Charles I, Emperor of Austria and King Charles IV of Hungary
- (1887–1922)A nephew of the Emperor Franz Joseph, Charles received a broad but strictly Catholic education. Although on friendly terms with his uncle, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and even persuaded that the Habsburg Empire required serious reform to survive, Charles remained aloof from the political antagonisms that the heir apparent’s policies engendered. He therefore was in far better standing with the emperor than the confrontational heir apparent. Indeed, though Franz Joseph was both shocked and alarmed at the assassination of Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, he was not altogether displeased to have Archduke Charles emerge as his successor.Becoming ruler of the Habsburg lands at the midpoint of World War I in 1916, Charles was convinced that his dynasty’s empire would not survive the conflict intact. Encouraged by his strong62 • CHARLES I, EMPEROR OF AUSTRIA AND KING CHARLES IV OF HUNGARY willed wife, Zita of Bourbon-Parma (1892–1989), whom he had married in 1911, he set about trying to extricate Austria–Hungary from the war. He also worked to reconcile his peoples, whom economic privation and wartime curbs on civil liberties were making increasingly restless, to Habsburg rule at home. He and his government blundered badly in all respects. In 1917, Charles ordered the release of Austria–Hungary’s political prisoners. Because a number of these were Czech nationalists, many Germans of the empire resented concessions to people whose disloyalty had spared them the perils of combat. Secret and unilateral peace initiatives he entered into with France were made public by the French prime minister, George Clemenceau, in 1918. Austria–Hungary’s German allies, who had saved the Habsburg armies from complete disaster on the eastern front, reacted sternly, especially because part of the bargain to be cut with France was Austria–Hungary’s willingness to see Alsace-Lorraine returned to French control. Charles’s subsequent apology, made personally to Emperor William II at the latter’s wartime residence in Spa, convinced many Habsburg subjects, especially the Czechs, that the dynasty could no longer stand between them and German expansion.On 16 October 1918, Charles issued a manifesto promising to turn the Habsburg Empire into a loose confederation in which various nationalities would have a wide degree of autonomy. The document only encouraged the emperor’s peoples to move toward complete independence. Indeed, that same day Hungary declared the Compromise of 1867 (Ausgleich) to be no longer in effect. On 11 November 1918, Charles signed a manifesto in which he removed himself from participation in the government of Austria, though he did not explicitly renounce claims to any throne. He left Vienna with his large family for an outlying castle, Ekartsau, in Lower Austria. The following year, he went into exile altogether in Switzerland. From there, he made two attempts in 1921 to reclaim the crown in Hungary. Both efforts failed, and the Western powers banished him to the Portuguese island of Madeira, where he died within a year.See also Habsburg Exclusion Act.
Historical dictionary of Austria. Paula Sutter Fichtner. 2014.
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