Charles I of Austria

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Charles I of Austria, also known as Blessed Charles of Austria, was the final emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He was Austria’s final Emperor, Hungary’s final King, and the House of Habsburg-final Lorraine’s monarch. Following his accession to the throne in 1914, at the start of World War I, Charles made every attempt to keep his country out of the conflict. His attempt, however, backfired, and he lost public support for supporting French claims to the Alsace-Lorraine region. During his leadership, the international empire broke up into distinct national unions. He spent the last years of his life in exile, first in Switzerland and then on the Portuguese island of Madeira, where he lived in deplorable circumstances. Due to acute pneumonia, he passed away on April 1, 1922.

Table of Contents

Childhood and Adolescence

Archduke Otto Franz of Austria and Princess Maria Josepha of Saxony gave birth to Charles I of Austria on August 17, 1887 in the Castle of Persenbeug. He was the grandson of Franz Joseph, the Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary at the time.
Charles, who was raised as a fervent Catholic, had a religious bent of mind. His catholic upbringing taught him to pray before any major life event or decision.

As his father’s unit was constantly posted from one location to another, Charles spent his boyhood years on the move. He eventually settled in Vienna and Reichenau a der Rax.
Charles obtained a lot of his schooling outside of the classroom. Later, he studied scientific courses at a public gymnasium. He joined the army after finishing his education and served as an officer in Prague from 1906 to 1908. He studied law and political science at the same time.

Prince Zdenko Lobkowitz served as his chamberlain in 1907. In the years that followed, he served in the military in Bohemian garrison towns. Because of his icy connections with his uncle, Franz Ferdinand, Charles was prevented from actively participating in governmental affairs for much of his early years. He was also denied a political position.

Reign & Accession

Because Ferdinand’s children were prohibited from succession due to his morganatic marriage, Charles was automatically upgraded as the heir presumptive to the Habsburg monarchy following his uncle Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination in 1914.

A shift in government forced him to actively participate in state issues shortly after his nomination as the probable heir. However, when World War I broke out, his participation was purely symbolic, as he had no military clout.
He was appointed General Field Marshall of the Austria-Hungarian Army in the early years of World War I. Later, he was assigned to the eastern front, where he led an army in combat against the Russians and Romanians.

Following Emperor Franz Joseph’s death in November 1916, Charles became Emperor of Austria. On December 2, 1916, he succeeded Archduke Frederick as Supreme Commander of the Army. On December 30, 1916, he was crowned Emperor of the Russian Empire.

Charles discreetly embarked into peace negotiations with France shortly after assuming the crown. Despite the fact that his foreign minister, Ottokar Czernin, was only interested in negotiating a general peace that included Germany, Charles went considerably further and made a separate peace on his own volition. His attempt, however, failed because he refused to relinquish any territory to Italy.

Throughout much of World War I’s later years, the Austria-Hungarian Empire was torn apart by internal strife as racial tensions grew. The problems grew worse in the years that followed, as ethnic groups demanded separate nations and refused to accept Charles’ proposal of self-government within a common confederation.

Charles issued a proclamation on October 16, 1918, that effectively changed the nature of the Austrian state. While Poles were granted complete independence, the remainder of Austrian territory was divided among Germans, Czechs, South Slavs, and Ukrainians. Trieste was given a unique designation.

Charles’ attempt to hold the multicultural Austrian empire together came to a halt when all of the ethnicities declared their independence within a short period of time. Czechoslovakia claimed independence from the Allies, whereas South Slav declared independence from the Allies. On October 31, 1918, Hungary’s personal union with Austria came to an end.
With the division of the provinces, Charles’ political future was in jeopardy. He ruled the Danubian and Alpine provinces, which were also contested by the German-Austrian State Council.

On November 11, 1918, the war between the Allies and Germany came to an end. On the same day, Charles issued a proclamation stating that he would no longer participate in governmental matters. He also absolved his officers of their pledge of allegiance. He issued a similar decree for Hungary two days later.

The independent Republic of German-Austria was declared on November 12, 1918. A similar proclamation of the Hungarian Democratic Republic followed four days later.
Charles was banished to Switzerland in March 1919. Though he issued another proclamation reiterating his claim to sovereignty, the new Austrian parliament ignored it, passing the Habsburg Law on April 3, 1919, which effectively prohibited Charles and his wife, Zita, from entering Austria.

In 1921, Charles made two failed attempts to retake the Hungarian crown. Miklós Horthy, Hungary’s regent, refused to back him up. The Pragmatic Sanction, which effectively dethroned the Habsburgs, was formally invalidated by the Hungarian parliament to put a halt to any attempt.
Following his second failed attempt, Charles and his wife were ousted and deported to the Portuguese island of Madeira, effectively ending all restoration efforts. The family was living in deplorable circumstances.

Personal History and Legacy

In 1911, Charles married Princess Zita of Bourbon-Parma. The couple have eight children together.
Charles caught a cold in March 1922, which worsened over the next few months. It started out as a simple cold but quickly progressed to bronchitis and then serious pneumonia.

He died on April 1, 1922, after suffering two heart attacks and succumbing to respiratory failure. His body was buried on the island, with the exception of his heart, in the Church of Our Lady of Monte. His heart, along with his wife’s, was eventually kept in the Muri monastery in Switzerland.

Charles was honored posthumously for his service as a peacemaker during World War I. On April 3, 2003, Pope John Paul II beatified him and gave him the title of ‘Venerable,’ then on October 3, 2004, he was awarded the title of ‘Blessed.’ On October 21, his feast day, which also happens to be his wedding anniversary, he is honored.

Estimated Net Worth

Estimated Net Worth of Charles I of Austria is unknown.