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Charles VI (October 1, 1685 – October 20, 1740) was Holy Roman Emperor and ruler of the Austrian Habsburg Monarchy from 1711 until his death, succeeding his elder brother, Joseph I. Archduke Charles was the second son of Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I and of his third wife, Princess Eleonor Magdalene of Neuburg, Archduke Charles was born on October 1, 1685. His tutor was Anton Florian, Prince of Liechtenstein.

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Following the death of Carlos II of Spain, in 1700, without any direct heir, Charles declared himself King of Spain—both were members of the House of Habsburg. The ensuing War of the Spanish Succession, which pitted France’s candidate, Philippe, Duke of Anjou, Louis XIV of France’s grandson, against Austria’s Charles, lasted for almost 14 years. The Kingdom of Portugal, Kingdom of England, Scotland, Ireland and the majority of the Holy Roman Empire endorsed Charles’s candidature. Carlos III, as he was known, disembarked in his kingdom in 1705, and stayed there for six years, only being able to exercise his rule in Catalonia, until the death of his brother, Joseph I, Holy Roman Emperor; he returned to Vienna to assume the imperial crown.

Not wanting to see Austria and Spain in personal union again, the new Kingdom of Great Britain withdrew its support from the Austrian coalition, and the war culminated with the Treaties of Utrecht and Rastatt three years later. The former, ratified in 1713, recognised the Duke of Anjou as King Felipe V of Spain; however, the Kingdom of Naples, the Duchy of Milan, the Austrian Netherlands and the Kingdom of Sardinia – all previously possessions of the Spanish—were ceded to Austria.

To prevent a union of Spain and France, Felipe was forced to renounce his right to succeed his grandfather’s throne. Charles was extremely discontented at the loss of Spain, and as a result, he mimicked the staid Spanish Habsburg court ceremonial, adopting the dress of a Spanish monarch, which, according to British historian Edward Crankshaw, consisted of “a black doublet and hose, black shoes and scarlet stockings”.

Charles’s father and his advisors went about arranging a marriage for him. Their eyes fell upon Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, the eldest daughter of Louis Rudolph, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel and his wife Princess Christine Louise of Oettingen-Oettingen. On August 1, 1708, in Barcelona, Charles married her by proxy. 

Succession to the Habsburg dominions

When Charles succeeded his brother in 1711, he was the last male Habsburg heir in the direct line. Since Habsburg possessions were subject to Salic law, barring women from inheriting in their own right, his own lack of a male heir meant they would be divided on his death.

The Pragmatic Sanction of April 19, 1713 abolished male-only succession in all Habsburg realms and declared their lands indivisible, although Hungary only approved it in 1723.
Charles had three daughters, Maria Theresa (1717-1780), Maria Anna (1718-1744) and Maria Amalia (1724-1730) but no surviving sons. When Maria Theresa was born, he disinherited his nieces and the daughters of his elder brother, Emperor Joseph I, Maria Josepha and Maria Amalia. It was this act that undermined the chances of a smooth succession and obliged Charles to spend the rest of his reign seeking to ensure enforcement of the Sanction from other European powers.


In total, Great Britain, France, Saxony-Poland, the Dutch Republic, Spain, Venice, States of the Church, Prussia, Russia, Denmark, Savoy-Sardinia, Bavaria, and the Diet of the Holy Roman Empire recognised the sanction. France, Spain, Saxony-Poland, Bavaria and Prussia later reneged. Charles died in 1740, sparking the War of the Austrian Succession, which plagued his successor, Maria Theresa, for eight years.

At the time of Charles’ death, the Habsburg lands were saturated in debt; the exchequer contained a mere 100,000 florins; and desertion was rife in Austria’s sporadic army, spread across the Empire in small, ineffective barracks. Contemporaries expected that Austria-Hungary would wrench itself from the Habsburg yoke upon his death.

Despite the predicaments faced by Charles, the territorial extent of his Habsburg lands was at its greatest since the days of his cognatic ancestor Emperor Charles V, reaching the Southern Mediterranean and including the Duchy of Milan.

The Emperor, after a hunting trip across the Hungarian border in “a typical day in the wettest and coldest October in memory”, fell seriously ill at the Favorita Palace, Vienna, and he died on October 20, 1740 in the Hofburg. In his Memoirs Voltaire wrote that Charles’ death was caused by consuming a meal of death cap mushrooms. Charles’ life opus, the Pragmatic Sanction, was ultimately in vain. Maria Theresa was forced to resort to arms to defend her inheritance from the coalition of Prussia, Bavaria, France, Spain, Saxony and Poland—all party to the sanction—who assaulted the Austrian frontier weeks after her father’s death. During the ensuing War of the Austrian Succession, Maria Theresa saved her crown and most of her territory but lost the mineral-rich Duchy of Silesia to Prussia and the Duchy of Parma to Spain.