by Susan Flantzer
Maria Theresa Walburga Amalia Christina, Archduchess of Austria was born on May 13, 1717, the second and eldest surviving child of Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI and Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel. Her only brother died several weeks before she was born and her two younger siblings were sisters. The fact that Maria Theresa’s father did not have a male heir caused many problems. For more information see the Pragmatic Sanction of 1713 and the War of the Austrian Succession.
Maria Theresa married Francis Stephen, Duke of Lorraine on February 12, 1736 in the Augustinian Church in Vienna. Throughout his reign, Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI expected to have a male heir and never really prepared Maria Theresa for her future role as sovereign. Upon her father’s death in 1740, Maria Theresa became Queen of Hungary, Croatia, and Bohemia in the own right. She was unable to become the sovereign of the Holy Roman Empire because she was female. Maria Theresa’s right to succeed to her father was the cause of the eight year long War of the Austrian Succession. The Habsburgs had been elected Holy Roman Emperors since 1438, but in 1742 Holy Roman Emperor Charles VII from the German House of Wittelsbach was elected. He died in 1745 and via a treaty Maria Theresa arranged for her husband Francis Stephen, Duke of Lorraine to be elected Holy Roman Emperor. Despite the snub, Maria Theresa wielded the real power.
- Archduchess Maria Elisabeth (1737-1740), died in childhood
- Archduchess Maria Anna (1738-1789), died unmarried, no issue
- Archduchess Maria Carolina (1740-1741), died in childhood
- Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II (1741-1790), married 1) Infanta Isabel of Spain, married 2) Princess Marie Josephe of Bavaria, had issue from his first marriage (two daughters, who died young)
- Archduchess Maria Christina (1742-June 1798), married Prince Albert of Saxony, Duke of Teschen, had one stillborn daughter
- Archduchess Maria Elisabeth (1743-1808), died unmarried, no issue
- Archduke Charles Joseph (1745-1761), died of smallpox, no issue
- Archduchess Maria Amalia (1746-1804) married Ferdinand, Duke of Parma, had issue
- Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II (1747-1792), married Infanta Maria Luisa of Spain, had issue
- Archduchess Maria Carolina (born and died 1748), died hours after baptism
- Archduchess Maria Johanna (1750-1762), died of smallpox, no issue
- Archduchess Maria Josepha (1751-1767), died of smallpox, no issue
- Archduchess Maria Carolina (1752-1814), married King Ferdinand IV of Naples and Sicily, had issue
- Archduke Ferdinand (1754-1806), married Maria Beatrice d’Este, had issue
- Archduchess Maria Antonia (1755-1793), married King Louis XVI of France, became Queen Marie Antoinette of France
- Archduke Maximilian Franz (1756–1801) became Archbishop-Elector of Cologne
Even though he had 16 children with his wife, Francis was not faithful during his marriage and had a number of affairs. Despite being the nominal Holy Roman Emperor, he was content to leave the act of reigning to his wife. Francis died suddenly in 1765 at the age of 56 in his carriage while returning from the opera. His son Joseph succeeded him as Holy Roman Emperor although Maria Theresa continued to wield the real power.
In 1767, Maria Theresa had smallpox and after that, her health deteriorated. She died on November 28, 1780 at Hofburg Palace, after a reign of 40 years and surrounded by her surviving children. Maria Theresa was the last of the House of Habsburg. The Imperial House thereafter was the House of Habsburg-Lorraine. Her son Joseph, Holy Roman Emperor since his father’s death, succeeded his mother as King of Hungary, Croatia, and Bohemia. Maria Theresa was buried alongside her husband in a magnificent tomb in the Imperial Crypt in Vienna.
Unofficial Royalty: A Visit to the Kaisergruft (Imperial Crypt) in Vienna