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...



Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Mini Views of the Hapsburg Kings of Spain

King Carlos I: Better known as Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor of the German nation and all that, Carlos I was a great King of Spain but, more to the point, was a great monarch in general as he had more than one throne and a great many responsibilities far beyond the Spanish lands. For Catholic Christendom, Carlos I was like Atlas; holding up the world on his own. He was altogether an awesome figure. He was courageous, a very skilled warrior, an intelligent and thoughtful man, a cosmopolitan man, a cultured man, a pious son of the Church, a shrewd statesman and a leader willing to take risks. Sometimes that meant doing what had to be done even if it was rather unsavory. The foundations for the great Spanish colonial empire were set down during his reign in Mexico and other areas and his was the first empire upon which, it was said, ‘the sun never set’. The only thing I can fault him for was the war against Pope Clement VII, the invasion of Italy and the utterly horrific sack of Rome. He did not order the atrocity of course, but he ordered the invasion and, as monarch, was ultimately responsible. He was horrified by it, but not too horrified to take advantage of the situation. Still, that aside, his was an epic reign spent in a titanic struggle against enemies on all sides and he usually won. The first monarch to rule all of modern Spain himself, he was one of the greatest of all time.

King Felipe II: One of my favorites, Felipe II had all the courage and determination of his father but even stronger principles. He did not always enjoy the same level of success though his only really major defeat (the “Invincible Armada”) was due more to plain bad luck and the skill of his opponents rather than his own mistakes (though he did make some). Felipe II was an extremely religious man, which today tends to be viewed as a bad thing but it wasn’t of course and he was certainly not the callous villain he is often portrayed as. In fact, he was a very compassionate man, very sensitive and considerate. He saved Malta from the Turks, beat the French at San Quentin, very nearly suppressed the Dutch rebellion but at least held on to Belgium and his forces played the largest part in the defeat of a massive Turkish invasion at Lepanto. The Armada was a fiasco and he did make some mistakes in organizing that endeavor. However, that was one defeat in an otherwise extremely successful reign and his character more than makes up for it. The colonial empire was further expanded and consolidated, religious uniformity was enforced (sparing Spain the civil wars France and Germany would have) and, in many ways, Spanish power reached its zenith under Felipe II. I would even go so far as to say that, in my opinion, he is probably the greatest monarch Spain has ever had.

King Felipe III: It is rather unfortunate that Felipe III seemed to inherit his great piety from his father but little else and his reign is usually identified as the period when the economic rot set in that was to prove so damaging to the Spanish empire. It is hard to be too critical of Felipe III though because he was such a good man, very religious, very devoted to his wife and who wanted to do the right thing. But, for all of his excellent qualities he simply lacked the firm will to rise above the factions at court and lead Spain in the direction he desired. He could be called a victim of being humble to the point of hesitancy. While he prayed other men stepped in and took control of the Spanish government and, unfortunately, they were more concerned with enriching themselves than strengthening and glorifying the Spanish nation. For good or ill he took Spain into the Thirty Years War and Spanish troops under the Count of Tilly had some success before Felipe III died. His reign was not the total disaster most thing but he was not as effective as he should have been and it was, on the whole, an opportunity lost.

King Felipe IV: Fortunately, Spanish fortunes improved under Felipe IV. In fact, the Spanish empire reached its peak under Felipe IV in terms of sheer size. Felipe IV was a man of very noble intentions who really tried to be another Felipe II, a Spanish champion of Catholicism in Europe, and it is admirable that he had a very serious correspondence with the mystic Venerable Mary of Agreda who advised him on how to be a true Christian monarch. The trouble was that he would throw himself into his work so much and try so hard that he would quickly burn himself out and would then revert to being an often absent monarch, leaving affairs in the hands of his chief minister. The man was always hot or cold, he had only two speeds. He was a great patron of the arts and left behind a great cultural legacy, his troops won a number of very solid victories and he left Spain a more beautiful, larger and more respected country than he found it. Still, he seems to be often unfairly criticized for not being perfect, even though others who are praised even more suffered greater setbacks than he did -as any ruler invariably will. The biggest lingering problem of his reign was the economy, which was stretched to the breaking point and kept going only by gold and silver imports from America. However, those problems started before his reign and it would have been a tall order for any monarch to reverse such a long-standing trend in one lifetime. Overall, there is more justification than not for his being known as “Philip the Great”.

