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Franz Joseph I (August 18, 1830 – November 21, 1916) was Emperor of Austria, King of Hungary, Croatia, and Bohemia, and monarch of other states of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, from December 2, 1848 until his death. From May 1, 1850 to August 24, 1866 he was also President of the German Confederation. He was the longest-reigning ruler of Austria and Hungary, as well as the sixth-longest-reigning monarch of any country.

Franz Joseph was born August 18, 1830 in the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna (on the 65th anniversary of the death of Franz of Lorraine, Holy RomanEmperorFranz I) as the eldest son of Archduke Franz Charles (the younger son of Holy Roman Emperor Francis II), and his wife Princess Sophie of Bavaria.

His mother, Princess Sophie of Bavaria (1805 – 1872) was born to King Maximilian I Joseph of Bavaria and his second wife Caroline of Baden. She was the identical twin sister of Princess Maria Anna of Bavaria, Queen of Saxony as wife of Friedrich August II of Saxony.

Because his uncle, reigning from 1835 as the Emperor Ferdinand, was weak-minded, and his father unambitious and retiring, the mother of the young Archduke “Franzi” brought him up as a future Emperor, with emphasis on devotion, responsibility and diligence.

Since no descendants were to be expected from the marriage of the heir to the throne, Archduke Ferdinand (emperor from 1835), his next elder brother Franz Charles was to continue the succession of the Habsburgs, which is why the birth of his son Franz Joseph at the Viennese court was given special importance.

Franz Charles was physically as well as mentally of weak constitution and was therefore hardly suitable for a reign. For this reason, Franz Joseph was consistently built up as a potential successor to the imperial throne by his politically ambitious mother from early childhood.

It was generally felt in the court that the Emperor should marry and produce heirs as soon as possible. Various potential brides were considered, including Princess Elisabeth of Modena, Princess Anna of Prussia and Princess Sidonia of Saxony.

Although in public life Franz Joseph was the unquestioned director of affairs, in his private life his mother still wielded crucial influence. Sophie wanted to strengthen the relationship between the Houses of Habsburg and Wittelsbach—descending from the latter house herself—and hoped to match Franz Joseph with her sister Ludovika’s eldest daughter, Helene (“Néné”), who was four years the Emperor’s junior.

Helene was the eldest daughter of Maximilian Joseph, Duke in Bavaria and Princess Ludovika of Bavaria.

However, Franz Joseph fell deeply in love with Néné’s younger sister Elisabeth (“Sisi”), a beautiful girl of fifteen, and insisted on marrying her instead. Sophie acquiesced, despite her misgivings about Sisi’s appropriateness as an imperial consort, and the young couple were married on April 24, 1854 in St. Augustine’s Church, Vienna.

Their marriage would eventually prove to be an unhappy one; though Franz Joseph was passionately in love with his wife, the feeling was not mutual. Elisabeth never truly acclimatized to life at court, and was frequently in conflict with the imperial family. Their first daughter Sophie died as an infant, and their only son Rudolf died by suicide in 1889 in the infamous Mayerling Incident.

In 1885 Franz Joseph met Katharina Schratt, a leading actress of the Vienna stage, and she became his friend and confidante. This relationship lasted the rest of his life, and was—to a certain degree—tolerated by Elisabeth. Franz Joseph built Villa Schratt in Bad Ischl for her, and also provided her with a small palace in Vienna. Though their relationship lasted for thirty-four years, it remained platonic.

In December 1848, Franz Joseph’s uncle Emperor Ferdinand abdicated the throne at Olomouc, as part of Minister President Felix zu Schwarzenberg’s plan to end the Revolutions of 1848 in Hungary.

Franz Joseph then acceded to the throne. Largely considered to be a reactionary, he spent his early reign resisting constitutionalism in his domains. The Austrian Empire was forced to cede its influence over Tuscany and most of its claim to Lombardy–Venetia to the Kingdom of Sardinia, following the Second Italian War of Independence in 1859 and the Third Italian War of Independence in 1866.

Although Franz Joseph ceded no territory to the Kingdom of Prussia after the Austrian defeat in the Austro-Prussian War, the Peace of Prague (August 23, 1866) settled the German Question in favour of Prussia, which prevented the unification of Germany from occurring under the House of Habsburg.

Franz Joseph was troubled by nationalism during his entire reign. He concluded the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, which granted greater autonomy to Hungary and transformed the Austrian Empire into the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary.

He ruled peacefully for the next 45 years, but personally suffered the tragedies of the execution of his brother Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico in 1867, the suicide of his son Crown Prince Rudolf in 1889, the assassination of his wife Empress Elisabeth (“Sisi”) in 1898, and the assassination of his nephew and heir-presumptive, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, in 1914.

After the Austro-Prussian War, Austria-Hungary turned its attention to the Balkans, which was a hotspot of international tension because of conflicting interests with the Russian Empire. The Bosnian Crisis was a result of Franz Joseph’s annexation in 1908 of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which had been occupied by his troops since the Congress of Berlin (1878).

On June 28, 1914, the assassination of his nephew Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo resulted in Austria-Hungary’s declaration of war against the Kingdom of Serbia, which was an ally of the Russian Empire. That activated a system of alliances which resulted in World War I. The Emperor died in 1916, after ruling his domains for almost 68 years. He was succeeded by his grandnephew Charles.