In order to wrap up this series on Survival of Monarchies I will look at both Russia and the Habsburg family together. Notice I did not refer to just Austria but instead noted the dynasty that rule Austria for centuries. The reason for this was that the Habsburg family not only ruled Austria but also held the imperial crown of the Holy Roman Empire. Right before the demise of the Holy Roman Empire the emperor, Franz II, elevated the Archduchy of Austria, to that of an Empire and consolidated all of Habsburg ruled lands (making him the only double emperor in history for 2 years). Therefore in the context of this series I believe it is more accurate to refer to the ruling family than just one nation.
There were a lot of similarities between Habsburgs and Russian style of Monarchy. Both monarchies held the imperial title and were autocratic and held considerable, if not absolute, power. One of the odd dichotomies of the Habsburg monarchy is that it was both weak and strong. The weakness of the Holy Roman Empire was that it had an ineffective and anemic central government. After the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia the multitude of smaller states within the empire gained almost complete sovereignty making the emperor an emperor in name only. However, since the Habsburg family ruled Austria and Bohemia they did also wiled some considerable power and influence.
In Russia the election of Czar Michael Romanov in 1613 was monumental not only in the hindsight that this dynasty would rule for over 300 years, it stabilized and united the country and gave Russia some powerful leaders. The two most notable were Peter I the Great (1682-1725) and Catherine II the Great (1762-1796). Russia had a tendency of being a generation or two out of sync with the rest of Europe and both Peter and Catherine brought badly needed reforms to Russia in the face of great resistance. During this time period the Russian monarchs held absolute power and Czar Peter I was even greatly feared by his people.
As mentioned the Habsburg monarchy was a consolidation of lands ruled by the this dynasty. Some of these lands were part of the Holy Roman Empire and some were outside the empire. When Franz II, the last Holy Roman Emperor, consolidated his family lands into the Austrian Empire it created an empire that was already fragmented culturally and by language and other customs and these issues would be the ultimate reason this empire would collapse. Other than loyalty to the emperor and a shared history of belonging to the Habsburg family, there was not much left to hold this empire together.
One of the common denominators in the fall of both of these Empires is that the ruling aristocracy was out of touch with the suffering of its populace. Also, as we have seen, the Enlightenment brought democratic principles to Europe and Russia and Austria lacked these in their government and the people grew restless for a say in the process of government. In 1905 Russia attempted such reforms with the establishment of the Duma (Parliament) and a limited constitutional monarchy. Czar Nicholas II (1894-1917) had a difficult time dealing with the Duma. One reason was because he was not accustomed to having to answer to another governing authority. Another reason Nicholas had difficulty dealing with the Duma was because he had relationship problems. Nicholas II came to the throne relatively young, he was 26 years old, and he still had uncles and cousins that were very intimidating and they tried to steer the young Czar in certain directions politically. This revealed Nicholas’ indecisive character and that helped bring down the monarchy. I also want to say the Duma itself was pretty chaotic and many of its members so hungry for power and reform that they were also unwilling to work with the Czar.
Emperor Fran-Josef of Austria (1848-1916) did not have to deal with parliaments but he had to try and keep the ethnic diversity of his empire under control. In the 1860s he was ousted from the creation of a Greater German Empire, continuing the rivalry between Austria and Prussia for power in Central Europe that began in the 18th century. The Hungarians were given equal power within the empire creating the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1867. Many Czech people were waiting for political changes in monarchy similar to what happened with Hungary, a move Archduke Franz-Ferdinand supported and was one of the motives for assassinating him, but the question was never addressed and World War I broke out over the assassination of the Archduke further destabilizing the nation.
Two very unstable thrones entered World War I in 1914 and neither would survive. Russia was on the verge of social and economic collapse by 1917 and even with the abdication of the Czar in 1917 it could not stop the bleeding. Franz-Josef died in 1916 and his peace loving successor, Emperor Carl I-IV of Austria-Hungary, could not win an armistice swiftly enough to avoid losing his throne at the end of 1918.
Next week: Final analysis and conclusions.