Francis Joseph I - Encyclopedia




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FRANCIS JOSEPH I. (1830), emperor of Austria, king of Bohemia, and apostolic king of Hungary, was the eldest son of the archduke Francis Charles, second son of the reigning emperor Francis I., being bornon the i8~h of August 1830. His mother, the archduchess Sophia, was dau~hter of Maximilian I., king of Bavaria. She was a woman of great ability andstrong character, and during the years which followed the death of the emperor Francis was probably the most influential personage at the Austrian court; for the emperor Ferdinand, who succeeded in 1835, was physically and mentally incapable of performing the duties of his office; as he was childless, Francis Joseph was in the direct line of succession. During the disturbances of 1848, Francis Joseph spent some time in Italy, where, under Radetzky, at the battle of St Lucia, he had his first experience of warfare. At the end of that year, after the rising of Vienna and capture of the city by Windischgratz, it was clearly desirable that there should be a more vigorous ruler at the head of the empire, and:

Ferdinand, now that the young archduke was of age, was able to carry out the abdication which he and his wife had long desired. All the preparations were made with the utmost secrecy; on the 2nd of December 1848, in. the archiepiscopal palace at Olmtz, whither the court had fled from Vienna, the emperor abdicated. His brother resigned his rights of succession to his son, and Francis Joseph was proclaimed emperor. Ferdinand retired to Prague, where he died in 1875.

The history of the Dual Monarchy during his reign is told under the heading of AUSTRIA-HUNGARY, and here it is only necessary to deal with its personal aspects. The young emperor was during the first years of his reign completely in the hands of Prince Felix Schwarzenberg, to whom, with Windischgratz and Radetzky, he owed it that Austria had emerged from the revolution apparently stronger than it had been before. The first task was to reduce Hungary to obedience, for the Magyars refused to acknowledge the validity of the abdication in so far as it cou~ cerned Hungary, on the ground that such an act would only be valid with the consent of the Hungarian parliament. A further motive for their attitude was that Francis Joseph, unlike his predecessor, had not taken the oath to observe the Hungarian constitution, which it was the avowed object of Schwarzenberg to overthrow. In the war which followed the emperor himself took part, but it was not brought to a successful conclusion till the help of the Russians had been called in. Hungary, deprived of her ancient constitution, became an integral part of theAustrian empire. The new reign began, therefore, under sinister omens, with the suppression of liberty in Italy, Hungary and Germany. In 1853 a Hungarian named Lebenyi attempted to assassinate the emperor, and succeeded in inflicting a serious wound with a knife. With the death of Schwarzenberg in 1852 the personal government of the emperor really began, and with it that long series of experiments of which Austria has been the subject. Generally it may be said that throughout his long reign Francis Joseph remained the real ruler of his dominions; he not only kept in his hands the appointment and dismissal of his ministers, but himself directed their policy, and owing to the great knowledge of affairs, the unremitting diligence and clearness of apprehension, to which all who transacted business with him have borne testimony, lie was able to keep a very real control even of the details of government.

The recognition of the separate status of Hungary, and the restoration of the Magyar constitution in 1866, necessarily made some change in his position, and so far as concerns Hungary he fully accepted the doctrine that ministers are responsible to parliament. In the other half of the monarchy (the so-called Cisleithan) this was not possible, and the authority and influence of the emperor were even increased by the contrast with the weaknesses and failures of the parliamentary system. The most noticeable features in his reign were the repeated and sudden changes of policy, which, while they arose from the extreme difficulty of finding any system by which the Habsburg monarchy could be governed, were due also to the personal idiosyncrasies of the emperor. First we have the attempt at the autocratic centralization of the whole monarchy under Bach; the personal influence of the emperor is seen in the conclusion of the Concordat with Rome, by which in 1855 the work of Joseph II. was undone and the power of the papacy for a while restored. The foreign policy of this period brought about the complete isolation of Austria, and the ingratitude towards Russia, as shown during the period of the Crimean War, which has become proverbial, caused a permanent estrangement between the two great Eastern empires and the imperial families. The system led inevitably to bankruptcy and ruin; the war of 1859, by bringing it to an end, saved the monarchy. After the first defeat Francis Joseph hastened to Italy; he commanded in person at Solferino, and by a meeting with Napoleon arranged the terms of the peace of Villafranca. The next six years, both in home and foreign policy, were marked by great vacillation. In order to meet the universal discontent and the financial difficulties constitutional government was introduced; a parliament was established in which all races of the empire were represented, and in place of centralized despotism was established Liberal centralization under Schmerling and the German Liberals. But the Magyars refused to send representatives to the central parliament; the Slays, resenting the Germanizing policy of the government, withdrew; and the emperor had really withdrawn his confidence from Schmerling long before the constitution was suspended in 1865 as a first step to a reconciliation with Hungary. In the complicated German affairs the emperor in vain sought for a minister on whose knowledge and advice he could depend. He was guided in turn by the inconsistent advice of Schmerling, Rechberg, Mensdorff, not to mention more obscure counsellors, and it is not surprising that Austria was repeatedly outmatched and outwitted by Prussia. In 1863, at the Furstenlag in Frankfort, the emperor made an attempt by his personal influence to solve the German question. He invited all the German sovereigns to meet him in conference, and laid before them a plan for the reconstruction of the confederation. The momentary effect was immense; for some of the halo of the Holy Empire still clung round the head of the house of Habsburg, and Francis Joseph was welcomed to the ancient free city with enthusiasm. In spite of this, however, and of the skill with which he presided over the debates, the conference came to nothing owing to the refusal of the king of Prussia to attend.

