They remained fragmented, however, and would not be joined into a single nation for another 223 years.

Hapsburg Austria Expands

The Thirty Years' War took a terrible toll on the people of the German states. Out of the ashes, however, rose two great German-speaking powers: Austria and Prussia. Like Louis XIV in France, their rulers tried to centralize power and rule as absolute monarchs.

A Diverse Empire

Though weakened by war, the Hapsburgs still wanted to create a strong united state. They kept the title “Holy Roman emperor” but focused their attention on expanding their own lands. To Austria, their base of power, they added Bohemia, Hungary, and, later, parts of Poland and some Italian states.

Uniting these lands proved difficult. Not only were they divided by geography, they included a number of diverse peoples and cultures as well. By the 1700s, the Hapsburg Empire included Germans, Magyars, Slavs, and others. In many parts of the empire, people had their own languages, laws, political assemblies, and customs.

The Hapsburgs did exert some control over these diverse peoples. They sent German-speaking officials to Bohemia and Hungary and settled Austrians on lands they had seized in these provinces. They also put down revolts in Bohemia and Hungary. Still, the Hapsburgs never developed a fully centralized governmental system like that of France.

Empress Maria Theresa

In the early 1700s, a new challenge threatened Hapsburg Austria. Emperor Charles VI had no male heir. His daughter, Maria Theresa, was intelligent and capable, but no woman had yet ruled Hapsburg lands in her own name. Charles persuaded other European rulers to recognize his daughter's right to succeed him. When he died, however, many ignored their pledge.

Shortly after Charles's death in 1740, Frederick II of Prussia seized the rich Hapsburg province of Silesia. This action sparked the eight-year War of the Austrian Succession.

Maria Theresa set off for Hungary to appeal for military help from her Hungarian subjects. The Hungarians were ordinarily unfriendly to the Hapsburgs. But she made a dramatic plea before an assembly of Hungarian nobles. According to one account, the nobles rose to their feet and shouted, “Our lives and blood for your Majesty!” She eventually got further help from Britain and Russia.

Painting of two groups of men in rich attire on horseback, pointing towards a battle in progress in a field below.

The War of the Austrian Succession challenged Maria Theresa's right to rule the Holy Roman Empire. In 1745, French forces defeated British and Austrian troops at the Battle of Fontenoy, shown here.

Reforms of an Absolute Monarch

Maria Theresa never succeeded in forcing Frederick out of Silesia. Still, she did preserve her empire and win the support of most of her people. Equally important, she strengthened Hapsburg power by reorganizing the bureaucracy and improving tax collection. She forced nobles and clergy to pay taxes and tried to ease the burden of taxes and labor services on peasants.

Maria Theresa was an absolute monarch who believed that her decisions were for the good of her subjects. Like other rulers at the time, she strengthened royal authority by limiting the power of nobles and the Church.


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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments