Maria Theresa of Austria - George Upton

Campaigns Against Prussia, France,
and Bohemia

And yet—! Where the Spree winds along between its sandy banks, a young eagle was beginning his flight toward the sun. Prince Eugene, "the gallant knight," had seen more clearly than he whose eyes were fixed only on the Pragmatic Sanction. His good counsel had shared the fate of all well-meant advice which earns no thanks and is rarely followed, and there was no one now at the imperial court who had Eugene of Savoy's far-seeing vision in matters of statecraft. But the eagle had already spread his pinions, and though he had but one head, to be sure, yet what a head it was! This eagle was the young King of Prussia, Frederick, second of the name.

The year 1740 had witnessed new rulers upon two thrones: upon the smaller, and, one might say, still embryonic one, a man; upon the greater, already established, a woman; both young, energetic, and richly endowed by nature, both the foremost figures of their time.

The proverb, "Two hard stones seldom grind well," has much truth in it, and none the less if the word "hard" be taken in a figurative sense. Thousands of heads and hearts were agitated by the question, how these two European monarchs of equal birth and capabilities would get on together. Would not all their power be exerted to obtain the supremacy? And in this struggle, to use a popular but expressive phrase, would not "the fur fly"?

It was only in Vienna that people were deceived as to Frederick's strength. Those immediately about the gifted young King were little concerned as to the outcome of any warlike complications, for from the very earliest days of his reign he had been strengthening and equipping his army. A well-filled treasury also favored his secretly cherished plan of claiming the Duchy of Silesia, and winning back with the sword what he considered his own inheritance, according to some old agreement concerning the succession. His army advanced suddenly against Silesia, and he followed it immediately after a court ball in Berlin, where no one had the least suspicion of his intention. He despatched Count Gotter to Vienna, it is true, to state the terms by which war could be averted; but Austria would not consent to them, and while these brief negotiations were being conducted, Frederick's army had already set foot upon the frontier of Silesia.

This news fell upon the Austrian sovereign like a thunderbolt out of a clear sky; but the die was cast, the torch of war alight. To resign Silesia voluntarily never entered her mind for a moment, but alas! her father's indifference to Prince Eugene's wise counsel was now bearing fruit. Although not willing to accept Frederick's terms for a peaceful settlement of the question, Maria Theresa realized fully the difficulties of her situation, and hastily called upon those who had recognized the Pragmatic Sanction to redeem their promises and lend her some substantial support now that so powerful an assault had been made upon this measure. But she only had to face the bitter experience expressed in the old saying:

"Friends in prosperity—

Each will weigh a pound;

But to the ounce, in time of need,

A thousand may be found!"

Those whom she summoned to her aid shrugged their shoulders, and sympathized, but made no move to array themselves on her side. It is the way of the world, and in this dark hour Maria Theresa was forced to learn, in bitterness of spirit, that there is a vast difference between words and deeds.

There was not much time for choice. The situation must be met at once; but the Austrian force in Silesia was too small to build any hopes upon. Browne collected an army in Moravia; but to cross the mountains by bad roads and at an unfavorable time of year was a task not easily or quickly accomplished, so that, thanks to his own energy and his well-equipped and disciplined army, Frederick made a rapid advance, and had gained possession of the most important places before Browne's troops could get near enough to attempt any effective movements. When the cannon finally thundered at Mollwitz, Schwerin gained a brilliant victory over the Austrians, little in his favor as the conflict promised to be at first.

The loss of this battle was a great disaster, and the saying that troubles never come singly proved true likewise. Thus encouraged, all the enemies of Austria, who until now had prudently hidden their real animosity under the mask of friendship, threw off their disguise and openly arrayed themselves on the side of the young King of Prussia. The aggrandizing spirit of France, ever casting covetous glances toward the Rhine, made itself most actively felt, but intrigues were rife everywhere, and already there was talk of a division of the Austrian Empire among its enemies.

Whether all these castles were to prove only castles in the air depended now on Maria Theresa. Old Austrian statesmen might doubtfully shake their bewigged heads, but their youthful ruler never wavered. Not a finger's breadth of Silesia would she surrender; at no price would she voluntarily part with any of her inheritance. She well knew what her duty required, and the birth of a son (afterward the great Emperor Joseph II) vindicated this noble woman's firmness and masculine strength of purpose. Her heart was full of faith and courage, and the joy her maternity brought her was shared by the people, who showed a touching devotion to her. This was the foundation upon which she built her hopes; and it was strong enough to warrant confidence in Austria's future, though the present looked dark enough.

