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Maria Theresa

      Maria Theresa, Archduchess of Austria, was born May 13, 1717, daughter of Charles VI. of the house of Hapsburg--ruling Austria for more than four hundred years--and of Elizabeth of Brunswick. From her father she inherited the "deadly Hapsburg tenacity," and from her mother much good sense and capacity for managing affairs, all of which stood her in good stead. She was especially fortunate in three things: that she lived in the time of Frederick the Great of Prussia, for thus she had given to her a chance to know of what stuff she was made; that she did not marry him, as was proposed by the great Eugene; and that she did not live to see the beautiful head of her daughter, Marie Antoinette, fall under the guillotine. Though the court of Charles VI. rivalled in ceremonial observance that of Spain, the little archduchess was reared in almost Spartan simplicity of dress and food. From Jesuit text-books she learned her history and geography, and she spoke several languages, none of which, however, could she ever write or spell quite correctly. But chiefly she was taught the pre-eminent dignity and power of the Hapsburgs, and the necessary indivisibility of the Austrian state. She learned to hunt, to shoot, and to dance, and at suppers of state she and her little sister were sometimes allowed to present to their stately mother her gloves and fan when the emperor rose. She had an aversion to business and great diffidence of her own capacity, and though the emperor took her to the council of state at the time of the Polish election, when she was only sixteen, he yet failed to give her any real knowledge of the commonest forms of business. In this austere court, never seeing a smile on her father's face, she grew up, "the prettiest little maiden in the world," to a radiant woman, heir-expectant to the throne by virtue of the Pragmatic Sanction, an order of state by means of which the Emperor Charles VI. had undertaken to settle the Austrian succession.

      At nineteen she was "beautiful to soul and eye," tall and slight, with brilliant complexion, sparkling gray eyes, and a profusion of golden wavy hair. She had an aquiline nose,--strange to say for a Hapsburg, an exceedingly lovely mouth,--and very beautiful hands and arms. Her voice was sharp but musical, and her quick speech and animated gestures betrayed an ardent and impetuous nature, though she never lost her high and dignified bearing. Her anger was easily roused, but never lasted long, especially when a fault had been committed against herself, and when she knew that she had been too angry she tried to atone by overflowing kindness. She needed only to be convinced that a thing was wrong, to give it up. Whatever she did she did with her whole heart, and gratitude was one of her strongest characteristics. Withal she kept a constant and steadfast soul, and her nature was delicate and refined; she was a worthy sister of Isabella of Castile. At nineteen, largely through her own persistence, she escaped being made a sacrifice to the political needs of Austria in being given to the heir of Philip V. of Spain, and married the man of her choice, Francis Stephen, the grandson of that Duke of Lorraine who, in 1683, together with John Sobieski, King of Poland, had saved Vienna from the Turks. Her husband was of comely person and suave manners, kind-hearted, though not strong nor brilliant. To him she bore five sons and eleven daughters. She was looking forward to the birth of her eldest son, when, at the age of twenty-three, October 20, 1740, she was proclaimed by the heralds Sovereign Archduchess of Austria, Queen of Hungary and Bohemia, for her father lay dead in Vienna, and all the cares and anxieties of government had fallen upon her shoulders. Austria was not one nation, but composed of many differing and scattered peoples jealous of their ancient rights, among whom there could be no sense of unity, and in his many disastrous wars her father had lost several of its possessions. There was the depression of defeat and mismanagement among the state-counsellors, there were only $65,000 in the treasury, and an army of but 68,000 soldiers. The powers that had given in their adhesion to the Pragmatic Sanction were tardily and but half acknowledging her succession, and from France she could get nothing but dissimulation and uncertainty. On November 1st the young royal wife was joyfully and peacefully creating her husband Grand Master of the Order of the Golden Fleece, and co-regent, and conferring upon him the Bohemian electoral vote. In less than six weeks from that day the Elector of Bavaria had laid formal claim to her throne, Frederick of Prussia had marched his troops into Silesia, one of her finest provinces, calling it his own, and the war of the Austrian Succession was on for seven long years; for the high, heroic heart would not yield one inch, and the sovereign ruler of Austria had met with fine Hapsburg scorn the insulting proposition of the King of Prussia that he would gladly support her right to the throne of her ancestors, provided she would resign to his obliging majesty the whole of Silesia.

      The aged counsellors who took it upon themselves to dictate to the young and inexperienced ruler soon found out their mistake. The little girl who had displayed an aversion for business was now a woman with talent for its details, only eager for instruction in order to make up her own mind. The army must be increased and improved, and the people aroused to enthusiasm, if Frederick was to be checked. And it was not Frederick alone that was to be feared, for a great coalition of European powers was formed against her, and she had but England and Saxony to depend on for help, while the enemy was already within her dominions. March 13, 1741, her son Joseph was born, and by September 11th the young mother was in Hungary to urge its people to come to the aid of the threatened country in its extremity. In deep mourning and still pale and delicate, holding the little archduke in her arms, her appeal to the Hungarian nobles roused them to lofty enthusiasm and gained their unswerving devotion. She never forgot this, and when she lay dying, spoke of them with grateful affection. The war went on with varying fortunes, but she kept heart and hope, though by the end of 1741 the powers were plotting the partition of Austria as a probable event. By 1743 the luck had changed; the Austrian army had redeemed itself, and Maria Theresa was fancying that she should be able to conquer Prussia. It was about this time that she began greatly to rely on Kaunitz, who afterward became Prime Minister, and who shaped for all the after-years of her reign the policy of her rule. The old ministers left her by her father were not able to meet the new difficulties, and the sovereign was often in great anxiety amid conflicting and hesitating counsels, for it was nothing less than the very existence of the country that was at stake. She was thirty-one years old when the war came to an end by the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle, the particulars of which were entrusted to Kaunitz while he was ambassador at London. By that treaty Maria Theresa gained the final guarantee of the Pragmatic Sanction, though she had to cede two of her Italian duchies to the Spanish Bourbons, and Glatz and the much-desired Silesia to the "bad neighbor," as she always called Frederick. She was twenty-eight when she had the pleasure of seeing her husband elected Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, gaining as his wife the title of empress, and being thus often spoken of as the empress-queen.

      The war was over, but she knew full well that it was only for a short time, and she spent the eight years of restless peace that followed, in the most unremitting efforts to enable her country to endure the next attack. She had proved that she could create heroes out of common men; she was now to extort praise even from Frederick of Prussia for "accomplishing designs worthy of a great man." A military academy was created at Vienna; order and economy were brought into the treasury and the army; she established camps of instruction and went herself to visit them, recompensing brave officers, calling forth abilities and emulation. The Department of Justice was disjoined from that of the Police, a superior court was established, and the direction of the finances given to a special council, reporting every week to the empress. She often consulted men who were not in office upon matters of policy, and thus got many valuable suggestions. Meantime Kaunitz was ambassador at Paris, and had been bending all his efforts to secure a French alliance, which seemed to him of so much importance that he even induced his royal mistress to write to the Pompadour with a view to securing the influence of Louis XV. in the impending war. This was not the only time that Maria Theresa sacrificed the woman in her to the ruler, for though above all breath of scandal, and devotedly attached to husband and children, she never forgot that she was Austria, and must maintain her inheritance. Then came on the Seven Years' War, in which she had as allies almost all Europe, though at its close she had to give up the last hope of ever regaining Silesia, which was as dear to her as Calais to Mary of England, Frederick agreeing to vote for Joseph as successor to his father as emperor. It was in this war, after the victory of Kolin, that she founded the military order of Maria Theresa, the beautiful cross of which is still the highest and most coveted Austrian decoration.

