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Emperor Francis Joseph

Franz Josef I, Emperor, 1830-1916 (r. 1848-1916) was born Aug. 18, 1830. At the age of eighteen he became Emperor of Austria Dec. 2, 1848, and King of Hungary June 8, 1867. Having endured innumerable crises in his 48 year reign, he realized that everything he had striven for was at risk as he lay dying in 1916, whereupon he said to his successor, Charles I, "I took over the throne under the most difficult conditions, and I am leaving it under even worse ones."

At the beginning of his reign the Emperor Franz Joseph adopted "Viribus Unitis" [with united strength] as his personal motto. Many things may be accomplished by means of associated exertions which are totally beyond the reach of single individuals. Hence it is that the Imperial motto "Viribus Unitis" became a magic spell by which so many great and salutary measures have been recently called to light in Austria.

It was the Government of Francis Joseph of the house of Hapsburg, backed by the Government of William of the house of Hohenzollern, which launched in July, 1914, that fatal and brutal document, the ultimatum to Serbia, which precipitated the World War. Francis Joseph died at 86, two and a half years afterward, having had the longest active reisn known to the history of kings and emperors. A likable man was Francis Joseph - very likable personally - in spite of the gross anachronism that his form of government presented to the modern world - a purely medieval autocracy, of which he was the soul and head.

The end of his long reign recalled a curse which the Countess Karolyi, nearly seventy years before, had passed upon him. The Countess had a son who was executed by Austria-Hungary for complicity in the Kossuth revolt in 1848. In her grief she called on heaven to blast the young emperor's happiness, "to exterminate His family, to strike him through those whom he loved, to wreck his life and ruin his children." Signally complete was the fulfilment of this curse, or prophecy.

Almost from first to last, the reign of Francis Joseph was marked by political disasters, domestic misfortunes, and acute tragedies such as recalled the doom that fell upon the ancient and legendary house of Atreus of which Homer sang and tragedians spoke their lines. There was the execution of his brother Maximilian, whom Louis Napoleon tried to maintain on the throne of Mexico; then came the assassination, in broad day light in Geneva, of his wife, the Empress Elizabeth, and the mysterious suicide, in circumstances pointing clearly to a great scandal, of his only son and heir, Rudolph. A brother disappeared from Vienna suddenly, and wandered to many distant parts of the earth under the name of John Orth. A sister-in-law was burned so badly that she died from her injuries. Three attempts were made on his own life. Last of all came the assassination of his nephew and heir, with his consort, at Serajevo, in June 1914.

His marriage with Princess Elizabeth of Bavaria had been a love-match on his part, which is not surprising in view of her extraordinary charm. But her independent and self-willed nature, which had developed in comparative freedom, could not feel at home amid the Spanish ceremonial of the Viennese Court, and put her out of sympathy with her husband, so that a feeling of coldness and estrangement arose between them, which led, in the course of time, to an actual though not official separation.

In spite of this estrangement, he felt the tragic death of his wife very deeply ; perhaps, as a man, he felt it even more deeply than that of his only son Rudolf. The effect on him of the news of Archduke Rudolf's death is said to have been terrible ; but here it was doubtless rather the monarch who found himself bereft of his sole heir than the father who had lost an insubordinate and troublesome son.

Francis Joseph's reign, in spite of a few notable successes, had been marked by political ill-fortune quite as tragie. As it had opened with revolution and civil war, so in the years before he reached middle life, Austria lost her Italian provinces, including states ruled by members of the Emperor's own family - Venice, Lombardy, Parma, Modena, and Tuskany. Austria had also lost to Prussia her supremacy among the German states. His reign finally closed amid the appalling ruin foreshadowed for Austria, as a result of the. World War. Since his accession to the throne as a boy of eighteen, when he found his country in the throes of revolution, he had lived on full of years and sorrows, until he saw it in a crisis destined to end in its extinction as a Great Power.

When it was said that his reign had been the longest active reign in history, account was taken of the fact that, while Louis XIV was King of France for seventy-two years, the early part of his reign took place in years when he was a minor, so that, as an active monarch, Francis Joseph exceeded the record left by Louis XIV. The reign of George III came within eight years of being as long as Francis Joseph's, but George III, near the end of his life, was virtually insane, and a regency had been necessary. Queen Victoria came closer than did her grandfather, but her reign was four years shorter than Francis Joseph's.

Born August 18, 1830, Francis Joseph was a son of Archduke Francis, and a grandson of the Emperor Francis. who was then reigning. The Emperor Francis, as the father of Marie Louise, was Napoleon's father-in-law. From 1835 to 1848 Francis Joseph's uncle, Ferdinand, occupied the Austrian throne, but was exiled from his capital during the revolution of 1848. and then abdicated. Ferdinand being childless, a brother would have succeeded him, but the brother was unwilling to take the responsibility of being Emperor in a time of revolution, and thus Francis Joseph, as the next heir, ascended the throne, after having been thoroughly and religiously trained by his mother, and having had five months of military training in the Italian War.

