Wednesday, July 23, 2014

MM Mini View: The Hapsburg Emperors

Emperor Frederick III: Known as “Frederick the Peaceful”, Frederick III was the first Hapsburg to be elected Holy Roman Emperor and the last to be crowned by the Pope in the city of Rome in 1452. Known as an aloof, distant sort of man with a tendency to be indecisive, Pope Pius II sardonically said that he wished to “conquer the world while remaining seated”. Still, it seems to have worked for him and some have a tendency to unjustly dismiss Frederick III. He was not so much slow as methodical, not so much unimaginative as cautious, careful, sober and realistic. He negotiated a concordat with the Pope that governed Hapsburg Church-State relations for nearly four hundred years and his patience and determination allowed him to triumph over seemingly insurmountable obstacles. His brother rebelled against him and defeated him at every turn, yet Frederick III persevered and maintained himself on the throne. He failed to defeat the Hungarians, who won numerous victories over his forces, yet he survived and did manage to pull off a real long-term victory over Burgundy, securing an advantageous marriage for his son and the inheritance of that choice piece of real-estate. He died in 1493.

Emperor Maximilian I: One of the great ones, Kaiser Max is the real-life reason behind the famous saying, ‘Others make war, but thou, oh happy Austria, only marries’. His reign as Emperor dates from 1508 but he had been in charge of the Hapsburg dynasty for much longer. He was Duke of Burgundy thanks to the marriage contract won at gunpoint by his father and so from 1477 he was already ruler of a large slice of France and the Low Countries. When King Louis XI of France tried to take Burgundy from him, Max went to war and sent the French packing. He fought the French again in the Italian Wars and seized the Tyrol when he was asked to settle a dispute between the Tyrolese and the Bavarians. Perhaps most significantly, he married his son, Philip the Handsome, to Juana of Castile, daughter of Fernando and Isabella, thus securing Spain for the House of Hapsburg. He tried to make the Holy Roman Empire into a more unitary state and to use matrimonial alliances to gain mastery over France but was less successful in those endeavors. He also lost the Hapsburg ancestral lands to Switzerland but, the foundations he laid ended up bringing about a Hapsburg empire second to none in the western world.

Emperor Charles V: A giant in western history, Charles V was elected Emperor in 1519 but had already inherited a massive empire from Spain to the Low Countries to Austria itself. A sincerely religious man but a worldly and practical one as well, it is no understatement to say that Emperor Charles V saved Christendom on more than one occasion. During his eventful reign, he was almost constantly at war and was usually victorious. He defeated the Turks in the south, won a crushing victory over the French at Pavia in the west, broke the power of the Pope in Italy and subdued rebellious princes in Germany. A cosmopolitan man who almost defied classification, he was also in charge when Lutheranism first appeared and famously rebuked the monk at the Diet of Worms. He urged the Catholic Church to make reforms such as would make it easier for the Lutherans to get along with it but to no avail. He fought the Protestants for a time but ended by making peace with them so as to focus on external enemies. He was the last Emperor to actually be crowned, done in Bologna by Pope Clement VII after he had conquered Italy and forced the Pope’s submission. The Spanish empire expanded in the New World but so many conflicts did cause considerable financial problems in the future. Still, a giant historical figure who became something of a legend in Spain and Germany alike.

Emperor Ferdinand I: The brother of Charles V, he oversaw the German half of the Hapsburg empire, inheriting it when his brother abdicated while the Spanish half went to his nephew King Philip II. He also gained the thrones of Bohemia, Hungary and Croatia but a faction of the Hungarians allied with the Ottoman Sultan and rebelled against him. Vienna was besieged but in the end the Austrians were victorious. Ferdinand also negotiated the peace on behalf of his brother with the Protestants in Germany, allowing them to maintain their religion. He tried to centralize power and build-up an absolute monarchy in the Holy Roman Empire but had to deal with rebellions in Bohemia and Hungary. He sympathized with many of the positions of the Protestants but still supported the “Counter-Reformation” and invited the Jesuits into Vienna and Prague toward that end so the idea some have entertained that he was a crypto-Protestant is an exaggeration. He was a practical man who did his best to defend and consolidate the Hapsburg realm and to keep the Turks out of Central Europe. He died in 1564 after a reign that was difficult and not without setbacks but which had been successful when it counted most. Overall, an astute monarch.

