Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger. Maria Theresa: The Empress in Her Time. Princeton University Press, 2021. 1046 pages. Hardcover, $39.95.

AuthorJohnson, Kofi

This book is the story of Maria Theresa, a young woman who inherited an enormous, rundown, old empire at the age of twenty-three. Maria Theresa was born on May 13, 1717, and died on November 29, 1780. Maria Theresa was the eldest daughter of Charles VI and Elizabeth of Brunswick-Wolfenbuttel. Charles was the only living male in his line. This triggered Charles to issue a royal act whereby a female child is entitled to inherit the throne of Habsburg.

Upon her accession to the throne, the war of the Austrian Succession erupted. challenging Maria Theresa's legitimacy and inheritance to the Habsburg throne. With aid of a band of warriors she gathered together, she defended her ancestral throne against her enemies that surrounded her empire.

In this comprehensive, thousand-page biography, Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger narrates the story of Maria Theresa. Drawing from a wealth of archival research, Stollberg-Rilinger paints Maria Theresa's biography to read like a fairytale. This is due to the unexpectedly happy ending of her reign. The book makes a fascinating read because the protagonist is a woman in the eighteenth century, with steadfastness, courage, and resolve. What she accomplished as the keeper of her inheritance is not what was expected of a woman during her time.

Maria Theresa has become a source of endless fascination because she is not only an empress but a faithful wife with sixteen children. She infuses the qualities associated with both men and women of her time into a single person. Consequently, "masculine heroism" resides in her, and "feminine virtue" is also a trait. Maria Theresa therefore can be described as an empress who possesses virile leadership because she demonstrates an exceptional figure with extraordinary qualities. When comparing famous women such as Cleopatra, Elizabeth, and Catherine II in world history, Maria Theresa's status is beyond even exceptional expectations. Whereas other monarchs had neglected their roles as spouses and mothers (they were unmarried or childless), Maria Theresa alone combines...

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