Queen Maria Theresa of Austria faced her first year as queen with an invasion. Sweet young thing as she was, everyone assumed she would roll over and hand her kingdom off. Silly men should have known better.
Maria, in the face of the intense opposition of nearly all her advisors, traveled to Pressburg, the then capital of Hungary. The Hungarians were, to put it mildly, an unruly lot. Their leaders were fervently nationalistic, fond of fighting among themselves and your average Hungarian sullen and prone to rioting when gathered in large groups.
Maria had been abandoned by just about everyone but the Hungarians. She would loose them as well if she didn’t do something. Hungarian fealty to the Hapsburg crown was predicated entirely on how the crown treated the the Hungarian people. Up till that point, the crowns attitude toward it’s Hungarian subjects had been the cause of much discontent in Hungary. The fact that the latest Hapsburg was a girl really soured their beer. They had no use for queens.
It wasn’t that Maria was turning to them in desperation, although she was desperate. She had a plan. Part of that plan called for arming the Hungarians. That went over big with her German advisors. Why not burn Vienna to the ground and spare the Hungarians the trouble? They wondered. She was very sorry for their reaction, but arming the Hungarians was an integral part of her plan.
The other big part was simplicity itself. She would travel to Pressburg and talk to the Hungarian leaders. This she did on September 7th 1741. What she told them in her typically blunt, honest manner was the situation as it then stood.
She was not only surrounded by enemies, but they were closing in fast. Hungary’s safety as well as her own hung in the balance. Her only hope was the willingness of the Hungarian magnates to stand by her and fight in a war with the odds strongly against them.
The Hungarians were stunned. This Hapsburg, this…girl was addressing them not as an absolute monarch addressing those who had no choice but to obey. She wasn’t telling them what to do. She was…talking to them! She was confiding in them! She was talking to them…like men! Like grown adults who were in charge of their own lives and lands!
And she was appealing to their chivalry. Here she was, not just a queen, but the young mother of their future king, telling these men that even though the most powerful armies of Europe were against her, even though her closest advisors were telling her to surrender, she was going to FIGHT! Would they stand with her?
These fellows knew an underdog when they saw one. The Hungarians had been fighting against overwhelming odds and having their butts handed to them for centuries. Would they join her? You bet! To a man they rose up and pledged their support to Maria. Said one historian; “Then and there they pledged themselves to serve her; to levy 40,000 troops and 25,000 horses to fight for her. To offer their fortunes to her cause.”
Of course, as stirring as all this was, there still remained other issues. “It was one thing to make a grand and ruinous gesture, another to accept in principle the right of the crown to levy taxes…”
All was not done yet. The Hungarian Diet had to be addressed. If the Diet said no, the deal was off. And she had to get back to Vienna to rally the populace to the cities defense. She had left a man she trusted, Count Khevenhuller, in charge of readying the city, but she felt it imperative to be there herself. To show the Viennese her resolve to stand with them.
But first things first. On September 11th, she addressed the Diet. Her speech, delivered in Latin, the official Hungarian court language, said, in part;
“The very existence of the Kingdom of Hungary, of our own person, of our children, and our crown, are now at stake. Forsaken by all, we place our sole resource in the fidelity, arms, and long-tried valor of the Hungarians; exhorting you, the states and orders, to deliberate without delay in this extreme danger, on the most effectual measures for the security of our person, of our children, and our crown, and to carry them into immediate execution. In regard to ourself, the faithful states and orders of Hungary shall experience our hearty cooperation in all things which may promote the pristine happiness of this ancient kingdom and the honors of the people.”
To the listeners, there was much more to her speech than stirring words. There was the implicit promise to consult with the Diet on all matters touching the kingdom. To say that this was a radical departure from the past would be putting it mildly.
The nobles were grown men indeed. They intended to hold the Queen to her word once the crisis passed. If indeed it did pass without all of them going down in flames. A very, very big “If.” The Queen knew what she was doing. She knew what her words meant. She was dealing with men of honor. Such a man’s pledged word was his bond. And they held others to the same standard. She was aided in this to no small degree by virtue of the fact that she was telling the truth.
Things would never be the same again. Not just between the Hapsburg throne and Hungary, but between Maria and her ministers. Her ministers, nearly to a man, were aghast at her actions. Said one of them; “The Queen would have done better to wish herself and hers to the devil rather than trust the Hungarians.”
Needless to say, the Hungarians did not agree. But this spat had to go on the back burner. The French and Bavarians had taken the city of Linz, in upper Austria, virtually without a fight. Charles Albert proclaimed himself Archduke of Austria and the German estates wasted no time in pledging him their loyalty, apparently having forgotten that they had already done so with Maria
When Charles Albert demanded that the Hungarians pay him homage, they told him he could go teach his dear old granny to suck eggs. If Mr Big Shot from Bavaria wanted homage, let him come to Hungary and force it from them! They’d send him back to Bavaria with his tail between his legs. Maria was their queen not just by right of inheritance, but because she came to their capital and showed them what she was made of. They tried to make things difficult for her and she stood her ground. She treated them like men, not subjects.
From it all, Maria came away not just with the loyalty and troops of the Hungarian nobility, but with the knowledge that her instincts were right. She was learning to trust herself.
– Mr. Al