The term pragmatic sanction refers to a royal decree on an important matter of state -- most commonly, it is applied to a number of different decrees issued by Holy Roman Emperors. When written as a proper noun, the term Pragmatic Sanction refers to the pragmatic sanction issued by Emperor Charles VI in 1713 that established his children, regardless of their gender, as his successors.

The Habsurgs weren't strangers to the problems of succession -- no series of set protocols or rules existed to govern the transfer of power, making situations involving a lack of direct male heirs (or, as in some cases, multiple direct male heirs) problematic. Furthermore, where the Habsurgs did set stringent standards was in the realm of marriage, making it extremely difficult for female Habsburgs to marry outside of the dynasty. This further exacerbated the problem of insufficient male heirs as valuable princesses were inbred amongst the existing family instead of marrying outside the family house and expanding the family tree.

In 1703, Emperor Leopold I attempted to clarify the matter of succession. In September of that year, he signed a succession pact with his two sons Joseph and Charles. The central point of the agreement was formalizing that Joseph would take the throne before Charles, but the more interesting point is that their agreement became the first to acknowledge that female Habsburgs were eligible to accede. After listing Joseph and Charles, it went on to place Leopold's daughters in his line of succession.

Leopold died in 1705 and was peacefully succeeded by Joseph (who ruled as Joseph I). Upon Joseph's death in 1711, Charles took the throne as Charles VI. By law, Charles was still responsible to honor Leopold's line of succession. Rather than passing the throne to one of his sisters, Charles convened a meeting of his ministers in Vienna on April 19th, 1713. There, he announced his intent to change the order of succession so that his children (first his sons, then his daughters) would be in line for the throne before Joseph's children. A son born to Charles died shortly after birth in 1716, but two daughters -- Maria Theresa (b. 1717) and Maria Anna (b. 1718) -- survived birth and appeared to be in good health. In 1720, he had the Pragmatic Sanction formally published, placing Maria Theresa as first in line for the throne.

Charles spent a large portion of his remaining time in power traveling around Europe ensuring that his will would be honored by his family, the states of the Holy Roman Empire, and outside European powers. Despite his efforts, Charles's work would ultimately be for naught. When he died in 1740, Maria Theresa assumed the throne as Queen of Hungary and Bohemia, Archduchess of Austria, and Duchess of Parma. Very quickly thereafter, her claim was disputed by Frederick II of Prussia as well as three French-supported claimants in Bavaria, Savoy and Saxony. Maria Theresa refused to step down and pledged to defend her right to rule. The War of the Austrian Succession had begun.

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