Habsburg Empire

   Though the term has never had any legal standing, the Habsburg Empire is widely understood in modern times to have consisted of the nine provinces of modern Austria along with a wide variety of lands throughout eastern, southern, and southeastern Europe. These were territories in Italy (Lombardy–Venetia), Poland (Galicia), Ukraine (Bukovina), and, after 1908, Bosnia, as well as the crown lands belonging to the kingdoms of Bohemia and Hungary, respectively. The former comprised the province of Bohemia itself, the margravate of Moravia and, until the 18th century, Upper and Lower Silesia and the two Lusatias. The Hungarian Crown of St. Stephen was made up of Hungary along with Transylvania, now in Romania; the Banat, part of today’s Serbia; and the kingdom of Croatia–Slavonia.
   The Habsburgs had acquired these territories from the 16th through the 20th centuries through war, inheritance, treaty, and, in some cases, purchase. The kingdoms of Bohemia and Hungary fell to the dynasty in 1526. However, it was not until the end of the 17th century that the Ottoman Empire evacuated the latter realm to Habsburg control. Portions of Polish Galicia were incorporated into the Habsburg Empire in the last third of the 18th century, though Cracow and environs were not annexed until 1846. Another branch of the dynasty ruled Spain and its possessions from the beginning of the 16th century until it died out with the sickly King Charles II in 1700. During the War of the Spanish Succession (1702–1713) the Vienna line tried to win the Spanish crown, but they failed. As compensation, the Vienna Habsburgs received the socalled Austrian Netherlands, today Belgium. Austrian Emperor Francis I (1768–1835) subsequently renounced these provinces as part of the post-Napoleonic territorial settlement reached by the Congress of Vienna in 1815. Aside from the loss of most of what it ruled in Italy between 1859 and 1866, the Habsburg Empire in east central Europe remained intact until its collapse in 1918.
   Until 1804, the Habsburgs governed these territories not through a single title, but with the traditional titles carried by rulers in each of these lands. Thus, they were simultaneously kings of Hungary and Bohemia, counts of the Tyrol, dukes of Styria, and the like. Little serious political account was taken of the ethnic and linguistic relationships between the peoples of these lands and those who held political authority over them. One was the subject of one’s king or duke, regardless of the latter’s national background. What conflicts the Habsburgs had with their populations—Germans, Magyars, a variety of Slavs who eventually became the single largest ethnic group in the empire, Romanians, and Italians—arose from religious and political differences, not questions of ethnicity. Especially troublesome were relationships with various local nobilities and the estates, in which they negotiated directly with their rulers. The Thirty Years’ War and the Counter-Reformation gave the Habsburgs the opportunity to bring their Austrian and Bohemian territories under central control. Nevertheless, it has been argued that the only common feature that the Habsburg Empire had was Catholicism and Catholic culture, which became a virtual norm by the end of the 17th century. Only during the 18th century and the reign of Maria Theresa did the balance of authority in the Habsburg Empire tip decisively toward a central government in Vienna. It was she and her advisors, particularly Count Friedrich Wilhelm von Haugwitz (1702–1765), who persuaded estates throughout much of the realm to fund the Habsburg military establishment for as much as 10 years at a time. However, a strong case could be made that this development really never took place in Hungary, at least on a durable basis.
   The Napoleonic Wars, which ended in 1815, made political nationalism a serious challenge to Habsburg rule. Bonaparte had made the liberation of peoples from multinational states part of his agenda; his defeats of the Habsburgs in the first few years of the 19th century made his case all the more plausible. The Habsburgs recovered from this setback, but the issue of national states or at least national autonomy within the empire was a prominent cause of the Revolutions of 1848. Once again, the empire survived thanks to socioeconomic divisions among the revolutionaries and superior military force. However, the success of the Italian national movement after 1859 showed that the empire was fracture-prone along ethnic and linguistic lines. Following the Prussian defeat of Austria in the Seven Weeks’ War of 1866, some elements among Emperor Franz Joseph’s subjects fell increasingly under the spell of the new Hohenzollern state arising to the north.
   National unrest, as well as social and economic changes that came with the industrialization of the 19th century, made the Habsburg monarchy increasingly problematic to govern. Franz Joseph experimented with constitutional structures that offended as many national leaders among his peoples as they pleased. The so-called Ausgleich of 1867, which served as the constitution of Austria–Hungary until the end, gave the Hungarians substantial political powers in the domestic affairs of that kingdom, but angered Slavs throughout the empire.
   However, it was not until World War I that the Habsburg Empire truly fell apart. Outright military defeat was the immediate cause, but almost as important was the feeling among Habsburg subjects that the dynasty would no longer act in their interests. The dominant German presence in Austrian military affairs convinced important national leaders that the Habsburgs would be little more than agents for Berlin’s hegemonic designs on central and east central Europe. The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 in Russia also inspired popular resistance to a war that had brought enormous hardship to the common folk throughout the Habsburg state.

Historical dictionary of Austria. . 2014.

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