Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Hapsburgs in World War II

The First World War saw the venerable Hapsburg dynasty deposed and exiled, their empire, Austria-Hungary, broken up. The Second World War saw the end of the last realistic hope for a Hapsburg restoration to date. When it comes to monarchies, history has tended to take an “out of sight, out of mind” attitude; if they do not have a throne, they are not worth remembering. However, the Hapsburgs came closer than almost anyone realizes to being restored to the Austrian throne just prior to World War II. It is also technically true that they retained, in name though not in fact, the throne of the Kingdom of Hungary until late in the war. Unlike the other Central Powers of the First World War, Austria-Hungary had ceased to exist entirely, yet, there were many factors in the inter-war period that encouraged hopes of a restoration in both Austria and Hungary. What had replaced the old “Dual Monarchy” did not seem to be working out so well. Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia were not nation-states but multi-cultural contrivances that faced serious ethnic tensions and other powers, such as Hungary and Austria found themselves isolated and wishing to be relevant again.

Altogether, the absence of Austria-Hungary helped pave the way to power for Adolf Hitler, a man who despised everything about the “Dual Monarchy”. There was the monarchy, the aristocracy, the multi-cultural nature of it as well as what he viewed as the pandering to the Jewish and Slavic populations by the Hapsburgs. There was nothing about it he liked and the international tensions created by the new borders drawn after World War I all worked together to create a situation the Nazis were only too willing to exploit. Yet, the former Hapsburg lands also posed the greatest threat to the Nazi movement ever gaining the domination in Europe they longed for even after coming to power in Germany. Czechoslovakia stood in the way and had an industrial center that Nazi Germany very much needed. To unite all Germans into a single nation-state also meant that the first “prize” on the Nazi wish-list was Austria and yet Austria was also their first obstacle as Italy supported Austrian independence as a buffer state between Italy and Germany and this also barred the way to the Italo-German alliance which Hitler considered paramount to his plans. A Hapsburg restoration, even if only over Austria, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, would have created a power bloc that would have been a major obstacle to Nazi plans for German expansion considering how militarily weak Germany was at the time, even right up to the outbreak of war.

Archduke Joseph
Of the countries involved, probably none presented a greater cause for monarchist frustration than the Kingdom of Hungary. The full restoration of the monarchy there was tantalizingly close on several occasions and the fact that it ultimately failed can be attributed to two sources: the paranoia of the Allies (primarily France, though only God in His wisdom knows why) and the ambition of Admiral Miklos Horthy. At the end of the First World War, power in Hungary had fallen to the Hapsburg Archduke Joseph August of Austria, who was quite popular in Hungary and was given the place of regent. He put down one attempted revolution, survived another (communist) revolution and was restored to power again as Hungarian regent. However, in their blind and short-sighted opposition to a Hapsburg holding power in any part of the former Austria-Hungary, the Allies forced Archduke Joseph to step down in 1919. He then became a member of the House of Lords where he remained a respected figure until the German occupation in 1944 forced him to flee to the United States.

King Charles
Nonetheless, in 1920 the Hungarian government voted to restore the monarchy though they lacked a monarch and so Admiral Miklos Horthy was appointed regent. He was of service in preventing a communist takeover of the country, reestablishing stability and a general sense of normalcy but he proved to be ultimately treasonous by not handing power back to the last King of Hungary, Emperor Charles I (Kaiser Karl), when he tried to reclaim his throne twice in 1921 only to be forced out of the country on each occasion. Horthy protested that the time was not right, the Allies opposed it and though some of his arguments might have had merit, as regent it was not his decision to make. As regent, he was only to hold power until the King returned and as soon as Emperor Charles set foot on Hungarian soil, Horthy should have deferred to his legitimate monarch. According to some accounts, the idea that Britain and France would have taken action against any Hapsburg restoration in Hungary seems likely to have been exaggerated. If power had been handed over and the restored monarchy solidified, it seems rather unlikely that Britain and France would have risked a conflagration to keep the Hapsburgs from their Hungarian inheritance.

Horthy and Hitler
So, Hungary would go on through most of World War II as a nominal kingdom; a monarchy without a monarch. Without the monarchy, Hungary drifted ever closer to Nazi Germany, first by increased economic ties, later by taking part in the division of territory in Czechoslovakia and finally militarily by joining the Axis and participating in the invasion of the Soviet Union. Hungary regained some of the territory lost to Romania thanks to Hitler, regained more in the Axis invasion of Yugoslavia and took a slice for itself when Czechoslovakia was dismembered. Slovakia had been part of the Kingdom of Hungary prior to World War I and the Slovaks were persuaded to become a German protectorate when Hitler threatened to allow Hungary to swallow them whole if they tried to make any trouble about it. The Hungarians went on as less-than-enthusiastic members of the Axis but the Hungarian military was decimated at the Battle of Stalingrad and as the Soviet Red Army drew closer, Horthy began trying to get Hungary out of the Axis and surrender. When Hitler learned of this, not surprisingly, German forces occupied Hungary in 1944, Horthy was arrested and the Hungarian pro-Nazi “Arrow Cross” party took power as the willing instruments of the German occupation.

Crown Prince Otto
All of these events were watched very closely by the man who should have been King of Hungary, Archduke Otto of Austria. He succeeded as head of the House of Hapsburg on the death of his father Emperor Charles in 1922. It was at that time that he became the nominal King of Hungary but when he reached legal adulthood and was expected to actually take up the Hungarian throne, Admiral Horthy advised him not to try it. The Archduke knew well enough from the experience of his father that it would be useless to try so long as Horthy opposed him, given the current situation. With Horthy being replaced by the Nazis and they in quick succession by the communists, the opportunity to take up the Hungarian throne would never materialize for Archduke Otto. However, he did have reason to be hopeful about a restoration in Austria and if the Austrian situation had worked out, there is reason to believe that the situation in Hungary, and perhaps beyond, would have altered considerably and in favor of the Hapsburgs.

Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss
Very few people realize just how close Archduke Otto came to being restored to the Austrian throne. By his own accounts, it was a done deal, it was going to happen, the long-sought after goal of seeing the House of Hapsburg in Vienna again was no longer a question of “if” nor even of “when”. It was all planned out. The root cause for why it did not ultimately happen came from the last place anyone would have expected: Ethiopia. First, however, a little background information is probably in order. After the First World War, Austria was left as a small “rump state”, powerless and isolated in Europe. It is not surprising that Austrians initially favored a union with Germany but the Allies refused to permit this, fearing that it would strengthen the Germans. Austria went through turmoil, civil strife, the all too common threat of a communist takeover before order was finally restored by a short, fervent man named Engelbert Dollfuss, leader of the Fatherland Front. First coming to office as chancellor in 1932, Dollfuss solidified his hold on Austria after defeating the socialists in 1934 but would not survive the end of the year. He had courted the monarchists but never took them home from the dance.

Banning opposition parties, Dollfuss established a Catholic, corporatist state which has since been termed “Austrofascism”. He did manage to restore a proper patriotic pride to Austria, ended the threat of a leftist revolution and had very close and friendly ties with Benito Mussolini in Rome. He kept monarchists dangling on promises but did see eye-to-eye with Archduke Otto in their mutual loathing of the Nazis. Most importantly, this attitude was shared by Il Duce in Italy. Given the subsequent formation of the Axis, the “Pact of Steel” and so on, it can easily be forgotten that while Hitler hero-worshipped Mussolini since the Blackshirts march on Rome, that sentiment was not returned. Mussolini initially disliked Hitler and even after Hitler came to power and the two met face to face, Mussolini found something unsavory about him. This was important as the Nazis wanted Austria more than anything, it being the largest part of the German population outside Germany itself, and Italy was the one major obstacle to the Nazis being able to take Austria by force. In 1934, when Dollfuss was assassinated by the Nazis in an attempted coup, Mussolini was outraged and rushed Italian troops to the border, forcing Hitler to back down and denounce the Austrian Nazis who had done the deed.

Schuschnigg and Mussolini
At the time, Germany was still militarily weak but Mussolini was rather put off by the fact that, in that hour of crisis in 1934, he had been forced to act alone; neither Britain nor France had backed him up. In Austria itself, Kurt von Schuschnigg succeeded Dollfuss as chancellor and he knew that something more would have to be done to preserve Austrian independence and keep the country out of Hitler’s grasp. Restoring the monarchy was something Schuschnigg determined he could do. As Hitler and the Nazis in Germany grew in power and prestige there were not a few Austrians who longed to be part of the “Greater Germany” Hitler pledged to build. It was necessary then to give Austrians a greater sense of themselves as a distinct people, to recall the glory days of the past and there could be no better way to accomplish this than by restoring the Hapsburgs. There would be those in the European community who would oppose it but ultimately only two men mattered; Archduke Otto himself and the guarantor of Austrian independence Benito Mussolini.

Archduke Otto
Needless to say, Archduke Otto was more than willing to take the throne. Horrified by the thought of a Nazi takeover in Vienna and Austria becoming a state in Germany, the imperial heir offered to return at any time if he could be of help in saving the situation. The laws banning the Hapsburgs from Austrian soil were repealed and properties of the Hapsburgs were restored to them. The monarchists were jubilant, the Nazis were outraged and Schuschnigg finally put the issue to Mussolini. Would Italy support or oppose a restoration of the Hapsburg monarchy in Austria? By this time, Mussolini had come close to falling out with the Allies but still had no love for Hitler nor did he want to see the Germans on his border by annexing Austria. Surprisingly, given his background, Mussolini informed Schuschnigg that he would not oppose a restoration of the monarchy. He even went a step further and suggested that Italo-Austrian ties could be cemented by a Hapsburg marriage to a member of the Italian House of Savoy (something for which there was plenty of historical precedent). Schuschnigg arranged a secret meeting with Archduke Otto to inform him that the path had been cleared for the restoration of the monarchy. It was all agreed to and Schuschnigg stated that everything should be set for the restoration to happen the following year.

Fuhrer & Duce
Unfortunately, problems arose that prevented the speedy restoration that Schuschnigg and Archduke Otto planned. After an Ethiopian attack on an Italian outpost along the disputed border between Ethiopia and Eritrea, Mussolini launched his invasion of Ethiopia. Liberal world opinion came down hard on Italy with Britain and France denouncing Italy in the League of Nations. Sanctions were imposed on Italy that succeeded in infuriating the public but not in deterring the Duce from his war. Germany, of course, did not join in the sanctions against Italy but continued to offer an outstretched hand of friendship. Ethiopia was conquered by Italian forces within seven months and Mussolini was turned against the Allies firmly and irretrievably. Since the Allies had offended him, the Duce turned to Hitler. From that point on, Austria could no longer count on Italian protection from a Nazi takeover and Hitler immediately began planning for the annexation of Austria and to do it before Archduke Otto could be restored to the throne. Fittingly enough, the Nazi plan for the invasion of Austria was given the codename of “Operation Otto”.

Patriotic rally of the Fatherland Front
Today, few people realize how close Austria came to restoring the monarchy, were it not for the British and French sanctions on Italy over Ethiopia, it almost certainly would have happened. More than that though, few people realize just how seriously the Nazis took the possibility. They were positively panicked by the idea and their fears were not entirely unjustified. Stories circulated in Nazi Germany that Archduke Otto would be restored to the Austrian throne but also that Hungary and Czechoslovakia were planning to join together under the House of Hapsburg and attack Nazi Germany. Of course, the idea that Archduke Otto or any government he presided over would have launched an unprovoked attack on Germany is absurd, yet there was some elements of truth to the stories. Schuschnigg had worked to forge better relations with Hungary and Archduke Otto was already nominally the King of Hungary anyway, so it is not that far-fetched to foresee a restoration in Austria leading to a full restoration in Hungary as well. The idea of Czechoslovakia rejoining Austria and Hungary also seems far-fetched but considering that they were under threat from Nazi Germany themselves, if Italy, Austria and Hungary had become an all-monarchy, anti-Nazi power bloc, it is not impossible to imagine the Czech government joining in as a matter of practical necessity.