The German question was settled definitively by the battle of KoniggrItz in. i866; and the emperor Francis Joseph, with characteristic Flabsburg opportunism, was quick to accommodate himself to the new circumstances. Above all, he recognized the necessity for reconciling the Magyars to the monarchy; for it was their discontent that had mainly contributed to the collapse of the Austrian power. He had already, in 1859, as the result of a visit to Budapest, made certain modifications in the Bach system by way of concession to Magyar sentiment, and in 1861 he had had an interview with Dek, during which, though unconvinced by that statesmans arguments, he had at least assured himself of his loyalty. He now made Beust, Bismarcks Saxon antagonist, the head of his government, as the result of whose negotiations with Dek the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867 was agreed upon. A law was passed by the Hungarian diet regularizing the libdication of Ferdinand; at the beginning of June Francis Joseph signed the inaugural diploma and took the oath in Magyar to observe the constitution; on the 8th he was solemnly crowned king of Hungary. The traditional coronation gift of 100,000 forms he assigned to the widows and orphans of those who had fallen in the war against Austria in 1849.

Once having accepted the principle of constitutional government, the emperor-king adhered to it loyally, in spite of the discouragement caused by party struggles embittered by racial antagonisms. If in the Cisleithan half of the monarchy pv rliamentary government broke down, this was through no fault of the emperor, who worked hard to find a mod us vivendi between the factions, and did not shrink from introducing manhood suffrage in the attempt to establish a stable parliamentary system. This expedient, indeed, probably also conveyed a veiled threat to the Magyar chauvinists, who, discontented with the restrictions placed upon Hungarian independence under the Compromise, were agitating for the complete separation of Austria and Hungary under a personal union only; for universal suffrage in Hungary would mean the subordination of the Magyar minority to the hitherto subject races. For nearly forty years after the acceptance of the Compromise the attitude of the emperor-king towards the Magyar constitution had been scrupulously correct. The agitation for the completely separate organization of the Hungarian army, and for the substitution of Magyar for German in words of command in Hungarian regiments, broke down the patience of the emperor, tenacious of his pr.~rogative as supreme war lord of the common aIlny. A Hungarian deputation which came to Vienna in September 1905 to urge the Magyar claims was received ungraciously by the emperor, who did not offer his hand to the members,addressed them in German, and referred them brusquely to the chancellor, Count Goluchowski. This incident caused a considerable sensation, and was the prelude to a long crisis in Hungarian affairs, during which the emperor-king, while quick to repair the unfortunate impression produced by his momentary pique, held inflexibly to his resolve in the matter of the common army.

In his relations with the Slays the emperor displayed the same conciliatory disposition as in the case of the Magyars; but though he more than once held out hopes that he would be crowned at Prague as king of fiohemia, the project was always abandoned. In this, indeed, as in other cases, it may be said that the emperor was guided less by any abstract principles than by a common-sense appreciation of the needs and possibilities of the moment. Whatever his natural prejudices or natural resentments, he never allowed these to influence his policy. The German empire and the Italian kingdom had been built up out of the ruins of immemorial Habsburg ambitions; yet he refused to be drawn into an alliance with France in 1869 and 1870, and became the mainstay of the Triple Alliance of Austria-Hungary, Germany and Italy. His reputation as a consistent moderating influence in European policy and one of the chief guarantors of European peace was indeed rudely shaken in October 1908, the year in which he celebrated his ixty years jubilee as emperor, by the issue of the imperial Iscript annexing Bosnia and Herzegovina to the Habsburg ominions, in violation of the terms of the treaty of Berlin. g ut his opportunism was again justified by the result. Europe I

>st an ideal; but Austria gained two provinces. 3 In his private life the emperor was the victim of terrible it atastropheshis wife, his brother and his only son having A

een destroyed by sudden and violent deaths. He married 0

1 1854 Elizabeth, daughter of Maximilian Joseph, duke of o avaria, who belonged to the younger and non-royal branch si f the house of Wittelsbach. The empress, who shared the o ~markabl beauty common to all her family, took little part V

i the public life of Austria. After the first years of married S

fe she was seldOm seen in Vienna, and spent much of her time ri itraveiling. She built a castle of great beauty and magnificence, ti ailed the Achilleion, in the island of Corfu, where she often o fsided. In 1867 she accompanied the emperor to Budapest, s nd took much interest in tile reconciliation with the Magyars. (1

he -became a good Hungarian scholar, and spent much time in T

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