Martin van Meytens: Franz Stephan and Maria Theresa surrounded by their family, oil on canvas, c. 1754/55

Reigns and Rulers VI

Extinct but still in Power


If their fate had depended on the male line, the Habsburg ruling dynasty would have died out in the middle of the eighteenth century. However, necessity was the mother of invention and Maria Theresa became the mother of the new dynasty of Habsburg-Lorraine. The eighteenth century is commonly seen as the ‘great’ century of Austrian history, with the radiant figure of Maria Theresa generally being presented as the era’s most enduringly influential personality and her husband Emperor Franz I Stephan, the co-founder of the new dynasty, fading into the background behind her.

A more controversial matter is the assessment of Maria Theresa’s son Emperor Joseph II, whose reforms not only provoked the displeasure of his contemporaries but have also met with the disapproval of certain historians. The period around 1800 was strongly marked by the French Revolution, with the French troops under Napoleon Bonaparte provoking ‘reaction’ on the part of Europe’s conservative monarchs. In this game played by the great powers, the Habsburg role was taken by Emperor Franz (II) I, who established the Empire of Austria.

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