In October 1740, Charles VI, the German emperor and the Austrian head of state, dies. Succession falls on his oldest daughter, the 23 year old Maria Theresa. However, by Imperial law and tradition, women cannot succeed to the Imperial throne. Although the other states of Europe had agreed to Maria Theresa’s succession only a few years before by signing the Pragmatic sanction, her enemies now regard Austria as easy prey. Bavaria and Saxony lay claim to large swathes of Hapsburg possessions. Supported by France, Bavaria is even claiming the Imperial title itself. And what could be easier to achieve? Austria is isolated and ruled by a young, inexperienced, and, it is assumed, weak woman.
In December 1740, the War of the Austrian Succession finally breaks out. Seizing the opportunity, Frederick II of Prussia – himself King for only six months – invades the Austrian province Silesia, driven by his ambition for power and personal glory. The Prussian surprise attack takes Silesia with scarcely a fight. In Spring 1741, Bavaria, Saxony and France take up arms as well. Engulfed by this wave of attacks, Austria seems doomed. However, the attackers have underestimated Maria Theresa, her strength of character, and her fierce tenacity. Against the advice of her ministers, she is not willing to give up the smallest part of her heritage.