England made an effort to mediate between Maria Theresa and her adversary, but Frederick rejected any compromise and demanded the cession of Silesia, with the threat that if it were not yielded to him he would seize not only it, but four other duchies beside. He could always be depended on to keep his word, especially when he made emphatic statements, and Maria Theresa's cause seemed lost before it really was so. But she stood firm as a rock, in spite of her increasing danger; in spite of the faintheartedness of her ministers; in spite of the plots of her enemies; in spite of Frederick II's confidence. At any cost the war must be carried on; she must not allow herself to be humbled. The time for negotiation was past; action must take its place; words were useless, deeds must decide.

Maria Theresa's prospects were dubious. The French had crossed the Rhine with a large force and joined Bavaria. Passau was taken by surprise; Linz had fallen; even Vienna was threatened, and would have been obliged to surrender had the enemy pressed its advantage that far.

Maria Theresa had been active in her preparations in the meantime. The love of the people for their distressed ruler showed itself everywhere. Men flocked to the recruiting stations, and all who were able hastened to take up arms. In Vienna there was the greatest enthusiasm; all work in the shops ceased, and thousands of strong arms toiled at the neglected fortifications of the imperial city. Neither were there only men's hands at work, for women and young girls were to be seen in the ranks of the toilers, laboring indefatigably, just as it had been when Kara Mustapha had approached Vienna, and Kolonitzsch and the old hero Stahremberg led the defence.

Everywhere the greatest interest was felt in the fate of the beautiful, unfortunate Princess, and the women especially, both of her own and foreign countries, showed the warmest sympathy, while in England they vied with one another in contributing money for her treasury, knowing that she greatly needed such assistance. But her foes were too many and too strong for her, and all these efforts would have been in vain had not Hungary, with chivalrous self-sacrifice, lent its aid to the Princess who wore its sacred crown also.

Maria Theresa had won the love of the Hungarians, and this conquest now bore her golden fruit, for the love of a people is the only lasting bulwark of a throne. Certain States, however, to assert their own importance, seemed determined to break down this bulwark. But when she appeared in the midst of the assembly of the Hungarian States, her deeply troubled look and the appeal that sprang from her over-laden heart fired the nobles with wild enthusiasm. "We are ready to die for our Queen, Maria Theresa!" rang from every throat and welled out from every heart as an oath of fidelity, and the unanimous resolution was at once taken to aid her with all their forces.

[Illustration] from Maria Theresa of Austria by George Upton


Maria Theresa was deeply affected; she burst into tears, and who does not know the effect that tears in a woman's eyes have upon the hearts of men? When Maria Theresa's consort had been acknowledged as co-regent by the Hungarians, the oath taken, and she held up her little son Joseph before the Diet at that solemn moment, such a burst of enthusiasm followed that they swore afresh their willingness to die for their Queen, and declared firmly that if money were needed for the war they would cast all their gold and silver ornaments and vessels into the smelting-pot,—indeed, were this not enough, even the treasures of the Church should be added.

If anything could have comforted Maria Theresa's mind and raised her spirits, it would have been this experience. There is not much danger of a _tottering throne where the people are so ready to prove their devotion by any sacrifice; and what Hungary promised it faithfully performed. At this time the mixture of peoples along the Danube, where it approaches the Turkish possessions, with the tribes that Russia in Asia had contributed, could hardly have been equaled for wildness and barbarity. They were good light horsemen, and always ready when it was a question of destruction and pillage; but in open warfare against the well-drilled Prussians they stood but a doubtful chance. Nevertheless, they had Cossacks among them that had not done badly in harassing the French. The Hungarians, though headed by a nobility of their own, had only these people to depend on, but they were better than nothing, and the fifteen thousand nobles with their followers made a heavy balance in the scales. Every heart was full of enthusiasm for the noble woman who was so hard pressed, and while their forces were being organized—for an army is not raised by the stroke of a magic wand—this sentiment deepened continually.

