Youthful, beautiful Maria Theresia
As announced on Jennifer Campbell’s 2017 Fall Winter Social Calendar in the Montreal Gazette, this year’s Viennese Ball on November 18, 2017 will celebrate
one of the world’s most famous monarchs and the only female head of the Habsburg Dynasty.
Ball guests will experience an exuberant party night at the 18th century Schoenbrunn Castle in Vienna, recreated in the setting of a traditional, lavish grand ball at the Montreal Hotel Marriott Chateau Champlain.
Dance of the Debutantes, Viennese Ball of Montreal 2015
Archduchess of Austria, Queen of Hungary and Bohemia, only female ruler of the vast Habsburg Empire, who called herself and was considered Empress by virtue of her actual government and her marriage to the Emperor Franz I Stephan.
Who was this woman who has been and still is the subject of innumerable books and films, of music, paintings and sculptures, and, of course, of the undying devotion and admiration of the Austrian people? Over the years and centuries, her life, achievements, and personality have become legendary, even taken on mythical proportions. Small wonder, for she was one of the most important personalities in European history. She was also beautiful, charming, intelligent, and very energetic. She became the first female of the Habsburg dynasty to rule over the largest empire in Europe.
Although she spent an impressive 40 years at the helm of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, she never really was an empress.
Her father, Carl VI, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, never had a son. Therefore, he invoked an addition to imperial law, known as the “Pragmatic Sanction”, so that Maria Theresia, the eldest of his three daughters could follow him on the throne. Not as empress, but as Austrian monarch, provided a husband could be found for her, however insignificant, who would produce male heirs. It just so happened that a suitable candidate was already at hand: Franz of Lorraine. He was nine years older than Maria Theresia and had been raised alongside her at the Habsburg court. Their childhood friendship later evolved into deep and true love, at least on the part of Maria Theresia. Since Franz had already proven his fertility, albeit in questionable ways, the teenage heiress to the Austrian throne was allowed to marry her grand amour.
Their marriage was a happy one, her husband’s notorious unfaithfulness notwithstanding. They had sixteen children together, eleven girls and five boys. Even when later elected Emperor, Franz I devoted his time to amusing himself and looking after his various businesses while Maria Theresia took care of the empire and rule the way she saw fit.
And rule she did, with remarkable self discipline and success, completely unencumbered by the endless succession of her pregnancies. She had prepared herself well for the high position she was to take some day. At the age of fourteen already she was admitted to council meetings at the Habsburg Court where she was given little tasks to perform, much like an intern today. Later, she became the very embodiment of Habsburg politics. She influenced Austrian and European history like few before or after her to the point that she would be called “the glory of her sex and the model of kings”.
Her many children, though, especially her daughters, were pawns in her efforts to advance her dynasty’s and Austria’s interests throughout Europe. They were sent off as mere children to marry foreign monarchs whom they had never seen before, without giving them any say in the matter of their respective fates. Thus, Maria Theresia followed the long-standing Habsburg family motto: Bella gerant alii, tu felix Austria nube – ‘Let others wage war: thou, happy Austria, marry’ in a most ardent way. This is not to say that Maria Theresia would not be embroiled in any wars. There were many, long and bitter ones, most notably those against her archenemy, Frederick II of Prussia.
In the end, Maria Theresia, who set out at the tender age of 23 as regent and empress-consort, was able to keep the expansive Habsburg Empire almost in its entirety and leave a strong legacy to Joseph II, her eldest son and her successor.
Maria Theresia’s reforms in politics and social live constitute the most sustained and positive aspects of her legacy, outshining the darker ones, forming a solid foundation for her ongoing celebrity status:
- She harmonized and unified the various layers of the state administration
- She abolished tax exemptions and some other privileges for the church and the nobility
- She reformed the civil service and opened it to the middle class
- She modernized the military
- She introduced the precursor of a common European currency in the various lands of the Habsburg Empire and abolished tariffs for more unencumbered trading
- She was determined to augment productivity within the borders of the Empire by shifting the population and having foreign colonists settle in sparsely populated areas.
- She started a centrally administered education policy, established primary schools for all children and opened higher-level schools and universities to non-nobles. Her plan was to make primary education compulsory for all her subjects.
In short, Maria Theresia set the stage for a modern state. She held her own in a male world order, exercising exceptional female power and tenacity, combining her femininity with a rare talent for adopting the qualities of an alpha male.
None of her strong and positive qualities, not even her rarefied and privileged life, however, protected her from deep-reaching grief:
Her beloved husband, Emperor Franz I. Stephan, whom she pardoned his incessant infidelity, in whom she trusted implicitly, who was the apple of her eye and the joy of her existence, died suddenly in 1765 after 29 years of marriage. This event transformed her once sparkling life into one of deep sorrow, personal neglect, and frugality until her own death fifteen years later. She died a broken woman, removed from public life, at odds with her son Joseph and co-regent over his more progressive ways as opposed to her strict and ever deepening conservatism, bereft of her erstwhile beauty, wearing her beloved Franzl’s dressing gown in her final hours.
With her death, the remaining branch of the Habsburg dynasty in direct line ended as her children took the name of Lorraine-Habsburg in reference to both their father and their mother.
There’s no excuse, even if you are tall, the hem of your dress should touch your dancing shoes, not end mid-calf or higher up. Your dress should exude a particular elegance. So, that large flower-printed little beach-party number would not be the right choice. And, ladies, unless you are Audrey Hepburn or Marlene Dietrich, please forego your pant suit in favour of a sensuous floor-length evening gown.
You actually do have a choice, Gentlemen: either you don a tailcoat (black or white), or you wear that fetching tuxedo with all the trimmings that you look so good in. Trust us: a man in a tuxedo is the epitome of elegance and will earn you many admiring glances and smiles – guaranteed. You are also encouraged to wear your decorations, military or civil.
Guests come to the ball as a couple or as singles and are seated as such at the tables in the grand ballroom. After you hear the proclamation “Alles Walzer” (Everyone waltz), the dance floor is open for your dancing pleasure. Usually, the man asks the lady to dance, but these days there’s nothing unusual in the lady taking the initiative. However, as per one European tradition that is still very much followed, the men should ask every lady seated at their table to dance at least once. This, we daresay, is a quintessential part of ballroom etiquette not to be neglected. Asking a lady that is not your partner to dance is a matter of courtesy and does not necessarily imply any personal attraction or social commitment to the lady. If the lady came to the ball with a partner then, gents, please first ask her partner if you may have the pleasure of this dance with her. It does not mean, though, that you should not dance with her at all. If, after one dance, you decide not to stay on for the next one but rather return to the table, you will do so together. You may even offer the lady your arm while you accompany her back to her seat.