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Haydn Remembers and the One Thing He Forgot

Maria Theresa at Fifteen

The Haydn Mysteries are set in the 1760s. Haydn was in his thirties, at the prime of his life and his musical career. Thirty years later in 1799, he would meet the first of the two men who have come to be known as his early biographers: Georg August Griesinger, a tutor in the household of the Electoral Saxon Ambassador. Six years after that, Haydn met with the painter and engraver Albert Christoph Dies.

Through vivid stories and anecdotes, Haydn recalled for his biographers his boyhood in Rohrau playing an imaginary violin as his parents played and sang; his early schooling at the parish school in Hainburg; and his years as a choirboy in the great gothic cathedral of St. Stephen’s in Vienna.

He recalled climbing the scaffolds that surrounded the Habsburg summer palace of Schönbrunn; and the spanking the Empress Maria Theresa administered to him as a result. But there is one thing that he never once mentions: the numerous wars that followed upon the young Empress’s succession to the throne in 1740. The War of Austrian Succession lasted eight years and was followed, after a brief respite, by the Seven Years’ War in 1756.

The Girl-Queen
These wars were no small affairs. They turned the twenty-three-year-old Maria Theresa from a high-spirited, pleasure-loving woman, who danced all night and returned, without sleep, to work the next morning, into a careworn woman, unable ever to enjoy the lighter, frivolous pleasures of her courtiers.

In October 1740, when Maria Theresa took over her father’s lands, no one expected the Habsburgs to survive under this young girl who had inherited an empty treasury, ancient advisors, and lands she could only keep if the principalities and kingdoms that surrounded her chose to honor their promise to her father, Charles VI, to accept a female ruler. This promise had been ratified in the Pragmatic Sanction, and the signatories had accepted lands in exchange for their word.

But now that Charles was dead, and his young daughter—heavily pregnant with the baby who would one day become Emperor Joseph II—was on the throne, no one was inclined to honor the treaty they had so solemnly sworn to uphold.

The Enemy Swoops

Frederick II

In Prussia to the north, Frederick II who had ascended the throne only a few months before Maria Theresa, had been making plans long before his own father was dead. “It is only a question of executing designs I have long had in mind,” Frederick wrote, contradicting his anti-war stance in his Anti-Machiavel, a treatise supposedly countering Machiavelli’s views, but in actuality demonstrating a sound understanding of them.

He was the first to swoop, not openly, but in an attack far more treacherous. Years earlier upon his engagement to the wife he was to discard after his father died, Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Bevern, Frederick had met Francis of Lorraine, Maria Theresa’s husband. The two men had gotten along quite well.

To Francis, Frederick now wrote, conveying his “deepest sympathy” at the death of Charles VI. “This event will unsettle the affairs of all Europe, and its consequences will be the more dire for its unexpectedness,” Frederick pointed out, but went on to assure Francis of his own support, especially for the latter’s claim to the imperial crown.

Bellotto’s View of Schonbrunn

Francis was deceived. Maria Theresa, fortunately, was not. By the end of November, however, all of Europe knew that the Prussian king was up to some mischief. Maria Theresa’s envoy, Count Botta, has a sense of what it was when he fought his way past convoys of troops blocking all roads to Silesia—the richest province within the Habsburg lands—to enter Prussia in early December.

Botta reached Berlin on December 1, but was not received by Frederick until December 6, when he was on his way to wage war.

“Sire!” Botta said, “you are going to ruin the house of Austria and at the same time destroy yourself.”

“It depends entirely on the Queen,” Frederick coolly replied, “whether she accepts the offers I have made her.”

But Frederick’s envoy, Gotter, only reached Vienna after Frederick had crossed the Silesian frontier. “I am come with safety for the House of Austria in one hand and the Imperial Crown for your Royal Highness in the other,” the Prussian envoy began. The Prussian King’s troops and treasure were at the Queen’s service, he assured Francis, but in return for this, the King hoped the Queen would offer him no less than the whole Duchy of Silesia.

“Nobody is more firm in his resolutions than the King of Prussia,” Gotter then declared. “He must and will enter Silesia; once entered, he must and will proceed [he had, of course, already proceeded into Silesia];and, if not secured by the immediate cession of that province, his troops and treasure will be offered to the Electors of Saxony and Bavaria.”

The Queen Takes a Stand
The Queen may have been desperate; but she did not lack courage. No, she was not going to let Frederick take from her by force without putting up a fight. Heavily pregnant, she never came out to meet Gotter in person. But through her husband, she sent a message. “[Tell]. . .your master. . . that while he has a single man in Silesia we will rather perish than enter into any discussion.”

That Frederick won a decisive war was thanks more to the troops his father had trained than his own military strategy. He himself, convinced the battle was lost, escaped the battlefield, to be told later that he had won.

That Maria Theresa lost the battle of Mollwitz—losing Silesia forever—was thanks to the ineptitude of her advisors and generals and the lack of courage her own husband displayed. Had she followed her own instincts, giving her commander in Silesia, Maximilian von Browne, a free hand, things may have turned out differently. As things stood, Browne with his guerilla type tactics gave Frederick more trouble than the King anticipated.

Maria Theresa has been criticized by almost every historian, other than her own 

Empress Maria Theresa

biographers, for not capitulating to Frederick’s demands. But had she done so, she might have lost more. The firm stand she took ensured that the Habsburgs continued to survive for nearly two more centuries.

During the eight-year war of Austrian Succession, the Bavarians, marching on Linz, were nearly at Vienna’s door and later Frederick’s cavalry managed to get to the suburbs of Vienna. What terror must the Viennese have felt. But not once does Haydn mention it to either Griesinger or Dies.

Haydn’s memory may have been faulty, but had this long-drawn war touched him, it is unlikely he would have forgotten it. He was a young man during the Seven Years War, and although his mentor C.P.E. Bach in Frederick’s Prussia suffered through those years, we hear no word of complaint from Haydn. He teaches his pupils, works with Porpora, and before long obtains a prestigious position with Count Morzin, a Bohemian nobleman.

It speaks volumes about Maria Theresa and her handling of affairs of state that the ravages of war that so affected her were barely felt by the non-fighting members of her realm. How remarkable must this woman have been!

  1. Anna Ballard says:

    Thank you so much not only for your Haydn novels and stories but forthe historical insights you provide. I think most of the history I learned after that of the Crusades was English or things that affected England. I had never heard of the war of Austrian Succession, so I appreciate the information you provided. I also enjoyed the article on opera from an earlier post. Thank you for your talent and for sharing it with us, your readers.

  2. Nupur says:

    Thank you, Anna, for taking the time to read the post. I’m delighted you enjoyed it.

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