The War of Austrian Succession and the Decline of Hapsburg Dominance

Pragmatic Sanction of 1713

In 1713 Holy Roman Emperor and ruler of Hapsburg lands Charles VI issued the pragmatic sanction. This edict overruled the long-standing imperial law against a woman inheriting states in the Holy Roman Empire and was necessitated by Charles’ lack of a male heir (Wiesner-Hanks 350). This document went on to gain the assent of some states both within the Holy Roman Empire and Europe as a whole. However, when Charles’ daughter, Maria Theresa, inherited Hapsburg holdings in 1740 many of these states withdrew their assent and attacked Austria resulting in the War of Austrian Succession (Wiesner-Hanks 351).

Spain, Saxony, and Bavaria all rejected the pragmatic sanction in order to assert their own claims to Hapsburg lands. These claims were also supported by Austria’s long-time enemy: France (War of Austrian Succession). Furthermore, Bavaria’s chief claimant was Holy Roman Emperor Charles VII, the first non-Habsburg Holy Roman Emperor in hundreds of years (War of Austrian Succession). Lastly, Frederick II of Prussia, a rapidly growing German state known for its formidable army, seized the territory of Silesia from the Hapsburgs (War of Austrian Succession). In the end, the death of Charles VII resulting in the return of the imperial title to the Hapsburgs, the growing costs of war, and several French defeats, resulted in a truce (War of Austrian Succession).

The end result of this truce was that Maria Theresa was recognized as the legitimate ruler of Austria, Bohemia, and Hungary (Wiesner-Hanks 351). All of this shows that entering the 18th century the Hapsburgs were able to maintain their influence and power in the Holy Roman Empire. However, unlike in the 17th century, Hapsburg power in the Holy Roman Empire was now being challenged.

Prussia had also proven itself to be a great power in the War of the Austrian Succession. Despite Austria retaining much of its territory, Prussia was successful in seizing Silesia, one of the wealthiest provinces in Germany at this time (Wiesner-Hanks 351). As the 18th century progressed the political landscape of the Holy Roman Empire would no longer be characterized by Hapsburg dominance but rather by a struggle between the Hapsburgs and the Hohenzollerns.

The War of Austrian Succession and the Decline of Hapsburg Dominance