Habsburg Imperial Projects
Mapping Global Ambitions: Habsburg Imperial Projects in the Indian Ocean during the Eighteenth Century by Madalina Veres
In the early eighteenth-century, after the territorial losses suffered during the Spanish War of Succession (1701-1714), the Habsburg rulers consolidated their power around their Central European stronghold of Vienna. As an almost completely landlocked empire, the Habsburg Monarchy in the eighteenth century had no non-European vast lands it could conquer, first rhetorically and then in reality, in a similar vein to the Spanish, Portuguese, French and British rulers in America or the Russian Empire in Siberia. Despite these geostrategic challenges, Charles VI (r. 1711-1740), Maria Theresa (r. 1740-1780) and Joseph II (r. 1780-1790) remained committed to establish worldwide connections from their imperial capital in Vienna, through the creation of trading factories, participation in global scientific projects, and the amassing of impressive collections of plants, minerals and animals. The Austrian Habsburgs never achieved a global empire, but the transoceanic experiences of their administrators, engineers, scientists and traders, often translated in cartographic format, informed internal and international policies.
The three maps chosen for this exhibition reveal the maximum extension of the Habsburg Monarchy during the second half of the eighteenth century and one of the focal point of the Viennese rulers’ transoceanic ambitions: the Indian Ocean. During the 1720s, the Ostend Company based in the Austrian Netherlands fostered commercial connections with Bengal and China. The need to ensure British and Dutch support for Maria Theresa’s right to succeed him as the ruler of Habsburg lands, motivated Charles VI to abandon this ambitious global project. In the 1770s and early 1780s, Maria Theresa and Joseph II pursued again similar initiatives, all culminating in the Habsburg’s short-lived claim of the Nicobar Islands and the Eastern African territory of Delagoa Bay.