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Emperor/Kaiser Franz Josef I

Franz Josef / Joseph I of Austria,   b Aug 18 1830 , d Nov 21 1916 Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna. Was of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine

Son of Archduke Franz Karl – younger son of Emperor Francis I and Princess Sophie of Bavaria his father Franz Karl renounced the throne and secession went to the young Arch Duke Franz, at the age of 18. On Dec 2 1848 he would became the Emperor of Austria.

Emperor Franz I had been pressured to resign after the failed revolution , as he was ill  this was given for the grounds of his abdicated of the throne in favor of his 18 year old nephew Franz Josef I – who took over and would rule for 68 years.

Reign of Kaiser Franz Josef I,1848-Nov 21 1916

His reign of 68 years is longer any other Habsburg.

68 year reign, 3rd longest reign of all European history.

Married Elizabeth (b Dec 24, 1837 – d, Sept 10th 1898 ) of Bavaria

He took the two names of Franz and Josef after -  Francis I and Francis II the last Holy Roman Emperor 1792 – 1806 and the founder of the Austrian Empire 1804 – 1835

and after Josef II son of Empress Maria Thersia, 1788-1790.   

On March 4th 1849 Franz Joseph took reigns of power. Not all the reforms of 1848 were immediately adopted. He came to power after the revolution of 1848.  Major policy changes were seen to be needed after the failed revolution, the monarchy needed a new face.  

The Royal Court was on move at the time so the coronation was held at the palace of the Archbishop’s of Olomouc. Franz Joseph is said to heave believed that he saw his main task to be preventing another revolution, he relied on his military and Roman Catholic church. Apparently at the beginning he was not very popular, by the end of his life he was seen as a father figure to the country and Empire.  

During his reign the Empire evolved from an Absolutist state to a constitutional monarchy.  1867 he achieved a compromise with Hungary that would last until the end of the empire

In 1853 Franz Joseph I survived an assassination attempt in Vienna. Money was raised to built a church in gratitude at the site for the Votiv Kirche on the Ring Strasse.  

That same year he meet Elisabeth / Sissi – his cousin,  15 at time and fell in love with her at the summer residence in Bad Ischgl.   

She was the 2nd daughter of Duke Max Joseph and Ludovica Wilhelmine, the daughter of Bavarian King Maximilian I and the sister of Franz Joseph mother.

His Mother and aunt had planned that he would marry his older cousin

Helene age 23 however, Franz Joseph fell in love with the younger Elisabeth whom he married April 24 1854 at the Church of St Augustine in Vienna. They royal couple had four children Sophie 1855 – 1857, Gisela 1856 – 1932 and crown Prinz Rudolf 1858 – 1889, and Marie Valerie 1868 – 1924  

After defeat in 1859 against Napoleon III of France- battles of Magenta and Solferino  where he acted as supreme commander,  constitutional reforms were necessary.

The 1860 October Reforms, and 1861  February Reforms ushered in constitutional government.

In 1866 the Germans defeated the Austrians, who would be political excluded from the rest of  Germany. By exploiting an issues in the German Confederation, the German Chancellor Bismarck was able set up a confrontation with Austria that could only be resolved by war.  

Seven Weeks War / July 3 1866 the two armies fought at Koniggratz / Sadowa

It was a hard fought battle, the arrival of more Prussian troops (the Austrians being far from their territory) saw a decisive Prussian victory.

Oddly enough the entire political issue leading to the confrontation had to do with Denmark. The Austrians were caught pursuing a loosing political issue far behind  Prussian lines. Austria was excluded from Italy in 1859 and this would be the seminal turning point from which thereafter Austria / the Habsburgs were excluded from Germany after 1866. The Germany Confederation came to an end and Prussia was allowed a free hand in organizing Northern Germany

The war made a new constitutional arrangement necessary within the country.

The Ausgleich / Constitutional Compromise of 1867 saw a duel sovereignty /Empire between Austria and Hungry under Franz Josef I, who ruled the empire until Nov 21, 1916. The Hungarians forced Emperor Franz Josef to give Hungry equal status with Austria by setting up the dual Monarchy of Austria – Hungry. Under the arrangement both the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Hungry pledged allegiances to

Franz Josef I. The two countries were united in foreign and military policy as well as certain financial and economic policy. However both countries had their own constitutional government to handle all other issues.

On June 8th 1867 Franz Joseph I was crowned in Budapaest, King of Hungry and the duel nationality of Austria- Hungry was formed. After this Franz Joseph I, refused all other reforms including the concept of a United States of Greater Austria proposed by Franz Ferdinand – the heir to the Empire.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s Slavs and other minorities of the multi-cultural empire began to agitate for independence. The demand for self-government was led by Serbia which also led the Slavic movement. Most of these groups however were in the Hungarian part of the Empire, greatly complicating the issue.       

