François-Joseph Ier de Habsbourg

Portrait de François-Joseph. Source


François-Joseph was brought to power in Olmütz on the 2nd December 1848 following the revolutionary uprising of 1848, succeeding his uncle Ferdinand the Ist. He was the eldest son of the archduke François-Charles and princess Sophie of Bavaria. He married Elisabeth of Bavaria in 1854. The victories of his chancellor, prince Schwartzenburg and general Radetzki was to re-establish Austrian domination over the Hungarians and Italians (1849). Allied by Russia, he was to impose an authoritarian military regime, hostile to national minorities, however he was to lose this support in 1855 because of his hesitation during the Crimean War. The emperor was overthrown in 1859 by the troops of Victor-Emmanuel and Napoleon III (during the battles of Solferino and Magenta). He was forced to give up Lombardy as part of the Zurich treaty (10th November 1859). The rivalry with Prussia over the domination of the dukedoms of Schleswig and Holstein, seized from Denmark in 1864), gave the latter a reason to declare war in 1866. Defeated at Sadowa on the 3rd July 1866, he made peace with Prussia (Prague treaty, the 23rd August 1866), thus relinquishing his rights in Northern Germany to the victor and renouncing all involvement in the unification of Germany - the government of Vienna having crushed the "Little Germany" movement inspired by Prussia. He was also forced to give up Venetia to Italy, via France (treaty of Vienna, 3rd October 1866), who were allied to Prussia following the secret meeting between Napoleon III with Bismarck in Biarritz (October 1865).

To quell nationalist movements in his empire, he passed a statute in 1867 which effectively transformed Austria into a dualist, essentially federalist monarchy (Austro-Hungarian). The territories of the former Austrian empire were separated into two parts either side of the Leithasont to make up Cisleithania around Austria and Transleithania around Hungary. Cisleithania was made up of Austria, Bohemia, Moravia, Gabissia, Slovenia, Istria, and the territories along the Dalmatian coast. Universal suffrage was granted to men. Eastern Transleithania was formed of Hungary, Croatia, the territories around Temesvar, and Trans-sylvania. There was no male right to vote here, fact which gave the other people under the domination of Budapest an advantage. The emperor was still torn between an authoritarian rule (inspired by Germany), and the federalist politics of Ministers Taaffe and Badeni. François-Joseph accepted this situation of interior political deadlock.

The policy of rapprochement with Prussia led by Andrassy resulted in a rallying towards Bismarck's politics: in 1873 the alliance of the three emperors (Germany, Russia, Austria), who were to become the Dual Alliance in 1879 (Germany and Austria), and finally the Triple Alliance in 1883 when Italy joined - this is even spoken of in terms of "diplomatic subordination of Germany", from 1892-1893 onwards. Austria occupied (in 1878) and annexed (1908) Bosnia-Herzegovina in order to limit the Russian influence in the Balkans which since leaving the alliance had led to Pan-Slav politics, intensifying and thus becoming involved itself in the affairs of the Dual Monarchy. The annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina resulted in an international crisis. The problem with Bosnia appeared to be linked to that of Serbia and the situation of the southern Slavs under the domination of Budapest, who tended to be turned more towards Belgrade. Torn therefore between Pan-Slav and a dominant Pan-German politics, François-Joseph failed in his attempt to embody the middle way in central-eastern Europe. His long reign of 68 years saw him endure the execution of his brother Maximilian in Mexico in 1867, the suicide of his son Rodolphe in Mayerling in 1889, the assassination of his wife in by an anarchist in Geneva in 1898 and that of his nephew and presumed heir, François-Joseph, on the 28th June 1914 in Sarajevo, the event which triggered the first world war. The dual monarchy was thus relatively stable politically when it entered the war. His sovereign succeeded in imposing a certain dynastic sense of loyalty on most of his subjects and also among the army and other institutions. Austro-Hungary had suffered far heavier losses due to the war and its million victims than the antimonarchist movements by the time its founder passed away.