Habsburg Empire 1712-1740 Habsburg Empire

Austria under Maria Theresia, 1740-1780

Domestic Policy
The Economy
Foreign Policy
Intellectual Life

Domestic Policy
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, a devout Catholic, 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.

The Economy
Count Friedrich Wilhelm von Haugwitz succeeded in pressuring the estates of Bohemia, Upper and Lower Austria, Tyrol and Styria to agree to pay drastically increased taxes, over a period of ten years, thus significantly increasing the state revenue and supporting a larger standing army. Higher taxation was enforced on Carinthia by decree; Hungary with Transylvania received a more lenient treatment. With state revenue rising significantly, Austria became less dependent on foreign subsidies.
In the 1750es and 1760es, Cameralist economic philosophy gained influence at the court in Vienna. It stressed that, as the nobles and clergy were (at least partially) exempt from taxation, state policy should promote the well-being of her peasants, who provided the bulk of the tax revenue. Maria Theresia issued a number of decrees intended to protect peasants against abuse by the nobility, such as excessive demand of corvee labour, the conversion of taxable peasant land into non-taxable noble domain etc. For this purpose, the land survey was begun (cadaster). Obstacles to trade within the Habsburg Lands were removed, a Customs Union of the Habsburg Lands established; External tariffs both for import and export established, which resulted in a reorientation of trade, increasing the importance of Trieste on the Adriatic Sea as a major port for imports. The Viennese administration promoted the development of manufacturing industry in the Austrian Lands (not in Hungary). Two costly wars (1741-1748, 1756-1763) had resulted in the accumulation of state debt. Yet, the economic policies resulted in rising state revenue; close to the ends of her reign, the Habsburg state came close to balancing the budget; the state debt was reduced significantly.
In the plains of Hungary and all along the border to the Ottoman Empire, devastated regions were settled. Settlers were called in from all over - from Germany, from Hungary itself, from Serbia, Slovakia etc. The settlers were given the assurance that they could administrate their own communities and practise their traditional religion. The result was a patchwork of ethnic communities. There were considerable pockets of German settlers in Hungary (Banater Schwaben) and in Transylvania (Siebenbürger Sachsen). The ethnic mixture, of no concern to politicians in the 18th century, would cause a host of troubles in the 20th century.
While her economic policies by and large were successful, Maria Theresia's religious policy was counterproductive.
In 1753 Austria introduced the Gulden currency, 1 Gulden (fl) = 60 Kreuzer. In 1762 the Wiener Stadtbank (Vienna City Bank) first issued banknotes.

Foreign Policy
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 beginning 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 Prussia.
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 Britain, 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.

Intellectual Life
Maria Theresia, despite her pragmatic decision to disempower the Jesuit Order and reform education, was thoroughly Catholic and despised heresy. She was anti-Semitic and could only narrowly be convinced to take back the order to evict the entire Jewish community of Prague (Jews had supported Charles-Albert with a credit during the Bavarian occupation of Bohemia). When Austria gained Galicia in 1772, Maria Theresia regretted the fact that the acquisition more than doubled the Jewish population of her Empire.
Maria Theresia ordered the protestant inhabitants of her Austrian lands to be either converted and reeducated in Conversion Houses, or forced to migrate to Transylvania, the one territory in her Empire where religious toleration was practised (1752-1758 : 2974 persons; a second wave of forced resettlement followed in 1773-1776). In the process of transmigration, the fatality rate was high. Of course, transmigration was a policy promoted by cameralist councillors; under her predecessor, protestants were forced to emigrate altogether, the bulk ending up in East Prussia; in Transylvania, the protestant peasants could still contribute to the Habsburg state revenue.
Maria Theresia not only deprived the Jesuits of their detrimental influence over censorship, but over time placed the entire education system under state supervision. School types were standardized, the education of teachers and school curricula regulated by the state (1770es, a reform implemented by Ignaz Felbinger). The emphasis turned from Latin to the vernacular, a policy which marks the beginning of the cultural-national awakening of many an ethnic group within the multiethnic Habsburg Empire.
Vienna developed into the main cultural center of Germany. Artists like Joseph Haydn were attracted by the court of Vienna, because benefactors paying for their service were most likely to be found here.

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
Wichtige Ereignisse und Gesetze in Österreichs Währungsgeschichte (Important data in the history of Austria's currency), posted by Euro Bulletin No.7, timeline, in German
Aleksander Panjek, Real Estate Construction and Economic Cycles in the Austrian Port City of Trieste (1760-1809), IEHC 2006
Articles War of Austrian Succession; Seven Years War; War of Bavarian Succession, Bukovina from aeiou
Geschichte der Universität Wien, chronological table by Bettina Wallner
Austria : under Maria Theresa, from Jewish Encyclopedia
Die Ländlerdörfer in Siebenbürgen, by Peter Görlich (The Villages of Protestant Transmigrants in Transylvania); a narration in German
Landler und andere Altösterreicher (The Landler and other Old Austrians), from Landlerhilfe, 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.
Coins : Maria Theresia, from Coins from Famous People in History; Coins of Maria Theresia, Joseph II. and Leopold II., from Austrian Coins
Pragmatic Sanction of 1713, from heraldica.org
REFERENCE Charles W. Ingrao, The Habsburg Monarchy 1618-1815, Cambridge : UP 1994

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First posted in 2000, last revised on September 21st 2008

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