invaded; another peace treaty was signed which granted most of Silesia (excapt "Austrian Silesia") including the County of Glatz to Silesia.
In the end, the bulk of her inheritance had been kept together (except for Silesia; Parma had to be ceded to a Spanish sideline, and the western streches of Milan to Savoy-Piemont); her husband Francis Stephen of Lorraine was elected Emperor in 1745. But Maria Theresia felt betrayed by England, which had repeatedly used the Austrian dependency on subsidies to pressurize Austria into making concessions.
Maria Theresia intended to regain Silesia; from 1750 onward Austria sought an alliance with France (policy suggested by Wenzel Anton von Kaunitz). When Britain and Prussia signed an alliance in 1756, France accepted the offer (the Diplomatic Revolution); they were joined by Russia and Sweden (Seven Years War, 1756-1763). France even agreed to subsidize Austria; the subsidies continued for several years after the war ended, and this Franco-Austrian alliance lasted until the French Revolution.
Although Prussia was outnumbered in the Seven Years' War and militarily on the brink of utter defeat, because ot Russia switching sides on the ascension of Peter III. and taking a neutral stance under Catherine the Great, Maria Theresia had to sign a peace on the basis of the status quo ante in 1763.
Francis Stephen I. died in 1765; his son Joseph II. was elected King in 1764; factually he came to power only after Maria Theresia's death in 1780. In 1772, Austria gained Galicia (1772) in the 1st Polish Partition (in which Maria Theresia only agreed when she realized that otherwise Prussia and Russia would go ahead with the partition without her). In 1775 the Bukovina was gained from the Ottoman Empire.
Habsburg foreign policy included marriage diplomacy. Maria Theresia herself had 16 children (a reason for having so many to avoid the disaster of 1740 when Austria had to fight off numerous preditors). One of the children was Marie Antoinette, married to Louis, crown prince of France and future king Louis XVI., in 1770, an event confirming the Franco-Austrian alliance.
In the 1778, Duke Charles Theodor of Bavaria suggested to trade the Austrian Netherlands for Bavaria, a plan with caused Prussia to declare war (War of Bavarian Succession, a war which, for Austria, resulted in the acquisition of the Innviertel.

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
War of Austrian Succession; Seven Years War; War of Bavarian Succession, from aeiou
Biography of Wenzel Anton von Kaunitz, from Catholic Encyclopedia, from aeiou
DOCUMENTS Documents on the History of Austria, from Eurodocs
Pragmatic Sanction of 1713, from
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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