King Carlos II: Oh the pity. The great, great pity. The Hapsburg reign came to an end with Carlos II and most know that things did not go well for Spain with King Carlos II and most, I am sure, know why. He was certainly not to blame but his bloodline certainly was. Felipe II and Felipe IV had both married nieces, other marriages had overlapping family trees and the result was the unfortunate, pitiable state of Carlos II. The overuse of family intermarriage for political reasons caused him to be born extremely disabled, both mentally and physically. His lower jaw extended so far that he was unable to chew his food (hence the term “Hapsburg jaw”) or even close his mouth. His tongue was so large his speech was barely intelligible and he was constantly sick with various ailments, having an extremely weak immune system. He could barely walk, suffered losses of memory, had epileptic fits and virtually none of his organs or systems functioned properly. He was married (duty first after all) but was, not surprisingly, unable to consummate the marriage and his very depressed wife died young, leaving him heartbroken on top of his many other maladies. Spain declined considerably under his reign, which was the fault of the inept and/or corrupt political figures who held power in his name rather than the monarch himself. Really one can only feel great sorrow and pity for Carlos II. When he finally died the only surprise was that he had somehow lived so long (38 years).

Monday, July 8, 2013

Maria Christina of Austria, Queen of Spain

The last Queen mother of Spain to date was born Maria Christina Henrietta Desideria Felicitas Raineria of the House of Hapsburg-Lorraine on July 21, 1858 in Moravia to Archduke Karl Ferdinand and Archduchess Elizabeth Franziska of Austria. Her paternal grandfather was the famous Archduke Charles of Austria, Duke of Teschen, who gained fame for his brilliant victories over the forces of Napoleonic France. Amongst her many illustrious relatives were two cousins who attained the rank of emperor; Francis Joseph I of Austria and his brother Ferdinand Maximilian who was the ill-fated Emperor of Mexico. Her childhood was relatively uneventful and she grew into fine royal lady, fairly tall, very well educated with strong principles and good common sense. When she became old enough to consider marriage attention soon fell upon His Catholic Majesty King Alfonso XII of Spain whose first wife had recently died and who was looking to marry again. Only five years earlier Alfonso XII had become King of Spain after the failure of the first Spanish Republic, formed after the abdication of the Italian King Amadeus I. His mother, Queen Isabella II, was still alive but the problems associated with her had not changed. She was too conservative for the liberals and belonged to the wrong branch of the family for the conservative Carlists. Alfonso XII, however, was an acceptable candidate for the liberals and moderates and he succeeded in defeating the Carlists to become King of Spain in 1874.

All the proper arrangements were made on Maria Christina was married to King Alfonso XII on November 29, 1879 at the Basilica of Atocha in Madrid. Because of all of the civil war and the bitter political divisions in Spain, it was not an attractive country for most royals but the new Queen Maria Christina showed considerable strength in dealing with a less than ideal situation. The proof of what a dangerous position she had come into was revealed almost immediately when a pastry chef tried to shoot the royal couple on their honeymoon. Nonetheless, with typical Hapsburg determination, she pressed on and did her duty both publicly and privately. In 1882 she gave birth to her first child, Princess Maria de las Mercedes of Asturias, followed by Princess Maria Teresa in 1882 and King Alfonso XIII in 1886. One will note that the last child was born a king as his father Alfonso XII, whose health had been deteriorating due to tuberculosis, died in 1885 at the age of only 27. This left Queen Maria Christina essentially in charge of a country that was torn by internal conflict and political divisions with many factions openly hostile to the monarchy. When King Alfonso XIII was born Queen Maria Christina immediately became regent of the Kingdom of Spain on his behalf. It was an unenviable position and one she had not been prepared for, however, she was intelligent enough to handle the situation as well as being intelligent enough to know her own limitations. When it came to business and economics, for example, she had little familiarity with such things and took the advice of those who did.

Subsequent Spanish historians have praised Queen Maria Christina for her impeccable commitment to upholding the law and observing all of the proper rules and customs for the government. Spain entered a relatively stable period, at least when compared to the earlier chaos and civil war, with power alternating between the moderate conservative and liberal factions. Universal suffrage and the Law of Associations were both passed during the regency and signed into effect by Queen Maria Christina on behalf of her young son. However, there was at least one very major foreign policy crisis that arose during the regency and that was the Spanish-American War. It was a crisis the Queen met with admirable courage and determination. The war with the United States came about mostly due to American sympathy for the rebels in Cuba who had been waging a long and irritating war against the local Spanish authorities. There were also those in America who had been pressing for (and even attempting) the conquest and annexation of Cuba to the United States all the way back to the earliest days of the republic. Dealing with the local rebels had not been particularly difficult for Spain, even after many years of steady decline starting with the conquest by Napoleonic France and followed soon after by the Carlist civil wars. Cuba still generated income for the Spanish economy and the insurrection provided a place for Spanish army officers to gain combat experience. However, what had been a Spanish problem suddenly became a potential international crisis when the United States and especially the American media began to seize upon Cuba as a major object of interest.

