Maria Theresia Walburga Amalia Christina (13 May 1717, Vienna 29 November 1780, Vienna), the only female ruler of the Habsburg empire, she was the sovereign of Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Bohemia, Mantua, Milan, Lodomeria and Galicia, the Austrian Netherlands, and Parma. By marriage, she was Duchess of Lorraine, Grand Duchess of Tuscany, and Holy Roman Empress.
|Unlike most of his best known work, this portrait is painted in enamel on copper.|
Her 40-year reign began at the death of her father, Emperor Charles VI, in 1740. Charles VI had paved the way for her accession with the Pragmatic Sanction of 1713 and spent his entire reign securing it. (Upon his death, Saxony, Prussia, Bavaria, and France all repudiated the sanction they had recognized during his lifetime, and Prussia proceeded to invade the affluent Habsburg province of Silesia, sparking a nine-year conflict known as the War of the Austrian Succession.) Though she had been expected to cede power to her husband Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor, and, later, to her eldest son Joseph, both of whom were officially her co-rulers in Austria and Bohemia, Maria Theresia was the absolute sovereign who ruled with the counsel of her advisers. She instituted financial and educational reforms, spurred business and agricultural development, and reorganized the military, all of which greatly strengthened Austria's international standing. The Empress also understood the importance of her public persona and was able to simultaneously evoke both esteem and affection from her subjects.
She and her husband had sixteen children. Among the thirteen who survived infancy were Queen Marie Antoinette of France, Queen Maria Carolina of Naples, Duchess Maria Amalia of Parma, and two Holy Roman Emperors, Joseph II and Leopold II; the marriages of her all children would be carefully calculated to ensure the most political gain for Austria. Though her own marriage had also been an arranged one, the Empress was very much in love with her husband and was devastated at his death in 1765; for the remaining fifteen years of her life she wore mourning and completely withdrew from court and public life. Her health was severely compromised by an attack of smallpox in 1767, but she remained resolutely in command until her death at the age of sixty-three.