Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Generaloberst Viktor Graf Dankl von Krasnik

The man who would become one of the most prominent generals in the last war and last years of life of the Dual-Empire of Austria-Hungary was born Viktor Dankl in Udine, Italy on September 18, 1854. Udine, near Venice, was at that time still being held by the Austrian Empire, as it had been ever since the Hapsburgs made a deal with the revolutionary First French Republic to divide what had been the Republic of Venice between them (after a successful campaign by an up and coming young general named Bonaparte). His father was from Venice and a captain in the Austrian Imperial Army so there was little doubt that young Viktor would one day carry on the tradition of military service to the Emperor of Austria. He attended German-language schools in Gorizia and Trieste as a boy before going off to a cadet school in Lower Austria. By that time, Prussia had surpassed Austria as leader of the German-speaking countries and the new Kingdom of Italy had regained Venice. Never before, it must have seemed, were talented military officers more needed. Young Viktor Dankl graduated and went on to study at the prestigious Theresian Military Academy (where Austrian officers are still trained today). After finishing he was posted to a dragoon regiment with the rank of sub-lieutenant.

After going back for further education in Vienna, Dankl joined the General Staff and by 1899 was head of the central office, having shown a notable dedication to duty and grasp of administrative affairs. He earned the respect of his superiors and in 1903 was given a field command, the 66th Infantry Brigade at Trieste (in what is now Italy, not far from where Dankl grew up) with a promotion to major general. After another brigade command in Trieste, Dankl was promoted to lieutenant field marshal and given command of a division in Croatia until in 1912 when he was transferred to a corps command with the rank of General of Cavalry. He had proven himself to be a dutiful officer, had performed well in command of combat units and in administrative posts but, of course, these had all been peacetime assignments. He lacked actual combat experience and would have to wait to show if his education and mastery of theory would be matched by accomplishments in battle. That opportunity was to come soon enough with the outbreak of the First World War in August of 1914. Dankl was as anxious of any of his fellow officers to see the long-standing tensions with Serbia settled and certainly there was no more loyal or ardent defender of Austria-Hungary and the Hapsburg monarchy than Dankl.

The studious, bespectacled general was given command of the Imperial & Royal First Army, made up largely of Slovak and Polish troops; a prestigious assignment. He would be on the flank of a massive offensive planned by the then-renowned strategist and chief of staff Graf Conrad von Hotzendorf to punch through the Russian frontier and cut off the so-called Polish salient. It was an ambitious plan but if successful it would have been a stunning blow to the Russians and the end of the Russian presence in Poland. At first, everything went as planned. Dankl and his troops pushed forward to the Galician frontier and met the Russians at the town of Krasnik (in what is now Poland but which was then Austria-Hungary). The Russians fought fiercely but the Austro-Hungarian troops were relentless and after three days of hard fighting the Russians retreated. Dankl had just won the first major victory for Austria-Hungary in the war and he was almost immediately catapulted to the status of a celebrity and war hero across the empire. With other victories by forces farther down the line, the Imperial & Royal Armies advanced as planned and Dankl was in the lead, pursuing the retreating Russians.

However, while things were going well enough on his own front, other sectors were less fortunate and soon Dankl had to stop and even fall back for fear of opening a gap in the Austrian lines. The Russians also rallied their forces and began to launch hard-hitting counter-attacks which took a heavy toll on the armies of Austria-Hungary. Ultimately, the offensive into Poland was stopped with very heavy losses and bitter fighting in Galicia would go on for some time to come. In the autumn, Austria-Hungary launched another offensive in cooperation with the Germans but the Russians soon took back the ground they gained at the start and a stalemate, which was all too familiar in First World War, ensued. Attacks were followed by counter-attacks, taking and re-taking the same ground with few lasting changes. The focus of the fighting shifted to the Carpathians and Dankl and his First Army were left with little to do for the rest of the year.

