Austrian archduchess and reformer
13th May 1888: all the bells of Vienna are ringing. Everyone who is able is trying to find a place amongst the royal family, the bishops and the generals. In the midst of them all: 44 tons of bronze. Perched 19 metres above the throng is the reason for the celebration: Empress Maria Theresia. On the occasion of her 171st birthday her memorial statue is being unveiled. The royal couple Franz Joseph and Sisi smile, and Austria celebrates its Landesmutter, the Mother of the Nation.
“Trust is the greatest incentive. If trust is missing, everything is missing.” Empress Maria Theresia (1717-1780) on her personal philosophy. For her whole life Maria Theresia trusted in God, and in her own abilities.
The path of the Archduchess…
Maria Theresia Walburga Amalia Christina to the throne of the Austrian Empire was not an easy one. She had to fight in order to be able to succeed her father – as the first woman! Opposing her were Bavaria, Spain, Saxony, France, Sweden, Naples, and the Electorates Palatinate and Cologne, whose rulers all asserted claims to parts of the empire. No-one would have thought her capable of victory, yet she pursued unheard-of paths in both domestic and foreign policy. Under her rule, the organisation of the state, the judiciary, the military, the education system (compulsory schooling!) were all reformed, the number of public holidays was reduced and daily working hours for clerks increased. And alongside all of these political functions, she still found the time and the energy to bring 16 children into the world (14 of whom survived); this was also convenient for the expansion of Austria’s power, thanks to shrewd political marriages.
Traces of Maria Theresia
are still ever-present, thanks not least to her activities as a building contractor. Schönbrunn Palace was expanded from a hunting lodge into the imperial summer residence. In the gardens she had the Gloriette built as a memorial to victorious battles. The remembrance of the empress herself is also upheld all over Austria. Numerous streets are named for her, and her body lies buried next her husband Franz I in the Kapuzinergruft (Imperial Crypt). And on Maria-Theresien-Platz she still sits enthroned between the two museums and greets the crowds.
Text: Agnes Hamberger, Fotos: Christine Wurnig