Charles VI and the Pragmatic Sanction

Emperor Charles VI, c. 1720/30

Having witnessed the decline of the Spanish Monarchy, which had been carved up after the extinction of the ruling dynasty, Charles was determined to prevent the same thing happening to the Austrian Monarchy.

Emperor Charles VI, c. 1720/30

The result of his endeavours was the Pragmatic Sanction. This agreement was not primarily intended to regulate female succession, as is often erroneously claimed; the Sanction was after all decreed in 1713, when Charles was still childless and there was still hope of a male successor. The main objective was to create a constitutional basis for the indivisibility of the Monarchy. The latter was a heterogeneous conglomerate of different territories, kingdoms and lands that was only united at the top by a common ruler. All these various lands in the Monarchy had differing legal traditions and rules of succession.

According to the stipulations of the Pragmatic Sanction the Monarchy was now to be united as a nation state and to be indivisibiliter ac inseparabiliter (indivisible and inseparable), as stated in the Latin wording of the document. The Pragmatic Sanction was to remain the constitutional basis of the Habsburg Monarchy until its dissolution in 1918.

Charles spent the remaining twenty-seven years of his reign obtaining the diplomatic guarantees for this law. Within the Monarchy agreement had to be sought from the individual assemblies of the estates of the Crown Lands, which was a lesser problem. Charles also wanted to secure agreement abroad and was prepared to make a number of wide-ranging concessions.

When Charles VI died without a male heir in 1740 he left his daughter Maria Theresa a complex inheritance: a debilitated state, weak state finances and an army in desperate need of reform. His daughter’s assumption of power was reliant on a large number of domestic and foreign-policy accords and agreements which were to prove of little practical value when the Austrian War of Succession broke out. The young monarch stated bitterly that her father had left her without money, without soldiers and without counsel as to how things were to proceed.

Martin Mutschlechner