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Emperor Charles I

Karl I [1887-1922], sometimes called Charles I in the West, took the throne in 1916 and worked for peace as the Austro-Hungarian Empire neared its end. Charles I, Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary, (r. 1916-19), the last of the Hapsburg's succeeded to the throne on the death of the Emperor Franz Josef, who was Charles' great uncle; in 1917 he tried to negotiate a separate peace with the Entente, but Germany intervened to preclude this; forced to flee Austria in the spring of 1919 to stay alive in the face of revolution. He died in Portugal in 1922 at age 34.

When Archduke Karl, son of Archduke Otto, the younger brother of Franz Ferdinand, found himself unexpectedly, through the assassination of the latter, in the position of heir apparent, he could not have realised the difficulty and magnitude of the task which presumably awaited him in the near future, and entered upon his office to all appearances without misgiving. All his portraits of this period and of the period immediately following his accession wear a contented, smiling expression, showing clearly how pleased he was with his new and exalted dignity, and how little, in spite of the terrible war which raged around him and shook his kingdom to its deepest foundations, he felt as yet the burden he had taken upon his shoulders.

Not so much his youth as the easy-going temperament inherited from his father prevented him from realising the immense difficulties of his task and the fearful possibilities of his situation. If he was to be blamed at all for this lack of perception, a great part of the responsibility must fall on those who encouraged him in his optimism by fooling him with Byzantine flatteries and concealing the dangers which threatened him on every side. He was greeted with enthusiasm wherever he appeared ; and those who read the daily papers and considered them worthy of credence must have thought the young Emperor and his wife the most popular royal couple under the sun. This Byzantine cult reached its climax on the occasion of Karl's coronation as King of Hungary, which was staged with a display of magnificence worthy of the Middle Ages, and, in the 20th century, had the effect of a provoking anachronism, which, moreover, was a positive mockery of the terrible gravity of the situation at that time. As a matter of Interest it may be mentioned that the Byzantine manner was extended even to the menu cards for the banquet, which tarnished remarkable examples of servility and bombast.

If he had not The young Emperor and his consort possessed so modest and unassuming a nature, these endless panegyrics, these stifling clouds of incense must have completely stupefied him and deluded him into the idea that he was an omnipotent and omniscient being. He was even glorified as a great general, at the expense of the real generals who had carried out the successful offensive in South Tirol in May 1916. If, in these circumstances, it might almost be called a miracle that the young sovereign did not give way to crazy dreams of his own greatness, it was quite natural, nevertheless, that he should cherish pleasing illusions as to the position of himself and his kingdom, and that he should be quite unable to realise how closely disaster was dogging his footsteps.

The glamor of the celebrations, however, was quickly followed by cruel disillusionment; and only a few months later, in the spring of 1917, he knew that his country would not be able to bear the strain of the war much longer, and that the time was approaching when peace would have to be considered, whether it was to be a 'victorious' peace or not.

When Count Czernin had explained to him the gravity of the situation, he made it clear to the Emperor Wilhelm that Austria-Hungary could only hold out until the autumn of the year 1917. Full of anxious fears for his throne and Empire, no doubt he would have preferred to conclude peace with the Entente at once, especially since co-operation with Germany was growing increasingly difficult to him. He, too, experienced the well-known Prussian arrogance and quarrelsomeness, which must have wounded his self-conceit all the more because, though not naturally excessive, it had become sensitive from constant flattery. He felt most bitterly of all the subordination of the joint armies in the East to the command of Hindenburg and Ludendorff. It can readily be understood, therefore, that he was anxious to be delivered as soon as possible from this oppressive and insulting tutelage.

On 1 August 1917 Pope Benedict XV issued a seven-point peace plan to each of the belligerent nations. Ignored by most powers, only Austria-Hungary regarded it with any degree of seriousness. Charles was the only one among political leaders to support Benedict XV's peace efforts.

This state of mind furnishes the explanation of his letters to his brother-in-law Prince Sixtus of Parma, the publication of which were to do him so much harm and to cause Germany to reproach him with treachery. A storm of resentment passed through Austria and Germany when these letters were made public, a storm which was aroused and kept going factitiously by the Pan-German party, and did more to shake the Habsburg throne than any previous event. Quite wrongly, for the Emperor's good intentions were obvious ; and it was ungrateful and foolish of the people, who never ceased to wail for peace and to grumble at the unbearable burden of the war, to reward with reproaches and abuse their Emperor's efforts to obtain this peace for them.

