How did the Habsburgs come to be on the Spanish throne?
The possessions of the House of Habsburg were the largest state in the Holy Roman Empire. Its large size, as well as its role as an outpost of defense against Turkish invasions, ensured that the Habsburgs had held the title of emperor almost continuously since Rudolf I, owner of Habsburg Castle in the Swiss Torgau region, was elected Holy Roman Emperor in 1273. Without ceasing to be emperors, the Habsburgs were above all concerned with the administration of their own lands.
2. How did Austria’s wars with the Ottoman Empire take place?
The Austro-Turkish wars of the 16th – 18th centuries were wars between the Habsburg Austrian monarchy and the Ottoman Empire over the northern part of the Balkan Peninsula and the territories of the Kingdom of Hungary.
Periodization of the Austro-Turkish wars:
1) 1526 – 1683 – mainly the period of defense by the Austrian Habsburgs of their possessions against Ottoman expansion;
2) 1683 – 1718 – period of Austrian offensive and acquisition of strategically important territories;
3) 1737 – 1791 – wars of Austria in alliance with Russia against the Turks, which proved unsuccessful for the Habsburgs.
1. What were features of political development of the Habsburg monarchy? What was its national composition?
The Austrian Habsburg monarchy was a multinational feudal absolutist state in which the Austrians held the dominant position, and the Slavic peoples (e.g., Czechs), Italians, Hungarians, and other nationalities were subject to national oppression. The Turkish danger made the centralization of administration in the empire necessary. The emperor approved the governors of the provinces from the local large landowners who were elected by the representative assemblies. The role of the class assemblies of local nobility, clergy, and representatives of the largest cities was gradually diminishing in the political life of the provinces. They were used by the central government mainly to approve taxes imposed on the local population.
2. What were the characteristics of the economic development of the Habsburg monarchy?
The internal heterogeneity of the Habsburg monarchy predetermined also the main characteristic of its economy – the extreme unevenness of the level and character of the development of individual regions.
In the 18th century the Habsburg monarchy was a classical agrarian country with isolated industrial inclusions in the Alpine lands, Bohemia and Silesia. Agriculture developed at a moderate pace. There were some changes in agricultural techniques and some new crops such as tobacco. However, viticulture was in decline. The most developed branches of traditional crafts and industry remained metallurgy and metalworking, in which the Habsburg monarchy continued to occupy one of the leading places in Europe, as well as salt mining and textile production in Bohemia and Silesia.
A characteristic feature of the development of the Habsburg monarchy in the second half of the 18th century was the active intervention of the state in economic matters. Various “economic societies” were created and there was active promotion of advanced economic methods. For example, trying to more widely introduce the potato, Joseph II (1780-1790) obliged the priests to read so-called “potato sermons”, which explained to the population the benefits of the new vegetable. This original method, combined with the famine of 1771-1772, led to the rapid spread of the potato in the last third of the century.
The manufactories, mainly textile ones, grew. Production of glassware and especially porcelain increased.
The country’s finances strengthened considerably through introduction of monetary uniformity and harmonization of exchange rates of German states in 1750.
3. What effect did the proximity to the Ottoman Empire have on the demographic development of the Habsburg lands?
Proximity to the Ottoman Empire had consequences. Each Turkish raid was accompanied by great demographic losses, not only because of the loss of life, but also because many inhabitants-especially women-were taken prisoner by the Turks. The disappearance of the Turkish threat at the turn of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as a result of the victorious wars for the Habsburgs led to important changes. The artificial containment of urban growth ceased. For the first time in decades, cities, including Vienna, were able to move beyond their fortress walls. In the mid-18th century, Vienna with its 170 thousand inhabitants was the fourth largest city in Europe after London, Paris and Naples. They began to actively resettle in the liberated from the Turks regions of Hungary. A century and a half of Turkish rule turned what was once prosperous southern Hungary into one of the most sparsely populated regions in Europe. The devastation was so great that it took almost a century of successive government resettlement policies to turn the pastures and wastelands back into one of the main breadbaskets of the monarchy.
4. What were the goals and results of the Austrian reform era?
The failures of Austria in the two great wars made the urgency of reform apparent to the ruling circles.
These reforms, implemented during the reign of Maria Theresia (1740 – 1780) and her son Joseph II (1780 – 1790), are very characteristic of the policy of “enlightened absolutism”.
As in other countries, “enlightened absolutism” in Austria carried out reforms in the interests of the ruling class of the nobility and made only minimal concessions to the rising bourgeoisie. The government sought only to eliminate the most crude, hindering the development of the country, feudal institutions.
The most important of these measures was the military reform, the need for which was felt most acutely. In 1748, soon after the end of the first Austro-Prussian war, a new order of military recruitment was introduced in the country.
Recruitment was carried out on special mobilization lists in the newly created military districts. The recruits were to serve for life. Thus the number of the army was significantly increased, and uniformity in its manning was introduced.
The army reform had a class character. The recruits were chosen mainly from the poorest people.
The government also paid great attention to fiscal reform. In an effort to increase tax revenues, Maria Theresa issued a law on universal income tax, from which the nobility and the church were not exempted.
At the same time for the same fiscal purposes a general census of the population was carried out, a statistical accounting of land, livestock and other movable and immovable property was initiated. In 1775 many internal trade duties were abolished, while those imposed on foreign trade were increased.
Technical and craft schools were created to train skilled workers; for the training of engineering and technical personnel in Vienna, the Mining Academy, the Commercial Academy, and special technical and agricultural schools were organized.
Judicial reforms occupied a large place in the activities of Maria Theresa and Joseph II. They limited the seigneurial arbitrariness of the peasants. The judicial functions were declared the exclusive prerogative of the state.
New criminal and civil codes were developed (1768), judicial torture was abolished (1776), and the use of the death penalty was limited. Imprisoned criminals were forced to work in craft workshops or manufactories.
Under Maria Theresa, and especially under Joseph II, a series of measures were taken in Austria which considerably limited the privileges of the Catholic Church: numerous monasteries were closed, a partial secularization of church lands was carried out, and the Jesuits were expelled from the Austrian dominions.
In the end the centralizing policy at the heart of the reforms of Maria Theresia and Joseph II not only failed to overcome the decentralizing tendencies inherited from numerous nationalities but even strengthened the centrifugal forces.
The emergence of bourgeois nations with their own national cultures in the Habsburg monarchy, as the whole country began its transition from feudalism to capitalism, also contributed to this. By the end of the eighteenth century, national contradictions had become the main source of weakness for the Austrian state.
5. What was the reaction in the Habsburg monarchy to the French Revolution of 1789? The French Revolution was met in Austria with mixed feelings. As elsewhere in Europe, Vienna feared the revolution would spread beyond France. Over the decades of reforms, however, Austria developed a layer of people raised on Enlightenment ideas, who initially saw the revolution as a realization of these ideas. Among them was Joseph II.