The Pragmatic Sanction (Latin: Sanctio Pragmatica) was an edict issued by Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor, on 19 April 1713 to ensure that the Habsburg hereditary possessions, which included the Archduchy of Austria, the Kingdom of Hungary, the Kingdom of Croatia, the Kingdom of Bohemia, the Duchy of Milan, the Kingdom of Naples, the Kingdom of Sardinia and the Austrian Netherlands, could be inherited by a daughter.
Charles and his wife Elizabeth Christine had not had children, and since 1711, Charles had been the sole surviving male member of the House of Habsburg. Charles's elder brother, Joseph I, had died without male issue, leaving Joseph's daughter Maria Josepha as the heir presumptive. That presented two problems. First, a prior agreement with his brother, known as the Mutual Pact of Succession (1703), had agreed that in the absence of male heirs, Joseph's daughters would take precedence over Charles's daughters in all Habsburg lands. Though Charles had no children, if he were to be survived by daughters alone, they would be cut out of the inheritance. Secondly, because Salic law precluded female inheritance, Charles VI needed to take extraordinary measures to avoid a protracted succession dispute, as other claimants would have surely contested a female inheritance.
Charles VI was indeed ultimately succeeded by his own elder daughter, Maria Theresa (born 1717). However, despite the promulgation of the Pragmatic Sanction, her accession in 1740 resulted in the outbreak of the War of the Austrian Succession as Charles-Albert of Bavaria, backed by France, contested her inheritance. After the war, Maria Theresa's inheritance of the Habsburg lands was confirmed by the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, and the election of her husband, Francis I, as Holy Roman Emperor was secured by the Treaty of Füssen.
In 1700, the senior branch of the House of Habsburg became extinct with the death of Charles II of Spain. The War of the Spanish Succession ensued, with Louis XIV of France claiming the crowns of Spain for his grandson Philip, and Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor claiming them for his son Charles. In 1703, Charles and Joseph, Leopold's sons, signed the Mutual Pact of Succession, granting succession rights to the daughters of Joseph and Charles in the case of complete extinction of the male line but favouring the daughters of Joseph over those of Charles, as Joseph was older.
In 1705, Leopold I died and was succeeded by his elder son, Joseph I. Six years later, Joseph I died leaving behind two daughters, Archduchesses Maria Josepha and Maria Amalia. Charles succeeded Joseph, according to the Pact, and Maria Josepha became his heir presumptive.
However, Charles decided to amend the Pact to give his own future daughters precedence over his nieces. On 19 April 1713, he announced the changes in a secret session of the council.
Securing the right to succeed for his own daughters, who were not even born yet, became Charles's obsession. The previous succession laws had also forbidden the partition of the Habsburg dominions and provided for succession by females, but that had been mostly hypothetical. The Pragmatic Sanction was the first such document to be publicly announced and so required formal acceptance by the estates of the realms affected.
For 10 years, Charles VI laboured, with the support of his closest advisor, Johann Christoph von Bartenstein, to have his sanction accepted by the courts of Europe. Only the Electorate of Saxony and the Electorate of Bavaria did not accept it because it was detrimental to their inheritance rights. (Frederick Augustus II, Elector of Saxony was married to Maria Josepha of Austria and Charles, Elector of Bavaria to Maria Amalia of Austria, both daughters of Charles's deceased elder brother Joseph I.)
Charles VI made commitments with Russia and Augustus of Saxony, King of Poland, which caused two wars: the War of the Polish Succession against France and Spain, which cost him Naples and Sicily, and the Austro-Russian-Turkish War, which cost him Little Wallachia and northern Serbia, including the Fortress of Belgrade.
Hungary, which had an elective kingship, had accepted the house of Habsburg as hereditary kings in the male line without election in 1687 but not semi-Salic inheritance. The Emperor-King agreed that if the Habsburg male line became extinct, Hungary would once again have an elective monarchy; the same was the rule in the Kingdom of Bohemia.
Maria Theresa, however, still gained the throne of Hungary. The Hungarian Parliament voted its own Pragmatic Sanction of 1723 in which the Kingdom of Hungary accepted female inheritance supporting her to become queen of Hungary.
Croatia was one of the crown lands that supported Emperor Charles's Pragmatic Sanction of 1713 and supported Empress Maria Theresa in the War of the Austrian Succession of 1741-48 and the Croatian Parliament signed their own Pragmatic Sanction of 1712. Subsequently, the empress made significant contributions to Croatian matters by making several changes in the administrative control of the Military Frontier, the feudal and tax system. She also gave the independent port of Rijeka to Croatia in 1776.
This section does not cite any sources. (April 2012) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
Charles VI spent the time of his reign preparing Europe for a female ruler, but he did not prepare his daughter, Maria Theresa. He would not read documents to her, take her to meetings or allow her to be introduced to ministers or have any preparation for the power she would receive in 1740. It is possible that the reason was that such instruction would imply an acceptance of his inability to produce a male heir.
Charles VI managed to get the great European powers to agree to the Pragmatic Sanction (for the time being) and died in 1740 with no male heirs. Prince Eugene advised a much more militaristic approach to the situation. He argued that rearmament would be much more effective than paper guarantees. Even further, the combined political and military weight of guarantees as well as military power and prowess could have deterred France and Prussia outright. Unfortunately, France, Prussia, Bavaria, and Saxony broke their promises and contested the claims of his daughter Maria Theresa on his Austrian lands, and initiated the War of the Austrian Succession, in which Austria lost Silesia to Prussia.
Further, the elective office of Holy Roman Emperor was filled by Joseph I's son-in-law Charles Albert of Bavaria, marking the first time in several hundred years that the position was not held by a Habsburg. As Emperor Charles VII, he lost his own country, Bavaria, to the Austrian army of his wife's cousin Maria Theresa and then died. His son, Maximilian III Joseph, Elector of Bavaria, renounced claims on Austria in exchange for the return of his paternal duchy of Bavaria. Maria Theresa's husband was elected Holy Roman Emperor as Francis I in 1745. The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, in 1748, finally recognised Maria Theresa's rule.