emperor franz i of austria

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Empress Sissi and Emperor Franz Joseph at Bad Kissingen, 1898.

Empress Sissi forbad people to take photos to her after she turned 30, so there aren’t much photos of Sissi in maturer age. Happily, there are a few of her later years that let us to see how she looked. Despite she is covering her face with a fan and she is taking an umbrella her face can be seen, unlike other photos of her in the same situation.

The original photo and below a painting based on it.

November 21, 1916 - Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Josef I Dies at age 86

Pictured - Franz Josef I, Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary, Croatia, and Bohemia. His empire would not long survive his death.

Emperor Franz Josef I of Austria-Hungary expressed his “keen satisfaction” on November 20 upon receiving Woodrow Wilson’s telegram proposing a negotiated peace. Despite a bout of bronchitis, the 86-year-old Habsburg went to work as usual on official files. He had been an active monarch since becoming the Emperor of Austria in 1848, and had spent his life maintaining his European empire and resisting the forces of constitutionalism and nationalism. At his age, however, he could not play as large a role in managing the war effort in 1916, as he would have liked. His doctor persuaded him to go to bed on the afternoon of November 20, but nevertheless the old emperor ordered he be woken early the next day: “Tomorrow morning at half past three. I am behindhand with my work.”

His valet woke him on November 21, and Franz Josef spent his at work on official papers at he wanted. Then, just after 9, he suddenly died. He had ruled the Habsburg Empire for 68 years. Coincidentally, another death of note that November was Hiram Maxim, the inventor of the machine gun, who died in London age seventy-six. 

The new Emperor of Austria-Hungary was Franz Josef’s 29-year-old nephew, Archduke Karl, now Karl I. Commanding a corps in Romania, the young new emperor was as different from his uncle as could be. He was committed to ethnic reconciliation in the empire and willing to offer self-government. Immediately he took up his uncle’s last work, hoping to negotiate a peace with the Entente that could see Austria-Hungary escape the war intact.

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Crown Prince Rudolf, the only son of Emperor Franz Joseph I and Empress Elisabeth of Austria, was born on 21 August 1858. In 1889, he died in a alleged suicide pact with his mistress, Baroness Mary Vetsera at the Mayerling hunting lodge. His death had a devastating effect on the already compromised marriage of the Imperial couple and interrupted the security inherent in the immediate line of Habsburg dynastic succession. As Rudolf had no sons, his cousin Archduke Franz Ferdinand eventually became the heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne. The assassination of Franz Ferdinand lead to Austria-Hungary’s declaration of war against Serbia, starting World War I.

Elisabeth of Austria (24 December 1837 – 10 September 1898) was the wife of Emperor Franz Joseph I. She was Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary.

She was only 16 when she married Franz Joseph and was unexpectedly shoved into court life. Sisi was not only ill-prepared for this life but also had no interest in it. Franz Joseph’s mother, Princess Sophie, fought with Elisabeth over many things as Sophie saw Elisabeth as someone to benefit her son and nothing more. One of the things they struggled over was raising Elisabeth’s children, and unfortunately Elisabeth’s first child (Sophie) ended up dying in infancy. Her only son, Rudolf, was under much strain and often escaped to Hungary. Unfortunately, when Rudolf and his mistress died in 1889 (murder-suicide), Elisabeth never recovered from her mourning. She ran away from her court duties and traveled frequently. Its worth commenting that although she felt like her life was out of her control, she exercised grand control over her beauty. Sisi was revered for her great beauty that she obbsessed over. Often times she would require being sewn into extremely tight corsets or binge eat, both extremely dangerous. Each day she spent two to three hours on her hair alone, but often took this time to learn languages. Then on the 10th of September in 1898, Italian anarchist Luigi Lucheni stabbed her after missing his chance to assassinate Prince Philippe, Duke of Orléans and vowing to kill the next royalty he saw.

Despite her extremely gloomy life, she always remained quite beautiful. A very interesting character to say the least!

I implore you, give up this life at once and sleep during the night, which nature intended for sleep and not for reading and writing.
—   Emperor Franz Joseph I, in a letter to his wife, Empress Elisabeth ‘Sisi’ of Austria.

January 4, 1916 - German Declared Only Official Language in Bohemia

Pictured - Emperor of Austria, King of Hungary, Croatia and Bohemia.

The Austro-Hungarian military was a complex organization.  Not only was it divided into three armies: the Austrian, Hungarian, and the “Common Army”, it operated with ten official languages.  Officially, soldiers spoke German, but more commonly officers had to learn whatever language their soldiers spoke, be it Magyar, Polish, Czech, or any of the other minority languages of the Empire.  The complexity mirrored that of Austria-Hungary itself, which was in reality two separate monarchies ruled by one monarch, Franz Josef I, the Emperor of Austria, and King of Hungary, Croatia, and Bohemia.

Though the Empire was a hodge-podge of ethnically diverse territories and peoples, Austria was the heartland and Germans the dominant group.  Just as it tried to impose one tax system and one government over its territories, the Dual Monarchy also tried to impose one language, German.  This was resented by many non-German citizens of the Empire, especially the Hungarians and the Czechs. 

The varied make-up of the Empire seemed to make breakup inevitable, but non-Germans were not second-class citizens in most cases.  Each group had its own ministers and rights over domestic matters.  Home rule, not independence, is what the various peoples wanted.  Franz Josef began his rule without ostentation and inspired loyalty in most of his subjects.  In fact, the Hungarians were discriminatory towards smaller ethnic groups than the Germans were.

However, signs of Imperial fragility and dissolution began to appear during the First World War.  Rationing and the war crippled the economy, and starvation was to be seen in the streets of Vienna as early as 1915.  The triumphs of 1915 actually tore the population further apart: awash with success, the Empire declared German to be the only official language in Bohemia on January 4, 1916.  Police enforced the law with their truncheons, beating up passers-by in Prague they heard speaking Czech.  A number of Pan-Germanist political parties also started contesting elections, driving the government closer to Germany and pro-German policies.