In 1740, on this day Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor, King of Hungary, Croatia, and Bohemia, Archduke of Austria, and ruler of too many duchies to list, decided he would like some mushrooms for dinner. Delighted, he shared them with his daughter and heir, Maria Theresa, whom he had kept near him for fear of his death since 1738.
Austrian Throne Left Empty He had worked throughout his reign to secure the Pragmatic Sanction of 1713, which would allow a daughter to secure the throne of Austria. Female rulers, while sometimes seen in Europe such as England's Elizabeth and Poland's Jadwiga, were simply unheard of in the traditions of the ruling empires of the Continent. All of Charles' work would be undone in a quick lapse of thought as the mushrooms would prove poisonous.
Charles died, and Maria Theresa followed him soon after. It was believed that Maria Theresa was pregnant, but autopsy upon a royal was forbidden, and there was no reasonable way to be sure beyond the whispers of her nurses. Maria Theresa's husband, Francis Stephen, stood to directly inherit the titles, but he was distrusted by many of his people, and his claims were hardly locked in iron-clad law. Instead, a surge of Austrian nobles, as well as the Hapsburgs in Spain, looked to take up the throne. Civil war would break out in the empire and then all through Europe in what became known as the War of the Austrian Succession.
Austria proved itself unable to secure a ruler. Its coffers had been emptied by the expenses of the War of the Polish Succession and the Russo-Turkish War. Charles had ignored suggestions to focus on restoring the imperial treasury as well as expanding the military, which had dwindled to 80,000 soldiers who had not been paid in months. Instead, Charles focused on the security of his Pragmatic Sanction, but now there was no ruler at all. Austria unable to defend itself, Frederick the Great of Prussia would begin the international move carving up the empire with his invasion of Silesia on December 16. The Hungarian Diet would declare its independence early in 1741 and drop out of the war.
The rest of Europe would hurry to grab what it could. France and Spain turned on each other and fought bitterly over duchies in northern Italy. Frederick, meanwhile, began a campaign to unite the German states not as Holy Roman Emperor, but as Emperor of Germany, a Kaiser as he called it. Saxony would initially fight, then yield, as would most of the others. England joined Spain against France in a bid for domination in the colonies of North America and India. Russia, meanwhile, became embroiled in a two-front war with Sweden while attempting to block the Prussians' move south.
When the war ended and the dust settled on battlefields in 1756, Europe reached a new balance of power. Spain made great gains in Italy, Germany stood united under the Prussian crown, and Russia gained a sphere of influence in the Balkans. The French were removed from North America while the British came to dominate Canada and India. Expenses would be charged upon the colonies, spurring a reprisal from the American colonists that demanded representation to determine their taxes. As one of his last actions before his death, George II promoted new ministers of parliament from the colonies, a rash decision in the minds of many, but what he considered best rather than leaving the matter to his grandson who would "foul it up".
Austria itself would become a shadow with only its lands east of the Alps under the new Austrian King Leopold. The many subordinate peoples broke free and named their own kings, which each had to be approved by the Great Powers to ensure a return to European stability.