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Austrian emperor

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Austrian emperor

Emperor of Austria
Former Monarchy
Imperial Coat of arms
Charles I
First monarch Francis I
Last monarch Charles I
Style His Imperial Majesty
Official residence Palaces in Vienna:
Hofburg Palace,
Schönbrunn Palace
Monarchy began 11 August 1804
Monarchy ended 11 November 1918

The Emperor of Austria (German: Kaiser von Österreich) was a hereditary imperial title and position proclaimed in 1804 by the Holy Roman Emperor Francis II, a member of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine, and continually held by him and his heirs until the last emperor relinquished power in 1918. The emperors retained the title of archduke of Austria. The wives of the emperors bore the title of empress, while other members of the family the title archduke or archduchess.


Members of the House of Austria, the Habsburg dynasty, for centuries have been elected Holy Roman Emperors and mostly resided in Vienna. That's why the term "Austrian emperor" may occur in texts dealing with the time before 1804, when no Austrian Empire existed. In these cases the word Austria always means the dynasty, not the country. A special case was Empress Maria Theresa; she bore the imperial title as the wife of Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor, but she herself was the monarch of the Austrian Hereditary Lands including Bohemia and Hungary.

The Emperor

In the face of aggressions by Napoleon, who had promoted himself to Emperéur des Francais on May 18, 1804, Francis feared for the future of the Holy Roman Empire and wished to maintain his and his family's Imperial status in the event that the Holy Roman Empire should be dissolved. Therefore on August 11, 1804 he created the new title Emperor of Austria for himself and his successors as heads of the Habsburg Lothringen dynasty.[1] For two years, Francis now carried two imperial titles, being Holy Roman Emperor Francis II and "by the grace of God" (Von Gottes Gnaden) Emperor Francis I of Austria.

In 1805, an Austrian-led army suffered a humiliating defeat at the Battle of Austerlitz and the victorious Napoleon proceeded to dismantle the old Reich (which at this time was only a powerless confederation) by motivating or pressing several German dukes and grand-dukes to enter the separate Confederation of the Rhine with their lands in July. This led Francis I / II on August 6, 1806 to declare the Reich extinct and to lay down the crown of the Holy Roman Empire created in the second half of the 10th century (today displayed at the Treasury of Hofburg Palace in Vienna).[2]

From 1806 onwards, Francis was Emperor of Austria only. He had three successors - Ferdinand I, Francis Joseph I and Charles I - before the Empire broke apart in 1918. A coronation ceremony was never established; the successor to the throne became emperor in the moment the emperor died or resigned. The symbol of the Austrian Emperor was the dynasty's private crown dating back to Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor (called Rudolfinische Hauskrone by the experts), which should convey the dignity and myth of the Habsburgs.

Titles of the Emperor

The Austrian Emperors had an extensive list of titles and claims that reflected the geographic expanse and diversity of the lands ruled by the Austrian Habsburgs. The official title of the ruler of Austrian Empire and later Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy had been changed several times: by a patent of August 1, 1804, by a court office decree from August 22, 1836, by an imperial court ministry decree of January 6, 1867 and finally by a letter of December 12, 1867. Shorter versions were recommended for official documents and international treaties: "Emperor of Austria, King of Bohemia etc. and Apostolic King of Hungary", "Emperor of Austria and Apostolic King of Hungary", "His Majesty The Emperor and King" and "His Imperial and Royal Apostolic Majesty".

The full list (after the loss of the Lombardy in 1859 and Venetia in 1866):

Emperor of Austria,
Apostolic King of Hungary,
King of Bohemia, of Dalmatia, of Croatia, of Slavonia, of Galicia, of Lodomeria, and of Illyria,
King of Jerusalem, and so forth,
Archduke of Austria,
Grand Duke of Tuscany and of Cracow,
Duke of Lorraine, of Salzburg, of Styria, of Carinthia, of Carniola and of the Bukovina,
Grand Prince of Transylvania,
Margrave in Moravia,
Duke of Upper and Lower Silesia, of Modena, Parma, Piacenza and Guastalla, of Auschwitz and Zator, of Teschen, Friuli, Ragusa and Zara,
Princely Count of Habsburg and Tyrol, of Kyburg, Gorizia and Gradisca,
Prince of Trent and Brixen,
Margrave of Upper and Lower Lusatia and in Istria,
Count of Hohenems, Feldkirch, Bregenz, Sonnenberg, and so forth,
Lord of Trieste, of Cattaro and of the Wendish Mark,
Grand Voivode of the Voivodship of Serbia, and so forth,
Sovereign of the Order of the Golden Fleece.

