In 1789 the Habsburg dynasty ruled the Holy Roman Empire, Austria and approximately a hundred German-speaking states in Central Europe, many of which were still ruled by bishops. The Empire also embraced Hungary, Bohemia and much of Italy. Conditions varied greatly in these multiple cities; some were ruled by corrupt bureaucracies, others boasted lavish and grandiose court cultures. Marie Theresa (r. 1740–80) was an autocratic empress who tried to improve government and economy in the extensive Empire, for example and initiating the emancipation of the peasants in 1770. Her son Joseph II (r. 1780–90) was an enlightened despot who nevertheless espoused religious toleration, whilst recognizing the supremacy of the Catholic Church. Prussia was a growing force that was increasingly opposed to the Austrian power base of the Empire; in the next century it would emerge in its own right. Frederick II of Hohenzollern, ruler of the kingdom of Prussia and the duchy of Brandenburg (r. 1740–86), was an Enlightenment king, who allowed his subjects religious freedom, expanded education and was known for his effective and humane government. When Marie Theresa succeeded to the throne, Frederick II seized Silesia and Europe was plunged into turmoil. France allied with Prussia against Austria, supported by Great Britain. Marie Theresa’s subsequent network of diplomatic alliances drove Great Britain into an alliance with Prussia. Austria and Prussia were clearly both rivals for the leadership of Germany.
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