|The Fall of the House of Habsburg
|Kaiser Karl: Peace Rebuffed
In 1916, 29 year old Archduke Karl, through this unfortunate series of events, inherited the throne of
the Austro-Hungarian Empire while the world was in the depths of World War I as Karl Franz Josef
von Habsburg-Lothringen. He was intelligent, good looking, popular and a family man. He was
uncomfortable with nationalism, had a strong sense of humanitarianism and was most definitely not
autocratic. He was unhappy with the world at war and commented: ""Since my accession to the
throne I have unceasingly tried to spare my nations the horror of the war, for the outbreak of which
I bear no responsibility."
He forbade the bombing of civilian and cultural targets. He made peace initiatives in 1917 and was
arrogantly rebuffed. Again, on Oct. 16 1918, Emperor Karl issued a manifesto proposing the
federalization of the Austrian half of the Empire on the basis of self-determination. In Washington,
Czechoslovakia's T.G. Masaryk feared the Western Powers might negotiate with Austria on this
basis, so he issued a declaration of Czechoslovakian independence. He need not have worried.
President Woodrow Wilson and other Western leaders did not have any intention of negotiating with
"Emperor Charles" or coming to a diplomatic and just solution.
Although the Entente provided a pension to the family who initially relocated to Madeira, it was
sufficient only to cover necessities. One cold March day, Karl travelled into town to buy his children
toys and came home ill. Severe pneumonia set in. He died at age 34 on April 1,1922.
Archduke Karl married Zita von Bourbon-Parma on October 21, 1911 and together they had eight
children, starting with Crown Prince Otto born in 1912 who became pretender to the throne at age
ten upon his father's death. Zita was accused by critics of goading her husband to regain the
Hungarian throne, where the monarchy from which he had not abdicated had been re-established
under a Regent after the end of the war. After Karl's death, Zita, who spoke five languages, lived in
France, Spain, Belgium, Canada, and the USA. She died in Switzerland in 1986. She was buried in
the first Habsburg royal funeral at Vienna's Imperial Crypt in 70 years.
Her funeral was attended by politicians, state officials and international representatives, including a
representative of the Pope. In 1994, Karl's coffin was opened in Madeira, and his body did not
appear decomposed. The Vatican proclaimed him "Venerable," or just shy of a Saint, in 1998. On
December 22, 2003, the Vatican had recognized a miracle performed in Karl's name. On October 3,
2004, Karl the Venerable became Karl the Blessed, as the Church announced the beatification of
Karl von Habsburg.
Zita always believed that the death of Crown Prince Rudolf at Mayerling in 1889 was not a double
suicide, but rather murder by French or Austrian agents, and in fact subsequent examinations have
cast serious doubt on the official explanation of the deaths.
Karl's eldest son, Archduke Otto, petitioned the Austrian government in 1961 to be allowed to return
to Austria as a private citizen and his request was granted in 1963. He later became a West German
resident and a representatives to the European Parliament.
Upon defeat, he was obliged to renounce the throne. The Habsburgs were banished by the new
Austrian republic in 1919 and all official property was confiscated. Habsburg rule had ended after
more than half a millennium. However, he never abdicated, believing that his oath of kingship could
be terminated only by death. He only relinquished power, and he was hoping to reign as king of
Hungary. After he and his family were forced into exile, he made two unsuccessful restoration
attempts in 1921. It was not to be: the Entente was completely hostile to the idea of a Habsburg on
the throne of Hungary, and Czechoslovakia's Eduard Benes issued another violent reaction and even
prepared for war.
Emperor Franz Joseph died on November 21, 1916 at age 86 in the middle of the War, his 68-year
reign the second-longest in the recorded history of Europe. Twenty five years had passed since the
mystery-shrouded death of his son, the Crown Prince, at Mayerling. His brother Maximilian has long
since been executed in Mexico and his wife, Empress Elizabeth, had been assassinated. There was no
direct heir to the throne left and the succession passed to Franz Josef's brother, Karl Ludwig, and
after his death in 1896, to his brother's son, Archduke Franz Ferdinand. With the Archduke's
murder, it passed to a man who hated war.