This was the first severe shock sustained by the Habsburg throne. The second was not long in coming. It was the failure of the offensive on the Piave in June 1918. The foolish and disastrous system of deception in force in Austria shrouded this tragic catastrophe in mysterious darkness, which, naturally, had far worse consequences than the truth, however sad, would have brought in its train. For out of this darkness there crept sinister rumors which, encouraged by Pan-German and socialistic agents, crystallised into the legend that the Empress Zita, in league with her two brothers fighting in the opposite camp, had betrayed the offensive to the enemy. To this story an air of false probability was given by the fact that the two Princes of Parma were really serving in a foreign army, and that the Empress came of an Italian royal house and had been brought up as an Italian. 'The Empress has betrayed us!' - such was the explanation found by the people for the defeat on the Piave, an explanation which, encouraged by the hatred of the Pan-Germans and Social-Democrats for the Habsburgs, and rooted in the ignorance of the masses, became a smouldering fire which ate away the foundations of the Habsburg throne.

One final mistake was the unlucky Manifesto of Oct. 17, 1918, in which he announced to his people the reconstruction of Austria on a national basis. This was a most superficial piece of work which, apart from the fact that it came much too late, was rendered valueless because it only took into consideration the nations of Austria and not those of Hungary, who were to continue to suffer under the Magyar knout. This Manifesto had, therefore, only one result, in direct contradiction to the effect intended ; and this was to cause the people of Austria to find in it a welcome summons to break asunder, a summons which they obeyed with alacrity. All the unhappy young Emperor's efforts to maintain his crumbling Empire and tottering throne were in vain.

Under British protection, and pursued by the vilest accusations, he left Austria, which was engulfed behind him in the seething, crimson morass of anarchy. Benedict XV, according to the testimony of the Emperor's last cabinet chief, «spoke repeatedly about the need for a restoration in Hungary». The Emperor Charles never abdicated or renounced his rights to the Austrian Imperial Crown. If Charles of Hapsburg were to return to Vienna, it could hardly be with the title of Emperor of Austria. In the purely Austrian lands of his house (the two Austrias, Salzburg, Styria, Carinthia, and Tirol) the highest title he held was Archduke.

Hungary, the seat of reaction in Europe, declared itself to be still a Kingdom by an official act of Government, with a Lord Protector acting as Regent for the absent Monarch; and its Ministries and Legations reassumed the prefix of 'Royal' (under a Ministerial Order of March 23, 1920). It was not clear what was precisely implied by the obstinate maintenance of the monarchic regime. The majority in the country and in the National Assembly were clearly royalists, but there were several royalist parties. Admiral Horthy himself, as also the famous statesman Count Andrassy, were initially seen as the leaders of the strict Legitimists, who hoped to see King Charles himself restored to the throne.

M. Friedrich, who had been Prime Minister during the brief monarchic restoration in the previous year, was the leader of a group which hoped to see the Archduke Joseph ascend the throne. And there was also a third group of royalists who wanted a king who was not a member of the Habsburg family.

The ex-King himself, in spite of his abdication of the Hungarian Crown (communicated by letter to Count Michael Karolyi on Nov. 13, 1918), made two attempts to regain the throne in the course of 1921. On March 26, 1921, he entered the country where he was favored by the higher clergy and the leading aristocracy. Karl was misled (so it was said) by certain Paris royalists into believing that the French Government would recognise a completed coup d'état. The Regent, Admiral Horthy, refused to relinquish his authonty unless ordered to do so by the National Assembly. The latter body on April 2 opposed the restoration of Charles, and advised him to depart immediately.

He returned to Switzerland. The Allies protested against this attempt on the part of Charles, the Little Entente, comprising Czecho-Slovakia, Roumania, and Jugo-Slavia, being especially emphatic in its protest. The Prime Minister, meanwhile, had published a manifestó issued by Charles, saying that it was his conviction that peace could be restored only by his return to the throne. The government's course in publishing this manifesto and in introducing it by a reference to "his majesty, king Carl IV" gave offense and led to its overturn, April 10.

On October 22 it was learned that the ex-Emperor Charles after a flight from Switzerland by aeroplane, had landed with the former Empress Zita near Oedenburg where troops awaited him, and thence had proceeded to Raab and summoned royalist sympathizers. It was reported that his reception among the people and troops was enthusiastic and that from the first, 12,000 of the latter were ready to accompany him in an advance on the capital. There were many conflicting rumors in respect to the ex-Emperor's success. Starting as he did in the Burgenland region, he rallied around him those nationalists who had opposed the cession of Burgenland to Austria.