      At the end of the war she was forty-six years old, and it was only two years after, August 18, 1765, that she herself made the shroud for her husband, and put on the mourning which was to last for fifteen years. Ever after that she spent in seclusion the whole month of August and the 18th of every other month, thus breaking the routine of her busy days. I give in brief the account of one of these: Rising at five or six, according to the season, prayer, dressing, hearing mass, breakfast, work till nine on petitions and reports, a second mass, a visit to her children, more work till dinner at one, and again work. This she was apt to do in a sentinel-guarded arbor to which she would go from the palace, carrying despatches and papers in a tray slung by a cord round her neck. Vespers at six, an evening card-party, supper, a walk at eight, and then sleep. After the death of Francis she made her son Joseph joint-ruler, but soon found herself obliged to limit his authority to the care of the army. At fifty the small-pox greatly marred her beauty, though she was now at the age when the constant beauty of soul of her life shone fair on the lofty face. When she was fifty-three she bade good-by to the little fifteen-years-old Marie Antoinette, going, as she hoped, to assure the alliance of France, never to see her again. To her for the rest of Maria Theresa's life, as to the other married daughters, went a courier every three weeks with letters, which have been preserved, and may still be read for knowledge of the mother and empress. At fifty-five Maria Theresa became a party to the partition of Poland, and because this transaction is regarded as a blot upon her character, I give in full the words which she sent to Kaunitz when she returned to him the signed agreement. She was then fifty-five years old, and keen memories of 1741 and of her young life must have stirred the trembling pen as she wrote on it: "Placet, because so many great and learned men wish it; but when I have been long dead, people will see what must come from the violation of everything that until now has been deemed holy and right." And then on a slip of paper sent with the document stood these words: "When all my countries were attacked, and I no longer knew where I might go quietly to lie in, I stood stiff on my good right and the help of God. But in this affair, when not only clear justice cries to Heaven against us, but also all fairness and common-sense condemn us, I must confess that all the days of my life I have never felt so troubled, and I am ashamed to show myself before the people. Let the prince consider what an example we give to the world, when, for a miserable slice of Poland or of Moldavia and Wallachia, we risk the loss of our honor and reputation. I feel that I am alone, and no longer in health and strength; and therefore, although not without my greatest sorrow I allow matters to take their own course."

      The heaviest burdens and greatest trials of her life were now over. The fruit of her careful plans was beginning to be reaped in prosperity, and a long period of tranquillity had come. She turned all her attention to reforms: academies were established, among others one for the education of the Magyar noble youth in Vienna, that these might become the more surely incorporated with the Austrian system. The public schools were reconstituted, the monasteries reformed, and no longer allowed to furnish asylums for criminals. Priests were forbidden to be present at the making of wills, and the Inquisition was suppressed. Through most convincing efforts on the part of Kaunitz, the Jesuits had been finally expelled from the country. Agriculture, trade, and commerce were encouraged, though by the advice of England the navy was given up. Inoculation for the small-pox was introduced, and a hospital for its treatment, as well as a home for veteran soldiers, built in Vienna. When she was sixty, the war of the Bavarian Succession was happily ended, in opposition to the will of Joseph, by her most untiring efforts. Servitude and the torture had been abolished; the taxes, on a better basis, were bringing in large returns; a standing army had been created, the monarchy lifted and strengthened, and the court and the people stood together against oppression from the aristocracy. Austria had been carried from the Middle Ages into modern times, and was no longer a conglomeration but a nation.

      Maria Theresa had reached the age of sixty-three when the brave religious spirit, over which flattery had had no power, was waiting in pain and anguish but not in fear the hour of its release. The generous and open hand could no longer give; the heart so keenly sensitive to criticism was to dread it no more; the eyes that, as she had written to Marie Antoinette, had shed so many relieving tears were nevermore to need that relief. "You are all so timid," she said, "I am not afraid of death. I only pray to God to give me strength to the end." She did not forget Poland, she gratefully remembered Hungary, and then, with the cry, "To Thee! I am coming!" she sank back dead, in the arms of the son whom, as a little baby, she had held up in her brave arms to plead for the loyalty of the Hungarian nobles. The high imperial heart had ceased to beat, the house of Hapsburg had come to an end, and Joseph II., of the house of Hapsburg-Lorraine, was the sovereign ruler of Austria.

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