Emperor Maximilian II: Elected the same year his father and predecessor died, Kaiser Max II at times seemed to be unsure whether he wanted to be a Catholic or a Protestant. He seemed so favorably inclined to the Lutherans that his father had to assure the Pope that Maximilian would not succeed him if he actually became a Protestant. As it happened, Max II remained at least nominally Catholic throughout his life. There were Protestant as well as Catholic electors and no law stipulating that an Emperor had to be a Catholic. In the end, he was on good terms with the Protestants and still elected Emperor as a Catholic with the Pope confirming his election. He then pushed for the Pope to accept Protestant practices such as doing away with clerical celibacy and giving communion in both kinds. When the Council of Trent issued its documents, he refused to have them published and tried to get his Spanish cousin to ease up on the Protestants in Holland. In the end, he angered the Catholics and still never managed to totally appease the Protestants and he was unable to take the remainder of Hungary back from the Turks. He died while trying to press his claim to the Kingdom of Poland in 1576. His reign was a rather well meaning mess that accomplished little.

Emperor Rudolf II: One of the more unusual Hapsburg emperors. Most regarded him as aloof, excessively formal and rather stiff. He was certainly reclusive and rather eccentric and not the most dutiful of monarchs. He never married so never produced an heir and delegated most of his daily tasks to others while he obsessed over machinery, astrology and alchemy (and religious people should remember when being lectured by modern scientists that astrology and alchemy were at one time considered solid, scientific “fact”). He was tolerant towards Protestants and Jews and was never really a serious, practicing Catholic but his actual state of mind became harder to determine and more erratic. He was prone to fits of depression and became almost obsessive in his fascination with alchemy. He naively tried to remain neutral in the growing tensions between Catholics and Protestants and tried to bring everyone together for a war against the Ottoman Turks but it got him nowhere and soon Hungary was in rebellion again. In Bohemia he granted concessions to the Protestants but they only demanded more and joined forces with the Hungarians to force Rudolf from power. He died in 1612 powerless and possibly mad.

Continued in Part II

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Today in History

It was on this day in 1519 that King Carlos I of Spain was elected Holy Roman Emperor as Charles V. His reign would be one of the most remarkable, not only in Hapsburg history but in European and world history as well. He respected local laws and customs, the rights and powers of rulers beneath him in the imperial hierarchy but he would also take forceful action when he felt his domain was threatened. He inflicted a crushing defeat on the French in Italy, smashed the forces loyal to Pope Clement VII and dominated the Italian peninsula. He stood on guard against the Ottoman Turks in southeastern Europe and the Mediterranean, launching counter-strikes into north Africa and all while being constantly distracted by the rebellions of the first Protestants in Germany and the further spreading of Protestantism. Throughout his reign he stood as the great champion of Catholic Christendom, rushing forces from front to front to protect it from surrounding threats. He saw himself in this light and that is important to consider, he would take action with or without the Holy See and at times even against it. As King of Spain, his empire was the first upon which it was said that 'the sun never set' and as Catholics were turning to Protestantism in the heart of his domains, his forces were winning new populations to replace them in the Americas. He was a giant among men and a huge figure on the pages of history.
It was on this day in 1914 that Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, were assassinated by the Serbian terrorist Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo, Bosnia when he was in town for military maneuvers of the Imperial & Royal Army. Princip was part of a gang of conspirators armed and trained by elements within the Serbian military which wished to provoke a war in the hope of creating a "Greater Serbia". It was the spark that ignited the powder keg of alliances, bringing about the First World War. Before it was all over, fighting would reach all across Europe, the Middle East, parts of Africa, Asia and all the oceans of the world, bringing down the Russian, German, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires. The institution of monarchy would never be the same again.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Field Marshal Joseph Graf Radetzky von Radetz