The anschluss is accomplished
But, as we know, it didn’t happen. Schuschnigg called for a referendum on Austrian independence and Hitler determined to take action before it could be carried out. The only one who could have stopped him was Mussolini and he was no longer prepared to stand in the way. When this news reached Hitler, the Nazi dictator was ecstatic, knowing that Austria was as good as his. To sweeten the deal, Hitler also renounced forever any claim to the Southern Tyrol (a German populated area ceded to Italy after World War I). Prince Philip of Hesse telephoned the Fuhrer from Rome to inform him that Mussolini would keep his troops at home this time. Hitler excitedly shouted into the phone, “Please tell Mussolini that I shall never forget this…Never, never, never! Come what may! …And listen -sign any agreement he would like…You can tell him again. I thank him most heartily. I will never forget him!…Whenever he should be in need or in danger, he can be sure that I will stick with him, rain or shine -come what may- even if the whole world would rise against him -I will, I shall-” No child on Christmas morning was ever so excited and, though it was said in an obviously exuberant moment, Hitler would be as good as his word, at least as far as Mussolini was concerned. On March 12, 1938 German army units drove into Austria and in quick order the annexation was accomplished.

Archduke Otto
Austrian aristocrats and monarchists were immediately arrested by the Nazis, many of them being killed, along with any others who had opposed the union. The laws against the Hapsburgs in Austria were put back into effect, their property was again confiscated and Archduke Otto himself was declared a criminal, a wanted man and he had to take extra precautions for his own security. He moved to France and helped a great many Jews escape from Austria prior to the outbreak of World War II. He also remained adamant that the Austrians were not partners with Germany, but their first victims. Without the unity that the Hapsburg monarchy had provided, Hitler had a relatively easy time taking the German populated areas of the former Austria-Hungary for himself. First was the Sudetenland and then all of Czechoslovakia was partitioned with Poland and Hungary joining in the feast. Anyone who would dismiss the impact on the world of the loss of the “Dual Monarchy” should consider the fact that all of Hitler’s pre-war territorial gains were a nibbling away at the former lands of Austria-Hungary. It also warrants pointing out that the Allies took no action against Germany in these days and that should serve as an illustration of how unwarranted the fears were of Allied opposition to the restoration of the Hapsburgs. It would all seem to indicate that, despite the protestations of those who did not want to give up power, that the French and British would not have taken any action to oppose a return of the Hapsburgs if a country like Hungary had just gone ahead and done it. Ultimately, the only one who made a commitment to restore the Hapsburgs regardless of Allied opinion was Schuschnigg and he was abandoned.

The Archduke in Florida, 1942
When World War II broke out in Europe and the Germans finally got around to launching their invasion of France, Archduke Otto was again forced to flee, this time to the United States of America via Portugal. With the Nazi laws enacted against them, the Austrian Imperial Family in America were people without a country but Archduke Otto never relented in his anti-Nazi campaign. He settled in Washington DC but traveled across America extensively. He met with President Roosevelt several times and urged him and the American people (which at the time wanted no part of Europe’s war) to intervene and take up the cause of defeating the Axis. He also raised money for refugees from the former Austria-Hungary and charitable causes to benefit them as well as doing his best to make it clear to all that his people were not the enemies of America but victims of the Nazis just as much as the Czechs or the Poles. At the end of 1941, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and Hitler and Mussolini declared war on the United States in solidarity with their Japanese ally, America committed itself to the world war. Always a man of peace who greatly emphasized the role played by his father in trying to negotiate a peaceful end to the First World War, Archduke Otto nonetheless volunteered to fight for the Allied cause. While in America he tried to raise funds and gain support for an army battalion of Austrian exiles but was unable to bring it to fruition.

When the war progressed in favor of the Allies, ending ultimately in the total destruction of Germany and its division among the Allies, Archduke Otto was on the scene and was briefly able to visit his Austrian homeland in 1945. His immediate concern was lobbying Allied leaders to keep Austria out of the hands of the Soviets. He put forward his own proposal for post-war Central Europe, calling for the creation of a “Danube Federation” that would encompass much of the former territory of the Empire of Austria-Hungary. British Prime Minister Churchill seemed supportive of the idea but, not surprisingly, it was thwarted by the opposition of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. As nearly all of the territory of the proposed federation was within the agreed-to Soviet sphere of influence, Stalin was able to veto the plan. Although it was not stated outright that the “Danube Federation” would be another Hapsburg empire, for the Archduke was certainly not an ambitious man, it stood to reason that he would have been the only logical candidate to assume a position of leadership in such a state. As it was, he busied himself with arguing for the rights of the German-speaking peoples outside of Germany, trying to gain recognition of Austria as a victim of Nazi aggression rather than an accessory and to form an Austrian government-in-exile. The last goal proved unreachable and he also railed against the handing over of Eastern Europe to Stalin and the Soviets which was the primary impediment to most of his plans. Unfortunately, that concerned agreements already made and involved territory that the Red Army already occupied so that, even if the British and Americans had regrets, there was little to nothing they could do about it.

With the situation as it was at the end of the war, hopes for a Hapsburg restoration vanished quickly. However, it is still a mark of how much the power-mad politicians who seized control of Austria in the aftermath of the war were about the possibility of Archduke Otto gaining the throne that, while Austria was purged of all the laws and policies enacted during the union with Nazi Germany, the post-war republican government retained those that were anti-Hapsburg. The Archduke remained banned from Austrian soil for decades until he was obliged to renounce his claim to the throne simply to have the basic freedom enjoyed by any other citizen. It was an obscene injustice for a man who had opposed the Nazi movement from the very beginning, a man who had been singled out by the Nazi regime as an “enemy of the state” and who had devoted his entire life during the war to resisting the Nazis and rescuing Austria and the other Hapsburg realms from their grip.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Emperor Francis I

The man who would be the last “Holy Roman Emperor”(elect) and the first “Emperor of Austria”, Francis II and then Francis I, was born in Florence, Italy on February 12, 1768 to then Grand Duke Leopold II of Tuscany, who was the younger brother of Emperor Joseph II. Named Francis (or Franz as you please) like the founder of the Hapsburg-Lorraine family line, his mother was the Infanta Maria Luisa of Spain, daughter of His Catholic Majesty King Carlos III, he was the second of sixteen children. For little Francis, while his childhood years were happy ones, basking in the bosom of his family and the sunshine of Italy, his parents were not to be a major part of his life ultimately. The liberal-minded, autocratic Emperor had no heirs and so, Francis was obviously the one in whom the future of the House of Hapsburg and its empire would be invested. So, at the age of 16, he was plucked from his family and his uncle the Emperor took charge of his upbringing personally. The experience was one that might have made even the children of ancient Sparta gape in amazement.