The next major action came in the spring of 1915 with the launching of the Gorlice-Tarnow offensive, again in cooperation with the Germans. Hotzendorf came up with the plan which was initially rejected by the German chief of staff, Erich von Falkenhayn but later Germany agreed to go along with it with the German General August von Mackensen in overall command. It proved to be a major success with the Russians suffering much higher losses and only ending due to a combination of bad weather and logistical strain. Dankl, once again, led his First Army forward with much success but this initial success was later halted by stiff Russian resistance in his sector of the front and Dankl was sidelined for the rest of the offensive. It was more frustration for Dankl who had been so celebrated for his victory at Krasnik and from whom everyone always expected better. Because Krasnik had been the first great victory of the war, Dankl had been celebrated to an extent that many were expecting this from him that were almost impossible. He was a competent commander but, of course, could not work miracles. In any event, after the Gorlice-Tarnow offensive he was transferred away from the Galician front and assigned to defend the Tyrol.

In 1915 the Kingdom of Italy had entered the war and the Tyrol was a huge salient, plunging into Italian territory. As Austria-Hungary was fighting on so many other fronts, the Italians also had a significant numerical advantage over the Austrians. However, the Austrians did have a great advantage in the terrain. The high mountains served as natural fortifications superior to any that could be built by the hand of man. Dankl showed his talent in a string of battles as his outnumbered and poorly supplied but well placed forces repelled fierce and repeated attacks by the Italians. They had the advantage of the high ground but little else and yet Dankl was able to successfully defend his position until further reinforcements could arrive to strengthen the Austro-Hungarian lines. For most of the year his forces were on the defensive, making counter-attacks when possible but, for the most part, fending off Italian attacks and making them pay heavily for every foot of ground gained. In 1916, however, Austria-Hungary was finally prepared to go on the offensive. Dankl himself had also been given a new command, the 11th Army and a promotion to Colonel General.

Hotzendorf planned an offensive in Trentino on the Asiago plateau. The goal was to punch through to the Po River plain and cut off three Italian armies in the process, crippling their war effort. This time the Italians would be outnumbered, almost 3-to-1 in manpower and much more outmatched in artillery. German support was requested but refused, still, it seemed Austria-Hungary had sufficient forces for the attack to be a success. Dankl and his army were assigned the crucial responsibility of making the initial breakthrough after which more troops could be poured in to exploit the breach and split the Italian armies. On May 15 the offensive commenced and despite stiff resistance, Dankl and his troops succeeded in breaking through the Italian center. Once again, everything seemed to go as planned, but once again problems soon arose. The artillery could not be moved forward fast enough to support the continued attack and so the Austrian forces had to halt. By the time the guns were brought up the opportunity had passed. The Italians had reformed and strengthened their lines plus a new Russian offensive was wreaking havoc on the Eastern Front and forced the transfer of Austro-Hungarian units to head off a potential disaster there.

Many of the gains Austria-Hungary had made had to be abandoned as the troops were pulled back to more defensible positions. It was a crushing blow for Dankl and he was, perhaps unfairly, singled out for blame as to the failure of the offensive. Most of this was due to the fact that Archduke Eugen of Austria, the army group commander in the area, had ordered him to press on regardless of the lack of artillery support. Conrad von Hotzendorf took the side of the Archduke that the risk of heavy losses was acceptable if it could have meant a decisive victory over Italy. They may have been correct but rushing forward was not in the nature of an officer like Dankl. He was meticulous and methodical, perhaps a result of his experience as a staff officer and given his witnessing first hand of the horrendous losses Austria-Hungary had suffered at the beginning of the war on the Eastern Front, he may have been more careful of the lives of his men than others. Of course, sometimes a general must accept such losses to achieve victory but it is easy to sympathize with Dankl given that Austria-Hungary had already suffered losses that could not be made good and, fairly early on, was forced to work in conjunction with Germany for almost any major offensive operations for this very reason.

In any event, the unpleasant episode of the Asiago offensive, combined with poor health, prompted Dankl to hand in his resignation. He was relieved of his command and after undergoing medical treatment was posted to the Imperial Guard, eventually becoming the commander until being replaced by his former superior Hotzendorf. He remained with the Life Guard until the end of the war and the collapse of Austria-Hungary when he retired to Innsbruck. In the last years of the war his service was, thankfully, rewarded with his elevation to the aristocracy, first as Baron von Dankl and then as Count Dankl of Krasnik in recognition of his most famous victory. He was also awarded the Maria Theresia Order and, long after the war in 1925, became its chancellor. Other honors he received included the Order of Leopold, Marianer Cross of the Teutonic Order and the Prussian Iron Cross from Germany. After the war, Dankl showed what a man of great character he was.