One of the most celebrated Austrian soldiers and a staunch defender of the Hapsburg monarchy in the revolutions of 1848 was Graf Radetzky. John Joseph Wenceslaus Anthony Francis Charles, Count Radetzky of Radetz was born on November 2, 1766 in Trebnice, Bohemia to a noble family in what is now the Czech Republic. His parents died when he was young and he was raised by his grandfather before entering the Theresa Academy in Vienna at a young age. In 1786 he became an officer-cadet in the Imperial Army, received his commission the following year and in 1787 was promoted to first lieutenant and posted to a cuirassier (heavy cavalry) regiment. He first saw action as a staff officer to Graf von Lacy in the Turkish War and from 1792 to 1795 served in the Austrian Netherlands (Belgium). He first really distinguished himself in the wars against Revolutionary and Napoleonic France, gaining attention by his skill and conspicuous bravery. He led a successful infiltration of the enemy lines at the Battle of Fleurus in 1794, saw action along the Rhine in 1795 and in 1796 led a troop of hussars to rescue his commander, Johann Beaulieu, in northern Italy at Valeggio sul Mincio.

Radetzky served in the fighting around the siege of Mantua against Napoleon, by then promoted to major and as a lieutenant colonel further distinguished himself at the battles of Trebbia and Novi. As a staff colonel at the Battle of Marengo he was wounded five times but never lost his determination or any degree of his almost reckless courage. Even as a young officer he was also very observant of the shortcomings in Austrian tactics and never ceased to advocate changes, often to the frustration of his less talented superiors. In recognition of his outstanding service, in 1801 he received the Military Order of Maria Theresa, the most prestigious Austrian military decoration and one which had something of a reputation for being given to officers who disobeyed orders but who were vindicated by success. This was not exactly the case with Radetzky but his situation probably helped further that rumor. In 1805 he was promoted major general and assigned to Italy under the command of Archduke Charles of Austria, often regarded as the most formidable continental commander of those forces allied against Napoleon. However, for Radetzky and the rest of the Austrian army, defeat was the final result and a peace was concluded with France.

During this interlude, Radetzky studied and served as a military instructor while also spending time with his family. In 1798 he had married Countess Francisca von Strassoldo Grafenberg with whom he had eight children. The peace, however, was short-lived and soon Radetzky was back in the field leading a brigade at the Battle of Eckmuhl in 1809 and then a division at the Battle of Wagram following his promotion to lieutenant field marshal. In 1810, along with further decorations, he was given the position of colonel-in-chief of the Fifth Hussars, thereafter known as the Radetzky Hussars. Also during that time and until 1812 he was chief of the general staff and in that position should have finally been able to make the changes to the organization and tactics of the Austrian Imperial Army that he had so long pushed for. However, in what had been, was and would be in the future a major problem for the Austrian armed forces, the government refused to allocate the funds necessary to implement these changes. Eventually, Radetzky resigned in disgust and returned to the field. In 1813 he served as chief of staff to Field Marshal Karl Philipp, Prince of Schwarzenberg and proved so capable that he quickly became extremely influential, not only in the Austrian army but amongst the other Allied powers as well.

Graf Radetzky displayed his considerable talents to their fullest extent during this period and his superiors had nothing but praise for his abilities. He helped plan the operation that led to the allied victory at Leipzig and displayed his tactical brilliance in the battles of Brienne and Arcis sur Aube. He was among those who march in triumph through Paris in 1814 when Napoleon was defeated and he even played a part in the Congress of Vienna, helping smooth things over between Austria and Russia. Unfortunately, the ensuing peace only brought about a greater disinterest on the part of the Austrian government for his plans to overhaul the military. He continued to advocate for a more efficient organization, improved tactics and overall a stronger commitment to national defense for the Austrian Empire. Unfortunately, few were willing to listen and many became annoyed at his incessant warnings. They would have been wiser to heed his advice.

