What was the impact of Habsburg Empress, Maria Theresa? How did her investment in reforms changed the lives of many?
If you have ever walked through the beautiful streets of Vienna, you might have noticed the gorgeous statues like the Wiener Pestsäule, the Mozart Statue etc. And although these statues are indubitably interesting, one statue I admired the most was one of Maria Theresa. It shows a set of statues that represent a facet of her rule. The statue illustrates the greatness of Maria Theresa really well. Hence why I found it fascinating to look at. But who is Maria Theresa and what was her contribution to life in Europe?
Maria Theresa as Habsburg Empress
Maria Theresa Walburga Amalia Christina, born in Vienna on the 13th of May, 1717. She was an incredible Empress who ruled over the Habsburg Monarchy. She was known for being the oldest child of Charles VI. Charles VI was the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in 1711 and ruler of the Habsburg Empire. Even though Charles VI never intended of having a daughter, she still became the sovereign of many territories. In her early reign, she shared her position with her father. After he died in 1740, she inherited the Habsburg possessions making her the first Habsburg Empress to rule over the empire.
But Charles VI left Maria Theresa with a weakened economy, a drainage of logistics and unpopularity. This was due to the War of the Polish Succession in 1733–1735. A conflict over the power of Augustus II. Hereby Austria lost Sicily and Naples. These territories were transfered to Charles III, the later King of Spain.
It was on this moment, 16 December 1740 that King Frederick II of Prussia, threatened Maria Theresa’s position during the First Silesian War. A war that resulted in the seizing of Silesia. Silesia was one of the wealthiest territories of the Habsburgs. Meaning, losing this territory, challenges the credibility of Maria Theresa as Empress. This was the start of the War of the Austrian Succession.
Changes under Maria Theresa
Empress Maria Theresa, never accepted her defeat in Silesia. So the War of the Austrian Succession continued until 1748 that ended with the Treaty of Dresden. And although the Habsburg Empress never reclaimed Silesia, she certainly gained the popularity as a result of strong defence.
Maria Theresa strengthened the empire afterwards. She started of reforming the Austrian army. Schools were constructed like the Theresian Military Academy on the 14th of December 1751. The Theresian Military Academy the is situated in the castle of Wiener Neustadt. In this academy, mulitary units were properly trained, making them more prepared for war.
Maria Theresa also reformed the empire’s economy, opening opportunities of unifying the territories with unitary economic rules. The state get a better insight in the structure of its lands. Making it easier for them to take measures when necessairy. As a result of the reforms, population started to increase. Due to this increase, it was easier to find more volunteers for the Military Academy.
Maria Theresa also reformed education in 1775. Children 6 to 12 years old were obligated to attend school. The state did not fund the reformed education though, which caused unease in the empire. The state had to use force to encourage parents to sending their children to school.
More drastically though, was how she reformed the public health system. She ordered people to construct the Vienna General Hospital. She also obligated the use of autopsies, resulting in the most autopsy records in history.
Further life in the Habsburg Empire
The Habsburg empress brought about many changes. Education was broadened, military as a result was also improved and she had a huge impact on health care. Not only by obligating the creation of hospitals, but also by expanding autopsies. The empire was thus much further advanced in various areas. So life became more modernised.