Representatives of the Sovereign in the Austrian Netherlands
The government of the Austrian Netherlands is entrusted to the sovereign’s representative, chosen from among the members of her family. When Maria Theresa succeed her father, Charles VI, the role of Governess General in Brussels had been taken, since 1725, by Archduchess Maria Elisabeth the Emperor’s sister. On her death, in 1741, Maria Theresa appointed her own brother-in-law, Prince Charles of Lorraine. Prevented by military events, the prince arrived in Brussels as late as 1744 but couldn’t stay longer than a couple of weeks. He then confided his young wife, Archduchess Maria Anna, younger sister of Maria Theresa, the duties of Governess General. Unfortunately, she died at the end of that same year, as a consequence of childbearing. Charles of Lorraine returned to the Netherlands in 1749 and embodied the general government until his death, in Tervuren, on July 4, 1780. Maria Theresa ultimately appointed her own daughter, Archduchess Maria Christina and her husband, Duke Albert of Saxe-Teschen, to succeed in the function. However, the new Governors General would not travel to Brussels before 1781, i.e. after Maria Theresa’s death.
It appears the actual representation of Maria Theresa’s power relied during thirty years upon her brother-in-law, Charles of Lorraine, whose own popularity benefited the distant sovereign. Many testimonies of this remote sovereignty, through the Governor, are well preserved.
Most famous, a Royal district was built in Brussels, in neo-classical style, centered on the Square where a statue of the Governor General was erected in January 1775, and inaugurated in his presence. Archduke Maximilian, sent by his mother Maria Theresa, attended the ceremonies, underlying the importance of this recognition of her undisputed authority upon our countries.