Wolfgang Köpp von Felsenthal: General Laudon on horseback, mid-18th century

‘Better a mediocre peace than a glorious war’


The eighteenth was a century of many wars, in which the Habsburgs were heavily involved – for around sixty per cent of the period between 1700 and 1815 they were at war. War was an essential component of Absolutism and was justified as being a legitimate means of promoting ‘the good of the state’. For example, while Joseph II was in principle thrifty, he saw no contradiction in high expenditure on the army. His brother Leopold II even expressed the opinion that his brother Joseph had held the army to be ‘the only important thing for the state’.

The love of peace imputed to the Habsburgs is particularly associated with the person of Maria Theresa. However, any glorification of this kind is contradicted by the many wars waged during her reign. These conflicts are often presented as having been forced on her from outside – in verbal depictions of this kind, Maria Theresa is depicted as a peaceful mother-figure firmly seated in her saddle and defying the assaults of the (male) rulers of Europe.

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