Much respect for the kingly prerogative and little for popular rights or constitutional government had been acquired in his youth. Before Francis Joseph became Emperor Vienna had been practically pacified, but the revolt in Hungary under Kossuth and Gorgei was not crusht until afterward. when help was obtained from a Russian army that descended into Hungary through the Carpathian passes. Francis Joseph, in spite of all his errors due to the autocratic principles fundamental in his political faith, was no mere figurehead.

His hand had been the deciding factor in everything that could have been called a crisis in Austria. He had ability as a conciliator, a faculty for which he had much need in an empire so polyglot as his own. Of the thirty million people over whom he ruled, less than one-third were Germans. Of the twenty-one millions in Hungary of which country he was king, fewer than one-half were Magyars. Austria-Hungary, unlike most States in every part of the world had not grown organically through expansion under natural racial laws, but was a collection of discordant, unrelated States, which, through financial and matrimonial arrangements, military aggression and other compelling occurrences, had gradually come into the hands of the Hapsburgs. Some one had wisely said that "if Austria-Hungary had not existed as a State, it would have been necessary to create her."

Franz Josef, the son of Archduke Franz Karl, one of Kaiser Ferdinand's brothers, and of the Archduchess Sofie, a Princess of Bavaria, was, by virtue of his whole personality, a living refutation of the reproach of degeneracy which has been made against his kin, a reproach which was fully justified in the case of Kaiser Ferdinand alone. His father and uncles, with their abnormally long faces, shapeless, box-like skulls, and drooping lips, gave the impression of degeneracy, outwardly at any rate, although they were in reality not degenerate - it is only necessary to recall Archduke Karl, the victor of Aspern, and Archduke Johann, the Vice-regent.

In contrast to them, however, Franz Josef was very well built, an advantage which he owed to his mother. His slim, elegant figure, with the upright military bearing and elastic step which he retained to an advanced age, was combined with a normally shaped head and a handsome, sympathetic face, in which the characteristic Habsburg lip was only slightly indicated. Not one of the many portraits of Kaiser Franz Josef taken in his youth betrays signs of degeneracy. Again, his iron constitution which, in spite of the terrible accumulation of misfortunes heaped upon him, enabled him to reach a patriarchal age and at the same time to retain a remarkably strong memory, emphatically contradicts the reproach of degeneracy.

Just as his outward appearance showed no sign of morbid degeneracy, so neither did his mentality. Even as a boy of eighteen, when he came to the throne, contemporary accounts show that he gave evidence by his bearing of a personal majesty which was quite unusual in one so young. Although he was not by birth the son of a ruler, he was, nevertheless, a born ruler. This majesty of bearing and conduct, which placed an impassable gulf between him and the rest of the world, was one of his most characteristic qualities ; it adhered to him during the whole of his long life and in course of time developed ever more markedly.

Once Kaiser, he remained at all times and to all men, even to his nearest relations, always the ' Kaiser.' He dwelt, as it were, on inaccessible heights, and only occasionally condescended to relax a little within the circle of his own family. His strongly developed sense of the dignity of royalty was combined with great distinction of manner which could be, as occasion demanded, friendly, benevolent, and even charming. His courtesy towards women, in particular, was well known. Thus, the imperial halo surrounding him not only caused no feeling of resentment or even of estrangement, but served to strengthen the feelings of reverence and devotion to him. The public audiences, also, which he held every week and to which the lowest laborer had as much right of entry as the greatest magnate, so long as he had any reason to give for demanding it, must have helped to prevent the people from resenting this distance between themselves and the Kaiser.

Where he felt himself to be on duty, above all in his capacity as Supreme War Lord at maneuvers and parades, he did not refrain from criticism, and let fall many an emphatic remark. His extraordinary quickness of vision where military formalities such as precision of movement and accuracy in drill were concerned, seldom failed to observe faults in this direction, and for this reason was very much feared by the officers.

Francis Joseph bore the title of Emperor of Austria, Apostolic King of Hungary, King of Bohemia, Dalmatia, Croatia, Slavonia, Galicia, Lodo, Meria, and Ellyria. He was also an archduke of Austria, a grand duke of Tuskany, Krakow, and Lorraine. But with all these distinctions the greatest - on paper at least - that had elsewhere existed since Napoleon's time, his reign, was marked by a succession of disasters, public and private. Last and most tragic of all was the outcome of the World War. Before the promulgation of the ultimatum to Serbia, the kingdom of Francis Joseph had embraced 240,900 square miles; it was territorially the second largest in Europe, Russia being the largest. and had over 50,000,000 inhabitants. After peace was signed with the Entente Allies, all that remained of Francis Joseph's Austro-Hun- garian empire was its kernel - that is, Teutonic Austria, whose area was something under 50,000 square miles, and whose population was under 10,000,000. In other words, an empire that had been territorially larger than France or Germany, and that had contained 10,000,000 more people than France, was left with a territory about equal to that of New York State, and a population somewhat less than New York's.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:51:23 ZULU