Queen Maria Christina was the one who had to deal with this problem and, like most people in Spain, was rather perplexed by why the U.S. would suddenly be inserting itself into the situation in Cuba as well as by the public outcry aroused by the American media. Part of the problem was economic. When the Carlist civil wars and the government instability in Spain caused the economy to collapse, Cuban planters looked to America for loans and this resulted in many Americans having a financial interest in Cuba. The U.S. began to champion the cause of Cuban independence, which Spain could not abide as Cuba was considered, not a colony, but a part of Spain itself. A plan was devised to end the rebellion in Cuba by granting the island autonomy, similar to what had already been given to Puerto Rico by the Spanish government. However, the United States still persisted in demanding the Spain make concessions to the rebels though most authorities in Spain had no idea what more concessions they could offer. Queen Maria Christina decided to ignore the saber rattling from Washington DC and pinned her hopes on the plan for autonomy to calm the situation. Unfortunately for her, America would not give Spain time for the plan to take effect. With the media having worked the American public into an anti-Spanish frenzy the declaration of war was swift after the destruction of the battleship USS Maine in Havana Harbor in 1898. The U.S. blamed a Spanish mine while Spain protested that the ship had exploded on its own, a fact later proven by a U.S. investigation in 1974.

There was no doubt from the very beginning that Spain was hopelessly outmatched in the war against the United States. Nonetheless, the U.S. sent an ultimatum to Madrid demanding that the Spanish withdraw from Cuba and when Spain broke off diplomatic relations with the United States an American declaration of war soon followed. Queen Maria Christina was horrified by this turn of events but had no choice but to take Spain to war as she could no more order the abandonment of Cuba than the President of the United States could abandon New York or Massachusetts just because a foreign power demanded it. Queen Maria Christina did appeal to the other crowned heads of Europe (which was all of Europe at that time save for France and tiny San Marino) to come to the aid of Spain. She protested, with considerable foresight, that if the monarchies of Europe did not come together to oppose this blatant aggression on the part of the American republic on behalf of Spain, the United States would only grow stronger and stronger and soon other countries would suffer the fate of Spain until America was completely dominant and not a monarchy remained in Europe. There was some sympathy for Spain in some quarters but, as we know, no other countries decided to get involved. The Spanish fleet was decimated by the American navy, Cuba was conquered and the few remnants of the once mighty Spanish empire fell to the United States. When Spain finally had no choice but to sue for peace the United States gained Cuba (temporarily), Puerto Rico, Guam and The Philippines. Manila had fallen after only symbolic resistance with the Spanish garrison effectively tossing America the keys on their way out and, while gaining the islands, America also gained her first colonial rebellion as U.S. forces had to be rushed over to suppress the Filipino independence movement that Spain had already been dealing with.

It seemed as though disaster was breaking out everywhere. In Spanish Morocco there was rebellion in the air and in Spain itself political divisions and potential civil war began to threaten yet again. Queen Maria Christina dealt with it all with admirable dedication and persistence but wanted nothing more than to be able to hand power over to her son. This finally happened in 1902 when King Alfonso XIII reached his majority and was able to exercise his full constitutional powers as reigning monarch. With immense gratitude Queen Maria Christina withdrew from the halls of power and devoted her time to charity work. She remained a familiar and respected figure in Spanish society for the rest of her life. On the night of February 5, 1929 she retired to her bedroom and after midnight felt a sharp pain in her chest. A maid asked if she should call for the King but the Queen mother said no, not wishing to disturb anyone. A short time later she had another pain in her chest and passed away. She was buried in the royal monastery at El Escorial having guided Spain through what was, in some ways, her most difficult and traumatic period since the end of the civil wars. She was a lady of great character, strength and insight and one of the most dedicated rulers Spain has ever had. She was also eerily prescient in predicting the coming dominance of the United States and republicanism in the Twentieth Century.