Never losing his care and concern for the average fighting men he led into battle, Dankl worked for a number of causes to benefit veterans and took great pleasure in being given the task of decorating them for actions during the war. He defended them whenever they were criticized and rather than devote himself to justifying his own actions or trying to explain away mistakes on his part, he defended his soldiers, the army as a whole and the honor of Austria-Hungary. Despite the political changes, he remained steadfast in his loyalty to the monarchy, refused to cooperate in any way with the rising Nazi Party or the communists and never ceased to advocate for the restoration of the House of Hapsburg. He detested anti-Semitism and opposed the union with Germany, instead urging as he always did for a return to monarchy. Sadly, many came to view him as being a sort of quirky old man, out of step with the times but they were times one should have been out of step with and it is to his credit that Dankl never forgot his loyalty to his Emperor and his country. He died on January 8, 1941 (3 days after his beloved wife) at the age of 86. As he was well known for his opposition to the Nazi Party, he was denied military honors at his funeral. It is doubtful he would have wanted them from such a regime anyway.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Hapsburg Submarines

 There is no doubt that the preeminent submarine power in World War I was Germany which built up the largest submarine fleet and which sank the most ships. In fact, the most successful submarine commander of all time was a German sailor of World War I rather than World War II as most would probably assume. In contrast, the K.u.K. Kriegsmarine of Austria-Hungary operated a much more modest and less advanced submarine fleet in the close waters of the Adriatic and Mediterranean Seas. However, while it was smaller, the submarine fleet of Austria-Hungary was still formidable for its size. In fact, the u-boats operated by Austria-Hungary actually had a higher ratio of hits per torpedoes fired than did their German counterparts.
U-3, sunk in 1915 before scoring any successes

U-4, sank 12 Allied ships and survived the war

U-5, sank 4 Allied ships, sunk in 1917 but was
resurrected and survived the war

U-6, sank a French destroyer in 1916, later sunk

U-12, entering Pola harbor, she sank one ship,
damaged another and captured six

Captain Georg Ritter von Trapp, top sub ace of 
Austria-Hungary in U-5

Officers and crew of U-6

U-12

Officers of U-12

U-12 at Pola


Friday, July 25, 2014

MM Mini View: The Hapsburg Emperors, Part III

Concluded from Part II

Emperor Francis I: The reign of Francis I was one in which he would be overshadowed by his wife and by a Bavarian rival for the imperial throne. When Charles VI died his daughter Maria Theresa succeeded him in his hereditary positions (Archduchess of Austria, Queen of Hungary etc) but it was uncertain what would be the place of her husband, Francis Stephen of Lorraine. He had practically been raised to be the husband of Maria Theresa (his brother was the original choice but died) and he did his part to gain friends and fortune for the Hapsburgs, gaining the favor of British elites by joining the Freemasons and challenging France over the Polish succession by which he traded Lorraine for Tuscany in Italy. When his father-in-law died, the Bavarian Charles VII was elected Emperor but quickly lost most of his territory to Austrian troops as Marie Theresa was more than prepared to fight for her land and titles (or those she wanted for her husband). Bavaria might have remained an Austrian possession were it not for the intervention of King Frederick the Great of Prussia. Maria Theresa managed to have Francis I elected emperor in 1745 and he was co-regent of her hereditary dominions but it was really Maria Theresa who ruled, which was well enough because she was pretty darn good at it, being a principled, decisive, religious and all around great ruler. Emperor Francis mostly “ruled” from behind a desk doing paperwork and though he was not a faithful husband he still did his part to secure the Hapsburg-Lorraine succession by fathering sixteen children with Maria Theresa, among them two future emperors and an ill-fated future Queen of France. He died in 1765, some time before his wife.

