Maria Theresa Walburga Amalia Christina was the last ruler belonging to the House of Habsburg. She the only female member of the Hapsburg family to be a ruler in their 650 year dynasty. Maria Theresa was born on May 13th 1717 in the Hofburg Palace in Vienna, Austria, where she also died. She was the oldest of three daughters of Charles VI, the Holy Roman Emperor and his wife Elisabeth Christine.
She was ruler of Bohemia, Croatia, Hungary, Milan, Mantua, the Austrian Netherlands and Austria for forty years. She had sixteen children with her husband Francis Stephen of Lorraine. She became Duchess of Lorraine when she married him. She was the mother of Marie Antoinette and two of her sons became Holy Roman Emperors, Joseph II and Leopold II. Altogether she had eleven daughters and five sons.
She was originally betrothed to Francis Stephen’s brother Leopold Clement of Lorraine, but he died of smallpox in 1723. She was then betrothed to Charles of Spain in 1725 by her father Charles IV. This made other European leaders nervous and they forced him to renounce the agreement he had made with Elisabeth Farnese the Dowager Queen of Spain, because it would have upset the balance of power in Europe to have the heirs to the thrones of Austria and Spain married. Her father then decided to have her marry Francis Stephen. They were married on February twelfth of 1736.
Maria Theresa ascended to the throne when her father died on October 20th of 1740. It is believed he died from eating poison mushrooms. Up until the reign of Charles IV there was agreement that he must have a male heir to pass the throne to but when he had no son he issued the Pragmatic Sanction of 1713 which allowed a female to come to the throne. Charles IV had gained agreement from many other countries to allow this but when he died, Prussia, France, Saxony and Bavaria would not hold to the agreement and a power struggle ensued. She immediately worked to gain the title of Holy Roman Emperor for her husband, Francis Stephen since a woman could not be elected to the position. Even though Francis Stephen was the titular Emperor Maria Theresa was the de facto ruler. The eight year War of the Austrian Succession followed and she lost a lot of land, with Prussia taking most of Silesia.
Her husband, Emperor Francis I died on August 18th of 1765. Maria Theresa spent the rest of her life in mourning, painting her rooms black and wearing mourning clothes. Her son Joseph ascended to the position of Holy Roman Emperor but like her husband, Maria Theresa never fully gave her son complete control of the Empire.
She contracted and survived smallpox in 1767 but probably never fully recovered. After this smallpox epidemic she decided to have her own children inoculated for the disease thereby popularizing the practice among Austrian doctors. She also invited the first group of 65 inoculated children to dinner in the palace, even waiting on them herself.
In 1780 on November the 29th she died in the Hofburg Palace in Vienna where she was born. She is buried in the Imperial Crypt in Vienna.