While the hostile army had already advanced as far as Linz, the Queen hoped for assistance from England in the shape of gold from London and troops from Hanover, but it seemed in truth as though all help would be cut off. Even when George II of England had raised an army in Hanover, the French, under Maillebois, marched up through Westphalia, and the English began to find Hanover uncomfortable. With an Englishman charity begins at home, and George's "skin was nearer to him than his shirt," as the saying goes, so he made the best terms he could with the French, and abandoned Maria Theresa in spite of all his chivalrous protestations.

With France, Bavaria, and Saxony threatening her on one side, Prussia on the other, and as yet no army to oppose them with any hope of success, what could be more welcome than a settlement with Frederick II, arranged by England's mediation, and to which Frederick gladly agreed, since it secured him the possession of Silesia and averted the danger that seemed impending from the attitude of the Elector of Bavaria? The treaty was signed at Oberschnellendorf, but absolute secrecy was to be maintained concerning it. Thus Maria Theresa acquired, in this direction, at least, a free hand; and it was very necessary, for Bavaria and France were seriously threatening the capital of Bohemia, whence the Elector of Bavaria might have taken Vienna at a single blow, but, allured by the prospect of a crown, the attraction in Bohemia was too strong.

Such was the state of affairs when Maria Theresa's army of sixty thousand men entered Bohemia and rapidly advanced toward Prague, hoping to be able to relieve the city, which had a garrison of only three thousand and was in no condition to hold out against an army like that of united France, Bavaria, and Saxony, which was pressing it hard. There could be no question of a long resistance; therefore haste was necessary for the Austrians if they were to be of any service. But they came too late. Prague had fallen, and the Elector of Bavaria was crowned King of Bohemia: This, however, to him, was but a step toward the Imperial Crown, which he already saw upon his head. Therefore, no sooner were the coronation ceremonies ended than he established a regency in Prague, hastened to Munich, and from thence by way of Mannheim to Frankfort-on-the-Main. One thought, one hope, sustained Maria Theresa after this bitter blow, namely, that her husband would be chosen Emperor at the electoral assembly then being held at Frankfort; but here, too, a fresh disappointment awaited her. The Elector of Bavaria's successes in Bohemia added powerfully to his influence, and he was elected Emperor January 30, 1742, his coronation following, February 12 of the same year. That Maria Theresa should refuse to acknowledge him was but natural, and, as she denied the validity of the election, that she should refuse to deliver the imperial archives was also natural.

The Elector of Bavaria at last had reached the summit of his ambitions, but it was also the turning point; thenceforward his path led downward, and victory turned toward Maria Theresa's colors. Scarcely was the crown placed on his head, when his own capital, Munich, fell into the hands of Maria Theresa. Her husband had succeeded in Bohemia, with the gallant Khevenhuller's assistance, in winning the Hungarians to him and cutting off the enemy's forces there from those which remained in Austria, and thus began a campaign that meant destruction to the audacious foe. In Bavaria the Austrians carried all before them, and Maria Theresa's victorious banner was soon waving over all that province.

This state of things naturally attracted the attention of Frederick II, and drew him again into the field of action. As the agreement to keep the treaty of Oberschnellendorf had been broken, he no longer felt bound by his own promise. He again joined forces with the hard-pressed Elector, the new Emperor, and a fresh war-torch was set ablaze, which alarmed Maria Theresa more than the old one. Frederick's arms were victorious, his activity in making alliances against Austria unceasing, and when the Zieten hussars made inroads as far as Stockerau, destruction seemed hanging once more over Maria Theresa's head.

The storm did not break, however, for Frederick found himself checked by Saxony, and the French were little inclined to play into the hands of Prussia. Frederick would gladly have consented to an adjustment of his relations with Austria, had it been possible; but the battles of Chotusitz and Czaslau changed the aspect of things, for they gave him the victory, though at a terrible sacrifice. Nevertheless, his view of the situation was not altered to such an extent that he did not still wish to end the war. With the same desire on both sides there could be but one result, and peace was signed at Breslau in the Summer of 1742.

