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From the Emperor’s Desk: Tomorrow, August 6th, is the anniversary of the abdication of Holy Roman Emperor Franz II, and also the disillusion of the Holy Roman Empire itself. Today I’m featuring a small biography of Emperor Franz II, and tomorrow I will give a brief telling of the end of the Holy Roman Empire, and starting next week I will do a detailed series on the end of the Holy Roman Empire.

Imperial Standard of the Holy Roman Empire

Franz II (February 12, 1768 – March 2, 1835) was the last Holy Roman Emperor (from 1792 to 1806) and, as Franz I, the first Emperor of Austria, from 1804 to 1835. He also served as the first president of the German Confederation following its establishment in 1815.

Early life

As Archduke Franz of Austria he was a son of Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II (1747–1792) and his wife Infanta Maria Luisa of Spain (1745–1792), daughter of Carlos III of Spain (previously King of Naples and Sicily) and Maria Amalia of Saxony. She was the fifth daughter, and second surviving child, of her parents.

Archduke Franz was born in Florence, the capital of Tuscany, where his father reigned as Grand Duke from 1765 to 1790 prior to his becoming Emperor. Though he had a happy childhood surrounded by his many siblings, his family knew Franz was likely to be a future Emperor (his uncle Emperor Joseph II had no surviving issue from either of his two marriages), and so in 1784 the young Archduke was sent to the Imperial Court in Vienna to educate and prepare him for his future role.

Franz II, Holy Roman Emperor

Emperor Joseph II himself took charge of the development of Archduke Franz. His disciplinarian regime was a stark contrast to the indulgent Florentine Court of Leopold. The Emperor wrote that Archduke Franz was “stunted in growth”, “backward in bodily dexterity and deportment”, and “neither more nor less than a spoiled mother’s child.” Emperor Joseph II concluded that “the manner in which he was treated for upwards of sixteen years could not but have confirmed him in the delusion that the preservation of his own person was the only thing of importance.”

Emperor Joseph II martinet method of improving the young Franz was “fear and unpleasantness.” The young Archduke was isolated, the reasoning being that this would make him more self-sufficient as it was felt by Joseph that Franz “failed to lead himself, to do his own thinking.”

Nonetheless, Franz greatly admired his uncle, if rather feared him. To complete his training, Franz was sent to join an army regiment in Hungary and he settled easily into the routine of military life. He was present at the siege of Belgrade which occurred during the Austro-Turkish War.

After the death of Joseph II in 1790, Franz’s father became Emperor Leopold II. He had an early taste of power while acting as Leopold’s deputy in Vienna while the incoming Emperor traversed the Empire attempting to win back those alienated by his brother’s policies.

The strain told on Leopold and by the winter of 1791, he became ill. He gradually worsened throughout early 1792; on the afternoon of March 1 Leopold died, at the relatively young age of 44. Franz, just past his 24th birthday, was now Holy Roman Emperor Franz II, much sooner than he had expected.

Imperial Crown of the Austrian Empire

Emperor

As the head of the Holy Roman Empire and the ruler of the vast multi-ethnic Habsburg hereditary lands, Emperor Franz II felt threatened by the French revolutionaries and later Napoleon’s expansionism as well as their social and political reforms which were being exported throughout Europe in the wake of the conquering French armies.

Emperor Franz II had a fraught relationship with France. His aunt Archduchess Marie Antoinette, the wife of Louis XVI and Queen consort of France, was guillotined by the revolutionaries in 1793, at the beginning of his reign, although they were not close and on the whole, he was indifferent to her fate.

Emperor Franz II continued his leading role as an opponent of Napoleonic France in the Napoleonic Wars, and suffered several more defeats after the Battle of Austerlitz. The marriage of his daughter Marie Louise of Austria to Napoleon on March 10, 1810 was arguably his severest personal defeat.

