Maria Theresa (mərēˈə tərāˈzə) [key], 1717–80, Austrian archduchess, queen of Bohemia and Hungary (1740–80), consort of Holy Roman Emperor Francis I and dowager empress after the accession (1765) of her son, Joseph II. Her father, Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI, altered the Hapsburg family law by the pragmatic sanction of 1713 so that she might succeed to the Hapsburg lands. She was recognized by her subjects in the Austrian duchies and the Austrian Netherlands, in Bohemia, and in Hungary. The chief European powers had subscribed to the Pragmatic Sanction in Charles's lifetime, but when Maria Theresa acceded she was immediately confronted with a European coalition against her, and Frederick II of Prussia brazenly seized Silesia. In the War of the Austrian Succession (1740–48), Maria Theresa lost most of Silesia to Prussia but secured (1745) in exchange the imperial election for her husband. Her warm personality and strength of will won her the loyalty of her subjects and troops, to whom she appealed directly in moments of crisis. Her husband was given a share in governing her hereditary lands, but the actual government was in the hands of Maria Theresa, assisted by her able chancellor, Kaunitz. After the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748), Kaunitz accomplished a diplomatic revolution in concluding an alliance with France, the traditional enemy. The Seven Years War (1756–63) exhausted the strength of Austria. Maria Theresa lost no territory, but leadership among German states had definitely passed to Prussia. In 1772, Maria Theresa shared with Prussia and Russia in the first partition of Poland (see Poland, partitions of). Partly under the influence of her son, Joseph II (with whom she jointly ruled her dominions after 1765), Maria Theresa carried out a series of agrarian reforms and centralized the administration of her lands. Unlike her son she followed no particular plan and was, on the whole, conservative. A devout Roman Catholic, her court was the most moral in Europe. During her reign Vienna increased its reputation as a center of the arts and of music. Among her 16 children were emperors Joseph II and Leopold II, Marie Caroline of Naples, and Marie Antoinette of France. Her authoritative biographer is Alfred von Arneth.
See biographies by R. Pick (1966) and E. Crankshaw (1970); studies by G. P. Gooch (1965) and C. A. Macartney (1969).