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Charles I (Charles Franz Joseph Ludwig Hubert Georg Otto Maria; August 17, 1887 – April 1, 1922) was the last Emperor of Austria, the last King of Hungary (as Charles IV), the last King of Bohemia (as Charles III), and the last monarch belonging to the House of Habsburg-Lorraine before the dissolution of Austria-Hungary.

Charles I-IV, Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary

Archduke Charles was born on August 17, 1887, in the Castle of Persenbeug, in Lower Austria. His parents were Archduke Otto-Franz of Austria and Princess Maria-Josepha of Saxony, the daughter of the future King Georg of Saxony (1832–1904) and Infanta Maria Anna of Portugal (1843–1884).

Archduke Otto-Franz of Austria (Father)

Princess Maria-Josepha of Saxony (Mother)

At the time of his birth, his great-uncle Franz-Joseph reigned as Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary. Upon the death of Crown Prince Rudolph in 1889, the Emperor’s brother, Archduke Charles-Ludwig, was next in line to the Austro-Hungarian throne. However, his death in 1896 from typhoid made his eldest son, Archduke Franz-Ferdinand, the new heir presumptive.

Franz-Joseph, Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary

Archduke Charles was reared a devout Catholic. He spent his early years wherever his father’s regiment happened to be stationed; later on, he lived in Vienna and Reichenau an der Rax. 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 1906-08 as an officer chiefly in Prague, where he studied Law and Political Science concurrently with his military duties.

In 1911, Charles married Princess Zita of Bourbon-Parma, the seventeenth child of the dispossessed Robert I, Duke of Parma, and his second wife, Infanta Maria Antonia of Portugal.

Princess Zita of Bourbon-Parma

They had met as children but did not see one another for almost ten years, as each pursued their education. In 1909, his Dragoon regiment was stationed at Brandýs nad Labem in Bohemia, from where he visited his aunt at Franzensbad. It was during one of these visits that Charles and Zita became reacquainted. Due to Franz-Ferdinand’s morganatic marriage in 1900, his children were excluded from the succession. As a result, the Emperor pressured Charles to marry. Zita not only shared Charles’ devout Catholicism, but also an impeccable royal lineage.

Archduke Charles traveled to Villa Pianore, the Italian winter residence of Zita’s parents, and asked for her hand; on June 13, 1911, their engagement was announced at the Austrian court. Charles and Zita were married at the Bourbon-Parma castle of Schwarzau in Austria on October 21, 1911.

The wedding of Zita and Charles, 21 October 1911. (the man in the back with the mustache is Archduke Franz-Ferdinand)

Charles’s great-uncle, the 81-year-old Emperor Franz-Joseph, attended the wedding. He was relieved to see an heir make a suitable marriage, and was in good spirits, even leading the toast at the wedding breakfast. Archduchess Zita soon conceived a son, and Otto was born November 20, 1912. Seven more children followed in the next decade.

Heir presumptive

Charles became heir presumptive after the assassination of Archduke Franz-Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914, the event which precipitated World War I. Only at this time did the old Emperor take steps to initiate the heir-presumptive to his crown in affairs of state. But the outbreak of World War I interfered with this political education. Charles spent his time during the first phase of the war at headquarters at Teschen, but exercised no military influence.

Charles then became a Feldmarschall (Field Marshal) in the Austro-Hungarian Army. In the spring of 1916, in connection with the offensive against Italy, he was entrusted with the command of the XX. Corps, whose affections the heir-presumptive to the throne won by his affability and friendliness. The offensive, after a successful start, soon came to a standstill. Shortly afterwards, Charles went to the eastern front as commander of an army operating against the Russians and Romanians.