Because of his impressive record, he could not simply be dismissed but he was pushed out of the way; promoted to General of the Cavalry and placed in command of a fortress. Most were content to ignore him but when the specter of revolution rose up again, Graf Radetzky was called upon to save the monarchy. When rebellion broke out in the Papal States, he was part of the Austrian army that suppressed it and in 1834 he was placed in command of the Austrian Imperial troops in Italy. Two years later, at the age of 70, he was promoted to Field Marshal. He ensured that his troops were the best trained and most disciplined force in the Austrian Empire and, back in a position of prominence again, he resumed his call for improvements to the military. But, yet again, the government refused to spend the money necessary to implement the changes he wanted and to modernize the army. It was a dangerous mistake as was proven when the Revolutions of 1848 began to break out and Radetzky had a major problem on his hands in Italy with large-scale rebellions in the Austrian-ruled territories and a war being waged by King Carlo Alberto of Piedmont-Sardinia. Despite the fact that the Austrian Empire was by far the strongest power in the region, the failure to adopt Radetzky’s policies meant that the Piedmontese were actually the more modern force and posed a considerable threat.

Nonetheless, despite such difficulties, Radetzky had lost none of the fiery determination of his youth and he succeeded in holding off the Italian forces until reinforcements could arrive, culminating in his great victory at the Battle of Novara in March of 1849. During the early unrest in Italy he even had the soon-to-be Emperor Francis Joseph serving under him, gaining first-hand experience at warfare under the old master. Radetzky defeated the Piedmontese, crushed the Italian nationalists and reconquered Venice, bringing it firmly back under Austrian control. This was the height of his military career and he was awarded the Order of the Golden Fleece for his victories in crushing the enemies of the Hapsburg monarchy. Also in recognition of his success, he was then made Viceroy of the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia, the only one to hold the position not from the ranks of the Imperial Family. Of course, any time there is rebellion there will necessarily be punishments meted out but even among the Italians Graf Radetzky was not unduly vilified. His rule was firm but fair and his own troops certainly adored him because he always tried to do his best for them, tried to get them better weapons and equipment and his victories meant that fewer lost their lives. As a sign of their affection, his men referred to him as ‘Father Radetzky’.

Still, while perfectly willing to tolerate those who opposed Austrian rule peacefully, when it came to those who took up arms against the crown he did not spare the whip. Oddly enough, some chose to take exception with the method of execution he employed, hanging ringleaders as criminals rather than having them shot by firing squad as soldiers. Hungarians who fought alongside the Italian rebels objected to this, somehow thinking that their treason should not count since they were in the Italian portion of the Austrian Empire rather than the Hungarian portion. In any event, even his enemies could not accuse him of being especially harsh. He applied justice evenly and was honest in all his dealings. When it came to politics he had earlier favored the “Greater Germany” school of thought somewhat but for Radetzky he was always a soldier and avoided the political arena. It was enough for him to be a stalwart defender of his Emperor and that he certainly was, from the start of his career until his death on January 5, 1858 in Milan at the age of 91.