Young Francis was deemed to be utterly unsatisfactory, his uncle basically describing him as spoiled, clumsy and dim. He was subjected to a vigorous regime of study and exercise to correct these problems and was shut up in isolation as a way to make him more self-reliant. The Emperor himself said that his approach toward his nephew was, “fear and unpleasantness”. The Emperor, who seemed to turn cold after the death of his beloved first wife, was a man who was beloved by the common people for the actions he took to improve their welfare. However, it would be a mistake to think that this was due to his compassionate nature. Rather, it was because Emperor Joseph II had a fixation, perhaps even obsession, with orderliness, justice and making all things reasonable and rational. Taking any sixteen-year-old boy from any background and trying to make him orderly and reasonable would seem an impossible task for most and may, perhaps, explain why the Emperor could seem such a tyrant. Nonetheless, he filled his nephew with a respect for him that would last as long as Francis lived. Francis admired his uncle with ‘fear and trembling’ and the impact he had on Francis, and which Francis subsequently had on the rest of Hapsburg history, would ensure that Emperor Joseph II would be upheld as the standard by which all Austrian emperors were judged.

When Francis was sent to join the imperial army (a regiment on garrison duty in Hungary) it was probably the least demanding part of his training for the crown. In 1790 Emperor Joseph II died and was succeeded by Leopold II whose reign was to be a very short one. He spent most of his time trying to regain the support of all those his brother had offended while simultaneously retaining most of his policies. Archduke Francis acted on his behalf while his father was engaged in those duties and within a very short time Leopold II grew ill and died. At the age of only 24 on March 1, 1791 Francis became King of Hungary, Croatia and Bohemia and was in due course (when all the formalities were attended to) was named Emperor-elect of the Holy Roman Empire of the German People, King in Germany and all the rest as Francis II. He inherited a Reich beset by threats but he was a good man to meet them. On the whole, more traditional than his uncle, he was just as, if not more, pragmatic and would make decisions he thought in the best interests of his empire, whether it cast him in a positive light or not. His first and immediate concern was France where revolution was raging and where revolutionaries were threatening to take their torches beyond their borders to set fire to the whole of monarchial Europe.

If one were to assume that the fate of the Austrian-born Queen of France, Marie Antoinette, was foremost on the mind of Emperor Francis II (Kaiser Franz II), one would be mistaken. He did not really know his aunt and was not prepared to deal with traitors in order to save her. Emperor Joseph II had concocted a scheme to rescue his little sister but, at that time, Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI thought it precipitous and a dereliction of duty to escape the country. By the time Francis II came along, the Queen was a prisoner and while Danton was willing to negotiate for her release (though considering the character of Danton it is entirely possible he was being false in the whole matter) Emperor Francis II refused to make any concessions and in due course the tragic queen was sent to the guillotine. For Francis, the only way to deal with the French Revolution was war and his empire went to war with France the same year he came to the throne. At first, he tried to take matters into his own hands during the failed Flanders campaign but he wisely decided to leave military matters to the experts and handed the army over to Archduke Charles, Duke of Teschen. This was the right choice as the Archduke would prove to be the most formidable continental opponent of Napoleon, even if he was not quite able to best the brilliant Corsican.

The war policy of Emperor Francis was one of resistance whenever possible, peace when necessary but to always strike again when the situation seemed favorable. At the outset, Austria was defeated and Francis decided to come to an agreement with the French republic, ceding land in Germany in exchange for half of the territory of the Republic of Venice which had tried to remain neutral. In the War of the Second Coalition, Austrian troops marched against France again and again in the War of the Third Coalition but both were French victories and most critically saw France take leadership in the German states away from Hapsburg Austria. This greatly alarmed Francis II and he decided to take a drastic and unprecedented step. With the reorganization of Germany and the victorious Napoleon making no secret of his imperial pretensions, Francis feared that the Corsican would apply sufficient pressure to have himself elected Holy Roman Emperor a title which, elections aside, the Hapsburgs had come to view as their property. The idea was too terrible to contemplate so Francis II decided to abolish the empire rather than see it fall into the hands of Napoleon. He dissolved the historic institution, abdicating his throne on August 6, 1806 and became instead Emperor Francis I of Austria.

This is something which some people remain at odds about even today, which is probably unavoidable for a move which was so historic. Did Francis have the authority to do what he did? Ultimately, the whole argument is academic. So much of what had been the Holy Roman (German) Empire was rather vague to begin with, being one thing in theory but something else in fact. It came about in an odd way and survived for so long because it was so changeable. Before the Revolution it had become essentially the Austrian Empire already plus those minor states allied to them with the Kingdom of Prussia being effectively independent. No emperor had actually been fully emperor, crowned by the Pope, for centuries and the electoral nature of it had long been a mere formality. Francis simplified things and brought what existed in fact into existing in name as well. His struggle with France was certainly not over and thanks to his leadership the Austrian Empire would remain as the dominant German power in the end.

In 1809, taking advantage of what Napoleon called “the Spanish ulcer” Emperor Francis I of Austria went to war again but once again suffered a stunning defeat. What was worse, Napoleon was determined to make major changes in regards to his relationship with Austria because of this. After all, if these numerous lost wars can seem disheartening from the Austrian point of view, one must keep in mind that they were extremely damaging to Napoleon even though he was always victorious. Emperor Francis I had the land, the population, the resources and an able general to remain Napoleon’s most dangerous continental foe and Napoleon was tired of having to fight them over and over again. Finally, it seemed, Napoleon had the Austrians where he wanted them. Always a pragmatic man, the Kaiser decided he had no choice but to come to terms with l’empereur. He gave up considerable territory and even the hand of his daughter in marriage to Napoleon as well as joining the “Continental System” the French had set up in an (ultimately futile) effort to starve Britain into submission. This may have been the peak of Napoleon’s career. He seemed to have broken the back of his most powerful enemy on the continent of Europe and by his marriage to Archduchess Marie Louise he gained an heir to his throne and, what was seen anyway as, acceptance into the ranks of the established dynasties of Europe.

