|By Andreas Moller via Wikimedia Commons|
It was a right that her father, Emperor Charles VI had sought desperately to assure. In a nation hampered by Salic law that barred female accession, Charles realized early on that his death could mean the end of his dynasty on the throne. After his older brother's death leaving only a daughter, Charles was the only male left standing. After three years of childless marriage, he began to worry about the issue. If he had no children, he wanted his brother's daughter, Maria Josepha, to succeed him. In 1713, he issued the Pragmatic Sanction declaring that a woman could inherit his hereditary possessions, which at that time included Austria, Hungry, Croatia, Bohemia, Milan, Naples, Sicily, and the Austrian Netherlands. He spent the rest of his life trying to convince foreign rules and rival claimants to respect this decision. Once his own daughters were born, he became even more obsessed by it. (His first child, a son born in 1716 died that same year.) He even traded off territory and made financial commitments to convince them.
|Maria Theresa and Francis Stephen with 11 of their children.|
By Martin van Meytens via Wikimedia Commons
She would fight Frederick the Great two more times, but he always had the greatest respect for her, calling her "the only man among my opponents."
Maria Theresa was one of the earliest examples of a successful "working mother", taking her dual roles equally seriously. She was keenly aware of her children's value to the Hapsburg dynasty (which had often used marriage as a means of acquiring riches, lands and allies) but she was also deeply in love with them and highly involved in their education and upbringing. When her daughters went off to marry foreign princes, her frequent correspondence advised them not just about their duties as wives and mothers but of their political roles as daughters of Austria. Two of her daughters became queen consorts: Maria Carolina of Naples and Sicily and the most famous of her children, Marie Antoinette of France, whose struggles with fertility and with "fitting in" in the Parisian court deeply concerned her mother, who thankfully did not live long enough to see Antoinette's execution in the French Revolution.
|By Martin van Meytens via Wikimedia Commons|
Throughout her early reign, she relied upon a strong relationship first with her husband, whom she loved dearly. After his death in 1765 she appointed her son Joseph as co-ruler, but their relationship was less smooth, mainly due to temperamental differences but also some fundamental political disagreements. She strongly disagreed with Joseph's support of partitioning Poland between Austria, Germany and Russia, only changing her mind after realizing that Germany and Russia would gladly leave Austria out.
Maria Theresa passed away in 1780 at the age of 63, leaving behind a much stronger Hapsburg empire than she had inherited.
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