Maria Theresa’s father, the Emperor Charles VI (1711–1740) with a premonition that she would not have a male heir, anymore in 1713 prepared a solution in the form of the so-called Pragmatic sanctions ensuring the Sunday of Habsburg possessions and in the event of the extinction of the male line of the Habsburgs, succession in the female line. Most European states recognized this document and thus agreed to the succession Maria Theresa (1740–1780).
However, treaties were only honored by Charles’ counterparts if they were backed by money and troops, otherwise they were worthless pieces of paper. As a famous warlord said a few years before Eugene of Savoy, “…two hundred thousand soldiers are better than all tracts…”.
At the same time, order and stability did not reign within the Habsburg monarchy. The social situation was exacerbated by dissatisfaction with high taxes, which fell heavily especially on the inhabitants of the Czech lands. The treasury was empty and the army was in disarray, demoralized by defeats in the last war with the Turks.
As soon as Emperor Charles died in October 1740, European powers immediately swooped on the weakened Habsburg Empire like vultures, trying to grab every bit of it. Spain eyed Austrian possessions on the Apennine Peninsula, France eyed the Austrian Netherlands (today’s Belgium), Elector of Saxony and King of Poland in Moravia, King of Prussia in Silesia and Elector of Bavaria Charles Albrecht in Austria and Bohemia.
Prussia was the first to attack. Fresh ascendant to the throne Frederick II (1740–1786) invaded Silesia on December 16, 1740 and soon occupied almost all of it. His well-trained and well-armed army had no competition in Europe at the time and pushed the Austrian troops into Bohemia. A strong military coalition soon formed against Maria Theresa, when, in the spring of 1741, France promised help to the Elector of Bavaria in obtaining the Czech crown, and the King of Prussia and, shortly after, the King of Poland also joined the alliance.
In September, the Bavarian-French troops entered under the leadership Karl Albrecht and the French Marshal Belle Isle to Upper Austria and headed for Vienna. However, Maria Theresa managed to negotiate an armistice with Prussia in early October, which included the Austrians moving an army from Silesia to defend Vienna. The Bavarian-French army thus changed direction and turned to Bohemia. At the beginning of November, the enemy troops crossed the Czech border at Vyšší Brod and marched towards Prague, without encountering serious resistance along the way. On November 9, Saxon troops also invaded Czech territory and, like the Bavarian-French units, quickly advanced towards the capital. Here, the enemy troops united and completely surrounded Prague on November 20.
Long live the new king!
The Allied army numbered almost 50,000 men, while the commander of Prague was a field armorer Ogilvy he had roughly five thousand defenders at his disposal, of which more than two-thirds were fresh recruits and volunteers from the student body. Even the fortification of the city was not sufficient: although Ogilvy some time ago ordered the city walls to be repaired as quickly as possible, the work proceeded only very slowly.
Karel Albrecht called on the citizens of Prague to capitulate, but the defenders of the city resolutely refused. Shortly after midnight on November 26, the Elector of Bavaria gave the order to attack. It took place in several places at the same time. A detachment of French under the command of a general Polastrona struck the Strahov Gate and other French units attacked the New Gate. The Saxons attacked against the island of Štvanice (then Great Venice), from where they were to continue to Novoměstské mýlny, and their main attack was directed at Písecká brána. It was here that the first critical spot in the city’s defense became apparent, when the Saxons, protected by supporting artillery fire, began to climb the ramparts using ladders. The section was defended by about 400 students who held their position with extraordinary determination and bravery, so that they managed to repel the first onslaught of the attackers with losses.
However, the Saxons attacked again and more forcefully, pushed the defending units out of the castle and thus opened the way to Prague Castle and Mala Strana. They advanced quickly regardless of the number of dead and the dark night. They crossed the Vltava river by wading, as they had no vessel at their disposal – quite a feat in a cold November. The French were also successful. With several vigorous attacks, they managed to overcome the fortifications at the New Gate and quickly penetrate the city. The defenders no longer had a chance and any further resistance was futile, so the commander of the Prague garrison preferred to honorably capitulate.
The day after the occupation of the city, Karel Albrecht arrived in Prague, and on December 7, in a spectacular ceremony and watched by the crowds, he had parts of the Czech estate village proclaimed the Czech king. However, the coronation did not take place, because the Czech jewels intended for this purpose were stored in Vienna and without it being possible to carry out this act.
On the part of the Czech nobility and bourgeoisie, who paid tribute to Karl Albrecht as the new king, this was a clear betrayal of the Austrian monarch. Later, although this act was interpreted as a temporary adjustment to the situation, the empress never forgot the Czech conditions of their actions. Perhaps that is why she visited Prague only twice during her reign and did not gain the trust of representatives of the Czech nobility, with exceptions.