Monday, December 16, 2013

German Holy Roman Imagery

Emperor Francis II

Emperor Sigismund

Emperor Matthias

Emperor Francis II

Emperor Francis I

Emperor Joseph I

A fanciful depiction of Bl. Charles I of Austria
in German Holy Roman Empire regalia

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Hapsburg and Ottoman Empires: Friends at the End

Throughout the history of Europe and the Middle East, two names which stand out are the Ottoman Empire and the “Hapsburg Empire” (Holy Roman Empire, Austrian Empire, Austria-Hungary in their turn). In many ways, the titanic struggle between these two forces determined the fate of Europe even as we know it today. There was a time when the Ottoman Empire was the superpower that sprawled across three continents, stretching from the borders of Persia, across the Middle East, North Africa and up into southern Europe. The Christian powers trembled at the advance of the Ottoman Turkish armies as they absorbed Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, Romania, much of Hungary and into Austria itself. It often seemed that the only thing stopping the Turkish conquest of Europe was the armies of the Hapsburg emperors. In 1529, when the Ottoman Turks were at their peak of expansion in Europe, it was the armies of the Hapsburg Emperor Charles V that stopped them at Vienna. When they tried a naval attack on Italy it was another Hapsburg, Don John of Austria, who led the Christian fleet to victory at Lepanto and when the Ottoman Turks were about to crush the Knights of Malta it was the Spanish forces of the Hapsburg King Philip II who arrived to save the day. Yet, in the conflict that was to determine their ultimate fate, the Hapsburg and Ottoman Empires fought side by side.

Politics can make for strange bedfellows but it was certainly a monumental twist on history to see troops of the Hapsburg Emperor fighting to defend the Ottoman Empire in Turkey itself and across the Middle East. The ancestors of the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary had gained much of their military tradition fighting to defend themselves and Europe from the Ottoman Turks, yet, although it is little known today, in World War I they were fighting to defend the Ottoman Empire from the British and French (for the most part). Of course, this was not the only such reverse. After all, previously, France and Britain had fought to defend Ottoman Turkey from the Russian Empire only to have France, Britain and Russia allied against the Ottomans in World War I. And, in the past, France and Britain had both had much friendlier relations with the Ottoman Empire in the days when the Hapsburg Emperor was fighting Turkish armies in the Balkans. However, after the loss of their last, major territories in Europe, the Ottoman Empire had been eclipsed as a rival to Austria-Hungary by other powers such as Russia and Serbia while the Ottoman and German Empires had grown increasingly friendly. When World War I came, the Ottoman Empire soon joined the side of the Central Powers in the hope of reclaiming lost territories in Africa, the Caucasus and perhaps even expanding eastward toward the Turkish ancestral homeland in central Asia.

While fighting was almost always raging on the periphery of the Ottoman Empire, with the British in Egypt and Iraq and the Russians to the north, it was the Allied assault on Gallipoli that most threatened the heart of the Turkish realm. As Allied troops stormed ashore and began digging in, Turkish war leader Enver Pasha called on Germany and Austria-Hungary for help. The only problem was that with the Kingdom of Serbia still offering determined resistance in the Balkans, the route to Turkey was cut off. That all changed, however, in the autumn of 1915 when German and Austro-Hungarian troops under German Field Marshal August von Mackensen defeated the Serbian army and cleared a path for direct assistance to the Turks. Most of the help that arrived came from Germany but Austria-Hungary sent aid as well in both combat and support units. In December of 1915 two artillery units were sent down the Danube River to arrive at the front in Gallipoli. These were the howitzer battery No.36 posted at Sogan lidere across from Sedd-ul bar and mortar battery No.9 which was posted around Anafarta, lobbing shells at the hard-pressed Australian and New Zealand troops dug in there. The howitzer battery 36 was later sent to the coast at Smyrna where it sank the British monitor M30. Half of the mortar battery was reassigned to coastal defense as well but at Mt Carmel near Haifa in Palestine with the remaining guns switched out and renamed the field artillery battery No.20. This unit went on to serve at the second and third battles of Gaza and the two battles in the Jordan valley.

