Maria Theresa of Austria: the most powerful woman in Europe

A first daughter, the year after Archduke Leopold’s death at the age of 6 months. And after her two more. Again. Always. Alas, since May 13, 1717, when little Marie-Thérèse was born, her father, Emperor Charles VI, will hope in vain: this male heir, so much sought after, will never succeed him. His wife is “sterile”. Who will inherit the heavy burden of ruling over the Habsburg possessions? An immense territory, which then united Austria, the lands of the crown of Bohemia, the lands of the crown of Saint Etienne (Hungary) and western Wallachia. But also a third of Italy and the Netherlands, with Ostend.

The “king” therefore becomes a girl

Charles VI refuses to see this empire fall in line with his brother and enemy, Joseph. So he took the lead. In 1713, he secretly amended the Inheritance Act: The pragmatic sanction now allows a woman to inherit land from the Habsburg house. Upon her death, and in the absence of a male descendant, her eldest may reign. The “king” will therefore be a girl.

When Charles VI died on October 20, 1740, Marie-Thérèse was 23 years old: “I lacked the experience and knowledge necessary to rule such a significant and diverse empire because my father never wanted to initiate or inform me. about behaving in my home. or foreign affairs, ”she admits.

A female slave of an ungrateful man

Beautiful and graceful, steel eyes, she is in love. Deeply in love! She gives birth to the third daughter – another – of her husband and cousin, Duke François-Etienne de Lorraine. Since she was 6 years old, she has loved it. He can deceive her, be a “poor warrior”, an “incompetent”, a “false”, one mocks … She sends him sweet words: “I am infinitely obliged to you for your attention to write to me from your news because I was in pain like a poor female dog […]. Goodbye my little mouse, I kiss you with all my heart, ”she wrote two days before her wedding. And to think that it is a female slave of an ungrateful husband who is taking the head of the most powerful empire in Europe!

As soon as she took office, Marie-Thérèse chose a “winter queen who ends with spring”. A testament to her “feminine weakness,” she appointed her husband co-regent. All of Europe is in revolt, and less than a week after taking over the throne, Marie-Thérèse experiences her first betrayal. To mark his opposition to the pragmatic sanction, his “best friend”, King Frederik II of Prussia, invaded his richest state, Silesia: “The emperor is dead […] it is the moment of the total change of the old political system, ”wrote the philosopher Voltaire on October 26, 1740.

Her most formidable weapon: her femininity

“Large” and without an army, Marie-Thérèse has nothing to resist. Low blows rain down. His cousin by marriage, Charles-Albert, Elector of Bavaria, asserted his place as emperor. He is supported by Louis XV’s France, which sends its troops to Bohemia … This war of succession to Austria will last eight years. Prague is falling. Vienna is threatened. The “naked queen” is mocked all over Europe through loose caricatures that invite her to “let go, if necessary, shirt and petticoat” …

Marie-Thérèse does not give up. She also wants to draw her most formidable weapon: her femininity. In tears or on horseback, she seduces at all costs. “Even though I am a woman, I do not lack courage,” she wrote as she tried to bring France back to its loyalty to its empire. His goal? Reclaim its people. In Austria, she walks the streets of Vienna. In her palace, she breaks the label. With her Hungarian subjects, Marie-Thérèse first plays the card … virility! On June 25, 1741, the day of her coronation as “king” of Hungary, she brilliantly performed the ritual of enthronement – reached the top of Mount Royal at a gallop and then swung a heavy sword in the direction of the four cardinal points.

She gave birth to no less than sixteen children

Two months later, abandoned by all, she appeared in front of the diet (Hungarian National Assembly) in mourning clothes, St. Stephen’s crown on her head, and prayed with warm tears to protect her, her “children” and his “scepter”. Affected, the Hungarian nobility “gave life and blood for [sa] Queen “. Her armies lose battles she gives birth to: no less than sixteen children, including five sons. This” mother of the people “is not content to just suffer her births, she raises her offspring, takes them to the show. When she arranges mask ball, all children are dressed up, even the youngest, like Marie-Antoinette, dressed in flowers in just 2 months. A caring mother as the thirty family paintings show. With every illness there is anxiety. Smallpox is devastating. She will lose four children.

She can count on female solidarity

In 1745, Marie-Thérèse became a dictatorial monarch. She signs separate peace with Prussia and France. And reigns solely on the advice of men, whom she selects for their competence, their honesty, and their loyalty. What is urgent at the moment is to ease tensions with Bayern. The sovereign can count on female solidarity, where her envoys are responsible for preaching to the wives of the powerful in Europe the validity of her policy. That year, Mademoiselle de Klenck received the secret mission to pervert the alliance between Bavaria and France … De Klenck maintained a secret and coded correspondence with Antonia of Bavaria, the wife of the heir of Saxony: perfect espionage! Well-informed, Marie-Thérèse thus succeeded in overthrowing the coalitions. After Bavaria, it will unite the French into the Austrian party. Is there a wind of girl power blowing in Europe? To Tsarina Elisabeth I, with whom she ended up having solid ties, Marie-Thérèse from Austria spoke about the “century of women”.

In 1765 François-Etienne died. He who has customarily divided his bed to the last is dazed. It is believed she will abdicate to make room for her son, Joseph. But until her last breath, in 1780, at the age of 63, she would not relinquish power. Marie-Thérèse prefers a new co-regency. But Joseph II is misogynistic, not very religious, and he admires the enemy’s fighting figure Frederik II. The guts are unfair. Not posterity. This powerful woman remains, in the words of Count Emanuel Silva-Tarouca, her faithful confidant, “the man of the century.”

She places her children before the courts of Europe

Marie-Thérèse was not happy to have given birth to 16 little archduchess and archduchess, but made the house of Habsburg-Lorraine flourish. In 1760, the imperial heir Joseph united with Isabelle de Bourbon-Parme, granddaughter of Louis XV of France and Philippe V of Spain. In 1765, Léopold captured Spain’s Infanta, Marie-Louise de Bourbon. In 1768, Marie-Caroline, 15, became the wife of Ferdinand IV, King of Naples and Sicily. The following year, Marie-Amélie joined her brother Joseph’s prestigious circle and united with Duke Ferdinand I of Parma. For Marie-Christine, her beloved “Mimi”, Marie-Thérèse would have dreamed of a husband who was more powerful than Albert of Saxony … The inauguration comes with her youngest, Marie-Antoinette, promised to the heir of France (the future Louis) XVI) from 13 years.

Leave a Comment