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Austro-Hungarian Empire
Kaiserliche und Königliche Doppelmonarchie
Imperial and Royal Dual Monarchy

The history of the Austro-Hungarian state was not the history of a united, homogeneous people. In judging the case of Hungary, care should be taken not to confound it with that of Austria. The Empire of Austria, which had never lawfully included the Kingdom of Hungary, came into existence only in 1804, and was a conglomeration of former kingdoms, principalities, and duchies, or parts of them, added by the Habsburgs to the original archduchies of lower and upper Austria through conquest, marriage, or fraud. This Austria had never been a nation, had never had a language of her own, and was dissolved into her constituent parts, or into groups of such parts, which can hardly be objected to on historical grounds. Hungary, on the other hand, had been a homogeneous country practically within her present boundaries for more than a millennium, has had a distinct language of her own, and can not be dissolved into her constituent parts, because she had no constituent parts.

The Austro-Hungarian monarchy, notwithstanding the ancient traditions of the house of Austria, was one of the youngest of the European states. It dated back only to 1867, the year immediately following Austria's ill-fated war with Prussia, through which she was separated from Germany, and forced thenceforward to seek her destiny among the peoples and lands of the Danube valley. Among these the Hungarians in particular have had a strong national development of their own, and, with the Bohemians, from the time of their first union with Austria have always been more or less separate and distinct, enjoying rights and privileges respected, in principle at least, by all the rulers of the house of Hapsburg.

The homogeneity of Austria-Hungary was expressed in principle in the Pragmatic Sanction of the emperor Charles V in 1713, wherein all the sectional possessions of the whole monarchy bound themselves to the same order of succession and thus to permanent association. The unity of the state was from the outset monarchical. One tie only was common to all; it was, and had been for centuries, the house of Hapsburg. But even the story of the house of Hapsburg cannot more than furnish a thread for a history of this remarkable Austro-Hungarian state. Nations have an existence independent of that of princely families, however illustrious these may have been.

Under the Holy Roman Empire, the territories that constituted Austria were a complex feudal patchwork under the sway of numerous secular and ecclesiastical lords. In the final years of the reign of Emperor Otto the Great (r. 936-73), a small margravate roughly corresponding to the present-day province of Lower Austria was formed within Bavaria. This margravate became known as Ostarrichi (literally, Eastern Realm), from which the modern name Austria (Österreich) ultimately derives. In 1273 Count Rudolf von Habsburg, possessor of the castle Habsburg, the ruins of which stand in the Swiss Canton of Aargau, was elected the new Holy Roman Emperor. As Emperor, Rudolf endowed his family with the Duchy of Austria, which had been held before by the house of Bamberg, a line much celebrated by the Minnesanger, and mentioned in English history for the detention of Richard Cceur de Lion.

Since 1282 the two names Habsburg and Austria had been inseparably associated. Swiss peasantry ousted the Habsburgs from their original family seat in Habichtsburg in the Swiss canton of Aargau in 1386. From 1438 to 1740 the three names Habsburg, Austria, and Roman Emperor, were inseparably associated. Only from 1742 till 1765 did the House of Lorraine take the place of the House of Habsburg as Roman Emperor.

On August 1, 1806, the representatives of the several States announced at Ratisbon their separation from the German Empire ; and the French envoy declared that Napoleon no longer recognised its existence. Five days afterwards Francis II resigned the Imperial dignity, and became Francis I, Emperor of Austria. Thus, after an existence of more than a thousand years, the Holy Roman Empire came to an unlamented end.

Surrounded by German, Hungarian, Slavic, Italian, and Turkish nations, the German lands of the Habsburgs became the core of their empire, reaching across German national and cultural borders. This multicultural empire was held together by the Habsburgs' dynastic claims and by the cultural and religious values of the Roman Catholic Counter-Reformation that the Habsburgs cultivated to provide a unifying identity to the region. But this cultural-religious identity was ultimately unable to compete with the rising importance of nationalism in European politics, and the nineteenth century saw growing ethnic conflict within the Habsburg Empire.

Through the early 1860s, Austria maintained hope of retaining leadership in Germany because the smaller states preferred weak Austrian leadership to Prussian domination. Nonetheless, by mid-1864 Franz Joseph realized that war was inevitable if Austrian leadership was to be preserved. The immediate cause of the Seven Weeks' War between Austria and Prussia in 1866 was Prussia's desire to annex the Duchy of Holstein. Austria and Prussia had together fought a brief war against Denmark in 1864 to secure the predominantly German duchies of Schleswig and Holstein for Germany. Pending final decision on their future, Prussia took control of Schleswig, and Austria took control of Holstein. In April 1866, however, Prussia plotted with Italy to wage a two-front war against Austria that would enable Prussia to gain Holstein and Italy to gain Venetia. Although Austria tried to keep Italy out of the war through a last-minute offer to surrender Venetia to it, Italy joined the war with Prussia. Austria won key victories over Italy but lost the decisive Battle of Königgrätz (Hradec Králové in the present-day Czech Republic) to Prussia in July 1866.

Defeated, Austria agreed to the dissolution of the German Confederation and accepted the formation of a Prussian-dominated North German Confederation, which became the basis of the German Empire in 1871. The south German states -- Bavaria, Baden, Württemberg, and Hesse-Darmstadt -- were accorded an "independent international existence" and, in theory, could have gravitated toward Austria. Nevertheless, their military and commercial ties to Prussia militated against such an outcome. The province of Venetia, Austria's last Italian possession, was transferred to Italy.

The defeat of Austria by Prussia in 1866 awoke the Empire to the necessity of reconstructing its political organization so as to grant Hungary national existence, which had been denied that country for twelve years. Consequently an arrangement was concluded by Francis Deak, Count Andrassy and Count Beust which transformed the centralized Austrian Empire into the dual Austro-Hungarian Monarchy.

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Page last modified: 03-04-2012 19:49:57 ZULU