However, Emperor Francis II was simply being pragmatic and he would do what was necessary at the moment and bide his time to come out on top in the end. If it meant doing something unfortunate, so be it. The same thing occurred in relation to the great Austrian monarchist hero Andreas Hofer. At one point, the land Hofer had fought so hard for and which he had won in fair combat was handed over by the Emperor to the Bavarian allies of France. It had to be a difficult moment for the loyal Austrian patriot but the Emperor was making the hard choices that were necessary and he would ultimately get it all back. Despite the efforts of his daughter to convince him that Bonaparte was not such a bad guy, Emperor Francis had never truly accepted him as a legitimate monarch and never would. Thankfully for Austria, Napoleon could not resist overreaching and this he did with his invasion of the Russian Empire. The steppes of Russia swallowed the Grande Armee and in the aftermath a sixth coalition was formed, including Austria, to bring Napoleon down. Russian and Prussian armies pushed the French out of Germany, the Swedes hit Napoleon’s Danish ally and the British pushed up from Spain into southern France. At battles such as Kulm and Leipzig, Austrian forces played their part in a string of allied victories. Austria had a talented commander on hand in the person of Field Marshal Karl Philipp, Prince of Schwarzenberg who had actually been picked by Napoleon himself to command the Austrian contingent of the invasion of Russia.

Emperor Francis I risked everything in this war, betting all the chips that Austria had but this time Napoleon was defeated and as the allied armies closed in on Paris in 1814, the French emperor abdicated and was exiled to Elba. A short time later, he would return to make his last bid for power but met with a crushing and decisive defeat at Waterloo after which he was sent to St Helena, never to return. For Emperor Francis of Austria, this was the high point of his reign and a moment of the greatest prestige for Austria. Allied leaders met in his capitol, in the Congress of Vienna, to redraw the map of Europe and organize a new, post-revolutionary international order. The Austrian Empire benefited greatly, giving up territories such as Belgium which was distant and next to impossible to defend while regaining the Tyrol and other areas and gaining new territory in Italy and Dalmatia (what had been the Republic of Venice).

More significant though, was the pride of place that the Austrian Empire received with the creation of the German Confederation, of which the Austrian Emperor was President, and the Holy Alliance of Prussia, Austria and Russia to safeguard religion and monarchy in central and eastern Europe (though Britain, the Pope and the Turks disliked it -an odd assortment). It was a very conservative and pragmatic new order that settled over Europe and that made it very much to the liking of Emperor Francis I whose chancellor, Prince Metternich, had arranged much of it. The Emperor and Metternich understood each other and worked well together, establishing an international order in Europe based on legitimacy and periodic international congresses to resolve disputes that prevented another pan-European war for a hundred years. Perhaps their own failing in this area was in their rejection of nationalism as a whole, thinking it could be suppressed rather than taking hold of it to steer in a beneficial direction. Nonetheless, what they did do produced undeniable results and, on the whole, worked for a very long time.

As a man and as a monarch, Emperor Francis I was probably unlike what most would suppose him to be. For enemies of the Austrian Empire he is often portrayed as a harsh, reactionary tyrant, paranoid and militaristic, cold and calculating. In fact, he was a complex man who understood the enormous responsibility he had as monarch and who tried to always do what was best, not for the sake of popular opinion but as a sacred duty. It is true that he had a very active and extensive secret police and his policies would today be seen as restrictive. They were certainly illiberal but no more so than many that exist in Europe today, the only difference being who they were aimed at stopping and the fact that, unlike modern European leaders, Emperor Francis never claimed to a liberal. His network of spies and use of censorship was a reaction to the horror and world war that came with the French Revolution and he was determined to prevent such words, ideas or movements ever gaining a foothold in the Austrian Empire. Much of Europe today has laws just as restrictive but where Francis banned “revolutionary rhetoric” or “egalitarian” or “anti-religious” and “republican” talk, today what is banned is called “hate speech” or “racist” or in some way offensive and “politically incorrect” talk. His ban on all things Jacobin could be compared to the current ban in Germany on all things Nazi and would be defended on the same grounds; that some ideas are too dangerous to tolerate.

To the charge of being a reactionary (which not everyone would consider a bad thing) Emperor Francis was more nuanced than most realize. He was certainly a man of very traditional and staunchly conservative politics but neither was he a radical legitimist. He favored policies which were as conservative as possible but was never so ideologically zealous as to hinder his pragmatism. This was partly why he opposed nationalism, because it interfered with the sort of monarchial territorial horse-trading that could benefit his empire. So, he had no qualms about northern Italy absorbed by the Austrian Empire rather than being restored to Venice and he was more supportive of the King of the French, Louis Philippe, than the very traditional King Charles X of France whose policies, though the Emperor was probably sympathetic to, he feared were impractical and could lead to another revolution and potential trouble for the rest of Europe.

Although he famously said that he had no knowledge of “the people” but only “subjects” he was not some distant, aloof sort of autocrat as he is often portrayed. Each week he set aside two half-days to meet with any of his subjects, whether high born or low, who made an appointment to see him. He would listen to their opinions or concerns and was able to converse with them in their own language, no matter what part of his polyglot realms they came from. In that way he was more accessible to the public than just about any republican president in any European country today (or most in the rest of the world at large for that matter). In a way, he inherited qualities from both of his immediate predecessors. From his father, who it was said ran the most successful secret police force in the world as Grand Duke of Tuscany, he had a talent at keeping himself well informed about what was going on within his empire and from his uncle Joseph II he had the ability to talk easily to anyone, be they prince or ploughman.

