Powerful Women in History 3 of 10 - Maria Theresa of Austria
Maria Theresa of Austria
born: 1717; died: 1780
Maria Theresa succeeded her father, Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI, as empress of the Hapsburg controlled lands of Central Europe in 1740. She made her son, Joseph II, coregent in 1765 after the death of her husband.
In the same year Maria Theresa came to power, Fredrick II of Brandenburg-Prussia initiated the War of Austrian Succession by invading the Hapsburg province of Silesia. Fredrick refused to recognize Maria Theresa as the rightful heir to the throne. He rallied other nations such as Bavaria, Saxony, France, and Spain to side with him and contribute to the conflict. Maria Theresa retaliated by rallying Hungarian arms to her defense. As a result, she was able to repel the invading armies and preserve the Hapsburg state as a major European power. The war officially ended in 1748 with the signing of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle.
Maria Theresa brought about many economic and political changes to her empire. She increased the size of the army by 200 percent and increased taxes in order to guarantee a steady income for the government, and in particular for the military. She centralized the government by combining the Austrian and Bohemian chancellaries, formerly separate, into one administrative office. She also started what became known as the Diplomatic Revolution in 1756 when she created an alliance with France, a former enemy, to serve as a coalition against the newly allied Prussia and Great Britain. Her reforms and political decisions were successful in strengthening the economy and the state in general.
Maria Theresa was also a participant in the Enlightenment. She strongly promoted education and liberal politics. She founded Imperial and Royal Academy of Science and Literature in Brussels and she supported medical research by demanding that the University of Vienna be given money to make the medical faculty more efficient. Some of Maria Theresa’s civil reforms included the abolition of witch-burning and torture, getting rid of capital punishment, and making education mandatory.