Francis Joseph, Emperor of Austria

Francis Joseph, Emperor of Austria
   Last of the major Habsburg rulers, Archduke Francis Joseph of Austria was born in Schloss Schönbrunn near Vienna in August 1830. In the revolution of 1848, he replaced his uncle, Ferdinand I, as emperor of Austria. Ferdinand was persuaded to resign by the dynasty and the political advisors of the crown because a more energetic monarch seemed to be necessary for the Habsburg monarchy’s survival. The victory of counter-revolution the next year marked the beginning of neoabsolutist rule, characterized by a rigorous suppression of nationalist and liberal groups.
   As a result of Austria’s diplomacy during the Crimean War, the Habsburg monarchy was rather isolated when it had to face the alliance of Napoleon III (see Bonapart, Louis Napoleon ) and Piemont-Sardinia in the late 1850s. Francis Joseph commanded his troops in the Battle of Solferino in 1859, and the disastrous defeat forced him to accept the loss of Lombardy. In the following years, the Habsburg monarchy not only lost other territories to the newly created kingdom of Italy but after the Austrian defeat in the Battle of Königgrätz in 1866, Prussia could build a German nation state and diminish decisively Austria’s position in central Europe. Ultimate responsibility for these setbacks rested with Francis Joseph who had the final say in all matters of diplomacy and warfare and who had chosen the top offi- cials and commanders.
   The series of defeats forced the Emperor to offer constitutional reforms in all Habsburg territories and to offer a high degree of Hungarian autonomy. The Ausgleich of 1867 with the Magyar elite restricted Francis Joseph’s power, but he accepted Austria-Hungary’s new constitutional framework and used a divide-andrule strategy, playing the antagonistic nationalist groups against each other. By picking the prime ministers in Vienna and Budapest, the common ministers and all the highest ranking officers and civil servants, Francis Joseph could still shape domestic politics and foreign affairs. Austria-Hungary’s position as a Great Power was secured by the occupation of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1878–79 and an alliance system based on the cooperation with Germany. The annexation of Bosnia- Herzegovina in 1908 led to an international crisis and the growing isolation of Austria-Hungary. In 1914, Francis Joseph gave his approval to a war against Serbia, knowing that this would probably lead to a Great Power war. During World War I, the octogenarian monarch lost more and more control to military leaders and politicians. He died in Schloss Schönbrunn in November 1916, two years before the Habsburg monarchy’s collapse.
   See also <>; <>.
    Beller, Steven. Francis Joseph . London: Longman, 1996;
    Cassels, Lavender. Clash of Generations: A Habsburg Family Drama in the Nineteenth Century . London: J. Murray, 1973;
    Okey, Robin. The Habsburg Monarchy. c. 1765-1918 from Enlightenment to Eclipse . Basingstoke: MacMillan Press, 2001.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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