When Maria Theresa inherited the Habsburg lands in 1740 on the death of her father, the only part of her empire that seemed secure was Hungary. The Hungarian Diet (parliament) had previously agreed to her accession to the throne and plans began almost immediately for a coronation ceremony.
From 1536 until 1830 the Hungarian coronation ceremony was always held in Pressburg (Bratislava). The event was set for 25 June, and on 19 June Maria Theresa set off from Vienna, taking a flotilla down the Danube. They stopped on the Austrian side of the border for the night and in the morning were escorted by representatives of the Hungarian Diet across the border where two pavilions had been set up. Maria Theresa changed into a gold-embroidered dress in one and received the representatives of the Diet in the other. Later that day Maria Theresa and her husband entered the city with the bells ringing and crowds in the streets to welcome them.
The next day she met a larger contingent in the great hall where she was to finalise the oath she would take to uphold the Hungarian constitution. Hungary’s Diet wanted certain of their liberties preserved while Maria Theresa wanted it clear she was the ruler and could pass on the crown to her chosen successor. Negotiations between Maria Theresa and the Diet grew tense and threatened to delay the coronation. Eventually, Maria Theresa agreed to write into her coronation oath that she would continue to negotiate so that the ceremony could continue.
The coronation ceremony itself is steeped in tradition. The monarch is clothed in the mantle worn in 1000 by St. Stephen, the first crowned King of Hungary, and used by all monarchs since. The Holy Crown of Hungary is called the Crown of St. Stephen, although it is believed to actually date to the twelfth century. The Crown has enormous significance, and a Hungarian King is not considered legitimate without having been crowned with it.
The coronation took place on June 25. Maria Theresa knelt and kissed the cross and swore to uphold the laws of the land. The Bishop anointed her and put St. Stephen’s mantle around her shoulders, the Holy Crown on her head and handed her the orb and sceptre. (The sceptre is also believed to have been carried by St. Stephen. ) She then rode to the church of the Brethren of Charity where she took the coronation oath and was named Rex Hungariae (King of Hungary- there being no provision for female rule in the constitution.)
Next came a unique part of the Hungarian tradition, again following the example of St. Stephen. A large hill, with soil from all parts of Hungary, had been constructed in the main square. Maria Theresa rode a black charger up Royal Hill, as it was called, and at the top swung her sword to each of the four corners of the earth, vowing to defend Hungary from all comers. This was a physically demanding exercise, but Maria Theresa had been practising for some weeks and pulled it off.
A grand banquet followed, but she had little time to savour the moment. She was still in Pressburg when news came that the Prussian King Frederick had invaded Austria. Maria Theresa had been left with no treasury and not much of an Army, and she was now threatened by an alliance of France, Spain and Prussia. In one of the most famous moments of her reign, she went to the Hungarian Diet and begged for an army with which to defend her realm. Reportedly the Diet, who had been so difficult during her coronation negotiations, was quite moved by her speech and shouted out in agreement, “Our life and blood for our King Maria Theresa.” Years later she said, “I feel so indebted to the Hungarian nation…” 1