The Little Entente took measures to protect itself, calling three divisions of troops to the colors to reinforce the army on the Hungarian border. As to the Allies, there was no sign that they would relax their opposition to the return of a Hapsburg to the throne. A year and a half before, Feb. 2, 1920, they had formally declared that no member of the Hapsburg family would be allowed to reign in Hungary again.

Nevertheless the ex-Emperor's course arose apparently from the belief that the Allies would acquiesce in his return, just as they had in the return of Constantino to Greece, which also was contrary to their expressed will. He thought that the Little Entente would offer no serious resistance because the Jugo-Slavs were fighting the Albanians, the Roumanians were absorbed in the protection of Bessarabia from the Russian Reda, and the Czecho-Slovaks could not rely upon the support of the Slovaks in the event of a campaign against Hungary.

It was announced on October 24, that the forces of the ex-Emperor were defeated in the neighborhood of Torbagy with the loss of 200 killed and 100 wounded, and the ex-Emperor and ex-Empress were arrested by the Regent'^ troops near Komorn, about forty miles to the northwest of Budapest. According to the accounts issued by the Hungarian government their forces numbered about 20,000 and those of Charles 10,000. The Hungarian government asked the former Emperor to abdicate (October 26) and to recognize the complete cessation of his rights. He was also ordered to surrender himself to the British authorities.

Meanwhile the Little Entente was preparing to use force against the Hungarian government if Charles were not given up and if Hungary did not give guarantees for disarmament and for the payment to the Little Entente of the costs of military preparation. The Hungarian government made it plain that it would persist in the me of force to make the Emperor abdicate, if he did not do so of his own free will. A representative of the government declared that the great majority of Legitimists were in accord with the government in this respect.

At the same time it was announced that the Council of Ambassadors had decided that Charles should be interned on board a British gunboat in the Danube until measures should be taken for his removal. He was banished to Funchal in the island of Madeira where he arrived on board a British cruiser, November 19. The proposal was then made to the British government that inasmuch as it had enforced the exile it should pay for the cost of the transfer of the former Emperor. The British government refused, and the Hungarian government thereupon requested Austria and the three other states which had been formed out of the former dual monarchy to contribute to the expenses of the journey.

The attempts of the ex-Emperor to regain the throne brought into prominence the compact agreed to between Italy and Jugo-Slavia in respect to the return of the Hapsburgs. This agreement was part of the treaty of Rapallo signed, Nov. 12, 1920, or rather it was a supplementary agreement signed at the same time. Its terms were not made public until 1921. The principal points in them was an agreement to adopt in common the necessary measures to prevent the restoration of the House of Hapsburg to the throne of Austria and Hungary. Both governments engaged to keep close watch on all activities that were directed against their mutual interests.

The ruling class was divided into two groups, the Legitimists and the Free Electionists, the former demanding the restoration of the Hapsburgs, the latter declaring that the throne was vacant and should be filled by popular election. A bitter controversy between the two sides was going on in the latter part of the year, the Legitimists accusing the officers of Admiral Horthy of a series of atrocities including massacres, tortures, and the murder of many Jews, etc., while on the other hand these outrages were denied and the charges attributed to a Bolshevik campaign of slander. Some of the Conservative leaders joined in bringing charges of terrorism against the Horthy government apparently with the object of arousing sympathy with the Hapsburg king whom they said would put an end to this rule of terror and punish the guilty parties. The attempt of Charles IV, nicknamed Charles the Sudden, was generally regarded as a complete fiasco and was thought to have put an end forever to his pretensions to the throne.

The family lived in Switzerland till the end of 1921 and on Madeira (Portugal) until 1922, where Emperor Charles died of pneumonia at the age of 34 on 01 April 1922. The Empress Zita, as she remained known through her long exile, died 14 March 1989 at the age of 96 in the Swiss nunnery where she lived her last years.

In September 2004 Pope John Paul II beatified Karl I. The pope cited Charles as a leader who worked for peace. "In his eyes, war was something terrible." John Paul said he hoped the emperor would "serve as an example, especially for those with political responsibilities in Europe today." The Vatican's decision to put Austria's last reigning emperor on the road to sainthood triggered a spirited political and religious debate at home. Austria's government came under fire for its plans to send a high-profile delegation to Rome. And the Roman Catholic Church was ridiculed for the miracle it attributes to Karl: a Brazilian nun whose varicose veins were healed after she prayed to the monarch. Beatification requires at least one miracle.

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