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In 1700, the senior branch of the House of Habsburg became extinct with the death of King Carlos II of Spain. The War of the Spanish Succession ensued, with Louis XIV of France claiming the crowns of Spain for his grandson Philippe, Duke of Anjou and Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor, claiming the Spanish throne for his son Archduke Charles. In 1703, Archduke Charles and Archduke Joseph, Leopold’s sons, signed the Mutual Pact of Succession, granting succession rights to the daughters of Archduke Joseph and Archduke Charles in the case of complete extinction of the male line but favouring the daughters of Joseph over those of Charles, as Joseph was older.

Joseph I, Holy Roman Emperor, King of Hungary and Bohemia and Archduke of Austria

In 1705, Leopold I died and was succeeded by his elder son, as Holy Roman Emperor Joseph I. Emperor Joseph was married to Wilhelmine Amalia of Brunswick-Lüneburg. They had three children and their only son, Archduke Leopold Joseph, died of hydrocephalus before his first birthday. Their eldest daughter was Maria Josepha of Austria (1699–1757) who was married to August III of Poland. Their last child was Maria Amalia of Austria (1701-1756) was herself Holy Roman Empress, Queen of the Germans, Queen of Bohemia, Electress and Duchess of Bavaria as the spouse of the Wittelsbach Holy Roman Emperor Charles VII.

Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor, King of Hungary and Bohemia and Archduke of Austria

At the death of Emperor Joseph I his younger brother Archduke Charles succeeded as Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI. However, according to the Mutual Pact of Succession of 1703, Joseph’s eldest daughter Archduchess Maria Josepha became his heir presumptive to the Habsburg heredity lands.

Emperor Charles VI and his wife Princess Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, the eldest child of Ludwig-Rudolph, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel and his wife Princess Christine Louise of Oettingen-Oettingen, had not, to that point, had children and since 1711 Charles had been the sole surviving male member of the House of Habsburg. This presented two problems. First, as mentioned, a prior agreement with his brother known as the Mutual Pact of Succession (1703) had agreed that, in the absence of male heirs, Joseph’s daughters would take precedence over Charles’s daughters in all Habsburg lands. Secondly, Salic law precluded female inheritance. At the time of the Mutual Pact of Succession Charles had no children, if he were to be survived by daughters alone, they would be cut out of the inheritance.

Eventually Charles VI and his wife Princess Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel did have four children:

The eldest, Archduke Leopold Johann of Austria (April 13, 1716-November 4, 1716); died aged seven months.

The eldest daughter was Archduchess Maria Theresa (May 13, 1717 – November 29, 1780)

The second daughter, Archduchess Maria Anna, (September 14, 1718 – December 16, 1744) married Prince Charles Alexander of Lorraine, with whom she served as Governess of the Austrian Netherlands. Died in childbirth.

The last child, Archduchess Maria Amalia April 5, 1724 – April 19, 1730, died aged six.

Archduchess Maria Theresa
Archduchess Maria Anna

With only two daughters surviving, who would receive no inheritance under the Mutual Pact of Succession, this was not acceptable to Charles and he therefore decided to amend the Pact to give his own daughters precedence over his nieces. In order to accomplish this Charles VI needed to take extraordinary measures to avoid a protracted succession dispute as other claimants would have surely contested a female inheritance.

On April 19, 1713, he announced the changes in a secret session of the council by issuing the Pragmatic Sanction. The Pragmatic Sanction was an edict to ensure that the Habsburg hereditary possessions, which included the Archduchy of Austria, the Kingdom of Hungary, the Kingdom of Croatia, the Kingdom of Bohemia, the Duchy of Milan, the Kingdom of Naples, the Kingdom of Sardinia and the Austrian Netherlands, could be inherited by a daughter. The Holy Roman Empire, which was guided by the Salic Law, did not permit female succession, and was therefore unaffected by the Pragmatic Sanction.

Charles VI was indeed ultimately succeeded by his own elder daughter Maria Theresa upon his death on October 20, 1740 in the Hofburg Palace. Maria Theresa then became the sovereign of Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Bohemia, Transylvania, Mantua, Milan, Lodomeria and Galicia, the Austrian Netherlands, and Parma. By marriage, she was Duchess of Lorraine, Grand Duchess of Tuscany and Holy Roman Empress via her marriage to Franz of Lorraine.

However, despite the promulgation of the Pragmatic Sanction, her accession in 1740 resulted in the outbreak of the War of the Austrian Succession as Charles-Albert of Bavaria, backed by France, contested her inheritance. Friedrich II of Prussia, also disputed the succession of the 23-year-old Maria Theresa to the Habsburg lands, while simultaneously making his own claim on Silesia.

Accordingly, the First Silesian War (1740–1742, part of the War of the Austrian Succession) began on December 16, 1740 when Friedrich II invaded and quickly occupied the province of Silesia. Following the war, Maria Theresa’s inheritance of the Habsburg lands was confirmed by the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, while the election of her husband Franz I as Holy Roman Emperor was secured by the Treaty of Füssen.