Maria Theresa Walburga Amalia Christina, Archduchess of Austria was born at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna, Austria on May 13, 1717, the second and eldest surviving child of Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI and Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel. Her only brother died several weeks before she was born and her two younger siblings were sisters. The fact that Maria Theresa’s father did not have a male heir caused many problems. For more information see the Pragmatic Sanction of 1713 and the War of the Austrian Succession.
Maria Theresa married Francis Stephen, Duke of Lorraine on February 12, 1736, in the Augustinian Church in Vienna. Throughout his reign, Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI expected to have a male heir and never really prepared Maria Theresa for her future role as sovereign. Upon her father’s death in 1740, Maria Theresa became Queen of Hungary, Croatia, and Bohemia in her own right. She was unable to become the sovereign of the Holy Roman Empire because she was female. Maria Theresa’s right to succeed to her father was the cause of the eight-year-long War of the Austrian Succession. The Habsburgs had been elected Holy Roman Emperors since 1438, but in 1742 Holy Roman Emperor Charles VII from the German House of Wittelsbach was elected. He died in 1745 and via a treaty Maria Theresa arranged for her husband Francis Stephen, Duke of Lorraine to be elected Holy Roman Emperor. Despite the snub, Maria Theresa wielded the real power.
Maria Theresa and Francis Stephen had 16 children. Their youngest daughter was Queen Marie Antoinette of France, wife of King Louis XVI.
Even though he had 16 children with his wife, Francis was not faithful during his marriage and had a number of affairs. Despite being the nominal Holy Roman Emperor, he was content to leave the act of reigning to his wife. Francis died suddenly in 1765 at the age of 56 in his carriage while returning from the opera. His son Joseph succeeded him as Holy Roman Emperor although Maria Theresa continued to wield the real power.
In 1767, Maria Theresa had smallpox and after that, her health deteriorated. She died on November 29, 1780, at Hofburg Palace, after a reign of 40 years and surrounded by her surviving children. Maria Theresa was the last of the House of Habsburg. The Imperial House thereafter was the House of Habsburg-Lorraine. Her son Joseph, Holy Roman Emperor since his father’s death, succeeded his mother as King of Hungary, Croatia, and Bohemia. Maria Theresa was buried alongside her husband in a magnificent tomb in the Imperial Crypt in Vienna.