In 1916 Austria-Hungary sent a mountain howitzer division to aid in the Turkish campaign to rest control of the Suez Canal from Great Britain (for the second time). The effort was not a success but the Austro-Hungarian troops offered fierce resistance and proved their worth at the battle of Romani. When the Turkish line collapsed, they held firm, inadvertently serving as a rearguard and putting up such a fight that they were able to hold off the enemy long enough to escape without the loss of a single gun. During their time in the Middle East, this unit went through a number of name changes as their weapons were upgraded. In 1917 they were renamed the Imperial and Royal Mountain Howitzer Division in Turkey and later the Imperial and Royal Field Howitzer Battalion in Turkey. They fought with great skill and determination in the three battles of Gaza (in which they destroyed several British tanks), the two battles of the Jordan valley and covered the Turkish withdrawal toward Aleppo. Austria-Hungary also supplied the Turks with a great deal of support personnel such as military instructors (mostly in artillery), ski instructors for the troops fighting the Russians in the Caucasus, motor transport units and medical units such as a field hospital in Jerusalem and two mobile field hospitals (think of them as the grandfathers of the MASH units many are familiar with). These units saw action as well such as when one field hospital was wiped out in an Australian air raid. These forces from Austria-Hungary served up until the very end of the war for the Ottoman Empire, withdrawing as Turkish forces retreated until they were posted near Constantinople by the time Turkey asked for an armistice.

That was the end of the war and the end of the alliance between the Emperor of Austria-Apostolic King of Hungary and the Sultan, Caliph of Islam. Strange it may seem for the House that defended Christendom from the Muslim Turks for centuries to end up, in their very last battle, fighting to defend that same Muslim empire from the advancing forces of Christian Britain, France and Italy (among others) the leadership in Vienna considered it palatable. Still, some do doubt regarded it as a sign of the depths Austria-Hungary had been reduced to. It does make the point that most wars are not clean-cut affairs and one can say, as distasteful as many Catholic fans of Austria-Hungary would find it, looking at the state of the Middle East since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, helping to defend it may not have been an unworthy effort.

Austro-Hungarian troops in Palestine, 1916

Bl. Emperor Charles I talking with his Turkish allies

Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman officers in Turkey

Austro-Hungarian troops entering Jerusalem in 1916

Friday, October 4, 2013

Happy Birthday Chancellor Dollfuss

It was on this day in 1892 that Engelbert Dollfuss, 14th Federal Chancellor of Austria and the founder of what has been termed "Austrofascism". There is really not too much that modern, liberal society can say to condemn Chancellor Dollfuss so they generally prefer to simply ignore him. They would love to condemn him for being a fascist but there is the pesky fact that he was assassinated by the Nazis, in fact he was the only head of government in Europe to actually be killed for his opposition to the Nazis, and that would terribly confuse those who think "Nazi" and "fascist" are exactly the same thing. The fact is, Engelbert Dollfuss was a great man, in character if not in size (he was often ridiculed for being rather short). He kept the communist revolutionaries from destroying his beloved Austria, set up a strong, corporatist state based on the principles of his deeply held Catholic faith and he started to lay the foundations for the eventual restoration of the House of Hapsburg to the Austrian throne. That is something else that most of the history books prefer to leave out or neglect to mention. It was the "Austrofascist" regime of Engelbert Dollfuss that repealed the despicable ban on members of the House of Hapsburg even entering Austria and Dollfuss restored to the Hapsburgs their family property that the republic had earlier confiscated from them (meaning it was stolen by the government of course). If he had not been murdered by zealous members of the Austrian Nazi Party in 1934, the Hapsburgs may well have returned triumphantly to their homeland. His successor, Kurt von Schuschnigg, tried to carry on with the plan and a Hapsburg restoration was only about a year away when Hitler marched in to Austria and united the country with Germany. Dollfuss was a good friend of Mussolini and, in their time, both were enemies of Adolf Hitler. However, when Britain and France threw a fit over Mussolini conquering Ethiopia the Italian Duce spurned the Allies and joined up with Nazi Germany so that there was no one to stop Hitler from taking over Austria and preventing a Hapsburg restoration. Oh how different history could have been...