To celebrate the 300th anniversary of the birth of Maria Theresa, the only woman ever to rule the Hapsburg Empire, the Austrian Mint is issuing a four-coin series entitled Empress Maria Theresa – Treasures of History. Each entry in the series focuses on one of four virtues–Courage, Justice, Clemency and Prudence. A different portrait is also used on each coin, with Maria Theresa depicted as a young woman, a wife, a mother and a widow.
The first issue, entitled Courage and Determination, features a portrait of the empress as a young woman that is based on a medal designed by Austrian sculptor and engraver Matthäus Donner (1704-1756). It is so named because of the bravery and fortitude Maria Theresa had to muster from the very beginning of her reign as hostile forces immediately went to war with Austria at her assumption of the throne.
A right-facing portrait of the young Maria Theresa is the primary design element on the obverse. Compared to the 1765 medal by Matthäus Donner that the coin is based upon, the current design has been extensively modified. For example, on the 2017 coin her hair is held back with what appears to be some variety of lace or ribbon, whereas on the medal there is no piece of clothing whatsoever holding back the ringlets of hair from her neck. Also, Maria Theresa’s neck and upper body are slimmer and less bulky on the coin than portrayed on the medal, and the shoulders and neckline of her dress are more ornate.
The pendant earring, however, is more or less the same.
Encircling her portrait along the top of the obverse are the inscriptions REPUBLIK ÖSTERREICH and 20 EURO. Cradled beneath the truncation of her bust (which seems to fade out in a cinematic way near the edges versus a clear-cut dividing line) is the inscription * MARIA * THERESIA * AUGUSTA *, “Augusta” being the feminine form of the Latin Augustus, which was the title borne by Roman emperors.
Three solid rings (two thin outer rings and a thicker middle ring) surround the entire side.
The reverse features the standing figure of Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom and war. She is wearing armor and a military helmet. Underneath the armor is a long, flowing piece of fabric that drapes over her left arm and covers her ankles. Impractically, she is barefoot. Minerva holds a spear in her right hand and wields a shield on her left arm. The shield is adorned with a coat of arms.
Behind Minerva is an arrangement of eight standards or battle flags (four to each side) and four cannons (two to a side). Cannonballs are positioned in front of each pair of cannons. Military encampments are seen on the hills in the background. The inscription FORTITUDO (Latin for “bravery”, or “courage”) is found in the top right quadrant of the obverse, beginning near her head and extending downward to the mountainous skyline.
Beneath the tableau, in an exergue delineated by three lines separated by deep grooves, are the Roman numerals “MMXVII”; this represents the date, 2017.
A similar trio of solid rings surrounds the reverse design.
The edge of the 2017 Maria Theresa: Courage and Determination 20 euro silver coin is smooth.
Empress Maria Theresa was born in Vienna, Austria on May 13, 1717. Her father was the Holy Roman emperor Charles VI, the last surviving male to bear the name Habsburg. Because of this, Charles continued to hope for a boy to continue the royal line (he had two more daughters), never preparing Maria for anything other than being someone else’s queen.
Which was strange, considering that Charles had issued his Pragmatic Sanction in 1713–four years before Maria Theresa was born. The sanction attempted to make it legal for a female to inherit the Habsburg domains. He then spent the rest of his life making territorial and diplomatic concessions in order to secure its acceptance by the courts and rulers of Europe.
When Charles died in 1740, Maria Theresa inherited the Habsburg domains, but her father had left the country bankrupt. Moreover, several major European powers (including France and Prussia) immediately reneged on the agreements they had made with Charles VI and contested her right to rule, initiating the War of Austrian Succession.
One important note: all Maria Theresa had inherited was sovereignty over Habsburg lands. She had not become monarch over the Holy Roman Empire. For one thing, it was an elected office; for another, women weren’t eligible to vote and could not become empresses in their own rights. She did, however, maneuver to support her husband Francis Stephen’s claim to the throne by making him co-ruler of Austria and thereby giving him formidable rank and real estate holdings within the Empire (he was originally from France).
Yet while the precariously-positioned ruler of a ruined economy might seem an odd choice for numismatic immortality, it was in the first year of her reign that the silver Maria Theresa thaler made its debut. It was quickly accepted throughout the German-speaking realms of Europe, and eventually became the widest used trade dollar in the planet’s history.
The first few years of the war served up major losses for Maria Theresa and her cause, with the loss of important territories and even one of her enemies being elected Holy Roman emperor. To gain much-needed support from Hungary, she adopted the masculine titles of archduke and king.
It also helped that by this time she had produced a male heir.
Still, after eight battering years and humiliating peace treaties, Maria Theresa–through determination and force of will (and often while pregnant)–managed to hold on to her family’s domains and get her husband elected emperor.
The Seven Year’s War followed eight years later. Known as the French and Indian War in the United States, it was arguably a “World War”. Maria Theresa sought to regain territory lost to Prussia in the previous war, and convinced Russia and France to go to war against Prussia and Britain. Austria lost, but besides failing to recapture the lost territories the country didn’t suffer any political setbacks.
The rest of the world, however, was changed considerably as Great Britain became the dominant power in the New World, setting the stage for the eventual rise of the United States of America.
Her husband Francis died in 1765 and her son Joseph became emperor. Maria Theresa made him co-ruler as well, for similar reasons. And similarly to countless other co-regents throughout history, they didn’t get along.
During her reign, she successfully reorganized Austria’s economy by taxing the nobility and reformed the military by establishing a standing army. After two of her daughters died of smallpox and she herself contracted the disease in the epidemic of 1767, Maria Theresa introduced smallpox inoculation to Austria. She instituted mandatory public schooling for children in 1775 (though she failed to fund it). A religious conservative, she nonetheless outlawed witch burning in 1776. No fan of the Enlightenment, she still managed to make Austria a culturally-important and modernizing force in the modern world of the 19th century.
She died in 1780, the last of the Habsburg line. She was survived by 11 of her 16 children, including Marie Antoinette. A date freeze was implemented on all Maria Theresa thalers produced after her death.
In 1857, her great-great-grandson, the emperor Franz Joseph I, gave the Maria Theresa silver thaler its official status as a trade dollar. The coins were so important to global commerce that numerous mints around the world have minted Maria Theresa thalers for commercial use. Maria Theresa thalers were especially popular in Africa and the Arab World, serving as legal tender in many nations until very recently.
Designer(s): Helmut Andexlinger is at the forefront of a younger generation of coin designers. His innovative work with computer technology has resulted in many award-winning coins for the Mint (View Designer’s Profile). Herbert Wähner is a designer and engraver at the Austrian Mint. Both men studied at the Fachschule für Metalldesign in Steyr, Austria.
|Year Of Issue:
|Matthäus Donner | Helmut Andexlinger | Herbert Wähner
|Helmut Andexlinger | Herbert Wähner
|Proof (Polished Plate)
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