If Emperor Francis was busy with his public duties, his private life was just as eventful. He married first in 1788 to the charming Elisabeth of Wurttemberg, a bride chosen by Emperor Joseph II, but she died in childbirth in 1790, her baby girl surviving her by less than a year. Later that year he married his first cousin, Princess Maria Theresa of Naples and Sicily, who bore him twelve children, though four died young. These offspring included a future Empress of the French and Queen of Italy (while Napoleon ruled), a future Emperor of Austria, Empress of Brazil and Queen of Saxony. They had a successful marriage and mostly a happy one, though she was very lively and he very serious. She died in 1807 at only 34, no doubt thoroughly exhausted. The following year he married another first cousin, Maria Ludovika of Austria-Este, a refugee from the Napoleonic conquest of Italy, but she died in 1816 at only 28. Later that year he married Princess Caroline Augusta of Bavaria who was quite popular and who survived him.

At home, Emperor Francis I kept things calm and orderly. Trade was not much promoted and agriculture remained the primary industry of most imperial subjects. In this area, Francis can be faulted somewhat as his policy, summarized by his words, “I won’t have any innovations,” and “Let the laws be justly applied; they are good and adequate” as this allowed more business-friendly Prussia to have an economy and industry that expanded faster than Austria. The army was also neglected in terms of spending (while the overall debt continued to climb) which had negative effects for Austria later. Dissent in Hungary, however, remained as problematic for Francis as it had been for his predecessors and after a meeting of the Central Hungarian Diet in 1825 he was forced to agree not to raise taxes without their consent. In foreign matters, his primary concern was in suppressing any hints of nationalist or revolutionary sentiment in Germany and Italy. In the short-term, these were successful but in the long-term they proved fruitless. Nonetheless, Francis I was convinced that he was correct and that it only took a firm hand and a sharp eye to ensure that things remained as they were.

After ruling for 43 years, quite unexpectedly, Emperor Francis I of Austria came down with a fever and died on March 2, 1835 at the age of 67. In character to the end, his last advice was to “change nothing”. Additionally, he advised his son and heir to preserve the unity of the Imperial Family. That would be done, though after the traumas of 1848 his eventual successor, Emperor Francis Joseph I, would be forced to make some considerable changes. History, on the whole, has not been kind or very fair to Emperor Francis I, portraying him as a narrow-minded arch reactionary who liked nothing more than fiddling with his wax seals or making toffee. However, in truth, he was the driving force behind all that was Austria for nearly half a century. Metternich usually gets the glory (or the blame, depending on one’s view) but he only persisted in his position because the Emperor wanted him there. Francis I saw Europe torn apart by revolution, took a firm stand in stamping it out and did his best to ensure that it never happened again -and so long as he lived it did not. He could be short-sighted and sometimes he had to make tough decisions for the good of his empire but by his actions, the Austrian Empire survived and finally triumphed over Napoleonic France, regaining the dominant position in German affairs and central Europe. While there were problems in isolated areas, the actions and leadership of Emperor Francis prevented widespread unrest until 1848 and created a system in Europe based on facts rather than idealism, legitimacy rather than populism and established peace and stability for the better part of a century. Not a bad record that.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Austrian Style of the Confederacy

During the American Civil War neither side was without some monarchial connections. Men of royal rank actually fought on both sides, which is not all that surprising given what a titanic struggle it was. Given that the conflict marked the bloodiest war ever fought in the western hemisphere, it is only natural that others would be drawn in by it. Of course, the war did not directly concern the subject of monarchy at all as it was a war between two factions of republicans. Indirectly (as we have covered here over the years) it had a great impact on a number of monarchies in the world, particularly in effort to revive monarchism in the Americas by the Spanish in the Caribbean and the French in Mexico (and perhaps beyond). Both sides, however, had republicanism imprinted on them from birth and both used republican terms to insult their enemies. The Confederates, in the south, for example, were fond of referring to U.S. President Abraham Lincoln as “His Majesty, Abraham I” while the adherents to the Union in the north often branded the southern rebels with the title of “Tories”, originally the term for those loyal to the King in the American War for Independence and which had come to be applied to anyone viewed as a traitor to the American cause and ideals, particularly, in this war, with the notion that “all men are created equal”.

The deification of Lincoln
North and south may have had similar political prejudices concerning monarchy but no one could say they both exhibited a similar level of antagonism toward the institution. The southern Confederacy, then as now, could easily be viewed as the more royal-friendly of the two governments. It was the more tradition-minded, aristocratic, “Old World” part of America but this view was also due to a great deal of political expediency rather than genuine sincerity. The Confederacy was clearly outmatched in the struggle and, as such, it was in the interests of the south to persuade other powers to intervene and most of the foreign powers in the world in 1861 were monarchies. As such, a stridently republican attitude would not have served the south well. The north, on the other hand, was in a dominant position from the outset and, needing no direct foreign assistance, simply wanted foreign powers to stay out of the conflict and, indeed, threatened war against any who would even talk of making peace between the north and south. As such, anti-monarchy sentiment was quite common in the north though the great powers of the world tended to fall more on one side than the other depending on their own politics. This never extended to outright support but one could see prospective alliances waiting to happen. It was clearly in the best interests of the French Empire for the Confederates to win and Britain, while less sure, tended at the higher levels of society to favor a divided America as well. With Britain and France showing more sympathy for the Confederates, this left the Russian Empire showing more sympathy for the United States as a counterweight.

The United States also had a more republican fervor to it, not because of the American people, but because of Europeans. After the Revolutions of 1848 many European republicans had fled to American shores and most foreign immigrants flocked to the big cities of the north such as Boston or New York City. There were many German, Irish, Polish and Sicilian immigrants to the north who were far more zealous republicans than any native-born Americans for whom kingly rule was a distant memory and who, even earlier than the war, had even developed a bit of nostalgia for the old days of colonialism under King George. However, there was one particular immigrant to the American south whose influence gave the Confederacy a very monarchist appearance, even if not everyone in Dixie’s Land realized it. When the southern states seceded and southern boys marched off to war, they bore more than a passing resemblance to the armies of the Hapsburg Empire of Austria-Hungary.

