The accession of Maria Theresa to the throne of the Habsburgs Maria Theresa. marks an important epoch in the history of Austria. For a while, indeed, it seemed that the monarchy was on the point of dissolution. To the diplomacy of the 18th century the breach of a solemn compact was but lightly regarded; and Charles VI. had neglected the advice of Prince Eugene to leave an effective army of 200,000 men as a more solid guarantee of the Pragmatic Sanction than the signatures of the powers. As it was, the Austrian forces, disorganized in the long confusion of the Turkish wars, were in no condition to withstand Frederick the Great, when in 1740, at the head of the splendid army bequeathed to him by his father, he invaded Silesia (see Austrian Succession, War of). The Prussian victory at Mollwitz (April 10, 1741) brought into the field against Austria all the powers which were ambitious of expansion at her expense: France, Bavaria, Spain, Saxony and Sardinia. Nor was the peril wholly external. Apart from the perennial discontents of Magyars and Slavs, the confusion and corruption of the administration, and the misery caused by the ruin of the finances, had made the Habsburg dynasty unpopular even in its German states, and in Vienna itself a large section of public opinion was loudly in favour of the claims of Charles of Bavaria. Yet the war, if it revealed the weakness of the Austrian monarchy, revealed also unexpected sources of strength. Not the least of these was the character of Maria Theresa herself, who to the fascination of a young and beautiful woman added a very masculine resolution and judgment. In response to her personal appeal, and also to her wise and timely concessions, the Hungarians had rallied to her support, and for the first time in history awoke not only to a feeling of enthusiastic loyalty to a Habsburg monarch, but also to the realization that their true interests were bound up with those of Austria (see Hungary: History). Although, then, as the result of the war, Silesia was by the treaty of Dresden transferred from Austria to Prussia, while in Italy by the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748 cessions were made at the expense of the house of Habsburg to the Spanish Don Philip and to Sardinia, the Austrian monarchy as a whole had displayed a vitality that had astonished the world, and was in some respects stronger than at the beginning of the struggle, notably in the great improvement in the army and in the possession of generals schooled by the experience of active service.
The period from 1747 to 1756, the year of the outbreak of the Seven Years' War, was occupied in preparations for carrying into effect the determination of Maria Theresa to recover the lost provinces. To give any chance of success, it was recognized that a twofold change of system was necessary: in internal and in external affairs. To strengthen the state internally a complete revolution of its administration was begun under the auspices of Count F. W. Haugwitz (1700-1765); the motley system which had survived from the middle ages was gradually replaced by an administrative machinery uniformly organized and centralized; and the army especially, hitherto patched together from the quotas raised and maintained by the various diets and provincial estates, was withdrawn from their interference. These reforms were practically confined to the central provinces of the monarchy; for in Hungary, as well as in the outlying territories of Lombardy and the Netherlands, it was recognized that the conservative temper of the peoples made any revolutionary change in the traditional system inadvisable.
Meanwhile, in foreign affairs, it had become clear that for Austrian-French alliance, and Seven Years' War. Austria the enemy to be dreaded was no longer France, but Prussia, and Kaunitz prepared the way for a diplomatic revolution, which took effect when, on the 1st of May 1756, Austria and France concluded the first treaty of Versailles. The long rivalry between Bourbons and Habsburgs was thus ended, and France and Austria remained in alliance or at peace until the outbreak of the French Revolution. So far as Austria was concerned, the Seven Years' War (q.v.) in which France and Austria were ranged against Prussia and Great Britain, was an attempt on the part of Maria Theresa to recover Silesia. It failed; and the peace of Hubertsburg, signed on the 15th of February 1763, left Germany divided between Austria and Prussia, whose rivalry for the hegemony was to last until the victory of Königgrätz (1866) definitely decided the issue in favour of the Hohenzollern monarchy.
The loss of Silesia led Austria to look for “compensation” Austria and Bavaria. elsewhere. The most obvious direction in which this could be sought was in Bavaria, ruled by the decadent house of Wittelsbach, the secular rival of the house of Habsburg in southern Germany. The question of the annexation of Bavaria by conquest or exchange had occupied the minds of Austrian statesmen throughout the century: it would not only have removed a perpetual menace to the peace of Austria, but would have given to the Habsburg monarchy an overwhelming strength in South Germany. The matter came to an issue in 1777, on the death of the elector Maximilian III. The heir was the elector palatine Charles Theodore, but Joseph II., who had been elected emperor in 1765, in succession to his father, and appointed co-regent with his mother—claimed the inheritance, and prepared to assert his claims by force. The result was the so-called War of Bavarian Succession. As a matter of fact, however, though the armies under Frederick and Joseph were face to face in the field, the affair was settled without actual fighting; Maria Theresa, fearing the chances of another struggle with Prussia, overruled her son at the last moment, and by the treaty of Teschen agreed to be content with the cession of the Quarter of the Inn (Innviertel) and some other districts.
Meanwhile the ambition of Catherine of Russia, and the war Russia, Austria and the Ottoman Empire. with Turkey by which the empire of the tsars was advanced to the Black Sea and threatened to establish itself south of the Danube, were productive of consequences of enormous importance to Austria in the East. Russian control of the Danube was a far more serious menace to Austria than the neighbourhood of the decadent Ottoman power; and for a while the policy of Austria towards the Porte underwent a change that foreshadowed her attitude towards the Eastern Question in the 19th century. In spite of the reluctance of Maria Theresa, Kaunitz, in July 1771, concluded a defensive alliance with the Porte. He would have exchanged this for an active co-operation with Turkey, could Frederick the Great have been persuaded to promise at least neutrality in the event of a Russo-Austrian War. But Frederick was unwilling to break with Russia, with whom he was negotiating the partition of Poland; Austria in these circumstances dared not take the offensive; and Maria Theresa was compelled to purchase the modification of the extreme claims of Russia in Turkey by agreeing to, and sharing in, the spoliation of Poland. Partition of Poland. Her own share of the spoils was the acquisition, by the first treaty of partition (August 5, 1772), of Galicia and Lodomeria. Turkey was left in the lurch; and Austrian troops even occupied portions of Moldavia, in order to secure the communication between the new Polish provinces and Transylvania. At Constantinople, too, Austria once more supported Russian policy, and was rewarded, in 1777, by the acquisition of Bukovina from Turkey. In Italy the influence of the House of Austria had been strengthened by the marriage of the archduke Ferdinand with the heiress of the d'Estes of Modena, and the establishment of the archduke Leopold in the grand-duchy of Tuscany.
In internal affairs Maria Theresa may be regarded as the Internal reforms under Maria Theresa. practical founder of the unified Austrian state. The new system of centralization has already been referred to. It only remains to add that, in carrying out this system, Maria Theresa was too wise to fall into the errors afterwards made by her son and successor. She was no doctrinaire, and consistently acted on the principle once laid down by Machiavelli, that while changing the substance, the prince should be careful to preserve the form of old institutions. Alongside the new bureaucracy, the old estates survived in somnolent inactivity, and even in Hungary, though the ancient constitution was left untouched, the diet was only summoned four times during the reign, and reforms were carried out, without protest, by royal ordinance. It was under Maria Theresa, too,