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On this date Emperor Ferdinand of Austria abdicated the throne in favor of his nephew, Archduke Franz Joseph who ascended the throne and would reign for nearly 68 years.

Ferdinand I (April 19, 1793 – June 29, 1875) was the eldest son of Franz II, Holy Roman Emperor and Maria Theresa de Bourbon of Naples and Sicily. Possibly as a result of his parents’ genetic closeness (they were double first cousins), Ferdinand suffered from hydrocephalus, neurological problems including epilepsy, and a speech impediment. He was educated by Baron Josef Kalasanz von Erberg, and his wife Countess Josephine von Attems.

Ferdinand succeeded to the throne of the Habsburg Empire on the death of his father Emperor Franz of Austria on March 2, 1835. Previously his father was known as Franz II, the last Holy Roman Emperor, who abdicated that throne in August of 1806. As ruler of Austria, Emperor Ferdinand was also President of the German Confederation, King of Hungary, Croatia and Bohemia (as Ferdinand V), King of Lombardy–Venetia and holder of many other lesser titles.

Due to his rocky, passive but well-intentioned character, he gained the sobriquet The Benign or The Benevolent.

Emperor Ferdinand was incapable of ruling his empire because of a mental deficiency, so his father, before he died, made a will promulgating that Ferdinand should consult his uncle Archduke Ludwig on all aspects of internal policy and urged him to be influenced by Prince Metternich, Austria’s Foreign Minister.

Ferdinand’s abdication came as a result of Revolutions of 1848 that swept across most of Europe.

The Revolutions of 1848 in the Austrian Empire were a set of revolutions that took place in the Austrian Empire from March 1848 to November 1849. Much of the revolutionary activity had a nationalist character: the Empire, ruled from Vienna, included ethnic Germans, Hungarians, Slovenes, Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Ruthenians (Ukrainians), Romanians, Croats, Venetians (Italians) and Serbs; all of whom attempted in the course of the revolution to either achieve autonomy, independence, or even hegemony over other nationalities.

The nationalist picture was further complicated by the simultaneous events in the German states, which moved toward greater German national unity. Besides these nationalists, liberal and even socialist currents resisted the Empire’s longstanding conservatism.

Photo of Emperor Ferdinand of Austria

The early rumblings

The events of 1848 were the product of mounting social and political tensions after the Congress of Vienna of 1815. During the “pre-March” period, the already conservative Austrian Empire moved further away from ideas of the Age of Enlightenment, by restricting freedom of the press, limited many university activities, and banned fraternities.

As the revolutionaries of 1848 were marching on the palace, he is supposed to have asked Metternich for an explanation. When Metternich answered that they were making a revolution, Ferdinand is supposed to have said “But are they allowed to do that?” (Viennese German: Ja, dürfen’s denn des?) He was convinced by Prince Felix of Schwarzenberg to abdicate in favour of his nephew, Archduke Franz Joseph (the next in line was Ferdinand’s younger brother Archduke Franz Charles, but he was persuaded to waive his succession rights in favour of his son)

The reason Archduke Franz Charles was the heir was due to the fact that Emperor Ferdinand didn’t have any children. When Ferdinand married Princess Maria Anna of Savoy, the court physician considered it unlikely that he would be able to consummate the marriage. When he tried to consummate the marriage, he had five seizures.

Therefore the heir to the throne was his brother Archduke Franz Charles of Austria (December 17, 1802 – March 8, 1878). He was the father of two emperors: Franz Joseph I of Austria and Maximilian I of Mexico. Through his third son Charles Ludwig, he was the grandfather of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria – whose assassination sparked the hostilities that led to the outbreak of World War I – and the great-grandfather of the last Habsburg emperor Charles I.

Archduke Franz Charles of Austria

Franz Charles was born in Vienna, the third son of Emperor Franz of Austria by his second marriage with Princess Maria Theresa from the House of Bourbon, daughter of King Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies and Maria Carolina of Austria. Archduchess Maria Carolina was the thirteenth child of Empress Maria Theresa, Archduchess of Austria, Queen of Hungry etc and Emperor Franz I. Archduchess Maria Carolina was also a sister to Archduchess Marie Antoinette of Austria, Queen Consort to Louis XVI of France and Navarre.

On November 4, 1824 in Vienna Archduke Franz Charles married Princess Sophie of Bavaria from the House of Wittelsbach, a daughter of King Maximilian I Joseph of Bavaria by his second wife Caroline of Baden. Sophie’s paternal half-sister, Caroline Augusta of Bavaria was by this time Franz Charles’ stepmother, having married his thrice-widowed father, Emperor Franz, in 1816. The Wittelsbachs condoned the unappealing manners of Sophie’s husband in consideration of the incapability of his elder brother Ferdinand and Sophie’s chance to become Austrian Empress.

A young Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria

Franz Charles was an unambitious and generally ineffectual man, although he was, together with his uncle Archduke Ludwig, a member of the Geheime Staatskonferenz council, which after the death of Emperor Franz ruled the Austrian Empire in the place of his mentally ill brother Ferdinand from 1835 to 1848.

The decisions, however, were actually made by the Minister of State Prince Klemens Wenzel von Metternich and his rival Count Franz Anton von Kolowrat-Liebsteinsky. His wife Sophie had already transferred her ambitions, when she urged Franz Charles to renounce his claims to the throne at the time of his brother’s abdication on December 2, 1848, allowing their eldest son Archduke Franz Joseph to take the Imperia Throne of the vast Austrian Empire.

At this time, he first became known by his second as well as his first Christian name. The name “Franz Joseph” was chosen to bring back memories of the new Emperor’s great-granduncle, Emperor Joseph II (Holy Roman Emperor from 1765 to 1790), remembered as a modernising reformer.

Also, the new emperor wanted to be known as Franz III, however he realized that the ordinal number “III” was associated with the old Holy Roman Empire and he would therefore be Emperor Franz II of Austria, but it was believed that would cause confusion since his grandfather was the last Holy Roman Emperorwith the name Franz II.