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The History of Germany by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall


 

 

CHARLES VII

[379] FREDERICK WILLIAM died in May 1740, and was succeeded by his son Frederick II, who was then twenty-eight. In October of the same year, the Emperor Charles VI died, happy in the thought that because of the Pragmatic Sanction, his daughter, Maria Theresa, who was now only twenty-three, would be allowed to succeed to all his lands in peace. But the poor Emperor was greatly deceived.

Prussia was one of the states which had promised to support Maria Theresa. But Frederick had quite other plans in his head now. During his father's lifetime he had taken no interest in soldiers, as a boy, indeed, he had hated them, and called the uniform he was forced to wear his shroud. Now all that was changed. He was a King, and he had great ideas in his head. "There is no reason why a little thing like the death of an Emperor should excite me," he said, when he heard that Charles VI was dead. All the same it did. For he now saw the chance to carry out the plans which he had been forming in secret.

He wanted to increase Prussia, and make a great name for himself. So he sent a message to Maria Theresa saying he would stand by her if she would give him part of her land called Silesia. Maria Theresa looked upon Frederick as little better than a robber, and she refused [380] indignantly. So instead of fighting for her, Frederick sent an army to conquer Silesia.

Nearly all the other rulers in Europe followed his example. Besides Prussia, Maria Theresa found against her, France, Spain, Poland, Bavaria, and Saxony. They all wanted some part of her broad lands. Charles, Elector of Bavaria, indeed claimed her throne. For, said he, if women were to inherit, his claim was far better than Maria Theresa's, for he was descended from a daughter of the Emperor Ferdinand I. So clamour and greedy strife surrounded the young Queen, and among all the powers of Europe she found no friend but Britain.

Forsaken by her friends, harassed on all sides by her enemies, Maria Theresa appealed for help to the Hungarians. Clad in mourning robes, with the crown glittering on her fair hair, and a sword girt to her side, she appeared before them, carrying in her arms her baby son. "Forsaken by all," she said, "I turn to you, trusting in your faith and bravery. In this great danger I trust to you not only my person, but my son, my crown, and my kingdom."

As she spoke her voice shook, and tears ran down her beautiful face. The hearts of all who heard her words and saw her beauty and grief were touched. In an instant every sword was drawn from its scabbard, and holding them aloft the nobles cried like one man, "Let us die for our King, Maria Theresa."

A thrill ran through the whole of Hungary, and brave, wild soldiers, men of strange tribes, with names hardly known in Europe, gathered from the farthest corners of the kingdom. Undisciplined they were, and half savage, but all eager to fight for their beautiful Queen.

[381] They swept through Austria, a wild, many-coloured horde, driving the enemy before them. In a wonderfully short time Austria was reconquered for the Queen. Then the wild horde marched into Bavaria and seized the capital, Munich.

But the very day upon which the Hungarians seized Munich, Charles, Elector of Bavaria, was crowned at Frankfort-on-Main as Emperor.

The power of the Emperor, however, was little more than a name, the Emperor himself little more than a puppet in the hands of Maria Theresa's enemies. So the war raged on, now one side winning battles, now the other.

In 1741 Frederick of Prussia had won a great battle at Mollwitz. He himself had fled from the field, thinking the battle was lost. Not till next day did he learn that he had fled from a victory. When he knew it his gladness was only dashed by the memory of his own flight. He held a thanksgiving service, and ordered the preacher to take for his text, "I suffer no woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence."

Again at Chotusitz in 1742 the Prussians gained another victory. Then Maria Theresa made peace, giving up Silesia to Frederick. Thus she was rid for the time of one enemy, although she had lost to him, she bitterly said, "the fairest jewel in her crown."

Still Maria Theresa had all her other enemies to fight. But now her cause was everywhere triumphant. The Emperor was but a hunted fugitive in his own land, harassed and ill, and often in want. Against the French, the British and Austrian armies won a great victory at Dettingen. In this battle George II himself led his [382] troops, and it was the last time that a British sovereign ever took part in a battle.

At length every one was weary of the war, and ready for peace. Every one except Maria Theresa. Flushed by success, she longed for revenge. She wanted to see her enemies utterly crushed. She wanted to see the puppet Emperor thrust from the throne, and her own husband chosen instead.

That made Frederick anxious. He had no wish to see Austria become so powerful, and once more he made war against Maria Theresa. This time he said that he fought in the cause of Charles VII, the Emperor.

But this time Frederick was not so fortunate. Instead of being able to plant his foot on the neck of his enemies as he had sworn to do, he found himself outwitted and out-generalled again and again. His army was wasted with hunger and disease, it was ragged and disheartened, and when in 1745 the Emperor died, worn out with sickness and misfortune, Frederick would gladly have made peace.

But again Maria Theresa refused. She hoped to humble Frederick, and perhaps win back from him her lost province of Silesia. But once again fortune turned. One after the other Frederick gained three great victories, a fourth was gained by one of his generals. Then Maria Theresa gave way, and on Christmas Day 1745, the Peace of Dresden was signed.

The war with France, however, still went on for some years. But at length that too came to an end with the Peace of Aachen in 1748.


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