Nicola Marschall
Nicola Marschall was a Prussian-born immigrant to the American south from a family, appropriately enough, of tobacco merchants. He arrived via New Orleans in 1849 and soon moved to Alabama. He did return to Germany for a time but came back and seems to have regarded Marion, Alabama as his home. By profession he was an artist and taught art in the south for a time. In those days, private schools that served the children of high-born southerners offered gainful employment to a number of Europeans as wealthy planter families wanted their offspring to be as “cultured” as the aristocrats of Europe. Every such southern child was expected to be well educated in art and music as well as being well-read in the classics. This reached such an extent that, though few remember it today, before the war it was very unusual to find a member of a wealthy planter family in the south who could not speak French. As an artist, Marschall painted landscapes and portraits and during his career had several notable people pose for him such as Otto von Bismarck, President Lincoln and Confederate President Jefferson Davis. However, his contribution to the monarchial appearance of the Confederacy did not come from his paintings. That started when a friend persuaded him to submit an entry for a possible design for a national flag for the new Confederate States of America.

Austrian & Confederate flags
A congressional committee had been set up to review designs for a proper flag for the Confederacy and they ultimately chose the design submitted by Nicola Marschall. It became known as the “Stars & Bars” because of its similarity to the United States flag or “Stars & Stripes”. However, if one had looked beyond American shores they would have been able to see clearly what the real influence was behind the first national flag of the Confederacy. With a field of three broad “bars” of red-white-red with a dark blue canton containing a circle of seven stars (for the seven original Confederate states) it was almost an exact duplicate of the unofficial national flag of Imperial Austria which Marschall would, of course, have been very familiar with. There was clearly an effort being made to keep it in line with the “style” of the American flag but it was obviously mostly influenced by the Austrian flag, adjusted by simply replacing the crowned arms with a more American circle of stars. The flag was formally adopted as the national flag of the Confederacy on March 4, 1861 and first came to world attention when it was raised over Fort Sumter, South Carolina after the first battle of the war.

However, the similarities between the Confederacy and Imperial Austria went beyond simply the flag that was flown above them. Another congressional committee was called upon to design a proper uniform for the Confederate army and, once again, via a friend of a friend, Marschall ended up being the one whose design was adopted. Thanks to the Prussian artist, the Confederates would march to war looking a great deal like soldiers of the Hapsburg Emperor. This time, the inspiration dates back to 1857 when Marschall, while in Verona, Italy (at that time under Austrian rule) had seen some Austrian sharpshooters and was quite taken with their stylish uniforms of grey tunics with green facings and stars on the collar to differentiate rank among the officers. The uniform Marschall designed for the Confederate army was very similar to this, although, ultimately, very few would end up following the official regulations exactly.

Uniforms of CSA artillery officers
The uniform of a grey tunic (in practice almost invariably replaced by a frock coat or jacket), blue trousers and a French-style kepi (cap) in branch-of-service color was very similar to that worn by the Austrians. For officers, rank was denoted by bars on the collar for company officers and stars for field and general officers as well as by the braid on the sleeves forming a design known as an “Austrian knot”. It was a very smart uniform though it was rarely seen as it was intended due to a shortage of materials, an aversion to uniformity and matters of practical necessity. The tunic, for example, proved very unpopular and few persisted in wearing it with most soldiers wearing a short jacket and most officers a frock coat. The kepi was also rather unpopular and for most southern troops was replaced with a broad-brimmed “slouch” hat. Colorful facings, trim and braid also tended to disappear as the war dragged on and more plain uniforms were adopted because of cost, shortage of materials and to avoid standing out as a target. Still, some, like Lt. Colonel Archer Anderson (a staff officer for several prominent Confederate generals) and Lt. General James Longstreet were among the few who persisted in wearing the Austrian-style tunics when other officers would not.

So it was that, aside from individual units on both sides that adopted the style of troops fighting for monarchs, from French Zouaves and chasseurs to Scottish highlanders, Hungarian hussars and Italian Bersaglieri, it was the Confederate armies that marched to war wearing uniforms and flying a flag that were both inspired by those of the Austrian Empire. What Emperor Francis Joseph might have thought of such a thing, we can only imagine.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

General Julius Jacob von Haynau

The story of General Julius Jacob von Haynau is somewhat illustrative of the problems which caused a steady decline in the fortunes of the Austrian Empire. A very controversial figure in his own time, loved by some, hated by others, his case is also indicative of the monarchist position in Europe today. During the Revolutions of 1848 he played an instrumental role in the preservation of the Hapsburg monarchy when the Austrian Empire teetered on the brink of destruction. Some regarded him distastefully as an unpleasant but necessary tool in the Austrian arsenal while others in Austria openly hailed him as a war hero and a savior of the monarchy, his troops dubbing him “the Hapsburg Tiger”. On the other hand, to others, particularly the Italians and Hungarians, he was known as the instrument of ruthless oppression and given more than one very unflattering nicknames by those he opposed. Yet, today, while Austria has forgotten him, there are those in Hungary who have not and so it is the critical view of the man that has lingered. Such criticism is, it must be said, not unfounded. He was a ruthless individual whose actions demonstrate why the Hapsburg monarchy was so hated by certain subject peoples. Yet, those ruthless actions were undertaken against internal enemies, people who von Haynau viewed as traitors pure and simple and thus not to be spared or pitied.

Strictly speaking, Julius Jacob von Haynau was a Hessian rather than an Austrian. He was born on October 14, 1786 in Hessen-Kassel, birthplace of Grimm’s Fairy Tales and source of some of the most prized German mercenary soldiers. Like many professional soldiers of history, von Haynau was of lofty though illegitimate birth being the natural son of the Hessian Prince-Elector Wilhelm I by Rosa Dorothea Ritter. It was the child’s paternal grandfather, Friedrich II, who supplied the famous Hessian troops to Britain’s King George III to fight in America. Wilhelm I recognized his son and made provision for his care and education. Like his grandfather (who had served with Frederick the Great), little Julius planned on a career in the army and because of his father was assured a place in the military as an officer-cadet. So, at the age of 15 von Haynau joined the Austrian Imperial Army in 1801. He proved a quick study and a capable soldier. With the outbreak of the Napoleonic Wars it was a particularly dangerous but essential profession. Still, he found time, on October 11, 1808 to start a family of his own, marrying Therese von Weber, appropriately the daughter of a high-ranking officer. The couple had a very successful marriage of over forty years before Therese died in 1850.