Emperor Joseph II: Known as the “People’s Emperor”, Joseph II will always be remembered as one of the “Enlightened Despots”. His personality changed after the death of his beloved first wife, making him more cold and aloof. He tried to apply reason to government which earned him friends and enemies alike. At home and abroad his desire was to make Austria a great power, centralize government and unify his diverse domains. His public popularity came for his emancipation of the serfs, granting of religious freedom (up to a point) and providing social welfare for the poor. Yet, he was also a very authoritarian man and a very absolutist monarch who would tolerate no opposition. His efforts to place the Catholic Church under state control earned him many lasting enemies among the clerical faction and Church histories to this day often speak more harshly of Joseph II than predecessors who actually made war on the Pope or never practiced their religion at all. To unify his people he tried to make German the official language of all Hapsburg lands, which did not go over well, and he tried to make the House of Hapsburg supreme in Germany, going to war with Frederick the Great of Prussia in the process. He also fought less consequential wars against the Turks and Hungarian rebels, which were practically family traditions. He planned a rescue operation to save his sister, Queen Marie Antoinette from the French Revolution but his offer was refused by the brave royal couple who were reluctant to leave (at least at that stage). A patron of the arts, particularly music, Joseph II was called the “Musical King” and is most remembered now for his commissioning of work from Mozart. He died in 1790 adored by the lowest but hated by many for his interference in religion and Germanization policy. Still, he set the example which almost all subsequent Hapsburg Emperors tried to emulate.

Emperor Leopold II: Succeeding his elder brother, Leopold II had to put down rebellions from Belgium to Hungary because of the unpopular policies of his brother and he repealed the most provocative of these but maintained the majority of them. He too was a proponent of “enlightened” absolute monarchy and had originally been trained for the priesthood. He ruled as Grand Duke of Tuscany where his aloof nature made him less than popular, despite abolishing the death penalty and instituting public health programs. As Emperor, he was cold and calculating, refusing aid to French royalists and preferring to try to eliminate Prussia as a rival in Germany than punishing republican France. He also refused to allow any Papal Bulls read in his territory without first approving of the document. Still, the treatment of his sister and brother-in-law stirred his fury as an absolute monarch and he agreed to make common cause with the other Crowned Heads of Europe to stop the spread of republicanism. He died before any concerted action could be taken in 1792 at the age of only 44. Whereas his brother Joe had been much more single-minded and uncompromising, Kaiser Leo II was always prepared to keep flexible and to always consider the “politics” of any given situation. Unlike his brother, he certainly did his part to secure the succession, having sixteen children just like his own parents did. Overall, Emperor Leopold II might not have been the sort of monarch to be widely admired but he was probably the right man for the job at that time.

Emperor Francis II/I: The last Holy Roman (German) Emperor and the first Emperor of Austria, Francis succeeded his father after being raised in extremely strict fashion by his uncle Emperor Joseph II whom he nonetheless idolized. Emperor Francis can be a hard man to understand. He seemed not to really care that his aunt was guillotined by revolutionaries and yet the honor of his house was of paramount importance to him. His empire was well known for its vast network of spies and powerful secret police, yet he was an approachable monarch who always made time for any of his subjects who wished to speak with him. Most of his reign was dominated by the war with Napoleonic France and he was Napoleon’s most intractable enemy on the continent. When Napoleon became so successful that he determined to make himself emperor, Francis II feared that he might be able to so dominate Germany as to win election so he dissolved the Holy Roman Empire and thenceforth ruled as Emperor Francis I of Austria. It was a bitter blow to have to cede territory to France and worse still to give his own daughter to Napoleon in marriage. However, he saw the Austrian Empire through the crisis and by his own very conservative nature, helped ensure that the peace was practical and based on a respect for traditional authority. In the end, his prestige also allowed the Austrian Emperors to become the hereditary presidents of the German Confederation. He was a good, solid emperor and though sometimes accused of being paranoid and tyrannical, the fact is that he had reason to be and the steps he took prevented Austria from falling apart due to radical nationalism. He died in 1835.

