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Maria Theresa:
Hungary's Only Reigning Queen*

* Although Hungary did have a previous reigning Queen, Maria, the teenage daughter
of Louis the Great, her rule from 1382 to 1387 was short and of little significance.

Until the year 1740 the Habsburg Empire had never had a female ruler and neither had Hungary. Two Latin words, Pragmatika Sanctio, however, changed the situation, for they titled a new provision in the constitution allowing for a female successor to the throne in the absence of a male heir. Maria Theresa, the daughter of the Emperor-King Charles III was the first beneficiary of this new dynastic law - and was also the last.

In the first years of her rule Maria Theresa did not "benefit" much from her royal position. As all Europe watched with interest, the rivals of the Habsburgs did not lose much time in seeking advantage over this "weak woman." Charles Albert, the Bavarian king, announced claim to all Habsburg possessions; the king of Saxony and Poland wanted to take Bohemia; Frederick II, the King of Prussia, demanded Silesia, while the kings of Naples and Spain coveted Toscana and other territories on the Italian peninsula. Pursuing their aims vigorously, the Prussians defeated the Austrian army at Mollvitz, and thereafter Austria's enemies formed an alliance at Nymphenburg that aimed to conquer the Habsburg Empire and divide it among themselves - with Hungary almost the only Habsburg holding left safe from the proposed partitioning.

The Bavarians were marching toward Vienna at just the time when Maria Theresa was about to give birth to her first child, prompting her to lament that "I have no safe place in which to give life to my baby." And, in fact, her child, Joseph was born amidst the thunder of cannon fire.

But far from sapping her strength, Maria Theresa's new motherhood also gave birth to new energies that fueled her instinct to secure Joseph's future. As Queen she began feverish activity, dictating memoranda and manifestos and issuing orders even while she suckled her infant. Her options being very limited, Maria Theresa decided to make a dramatic move: to reach out to Hungary, the only kingdom that did not take part in the coalition against the queen. As Mór Jókai, the famous Hungarian novelist, wrote: "Other nations also have many good qualities: besides having a strong army; the French possess a brilliant intellect, the Turks are strengthened by their religious fanaticism, the Germans are filled with wisdom, the Poles are flamboyant patriots, the Russians are obedient subjects. But the Magyars have heart - only to reach this heart, one must find the right key.

Maria Theresa did find the "right key," through a gesture which is unparalleled in the history of the nation. At a time when her chancellors in Vienna were busy covering up the desperate plight of the throne, Maria Theresa decided to appear before the Hungarian nobles of the Diet in Pozsony to reveal the truth and to seek their help.

Dressed in black and holding her son in her arms


she made a spectacular entry before the all-male Diet. Then, with tears in her eyes, she appealed:

"The clouds of danger gather above us from all directions. I do not want to hide this fact from my beloved Hungarians, as you also are affected by it. The Holy Crown is in danger, I am in danger with my child and - abandoned by all others - I solicit the help of Hungarian arms whose fame shines throughout history. I appeal to the well-known gallantry of the Magyars and to their loyalty, it is in this fidelity that I herewith lay my future and my child's future."

Maria Theresa's words reached their target: the heart of the Magyars. By Jókai's account:

"At this moment all those present forgot past and current grievances, all the wrongs the Habsburgs had done to the Magyars, they brushed aside any ideas of cleverly exploiting the dynasty's predicament. Instead, all they saw in this moment was the injustice done to a lonely woman, a woman who, after all, was their Queen. The Magyars are always ready to defend the cause of the persecuted and never side with the powerful, be they ever so triumphant, to the detriment of the downtrodden.

Seeing the signs of suffering and the tears flowing down the face of their beautiful Queen, and hearing her heart-rending appeal, the Hungarian nobles were overwhelmed by what they had seen and heard. Maria Theresa, now, was not a queen wearing a crown of glittering jewels, but a queen wearing a crown of thorns. Prompted by the tragic magnificence of the occasion, all those present unsheathed their swords and broke out in one voice with the cry: Vitam et sanguinem pro regina nostra!" (Our life and blood for our Queen!)

These words, spoken in the official Latin of the Diet on September 11, 1741, were soon followed by deeds.