House and court

The function of the emperor was styled like a secular papacy. Therefore it was the overall goal to demonstrate the highest (allerhöchste) majesty and dignity of the monarch to his subjects and to other monarchs and countries. His and his entourage's life was governed by very strict rules all the time.

The Imperial House

Whoever wanted to marry an archduchess or an archduke of the Habsburg dynasty had to originate from a ruling or formerly ruling house, as was stipulated by the Familienstatut des Allerhöchsten Herrscherhauses, the Family Statute of the Highest Monarch's House, issued by Ferdinand I in 1839. Otherwise the marriage would be one "to the left hand", called a morganatic marriage, excluding the offspring of the couple from any right the House of Habsburg possessed. (The problems of such a situation were encountered when Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir presumptive to the throne, dared to marry a "simple" countess in 1900.)

To manage the political implications of the Imperial house since 1867 the Emperor and King appointed the k.u.k. Minister des kaiserlichen und königlichen Hauses und des Äußeren, the I.&R. Minister of the Imperial and Royal House and of the Exterior, one of the three ministers common to Austria and Hungary. Under Francis I, Metternich had covered these and many other agenda, bearing the title Haus-, Hof- und Staatskanzler (Chancellor of the House, the Court and the State).

The members of the Habsburg family were ranked as Imperial princes and princesses with the honorary title Erzherzog or Erzherzogin (archduke or archduchess). Their permanent address and their travels abroad had to be agreed to by the Emperor.

The Imperial Court

The Emperor's household, his personal officers and the premises where they worked were called "Hof" (court). The highest officials managing the Court were the Grand Master of the Court, the Grand Marshal of the Court,the Grand Chamberlain and the Grand Master of the Horse,taken from the high aristocracy. Whoever wanted to meet the Emperor himself had to apply to the Obersthofmeisteramt. Francis I used to wear civilian clothes of the Biedermeier era. Francis Joseph I and Charles I mostly were seen in the uniform of an Austrian field marshal, to underline the importance of the army to the throne. Francis Joseph I expected soldiers to appear in uniform at his court and civilians to appear in tails. He never shook hands with visitors; in letters he never addressed his subjects as "Sir" or "Mr. (Herr).

The emperor's court managed e. g. the following institutions:

  • the Imperial Palace in Vienna (Hofburg); each of the four Emperors of Austria chose his living and working rooms in another part of this huge palace;
  • the Imperial Treasury at Hofburg, where the Habsburgs' crown insignia were kept;
  • the Imperial Court Library, today Austrian National Library
  • Imperial residences outside Vienna, like Schönbrunn Palace (the area was included into the Vienna city area in 1892) and Laxenburg Palace;
  • the court's collection of carriages (today Wagenburg at Schönbrunn Palace Gardens);
  • the I.R. Hofburgtheater and the I.R. Hofoperntheater;
  • the Imperial Crypt below the Capuchin Church and Monastery in Vienna, where three of the four Emperors of Austria have been buried (Charles I. was buried on Madeira, his last exile).

The Austrian Empire

The Empire of Austria (Kaisertum Österreich) from 1804 to 1867 consisted of the Habsburg lands as a whole, leaving each land its special definition as kingdom (e.g. Bohemia, Hungary), archduchy (Lower and Upper Austria), duchy (e.g. Carniola) or princely county (e.g. Tyrol). Kaisertum might literally be translated as "emperordom" on analogy with "kingdom" or "emperor-ship"; the term denotes specifically "the territory ruled by an emperor". Austria proper (as opposed to the complex of Habsburg lands as a whole) had been an Archduchy since the 15th century, and most of the other territories of the Empire had their own institutions and territorial history, although there were some attempts at centralization, especially between 1848 and 1859.

