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Pragmatic Sanction

A pragmatic sanction is a sovereign's solemn decree on a matter of primary importance and has the force of fundamental law. When used as a proper noun, it usually refers to the Pragmatic Sanction of 1713, a legal mechanism designed to ensure that the Austrian throne and Habsburg lands would be inherited by Emperor Karl IV's daughter, Maria Theresia. The Pragmatic Sanction is part of the law of the house of Austria.

Table of contents
1 Events leading to the Pragmatic Sanction
2 Events following the Pragmatic Sanction
3 The Failure of the Pragmatic Sanction to be honored

Events leading to the Pragmatic Sanction

Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor was the founder of the Habsburg dynasty. On his abdication in 1556, he divided his lands, with one portion (consisting of Spain, the Low Countries, and the Americas) to his son Felipe II, and the other portion, consisting of Austria and the Empire, to his brother, Ferdinand I of Austria. This created two branches of the Habsburg house, the Spanish branch and the Austrian branch.

By the end of the 17th century, King Carlos II of Spain was the head of the House of Habsburg. He had no children, and, with no explicit laws of succession governing the House of Habsburg, several possible heirs, including Louis, the Grand Dauphin of France, Maximilian II, the prince of Bavaria, Victor Amadeus II, the duke of Savoy, and Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor.

A succession crisis was clearly looming, and negotiations to avoid it began years before Carlos' death. England and Holland opposed the uniting of the French and Spanish dominions, which would make France the leading world power, while France, England and Holland were united in their opposition to Karl VI's position, which would reunite the Spanish and Austrian branches of the Hapsburg family.

By the Treaty of the Hague, also known as the First Partition Treaty, in 1698, Carlo's Habsburg inheritance would be split between his two nephews, with Joseph Ferdinand, prince of Bavaria, son of Maximilian II, getting the larger share, while the dauphin of France, son of Louis XIV of France, obtained Naples and Sicily. Emperor Leopold's younger son Karl was to receive Milan.

The prince of Bavaria, however, unexpectedly died in 1699, and a new arrangement was negotiated between potential claimants in the Treaty of London, also known as the Second Partition Treaty. It was proposed that the dauphin of France would get Naples, Sicily, and Tuscany; Karl would get Spain, the Low Countries and the Indies, and Leopold, the duke of Lorraine, would take Milan, in turn ceding Lorraine and Bar to the dauphin. The emperor refused this arrangement, as it would divide the Spanish Empire, and by his will left all his possessions to the dauphin's second son, Philip, the duke of Anjou. On his death, the will was contested (by force), and a long and costly war involving all of Europe, the War of the Spanish Succession was begun in 1701 and resolved by the peace treaties of Utrecht and Rastatt in 1713.

As the war was in progress, Emperor Leopold tried to establish an explicit law of succession within the Habsburg house. Leopold I, and his two sons Joseph and Karl signed a succession pact (Pactum mutuae successionis) on 12 September 1703.

This pact specified that females could succeed only when all male lines had become extinct, and further specified the priorities of the then living Habsburgs.

Leopold died in 1705, and was succeeded by his son Joseph as Emperor. Joseph died in 1711 leaving two daughters, who were at the time of his death unmarried. He was succeeded as Emperor by Karl VI, who wrote a will specifying an order of succession different from that specified in the Pactum of 1703, giving precedence to his own daughters, moving them ahead of the daughters of his elder brothers in the succession. Because of this conflict a convocation of the Privy Council and the Ministers of the Emperor in Vienna was called, the Pactum was read aloud, and Karl VI's modifications announced. It was this declaration of 19 April 1713 that is called the 'Pragmatic Sanction of 1713.

Events following the Pragmatic Sanction

Hungary, which had an elective kingship, had accepted the Habsburgs as hereditary kings in the male line without election in 1687, but had not accepted semi-Salic inheritance. The Emperor agreed that if the Habsburg male line became extinct, Hungary would once again have an elective monarchy.

The Failure of the Pragmatic Sanction to be honored

Karl VI managed to get the great European powers to agree to the Pragmatic Sanction, and died in 1740 with no male heirs. However, France, Prussia, Bavaria and Saxony reneged, and contested the claims of his daughter Maria Theresia on his Austrian lands, and the War of Austrian Succession was initiated. The office of Holy Roman Emperor was filled by Joseph I's son-in-law Karl Albrecht of Bavaria (this was an elective office, not a hereditary one, and the Pragmatic Sanction in no case would have effected it). As Karl VII, he lost Bavaria to the Austrian army, then died. His son, Maximilian III Josef Karl, Elector of Bavaria, supported Austria's claims in exchange for the return of Bavaria, and Maria Theresia's husband was elected Holy Roman Emperor as Franz I in 1745.

The treaty of Aachen, in 1748, finally recognized Maria Theresia's Habsburg inheritance.