Charles I of Austria


Charles I of Austria : biography

17 August 1887 – 01 April 1922

Although it has widely been cited as an "abdication", that word was never mentioned in either proclamation.Kings and Queens of Hungary & Princes of Transylvania, by István Gombás published by Corvina, Budapest, 2002 (ISBN 963-13-5152-1) Indeed, he deliberately avoided using the word abdication in the hope that the people of either Austria or Hungary would vote to recall him.

Privately, Charles left no doubt that he believed himself to be the rightful emperor. Addressing Cardinal Friedrich Gustav Piffl, he wrote:

Instead, on 12 November, the day after he issued his proclamation, the independent Republic of German-Austria was proclaimed, followed by the proclamation of the Hungarian Democratic Republic on 16 November. An uneasy truce-like situation ensued and persisted until 23 March 1919, when Charles left for Switzerland, escorted by the commander of the small British guard detachment at Eckartsau, Lt. Col. Edward Lisle Strutt. As the Imperial Train left Austria on 24 March, Charles issued another proclamation in which he confirmed his claim of sovereignty, declaring that "whatever the national assembly of German Austria has resolved with respect to these matters since 11 November is null and void for me and my House."Portisch H: Österreich I. Die unterschätzte Republik. Verlag Kremayr & Scheriau, Vienna 1989. p. 117

Although the newly established republican government of Austria was not aware of this "Manifesto of Feldkirch" at this time (it had been dispatched only to the Spanish King and to the Pope through diplomatic channels), the politicians now in power were extremely irritated by the Emperor’s departure without an explicit abdication. On 3 April 1919, the Austrian Parliament passed the Habsburg Law, which permanently barred Charles and Zita from returning to Austria. Other Habsburgs were banished from Austrian territory unless they renounced all intentions of reclaiming the throne and accepted the status of ordinary citizens. Another law, passed on the same day, abolished all nobility in Austria.

In Switzerland, Charles and his family briefly took residence at Castle Wartegg near Rorschach at Lake Constance, and moved to Château de Prangins at Lake Geneva on 20 May 1919.

Early life

Charles was born on 17 August 1887 in the Castle of Persenbeug in Lower Austria. His parents were Archduke Otto Franz of Austria and Princess Maria Josepha of Saxony. At the time, his granduncle Franz Joseph reigned as Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary, while his uncle Franz Ferdinand was heir presumptive.

As a child, Charles was reared a devout Roman Catholic. He spent his early years wherever his father’s regiment happened to be stationed; later on he lived in Vienna and Reichenau. He was privately educated, but, contrary to the custom ruling in the imperial family, he attended a public gymnasium for the sake of demonstrations in scientific subjects. On the conclusion of his studies at the gymnasium, he entered the army, spending the years from 1906-1908 as an officer chiefly in Prague, where he studied law and political science concurrently with his military duties.

In 1907 he was declared of age and Prince Zdenko Lobkowitz was appointed his chamberlain. In the next few years he carried out his military duties in various Bohemian garrison towns. Charles’s relations with his granduncle were not intimate, and those with his uncle not cordial, the differences between their wives increasing the existing tension between them. For these reasons, Charles, up to the time of the murder of Franz Ferdinand, obtained no insight into affairs of state, but led the life of a prince not destined for a high political position.

Decorations and awards

  • Grand Master of the following Orders:
    • Order of the Golden Fleece
    • Royal Order of Saint Stephen of Hungary
    • Military Order of Maria Theresa
    • Order of the Iron Crown
    • Order of Leopold
    • Order of Franz Joseph
    • Order of Elizabeth
  • Gold Medal of Military Merit (Signum Laudis)
  • Military Cross for the 60th year of the reign of Franz Joseph
  • Knight of the Order of the Black Eagle
  • Knight Grand Cross of the Military Order of Max Joseph
  • Knight Grand Cross of the Military Order of St. Henry
  • Pour le Mérite
  • Iron Cross
  • Bailiff Grand Cross of Honour and Devotion of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta