Profiling the prince’s servants. Ideas, agency and networks of Maria Theresa’s political advisors during the war of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748)

De dienaren van de vorst. Opinies, agency en netwerken van Maria Theresia’s politieke raadgevers tijdens de Oostenrijkse Successieoorlog (1740-1748)
Start - End 
2015 - 2020 (ongoing)



This project aims to study the ideas, decisions, and influence of Maria Theresa’s main political advisors during the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748), chiefly with respect to foreign policy. The objective is not to confine the analysis to individual advisors around the queen, but to also study their interactions and networks. The premise underlying this project is that it was precisely during these years that a remarkable generational shift took place in Maria Theresa’s entourage, in which a new type of differently educated and so-called enlightened statesmen gradually came to the fore, the most prominent example being the later State Chancellor Kaunitz. Together with ideological divides, this generational shift and ensuing new style of statecraft presumably influenced Vienna’s foreign policy to a large degree. However, for most of the war, the councillors whom Maria Theresa had inherited from her father numerically outstripped the newcomers.

Even though several scholars have indicated the modern character of post-war figures as Kaunitz, Haugwitz and Zinzendorf as well as their modus operandi, the transition during the war remains largely neglected. Moreover, this neglect is indicative of larger gaps in our historical knowledge of the Austrian Monarchy: little is known about its war policy and its government circles during these crucial years in which the very existence of the monarchy was threatened. As the war experience was traumatizing for both Maria Theresa and her political advisors, it served as a catalyst for far-reaching post-war reforms. This impact on the succeeding decades of her reign makes further examination of the first years, and specifically those who aided her in dealing with foreign affairs, all the more crucial.

Therefore, the topic of this research project is novel and relevant to the history of Austrian government. Furthermore, this research project is also innovative from a methodological point of view. Besides investigating rhetorical strategies, opinions and decisions through content and discourse analyses, social network analysis methods will be applied. This project can thus be considered an examination of the applicability of these to unequally conserved correspondence and protocols, and their possibility of revealing insights into eighteenth-century politics, patron-client relations and state service.

The main sources include protocols of advisory bodies as well as diplomatic and official letters, the bulk of which are conserved in Viennese and Czech archives. Although these documents will help unravel the case study on Maria Theresa’s entourage, more generally the research will address topics such as the influence of Enlightenment ideas on government, the transfer of information and orders, and the role of patronage, kinship and friendship within eighteenth-century politics.