Hungarian Arms Come to the Fore

By year's end a Hungarian army 8O,OOO strong began a counter-offensive in all directions. First, the united Bavarian-French army was driven back and Munich,


the capital, was taken just a day after Charles Albert was crowned Emperor. The Prussian Frederick II concluded a peace treaty with Maria Theresa after his troops were beaten back by Generals Nádasdy, Festetich and GilIányi. The French were compelled to withdraw from Bohemia. All in all, the counteroffensive lasted for eighteen months and resulted in Maria Theresa's enemies being reduced from seven to two. However, hostilities were renewed in 1743-44 when Nádasdy and his troops occupied Alsace Lorraine, while General Károly Batthyány again pushed back the Prussians from Bohemia.

Hungarian arms were called into action once more in 1757 at the beginning of the seven year Austrian-Prussian war whose memorable feat of arms was the raid led by the Hungarian General Count András Hadik against Berlin in October, 1757. Hadik, with 4300 men, including 1160 hussars, succeeded in capturing the German capital and exacting a tribute of 245,000 thalers in what may be called the most daring raid in modern military history. It took place at a time when Frederick II was regrouping his troops elsewhere, and was executed with what for those times was lightning speed. When the marching distance of European armies was a daily 8-12 miles, Hadik's infantry managed to march 32 miles a day and his hussars 50 miles a day for ten days!

Hadik's raid embarrassed Frederick II and hurt his military prestige in the courts of Europe so much that he even thought of suicide.

During the war troops led by Miklós Eszterházy also captured Potsdam using the famous chateau of Sanssouci as their headquarters.

Once her reign was consolidated, Maria Theresa revealed herself to be a ruler with the heart of a woman and the strength of a man. Someone once said of her, only half in jest "... the only man in the Habsburg dynasty." Remembering the Magyars' contribution in saving her empire, she used to say: "I am a good Hungarian woman whose heart is filled with gratitude toward this nation."

This gratitude was shown in various ways. She re-annexed Fiume, the Adriatic seaport to Hungary, and the Temesi Bánság, a region the Habsburg administration had detached from the country after it was taken from the Turks. She initiated the building of new road systems, canalization, the drying of marshes and the building of schools.

However, the effects of the Queen's "gratitude" were uneven. Her donations of large estates to loyal nobles contributed to the unequal distribution of the land, causing a deepening social disease. While she pushed agricultural development, she neglected the building up of Hungarian industry lest it become an economic rival of Austria. The Queen's policy of stressing Latin as the language of government and legislation put the use of Magyar at a disadvantage. Also, Maria Theresa's gratitude did not stretch so far as to reunite Transylvania with Hungary. The region was kept as an Austrian colony, and as such, a hunting ground for recruits for the Austrian army. Enforced recruiting resulted in violent clashes between the Székelys and the Austrians and prompted many thousand Székelys to leave their villages to settle down in Moldavia and Bukovina beyond the Carpathians.

The Hungarian population was weakened in a sweeter way by the Queen herself. She succeeded in simply enticing the elite of the nation, the intelligentsia, by offering eligible young men glamorous positions in Vienna. Hundreds of Magyar youths from the best families were invited to join the Queen's Hungarian Noble Bodyguard where, besides being given glittering uniforms, they were also given the chance to delve into life in the high society of imperial Vienna. Most of these Hungarian youths married Austrian wives, slowly forgetting their mother tongue while adopting a foreign lifestyle, thus becoming a total loss to the Magyar nation. (Actually, this lifestyle was more French than German since at that time Vienna was strongly under a French cultural influence).

While a considerable part of the Magyar intelligentsia thus became alienated from their homeland, those who remained in Hungary used the Latin language, thereby isolating themselves from both foreigners and most of their own people. As a result, national consciousness seemed to be decaying.

Fortunately, there were some among the guardians of the Queen in Vienna who became aware of the dangers of their enticements. Led by Baron György Bessenyey, they formed a literary circle from which a new movement was launched to revitalize national consciousness. Their movement in turn, was instrumental in bringing about the reform era in Hungary, including the rejuvenation of the language, led by Ferenc Kazinczy, under the emerging star of nationalism, the new trend that was sweeping Europe as a result of the French Revolution.


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