Violation of the ceasefire
After the conquest of Prague, Maria Theresa, depressed but undaunted, wrote to Count Kinsky: “I made up my mind to put everything on the line and even lose it in order to save Bohemia, if all measures must be aimed at that. Rather, all my troops may be destroyed before I give up anything.’
The situation has become critical. At the end of 1741, the King of Prussia canceled the existing truce and his troops invaded Moravia. The Prussians gradually conquered Olomouc, Vyškov, Uherské Hradiště, Kroměříž and Hodonín, from where they made bold forays all the way to Austria. It was a pre-arranged game of Frederick II. Karl Albrecht. The King of Prussia with this new aggression to the Elector of Bavaria, so that he could leave Bohemia in peace to Frankfurt am Main. Here, on January 24, 1742, Karel Albrecht was unanimously elected Holy Roman Emperor.
Action had to be taken. Maria Theresa, with the help of the countries that still remained under her rule, disrupted all forces to prevent the loss of further parts of her territory. She placed one of the most capable commanders, a marshal, at the head of the newly recruited army Ludwig Andreas von Khevenhüller, a student of the famous Turko killer Evžen Savojský. Under his command, the Austrian army began its advance into Bavaria at the end of 1741. The first attack was on the Franco-Bavarian position in Linz, which fell on January 24, 1742. The following day, Passau fell to the Austrian troops, and on February 13, Munich, the seat of Bavaria, also fell.
Karel Albrecht was completely taken aback by this development and had to stay in Frankfurt. While one Austrian army was operating in Bavaria, the other, under the leadership of Prince Charles of Lorraine, was headed for the Czech lands. However, Habsburg troops could not advance against the French and Bavarians in Bohemia and fight the Prussians in Moravia at the same time. The main part of the army therefore went to Moravia, and only Prince Lobkowitz’s corps of less than ten thousand men remained in southern Bohemia. The main task of this section was to besiege the Hluboká nad Vltavou castle, which had been occupied by a French garrison since November 1741.
The army is lost!
It happened today, May 17 near Chotusice in East Bohemia to the battle in which the King of Prussia defeated the troops of Charles of Lorraine. After this battle, negotiations took place between Austria and Prussia and the conclusion of the Peace of Wrocław (July 11, 1742)on the basis of which Maria Theresa had to give up almost all of Silesia, then the Bohemian Kladsk and Hlučínsk. The only moment of this peace was the possibility of maximum force to push the Bavarians and French out of Bohemia. When the French king Louis XV (1715–1774) learned of the truce, declared: “Then my army in Bohemia is lost.”
The initial almost idyllic conditions in Prague were replaced by misery in the summer and autumn of 1742. In proportion as the position of the occupying forces worsened, so did the cases of violence and looting. French soldiers looted the Břevnov monastery and their troops went to loot the surroundings of Prague. A similar situation also prevailed in the Bohemian-Moravian Highlands, where French garrisons were located, for example, in Polná or Přibyslav.
A road lined with graves
The army of Karl Lotrinsky moved towards Prague, surrounded the city from three directions and began the siege. The position of the French became desperate, and Marshal Belle-Isle asked his sovereign to send another expeditionary force to Bohemia. A new contingent of French soon marched from the Lower Rhine to the Czech capital, but they never arrived in Bohemia. On the contrary, Belle-Isle was ordered to leave Prague, which he did on the 16th-17th. December 1742.
The French occupation troops were now heading west along the Cheba road. The sick, hungry and exhausted soldiers were clearly not prepared for such a journey, as evidenced by the number of shallow graves along their retreat route. In addition, the retreating army was constantly attacked by Austrian forces and had countless skirmishes and skirmishes with them. Probably the most famous clash took place on December 17 near the village of Tachovice, where General Saint-Ignon’s demoralized cavalry units clashed with a unit of Austrian cuirassiers. Only thanks to the fire of the French guns was this attack repulsed at the cost of heavy losses.
Immediately after the departure of the French, the Austrian army entered Prague to the cheers of its inhabitants. Today, April 29, 1743, Maria Theresa also arrived in the city On May 12, she was crowned Queen of the Czech Republic in the St. Vitus Cathedral. It was undoubtedly a successful year. The Austrian empress regained the Bohemian lands and achieved undoubted success in Italy, where the combined Sardinian-Austrian troops defeated the Spanish in the Battle of Camposanta (February 8, 1743). But the war continued and the very next year the Prussians invaded Bohemia again…