Emperor Ferdinand I: Although often dismissed, I have a bit of a soft spot for Kaiser Ferdinand, sometimes known as “Ferdinand the Good”. True, he was handicapped in a number of ways and suffered from very severe epilepsy, however, he was not as totally incompetent as some seem to think. He could speak several different languages, could write very well and was a considerate and very religious man. Married to the Italian Princess Maria Anna of Savoy, she was a devoted wife who took good care of her husband, really being more of a nurse than a traditional wife but he loved and appreciated her for her attentiveness in what was really a sacrifice for her. If all had remained calm and tranquil, it might have been possible for Ferdinand I to remain on the throne with considerable help but that all changed with the outbreak of the Revolutions of 1848. He realized that he was not up to the task and the best thing to do would be to abdicate in favor of someone young and fit who could handle the situation. So he did, handing power over to his nephew after which he retired to Prague and lived quietly the rest of his life. While there, he also proved to be a help to the local economy and actually proved to be quite an astute businessman, amassing a fortune that supported the family for the rest of the Hapsburg reign. He died in 1875.

Emperor Francis Joseph I: One of the longest ruling monarchs in modern European history, the events of the reign of Francis Joseph would be too numerous to mention. He started out by suppressing revolutionaries and remained ever vigilant to threat of rebellion thereafter. Despite rising ethnic unrest, Francis Joseph made the Austrian Empire a workable power with growing industry and a scientific and artistic community that was second to none. However, in 1859 he acted rashly in allowing himself to be provoked into war with France and Sardinia in northern Italy, losing Lombardy in the process and a short time later went to war with Denmark alongside the other German states. The aftermath of this led to a short, disastrous war with Prussia which saw Austria removed from German affairs in 1864. Any attempt at a revival was dashed by the continuing danger of rebellion in Hungary which Emperor Francis Joseph tried to put to rest by (rather reluctantly) agreeing to the Compromise of 1867 which saw the Austrian Empire become the “Dual-Monarchy” of Austria-Hungary with each having separate and co-equal governments. In 1882 he signed on to the Triple Alliance, a monarchist defense pact, with the German Empire and the Kingdom of Italy. In 1908 Austria-Hungary annexed Bosnia which angered Serbia and Russia (as well as Italy since they did not receive the territorial compensations they had been promised) and pan-Slavism, led by Serbia and backed up by Russia would become the dominant concern of the latter years of Francis Joseph’s reign. He was always a dutiful monarch and he learned from experience. He also became more sincerely religious as he aged, possibly because of the many tragedies he faced in his private life, though he was still not above using the imperial veto to influence papal elections. Holding on to what he had been given became his primary concern and the strength and preservation of the monarchy was never far from his thoughts. When World War I came, he probably viewed some sort of showdown with Serbia as inevitable but he was still reluctant and had to be lied to before actually giving the order to go to war. Too old, by that time, to play much of a part, he died in 1916.

Emperor Charles I: Known as the “Peace Emperor”, it is rather illustrative of his life that this nickname was due to intentions rather than actual achievements. He was thrust into the position of heir to the throne when Archduke Francis Ferdinand was shot in 1914 but already displayed admirable qualities that would have served him well as monarch. He was an accomplished soldier, known for his concern for the welfare of his troops, his devotion to his wife and family and his deep faith. When the Pope called for a peace without victors, only Charles and the King of the Belgians took it seriously and made the attempt. Unfortunately, it was a rather na├»ve and futile gesture that almost brought about the early destruction of Austria-Hungary. His intentions were noble and his virtue was far above his contemporaries but it was simply beyond the realm of possibility that the Allies would have agreed to such a proposal at that stage and even more ludicrous to think they would have kept his secret when making the attempt public proved so helpful to the Allied cause. The Germans were furious at such a betrayal and made plans to invade and occupy Austria-Hungary at a moment’s notice (it would not have been dissimilar to what happened to Italy in 1943). From that point, Austria-Hungary was more like Germany’s prisoner than Germany’s ally and Emperor Charles had little choice but to see things through to the end. He dismissed the old army leadership and took command himself while also proposing new domestic plans in an effort to regain the loyalty of the various ethnic minorities. However, it was to no avail and the Allies had already agreed to the post-war dismemberment of Austria-Hungary in any event. After a final, crushing blow in 1918 the empire simply collapsed in on itself and Emperor Charles was forced to relinquish power and go into exile. However, he did not abdicate as he viewed the monarchy as a sacred trust that he could not abandon. In 1921 he tried twice to regain his throne as King of Hungary but was blocked by the ruling regent. He died in Portugal a year later at the age of only 34. In 2004 Charles, the last Hapsburg Emperor, was formally beatified by Pope John Paul II. He was a saintly man and, like a number of “last” monarchs, too good for his own good in a number of ways.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

