The Military Order of Maria Theresa is an award with which the Austrian monarchs encouraged the most worthy and bravest officers. She was awarded for significant military successes, especially if they were achieved through personal initiative. This insignia was inferior in rank only to the dynastic Order of the Golden Fleece, one of the oldest and most honored in Europe, but was higher than all other awards. The Order of Maria Theresa operated for over 170 years. Initially, it provided for two degrees, but later there were three.
The main characteristics of the Order of Maria Theresa:
Date of establishment: June 18, 1757.
Number of degrees: 3.
Cross size: 30 x 32 mm.
Star diameter: from 60 to 95 mm.
Materials of the cross: gold, enamel, in special cases – diamonds, emeralds, rubies.
Star materials: silver, enamel.
The Order of Maria Theresa could have appeared almost a decade earlier. For example, such a proposal was put forward in 1749, but then the husband of Empress Franz I Stefan opposed it. At that time, he already headed the Order of the Golden Fleece and considered it superfluous to have another prestigious award.
The order of Maria Theresa was at first supposed to be given the name of a revered saint, which was a common tradition. But among the officers of Austria, in addition to Catholics, there were also Protestants, so the decision turned out to be controversial. As a result, the award was named after Maria Theresa, the Austrian Archduchess and Empress of the Holy Roman Empire.
Over time, the award became more and more popular and was presented very often. This continued until 1918, when the Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed and the Habsburg dynasty fell. The last emperor, Charles I (Karl I. Franz Josef), transferred the rights related to the order to the Chapter, which continued to operate until 1931. At the fiftieth meeting, it was decided to stop further meetings and new awards of the order. His last cavalier lived until 1986. He was a pilot who distinguished himself in the First World War.
Later, they tried to revive the order, but it was awarded once at the end of World War II. This happened contrary to the charter, so traditionally this case is not taken into account in the history of the award. Total from 1757 to 1931. 1240 people received it.
Appearance of the Order of Maria Theresa
The awardees were presented with distinctive signs: a four-beam cross made of enameled gold, a ribbon and a breast star. In the center of the cross is the red and white Austrian flag surrounded by the motto Fortitudini. From Latin, this word can be translated as “Courage” or “For courage.”
The reverse has two gold monograms: M.T. and F, the initials of the founding spouses of the award. The central part is framed with a green wreath. On special occasions, the obverse was decorated with diamonds and other precious stones. The badge was worn on the left side of the chest separately or on a moire ribbon in the color of the Austrian flag. Its size and appearance depended on the degree: Knight, Commander and Grand Cross. The star is made in the form of a similar cross, but made of silver and with an enamel wreath of stylized oak leaves. In the early stages, it could be embroidered, then it became metal.
Who was awarded the Order of Maria Theresa?
The title of Grand Master of the order belonged to the reigning monarch, and he received proposals for new awards from the Chapter. This regularly meeting council consisted of senior officers, including those who had already received the cross of honor. The main criterion for awarding the award is military exploits and showing initiative in battle. Sometimes the reason was injuries or years of service. The insignia was awarded only to officers, otherwise there were no restrictions on nobility, military rank or faith.
From the very beginning, the charter included a rule prohibiting the awarding of foreigners, but it was not respected. Among the gentlemen, in particular, were Russian monarchs and military leaders – allies of Austria. Here are a few examples: Emperor Alexander I; Alexander Vasilyevich Suvorov; Mikhail Illarionovich Kutuzov; Pyotr Ivanovich Bagration; Mikhail Bogdanovich Barclay de Tolly; Dmitry Vladimirovich Golitsyn.
The Order of Maria Theresa is currently the main symbol of the Austrian military academy, which is considered the oldest in the world. An extensive collection of insignia can be seen at the Vienna Military History Museum and the Tallinn Museum of Orders of Knighthood. Since the award was widely distributed, the gold cross and pectoral star are not uncommon at auctions and antiques shows.