By this treaty Frederick received the duchy of Upper and Lower Silesia and Glatz, and renounced all further claims on Maria Theresa. The boundaries were firmly fixed, and she won a free hand in this quarter, but with a loss that cut her to the heart. The finest jewel had been torn from her crown, and with a bleeding heart she had been forced to give it up in order to save the rest of her inheritance. On one side the flames of war were now extinguished, but on the other they still blazed fiercely. Her hopes were nearing fulfilment. The troops which she had been obliged to employ against Frederick could now be sent to oppose her other foes, and this was a great gain, for this division of her strength had been a constant source of anxiety to her, and with good reason. Bohemia next claimed her attention, and thither she sent the forces thus released. Nor was this the only reward so dearly bought by the peace of Breslau; for her friends were now encouraged to show their sympathy and offer her assistance. To win back Bohemia and its capital was her next important task.

In Italy the situation had improved for her—not without some sacrifice, it is true—and from there she could also send troops to Bohemia, to enable the Austrian army to invest Prague. In the besieged city were a body of French, and this caused as much anxiety in Paris as it did to Marshal Belle-Isle himself in Prague. He tried to make terms, but his schemes were frustrated, as well as the proposed negotiations for peace from Paris, by the resolute courage and firmness of the Empress. She would listen to none of Francis' proposals, none of Belle-Isle's plans for capitulation. She rejected both with noble pride and indignation, deeply as her refusal might be resented by France.

In Prague the distress of the French increased rapidly. The lack of provisions had become alarming. Belle-Isle had only one hope—the French auxiliary corps under Harcourt which Khevenhuller was holding back on the Danube. But could he count on it? The army on the lower Rhine was in the same predicament. Here, as there, a decided "Halt!" had been called to France, which she was compelled to obey. It seemed impossible that their comrades in Prague could expect any help from either of these quarters; yet nevertheless it came, at the express command of the King of France.

The commander-in-chief of the French on the lower Rhine, where an English force was opposing them, suddenly departed, leaving one division engaged with the English, and hastened unobstructed to Bavaria, where he was joined by a Bavarian army corps. At the same time Count Maurice of Saxony replaced Harcourt in the army on the Danube. He also contrived to elude Khevenhuller, and made all speed with the main body of his troops toward Maillebois' division. The bold stroke was successful, and while the besieging army, apprised of this new danger, was hastening to meet it, the beleaguered French tried to escape from Prague and join Maillebois. The attempt failed, however, as did that general's efforts to relieve the city. Closely invested as it now was by Lobkowitz, Prague could no longer hold out; for, in addition to the scarcity of food, they had to endure the bitter cold of Winter, and there was a lack of fuel also. He conducted the siege so carelessly, however, that Belle-Isle finally managed to escape with the French garrison and all the artillery and stores. Not till they were gone did the Austrians discover it and pursue them; but they succeeded in reaching Eger, though with great suffering and loss. Those who were left behind in Prague would have been taken prisoners had not their leader made known to the Austrian commander that they must be allowed to retire with military honors, or he would set fire to the city and bury himself and all his troops under its ashes. Lobkowitz consented to their retreat in order to save Prague, and thus ingloriously took possession of the shattered city. Had Maria Theresa not had a kind and merciful heart, the inhabitants would have suffered even more than they had been called upon to endure; for many of those who had been so ready to help crown the Elector of Bavaria well deserved the punishment they thus escaped. Now that Bohemia as far as the city of Eger was once more her own, Maria Theresa was crowned with great pomp as Queen of Bohemia.

An anecdote in this connection will be of interest. A courier arrived from Charles VII, bringing a protest from him, as crowned King of Bohemia, against Maria Theresa's coronation. Smiling, she ordered the courier to be given a number of her gold coronation coins, with instructions to carry them back to his master without delay. This was done, and doubtless the sight of the coins caused little pleasure in Munich.

Fortune now seemed to favor Maria Theresa everywhere. In Italy, too, events had shaped themselves to her advantage, and at the close of the year 1742 she could look cheerfully into the future, although the sky was not entirely cloudless; for in Italy there were many knots to be untied that only the sword could loosen.

The Spring saw banners waving and heard the roll of the drums in Bavaria. The Bavarian Field Marshal von Seckendorff, who had been ordered back to Munich by his lord and emperor, fell back across the her before Prince Charles of Lorraine and old Khevenhuller, who were pressing him hotly. The French general, Broglio, meanwhile inactive in Osterhof, watching these proceedings, made no response to Seckendorff's appeals. Nor was this retreat all; for, more important still, the whole division under General Minuzzi was completely crushed by the Austrians in a bloody battle, where Minuzzi himself was taken prisoner. This was a Spring greeting most joyfully received in Vienna, and which seemed but a forerunner of still further victories.