MM Mini View: The Hapsburg Emperors, Part II

Continued from Part I

Emperor Matthias: Put in charge of Hungary by his brother, Matthias aligned with the Protestant rebels, gained control of more disaffected territories and finally forced Rudolf from power. In 1612 he was elected Emperor but the methods he had used to gain power soon caused him problems. He had to deal with rebellious forces in Hungary, Slavonia, Croatia as those who he had granted concessions to before demanded more from him. His hope was to reconcile the Catholics and Protestants but the Protestants did not want to be reconciled, nor did the more zealous Catholics of the House of Hapsburg who wanted to wipe out Protestantism, an idea which even Charles V had deemed impractical. Poor Matthias was, in a way, hoisted on his own petard. He had inadvertently stirred up ambitions among the rebellious to unseat his ineffective brother only to see his own reign crippled by divisions and rebellion. His brother, Archduke Rudolf III of Austria, Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights, was one of the leaders in this area and succeeded in gaining power as Emperor Matthias grew old and feeble. He died in 1619 and any thought of reconciliation died with him.

Emperor Ferdinand II: One thing was certainly clear when Ferdinand II was elected Emperor in 1619; any concessions to Protestantism would be stopped. Kaiser Ferdinand II was a staunch, devout Catholic, Jesuit-educated and a man who wished to see Catholicism restored throughout Germany. Religious liberty was not his thing and he was not big on the idea of sharing power with the nobility either and he wasted no time in tearing up the agreements of his predecessors and enforcing an imperial smack-down on the Protestants in his territory. The Bohemians revolted first, declared Ferdinand deposed and tried to replace him but he still managed to be elected emperor first and soon fighting broke out that spread quickly. This was the start of the Thirty Years War as Catholics and Protestants struggled for the domination of Germany and really all of Central Europe. The forces of Kaiser Ferdinand seemed to always be successful only to have a new enemy arise to snatch final victory from their grasp. At White Mountain the Catholic imperial forces led by the Belgian general Tilly were victorious over the Protestants in Bohemia but then Denmark got involved. Spain came to help Austria and under Wallenstein the imperial forces were victorious again. But, then Sweden got involved and King Gustavus Adolphus dealt the Catholics a devastating blow. Tilly was defeated, Wallenstein was recalled and finally the Swedes were checked with the death of their King. However, just as Ferdinand II was about to declare victory, France intervened and in 1637 Emperor Ferdinand II died and both sides were exhausted.

Emperor Ferdinand III: Under his father, Ferdinand III has taken command of the imperial army and won a smashing victory over the Swedes, proving himself to be a capable commander. It was left to him to see the Thirty Years War brought to an end, not with the victory he had hoped but with a negotiated peace. The only thing that was really settled was that nothing was going to be settled and Germany would remain religiously divided between the Catholics and Protestants. It also changed the nature of the (German) Empire for whereas his predecessors like his father Ferdinand II, Ferdinand I and Maximilian I had tried to centralize power, Ferdinand III was obliged to do the opposite. In order to gain more support against the Swedes and then the French, he conceded much greater local autonomy to the various German rulers so that, once again, the empire existed more on paper than in reality. It became more of an idea and less of an actual pan-German empire. But, it was a matter of necessity for Ferdinand III and he did his best to stay strong and keep up the fight, even after the official peace, by helping Spain against France in Italy and helping the Catholic Poles against Sweden. However, it would be wrong to expect too much from the reign of Ferdinand III as the whole Hapsburg realm was exhausted by the Thirty Years War and the whole of Germany was in ruins and would be a long, long time in recovery. He did the best he could under such circumstances and should be appreciated for that.