Franco – German War of 1871 – would establish Germany the first time under Prussia and the Chancellor Otto von Bismarck as a German State – excluding German Austria.  

Franz Joseph I is said to have kept his son Prince Rudolf away from the affairs of state and had the prince enrolled in and raised in a military training school. His mother eventually got him out of military schooling and Prince Rudolf pursued his interest in scientific studies.

He married Princess Stephanie daughter of Belgian king Leopold II, they had one daughter, Elisabeth born in 1883

Krone Prince Rodulph died at a royal hunting loge in the Vienna woods at Mayerling with his much younger mistress Jan 30th , 1889, of apparent suicide, however the royal family always believed as well as other that there were grounds to suspect faul play and that a sinister intrigue was responsible.


Empress Elisabeth was a free spirited advanced young women a trend-setter and icon of her time. She was assassinated in Sept 10th 1898 by an Italian anarchist.

The Kaiser was known to have several mistresses, he lived apart from Elisabeth, in later years – she had her own castle in Vienna.

After Prince Rudolf’s death the right of succession went to his imperial brother Archduke Karl Ludwig in 1896, and to his Franz Ferdinand. His other brother Fedinand Maximilian was executed in Mexico as the Emperor of Mexico.

His 60th Jubilee was attended by all the German monarchs including the German Kaiser Kaiser Wilhelm II

During his reign the Austrian Empire had numerous small victories and a few large and significant defeats, the Austrian Empire was pushed out of Germany and Italy and turned fatefully to the Balkans in SE Europe.    

The Russian Tsar helped to eventually defeat the Hungarian rebels. When the Russian Empire asked for help from the Austrian to defeat the Ottoman Turk, the Austrians  remained neutral in the Crimean War. This was a turning point / 1854, and later their interest would clash in the Balkans.

In the Italian war with France in 1859, the Empire lost Lombardy, and then Venetia.  

After 1870 the Austrian Hungarian Empire would become more closely aligned with the German Empire. Growing nationalism of the ethnic states within the empire would continue until end war and dissolution of the Empire. There was increasing conflict between the nationalities of the empire who each wanted their own nation state.

In 1908 Austria annexed the former occupied territories of the Ottoman Empire; Bosnia and Herzogovina.

In December 1911, Franz Joseph dismissed Konrad von Hoetzendorf  the Military Chief of Staff who had continuously argued for a preventive war with Serbia to avoid future threats. This policy was in conflict with the Kaisers policy of peace, Franz Joseph I didn’t want any war.    

On June 28 1914 the Austrian heir to throne Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophia were assassinated in Sarajavo. The plot would eventually lead to Serbia however the proof wasn’t immediately evident.  Kaiser Franz Joseph I was then 84 old, he gave an ultimatum to Serbia to hand over the men responsible.

After the murders in Sarajevo there had been a plan to invite foreign Heads of State to Vienna to witness the adoption of war against Serbia, this they didn’t do. In July Franz Josef finally decided to show a sign of strength to Serbia as he outlined in a letter to the German Kaiser  that he sought to isolate and reduce Serbia as a political factor in the Balkans. The Kasier’s slow decision to declare war would bring the Alliance system into place and start WW I.

From his summer residence in Bad Ischl, after much deliberation Franz Josef put forth his ‘Letter to the People’ of the Empire , and proclaimed the declaration of war on July 28 1914 against Serbia. During the ‘Great War’ – Arch Duke Friedrich was the – Army Commander in Chief

Many believe that had Franz Joseph had acted almost immediately against Serbia the Alliance system in place would not have been enacted as popular opinion at that time was against Serbia and a local war would have been the sole outcome.  

The German and Austrian- Hungarian Empires were allies, Italy would then join them as the Triple Entente after some Austria territories concessions and promise of spoils of war. Kaiser Franz Joseph died before the end of the Great War. In 1917 the United States entered the war with the dissolution of the Austria-Hungarian Empire as a war aim, along with the principle of self-determination of all people. This didn’t turn out that way for the German Austrians as the almost entirely homogeneous ethnic territories of the Sudetenand, South Tirol, South Steiermark and other border areas were turned over to the Czechs, Italian and Yugoslavs.

The economic boom of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire sometimes also referred to as the Danube Empire is associated with the reign of Franz Joseph I of Austria. During his reign intellectual and cultural life flourished in the Empire and many monumental buildings testify to this and bear his inscription to this day.

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