No sooner was this accomplished than Khevenhuller turned his attention to the French, whom he would gladly have shown the way across the Rhine. Broglio may have suspected this, and was so obliging as to relieve the old hero of this agreeable task, for at Khevenhuller's approach he turned his troops toward Ingolstadt (which was not forward) and kept his movements secret until he was across the Rhine, where twelve thousand men would re-enforce him. Then, and then only, did he feel himself safe. Bavaria now realized what she was to expect from her light-footed allies, and sent them no thanks. Charles VII, too, knew at last upon what he had been relying and that he must once more bid farewell to his good city of Munich, if, indeed, he might not be obliged to occupy an unsought lodging in Vienna. Had he looked at this time at the coronation coins brought him by the courier from Vienna, it must have seemed that a mocking smile hovered about Maria Theresa's lips, and that she whispered softly but significantly, "Auf wiedersehen!"  There was no choice left him but to enter into negotiations with Austria to protect his ancestral domains.

Maria Theresa, in the midst of her victorious career, offered the hand of peace. Charles VII renounced his claims to the Austrian succession and, fortunately for the public tranquillity, left all the conquered territory in the possession of Austria. To guard against any future trouble Maria Theresa had all these States take the oath of allegiance to her, even though they might be only temporarily in her possession. This was a triumph for her which offset the homage received by Charles in Bohemia,—a return which he had well deserved and which he well understood without any further explanation.

Thus fortune still smiled upon Maria Theresa, here as elsewhere. The English army in the Netherlands had crossed the Rhine, and, advancing by way of Frankfort, received a large re-enforcement and tried to effect a union with Khevenhuller and Prince Charles of Lorraine, who had pushed forward from the Upper Rhine. Marshal de Noailles was opposing them with a considerable force, but when he perceived their design he crossed the Rhine to attack the English. George II himself joined the army just then, fortunately, and a battle was fought at Dettingen, on the Main, which resulted in Noailles' retreat across the Rhine again. The King of England then held a council of war with Khevenhuller and the Prince at Hainault to decide what course to pursue. It was agreed that King George should lead the way while the Austrian generals crossed the river at Basel and try to reach Lorraine, in order to take up Winter quarters in Champagne. This plan miscarried, however, and the Austrian army returned to Bavaria for the Winter, while King George, after destroying the French works on the Rhine, especially at Landau, withdrew again across the river and also went into Winter quarters, for Winter campaigns were not generally undertaken at that time.

Though the results of the wars Maria Theresa was waging against her enemies were most gratifying, the troubles in Italy still weighed like an Alp upon her heart. The Spanish general in command there had drawn upon himself, and not without cause, the reproach of negligence. A substitute had replaced him with urgent orders to retrieve the errors of his predecessor, and he might have been able to do so had he not had an adversary so brave, crafty, and well versed in the arts of war as the old field-marshal, Count Traun.

Already there had been a bloody battle, February 8, 1743, in which he had been the victor, but at this time negotiations were begun which put an end to the bloodshed. They took place at Worms, between England, Sardinia, and Austria, and again was Maria Theresa obliged to resign some of her territory, this time in Sardinia, in order to effect the alliance. Scarcely were the terms completed, when Lobkowitz, who had succeeded old Traun in the command, advanced against the Spaniards and drove them back: whereupon the King of Sardinia struck the French-Spanish army such a blow that it was forced to retreat to the south of France for the Winter.

Though Maria Theresa had been unfortunate in having to relinquish more of her territory in this campaign, still, the armies were victorious, and all these circumstances had served to unite her more closely to her friends, and had given her a new ally in the person of the Elector Frederick Augustus IV of Saxony, with twenty thousand troops to assist her. Thus far the outlook was very bright; but by the close of the year 1743 new clouds foretold a gathering storm. The lion on the Spree had begun to stir and toss his mane. Frederick's army, which had once in jest been called the Potsdam Night-watch Parade," was as little a subject for derision as he who commanded and was the soul of it.