In 1866, Austria lost the war with Prussia and Italy. Francis Joseph I was urged to solve the internal problems of his realm and was well advised to provide a substantial rise to the Hungarian nobility, which had stayed in passive resistance to him after the crushed Hungarian revolution of 1848 and 1849. In the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867 (Ausgleich) Hungary was recognized as a self-governing kingdom outside of the Empire of Austria. The Habsburg lands were restructured into a real union which shared a monarch and a common army, navy and foreign policy. Transylvania, Croatia and Slavonia were acknowledged as lands of the Hungarian crown, which were called Transleithania by government officials to distinct them from Cisleithania, the lands remaining in the Austrian Empire from 1867 onwards. These were officially known only as the "Kingdoms and Lands Represented in the Imperial Council" (Die im Reichsrat vertretenen Königreiche und Länder). Unofficially ever since, these territories officially were called Austria from 1915 to 1918 only, despite the fact that all the citizens held the common Austrian citizenship since 1867.

The Empire of Austria broke apart at the end of the First World War in 1918, when the Austrian lands established their independence (Bohemia and Moravia in newly created Czechoslovakia, Galicia in newly created Poland) or adhesion to other states (Bukovina to Romania, Carniola and Dalmatia to Yugoslavia) or were annexed by the victors of war (South Tyrol, Trieste and Istria by Italy). Yet the last Emperor, Charles I, used his imperial title until the end of his life. The Kingdom of Hungary, having terminated the 1867 compromise by October 31, 1918, broke apart similarly.

Abbreviations of common and not common institutions

The term Kaiserlich und königlich (k.u.k., spoken /ka ʔʊnt ka/, meaning I. & R.) was decreed in a letter of October 17, 1889 for the army, the navy and the institutions shared by both parts of the monarchy.[3] Institutions of Cisleithania used the term kaiserlich-königlich (k.k., meaning I. R., e.g. k.k. Eisenbahnministerium, I.R. Railway Ministry).

Emperors of Austria (1804–1918)

Crown princes and other successors to the throne

The eldest son of the monarch bore the title Crown Prince (Kronprinz); other designated successors were called Thronfolger (in addition to their title of Archduke). Francis I was followed by Crown Prince Ferdinand. In the 1848 revolutions, the empire's existence was in danger. The Habsburg family tried a new start with a new emperor: Ferdinand I on December 2, 1848 was urged to hand over government. He moved to Hradcany Castle in Prague and, without laying down his imperial title, lived there privately until his death in 1875.[4]

As Ferdinand I had no son, his brother, Archduke Franz Karl, would have become emperor, but was asked by his wife, Archduchess Sophie Friederike of Bavaria, to pass over the right of succession to her and his son, Francis Joseph I. He accepted the duty of the Emperor of Austria without having been Crown Prince or Thronfolger before. Francis Joseph's only son Rudolf committed suicide in 1889, Francis Joseph's brother Karl Ludwig died in 1896. Karl Ludwig's son Franz Ferdinand became heir-presumptive to the throne. He was assassinated in Sarajevo in 1914; due to his morganatic marriage, his son had no rights to the throne. At this time his younger brother Otto already had died, which made Otto's son Charles the new heir-presumptive to the throne, to which he acceded in 1916, upon the death of Emperor Francis Joseph I. In this moment Charles I's son, four years old Archduke Otto became the last Crown Prince of Austria(-Hungary). He declared himself a loyal citizen of the Republic of Austria in 1961.

Heads of the Habsburg Family (since 1918)

Charles I did not see himself as a pretender but as the monarch of Austria, while the Habsburg Law of the Republic of Austria of 1919 called him "the former bearer of the crown" (der ehemalige Träger der Krone). His son Otto Habsburg-Lothringen, who had used the title Archduke of Austria in his earlier life outside of Austria, in 1961 to be allowed to enter Austria declared himself a loyal citizen of the Republic of Austria; from this date onward he was not pretender anymore. Otto's son Karl Habsburg-Lothringen never has pretended to be the rightful monarch of Austria.

Portrait Name Head of the family from Head of the family until Relationship with predecessor(s)
Charles I 11 November 1918 † 1 April 1922  • Great-Nephew of Franz Joseph I
Otto von Habsburg
(Otto I)
1 April 1922 1 January 2007 (resigned)  • Son of Charles I
Karl von Habsburg
(Karl II)
1 January 2007 Incumbent  • Son of Otto Habsburg-Lothringen

See also


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