The regent Maria Theresa surrounded by her family

Maria Theresa: mother and political powerhouse

The elevator suddenly ground to a halt. And there she was, suspended between the living and the dead. The lift was specially installed to take the popular – and portly – ruler to and from the Imperial Burial Vault, sparing her the need to negotiate the tricky steps on her way to visit her husband’s final resting place. According to the legend, “The Dear Lord wants to keep me here,” was her lament. And it seems she was right, as she passed away just a few days later.

But back to the living: 13 May 2017 marks the 300th anniversary of Maria Theresa’s birth. Exhibitions at the Imperial Furniture Collection, the Imperial Carriage Museum and Schloss Hof and Schloss Niederweiden in Lower Austria (Mar 15-Nov 29, 2017) and at the National Library (Feb 17-June 5, 2017) focus on the life and times of the Archduchess. And what a fascinating tale it is. She was the eldest daughter of the last male Habsburg, Emperor Karl VI. In the eighteenth century, having no son and no legitimate heirs often spelled the end of a dynasty. So it is possible to imagine the controversy that surrounded her accession to the throne in 1740. But she fought her corner and became the first and only woman to rule in the entire history of the archduchy of Austria – she was even crowned Queen of Bohemia and, somewhat bizarrely, King of Hungary. In her case, the title of Empress was purely honorary and only bestowed on her because she was married to the Holy Roman Emperor Franz Stephan von Lothringen. The marriage, one of only a handful of love matches in the dynasty’s history, produced 16 children.

Controversial matrimonial protocol

The image of Maria Theresa as a benevolent mother figure is anchored in the public conscience, thanks in no small way to her large number of children. But that is not entirely accurate as she, like all rulers, saw her offspring as dynastic capital. For the high price of an alliance with former arch enemy France, she bartered away five of her children, casting aside her principles in the process. Although she despised her husband’s string of lovers, she was savvy enough to conspire with the most famous mistress of the day (Madame Pompadour) to install her daughter Marie Antoinette on the French throne. The tragic denouement of this marital horse-trading is all too well-known. With her head, Marie Antoinette lost her crown.

In Austria Maria Theresa initiated numerous reforms with the help of her advisers: public administration, the armed forces, the economy and the education system were all modernized. The General School Decree of 1774 laid the foundation for mandatory universal education. Traces of Maria Theresa’s rule can be found all over Vienna, including at Schönbrunn Palace which was significantly extended at her behest. Located on the square between the Naturhistorisches Museum Vienna and the Kunsthistorisches Museum, the monument dedicated to her was the largest and most expensive of any on the Ringstrasse. And the giant double sarcophagus in the Imperial Burial Vault puts all the others in the shade. Maria Theresa was laid to rest in the Baroque masterpiece in 1780 after 14,650 days on the throne. Next to her beloved Franzl.

Text: Robert Seydel

Schönbrunn Palace (Schloss Schönbrunn)

Schönbrunner Schlossstraße, 1130 Wien
  • Prices

  • Opening times

    • 01 April to 30 June
      Daily 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
    • 01 July to 31 August
      Daily 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
    • 01 September to 31 October
      Daily 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
    • 01 November to 31 March
      Daily 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
  • Accessibility

    • Main entrance
      • no steps
    • Car parks Main entrance
      • Parking spaces for people with disabilities
        at main entrance portal (Schönbrunner Schlossstrasse, 3 parking spaces), Meidlinger Tor (2 parking spaces), close to Kavalierstrakt as well as Valerietrakt (2 parking spaces) and Fürstenstöckl (1 parking space)
    • Elevator available
      • 95 cm wide and 139 cm low , Door 90 cm wide
    • Further information
      • Seeing eye dogs allowed
      • Wheelchair accessible restroom available.
    • Special offers for people with disabilities

      Free wheelchair rental – contact attendant at main portal (3 wheelchairs) or at Hietzinger Tor and at Meidlinger Tor (1 wheelchair each).
      Supplemental devices available for the visually impaired. Tours for visitors with with disabilities or special needs on request.
      Museum Sign Language Guide available in ÖGS and IS for the Imperial or Grand Tour, prior reservation recommended, further information:
      www.schoenbrunn.at/besucherinfo/audioguide/oegs-guide.html

    • Comments

      Access to all exhibition rooms: no steps. Freight elevator for extra wide wheelchairs: door width: 160 cm, cabin depth: 220 cm, cabin width: 156 cm.

       

Austrian National Library (Österreichische Nationalbibliothek)

Josefsplatz 1 , 1010 Wien
  • Prices

  • Opening times

    • Tu - Su, 10:00 - 18:00
    • Th, 10:00 - 21:00
    • Open daily from June to September
  • Accessibility

    • Main entrance
      • no steps
    • Elevator available
      • 122 cm wide and 130 cm low , Door 90 cm wide
    • Further information
      • Seeing eye dogs allowed
      • Wheelchair accessible restroom available.
    • Special offers for people with disabilities

      Guided tours for visitors with disabilities and special needs on prior arrangement.

    • Comments

      Main entrance on first floor and access to Grand Hall on second floor: entrance Josefsplatz.

Imperial Carriage Museum Vienna (Kaiserliche Wagenburg Wien)

Schönbrunner Schlossstraße, 1130 Wien
  • Prices

  • Opening times

    • November to April
      Daily 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
    • May to October
      Daily 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
    • 15 March - 29 November 2017: daily from 9.00 am - 5.00 pm
  • Accessibility

    • Main entrance
      • (Double swinging doors )
    • Comments

      Main entrance: steps (more than 3 cm), double doors (each 68 cm wide), entrance to the collection: double swinging doors, total width 130cm, exhibition area: flat floors, wheelchair-accessible. Second floor area reachable via steps (width 128 cm, 12 steps, landing, then 155 cm, 10 steps, handrail on both sides of the steps, 100 cm high). Restroom outside Coach Collection.

Schloss Hof

Schlosshof 1, 2294 Schlosshof
  • Prices

  • Opening times

    • until 27.11. daily, 10:00 - 18:00
    • 3.12.-20.12. Sa - Su, 10:00 - 18:00
    • 3.12.-20.12. on holidays, 10:00 - 18:00
  • Accessibility

    • Main entrance
      • no steps
    • Car parks Main entrance
      • Parking spaces for people with disabilities
    • Elevator available
      • 100 cm wide and 165 cm low , Door 90 cm wide
    • Further information
      • Wheelchair accessible restroom available.
    • Special offers for people with disabilities

      Free wheelchair rental (by prior arrangement).

    • Comments

      Exhibition rooms, restaurant / café: no steps. Wheelchair ramps in the garden.

Schloss Niederweiden

Niederweiden, 2292 Engelhartstetten

 

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