In 1809, only a year after his wedding, Haynau fought at the Battle of Wagram, where he was wounded in a crushing Austrian defeat at the hands of Napoleon. His father-in-law died the same year at the Battle of Aspern-Essling. It was a difficult period for Austria but von Haynau gained valuable experience in the art of war and continued to distinguish himself in numerous battles. His military star continued to rise as the Napoleonic Wars threw into sharp contrast where the talent and the incompetence was in the Austrian army. Even as a young officer von Haynau was known for being rather volatile and ill-tempered but very effective against the enemy. When he had an army of Frenchmen in front of him, his personality was a strength, his fury an asset but when battles were not raging he tended to clash with his superiors. Nonetheless, his violent tendencies on and off the battlefield were not an impediment to his career and he earned numerous promotions, rising to the rank of field marshal lieutenant during extensive and meritorious service from 1815 to 1847. He reached the pinnacle of his career with a reputation for fiery aggression and also with a deep-seated hatred of rebels, republicans and revolutionaries, no doubt due to experiences in the wars with France.

The Austrian Emperor had no more ardent servant and no more merciless guard dog that von Haynau. When revolutions began to break out and spread all across Europe in 1848, both his military talent and loyal ferocity became urgent necessities as the venerable Hapsburg monarchy stood in very real danger of total collapse. One of the first areas where rebellion broke out was in northern Italy, that region conquered by France but placed under Austrian rule after the Napoleonic Wars. Haynau arrived on the scene and set to work methodically suppressing the revolutionary outbreak. Austrian troops had withdrawn to their fortress and shelled the town, causing considerable damage and then went on a rampage when the rebels surrendered. Haynau was unbothered by such actions. His was no ‘soft hand’ and brutal floggings were quite common in the period of Austrian rule but the most notorious actions he took, it should be remembered, were in reprisal to an atrocity by the rebels who massacred a group of wounded Austrian soldiers at a hospital in Brescia. Understandably outraged by such an infamy, von Haynau ordered immediate retribution, his Austrian execution squads working over time. This was, obviously, not cruelty simply for the sake of cruelty but was a natural reaction to a ghastly crime, something which is not always remembered. However, the violent temper of von Haynau meant that, while most of those who were executed were justly guilty, there were many innocent Italians who died as well.

Because so many were killed, and not just the guilty, von Haynau became a hated figure known to the Italians as “the Hyena of Brescia”. This was the image that became best known, while the atrocity of the rebels was often conveniently omitted of course. Still, it must be said that von Haynau was not terribly bothered by such name-calling and believed that such ruthlessness would instill fear and obedience. As such, being called horrific names was simply proof, to his mind, that he was succeeding in eliminating the enemies of his emperor. And there were certainly plenty of enemies to choose from, even as 1848 turned to 1849. One of the most serious rebellions to shake the Austrian Empire was in the Kingdom of Hungary and with so much trouble to quell in so many areas, defeating the Hungarian rebels was proving to be despairingly difficult. General von Haynau was recalled to Vienna from Italy and given orders to go to Hungary and put down the revolutionary forces there. So perilous was the situation that Emperor Francis Joseph had accepted the offer of assistance from Tsar Nicholas I of Russia who sent his reliable army in to aid in crushing the Hungarians.

This gave von Haynau an added incentive. Not only was there his usual zeal to strike down harshly all those who opposed the Hapsburg monarchy, he also had to make sure that the laurels of victory were not taken by the Russians so that the local would remember who it was who had brought them to heel. Haynau was convinced that the Russian army was not needed anyway and that, with his own troops who were veterans of suppressing revolt in Italy, the Hungarians could be easily dealt with by Austria alone. 1848 had been sufficiently disastrous that not everyone agreed and the helping hand of the “Iron Tsar” was not going to be refused. So, General von Haynau charged into Hungary with more zeal to succeed than ever before and, as usual, he was brilliantly effective at defeating the rebels and ruthlessly harsh in punishing their supporters. As in Italy, any Hungarian man or woman who was believed to have sympathized with the rebels were publicly flogged and all active participants were of course killed. The most famous (or infamous for most of Hungary) of these mass executions was the hanging of thirteen rebel Hungarian generals at Arad on October 6, 1849. For his success in suppressing rebellion, von Haynau was honored in Vienna and for leading them to victory his soldiers adored him. However, in Hungary he gained another nickname, “the Hangman of Arad”.

General von Haynau was appointed to a garrison command in Hungary when the trouble was over but, again, his temperament was not made for peacetime and he soon resigned after feuding with the local civilian officials. General von Haynau retired from the army and traveled around Europe, though his unsavory reputation reached across the continent and even to America. While visiting London he was assaulted by two laborers and more than once had to endure ugly scenes on his travels. He died on March 14, 1853 and was buried with all due honors for a man who had been a loyal soldier and defender of his Emperor and the Hapsburg monarchy. To much of the rest of the world, he was remembered as an almost storybook villain, his name being resurrected during the First World War even in Britain to stoke hatred of the Austrian enemy who most Brits were not sure why they were even fighting.

Was he harsh? Certainly, but his cruelty was cruelty with a purpose rather than simply being for its own sake and he was also a very effective soldier, a man who faced death and not just dealt it out. Today, when he is remembered at all, it is usually as simply an executioner or someone who had women beaten in public. This must be accepted as part of the reason why some were never going to be reconciled to Hapsburg rule, that is a price that comes with such measures. Yet, it should also not be forgotten that this was a man who had first faced death, seen battle and been wounded fighting in a gruesome world war spawned by a revolution and for him there were only two sides; the loyal and the disloyal. Today most tend to take for granted that anything and everything subversive must be tolerated but, in those days, treason was not taken so lightly and for very good reason. It is a judgment call as to whether the harsh methods of Haynau had an ultimately positive or negative effect but what is not disputable is that he was an excellent soldier, a loyal subject and an uncompromising defender of the Hapsburg monarchy.