Emperor Leopold I: Fortunately, Hapsburg fortunes turned around after the election in 1658 of Emperor Leopold I, though it was due in large part to a man who was not a Hapsburg and not even a German-Austrian but a rather frail, French-born Italian by the name of Prince Eugene of Savoy who happened to be one of the greatest captains in military history. Leopold I was a very learned man, conservative, a great lover of music as well as being devoutly religious. All in all, a fine combination. Hungary, Bohemia and Croatia rallied to him and there was a conflict with Sweden but the great rivals of his reign would be Turkey and Louis XIV of France. The Turks were first dealt with thanks to another brilliant general, the Italian Field Marshal Raimondo Montecuccoli. Next was Louis XIV of France who was blocked by the Prince of Orange who then managed a major coup in becoming King William III of England, Scotland and Ireland. He also had to deal with a rebellion in Hungary led by Protestant nobles who disliked Leopold’s efforts to enforce Catholic uniformity. This was used as a pretext by the Turks to launch a major invasion of Central Europe resulting in the attack on Vienna which was turned back thanks to the timely arrival of the Poles under King John Sobieski. Prince Eugene followed up with more victories over the Turks, pushing them out of Hungary and further south. He would go on to more fame in the War of Spanish Succession against France. Leopold I would not live to see the end of it but he had shown good sense, picked good commanders, consolidated power for his house and supported the Church. He was very intelligent and smart enough to know to leave military matters in the hands of those best suited for it while he focused on music, religion and government. A good man and a good emperor, he died in 1705.

Emperor Joseph I: Not much is usually said about Joseph I who suffered from bad timing as an emperor. He started out overseeing events already set in motion by his father and then died before seeing the conclusion of his own plans. However, he certainly had plans, the foremost of which was the establishment of Austria as a great power. He carried on with the War of Spanish Succession in the hope of seeing the Hapsburgs maintained on the throne of Spain which, in the end, did not happen though thanks to Prince Eugene of Savoy he did gain a commanding position in Italy. Considered a reformer in his youth, he was not a radical but did enact some needed changes in the Hapsburg government and he did manage to bring order to the chronically chaotic state of the Austrian economy. His efforts to dominate Italy brought him to the brink of war with the Pope (not an unusual occurrence) but he was obliged to make peace when rebellion broke out in Hungary (also not an unusual occurrence). Once again, Hungarian rebels aligned with the Turks and Joseph I was obliged to roll back some of the power gained by the imperial monarchy in order to win the support necessary to pacify Hungary and keep the Turks from getting any big ideas. Although not often mentioned, it was also Emperor Joseph I who got the ball rolling on the Pragmatic Sanction to secure the hereditary succession of the lands of Austria. He died, his work not yet finished, in 1711.

Emperor Charles VI: What potential and what a waste! Emperor Charles VI often seems left out of history as little more than a prelude to the reign of his daughter. This is somewhat understandable given that much of his early life was spent more like a pretender to a crown he never achieved. It was his overriding goal in life to become the King of Spain and he did live in the country for a time, mostly ruling over Catalonia and the British and Portuguese supported his bid for the throne. However, despite many victories, the war did not end the way Charles wanted. When Joseph I died he went back to Austria to be elected emperor and the British suddenly dropped their support for him. They did not want to see French power expanded but nor did they wish to see the same monarch ruling over both Spain and Austria. He married but had only daughters and became obsessed with securing the succession for his daughter, Maria Theresa, by issuing the Pragmatic Sanction and trying to get all the major powers to recognize it. Although not often recognized, Charles VI was quite an accomplished emperor. He defeated the Turks and gained the Banat for Hungary as well as taking Serbia and some other territories. He consolidated the Hapsburg position in Italy by trading Sardinia for Sicily with the House of Savoy and set Austria out on what might have been the start of a colonial foreign policy by founding a trading company for the West Indies. However, he emptied the Austrian treasury trying to bribe everyone in recognizing the Pragmatic Sanction as well as granting other concessions (Britain demanded he step back from trying colonialism). It was not always money well spent as most powers ended up adhering to or rejecting it as their own national interest dictated. He died in 1740.

To be concluded in Part III...

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