After the abdication of Napoleon following the War of the Sixth Coalition, Austria participated as a leading member of the Holy Alliance at the Congress of Vienna, which was largely dominated by Franz’s chancellor Klemens von Metternich culminating in a new European map and the restoration of most of Franz II’s ancient dominions. Due to the establishment of the Concert of Europe, which largely resisted popular nationalist and liberal tendencies, Franz was viewed as a reactionary later in his reign.

Franz I, Emperor of Austria

Franz II’s grandchildren include Napoleon II (Napoleon’s only legitimate son), Franz Joseph I of Austria, Maximilian I of Mexico, Maria II of Portugal and Pedro II of Brazil.

Marriages

Franz II married four times:

1. On January 6, 1788, to Elisabeth of Württemberg (April 21, 1767 – February 18, 1790).

Elisabeth Wilhelmine Luise was born in Treptow an der Rega, Pomerania, in what today is Poland. She was born as the third daughter and eighth child borne to Friedrich II Eugene, Duke of Württemberg and his wife, Princess Sophia Dorothea of Brandenburg-Schwedt. Her name came from her baptism.

At the age of 15, she was called by the Holy Roman Emperor, Joseph II, to Vienna. There, she was educated in the Salesianerinnenkloster by the nuns, in which she also converted to Catholicism. The purpose of this was to make her the future wife of Archduke Franz, the future Holy Roman Emperor.

In Vienna on January 6, 1788, Elisabeth and Franz were married. At this time, Emperor Joseph was in ill health; the young archduchess was close to the emperor and brightened his last years with her youthful charm.

At the end of 1789, Elisabeth became pregnant; however, her condition was very delicate. After her visitation to the anointing of the sick, held by the emperor, on February 15, 1790, Elisabeth fainted—and on the night of February 18, she prematurely gave birth to Archduchess Ludovika Elisabeth, who lived for only 16 months.

Despite an emergency operation to save her life, Elisabeth did not survive the birth, which lasted more than 24 hours. She is buried in the Imperial Crypt, in Vienna. The Emperor Joseph II died two days after the death of his niece.

2. On September 15, 1790, Emperor Franz II was married to his double first cousin Maria Teresa of the Two Sicilies (June 6, 1772 – April 13, 1807), daughter of King Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies and Archduchess Maria Carolina of Austria (both were grandchildren of Empress Maria Theresa and her husband Emperor Franz I, formerly Duke of Lorraine and they shared all of their other grandparents in common), with whom he had twelve children, of whom only seven reached adulthood.

Born on 6 June 1772 at the Royal Palace of Naples, Maria Theresa Carolina Giuseppina was her mother’s favorite child from birth, and was henceforth named after her maternal grandmother Empress Maria Theresa. Princess Maria Theresa was taught French, mathematics, geography, theology, music, dancing, and drawing.

In the February of 1790, Archduke Franz’s wife, Archduchess Elisabeth, died in childbirth, and it was announced that he would marry one of the princesses of Naples. Maria Theresa and her sister Luisa were both considered for the match. In the end, though, Luisa was chosen to marry Ferdinand III, Grand Duke of Tuscany, and Maria Theresa was to marry Francis. The marriage was in accordance with the traditional Habsburg marriage policy.

Marriage

On September 15, 1790, at the age of 18, Princess Maria Theresa married her double first cousin Archduke Franz. The marriage was described as a happy one based on mutual understanding, despite differences in personality. Franz was described as a melancholic character. He was shy and reserved, and was serious with a preference for a spartan lifestyle and duty. Maria Theresa, on the other hand, was described as a gracious blue-eyed blonde with a vivacious personality, a hot temper and a sensual nature.

Maria Theresa reportedly adapted well to her new home in Vienna and did not suffer from homesickness. She participated with enthusiasm in court life, and it was noted that she enjoyed dancing and partaking in carnival balls—even while pregnant. She particularly enjoyed the Waltz, which had been recently introduced as an innovation and became fashionable during her years in Vienna.

In the winter of 1806, Empress Maria Theresa (pregnant with her 12th child) contracted tuberculous pleurisy, which the imperial physician, Andreas Joseph von Stifft, treated with bloodletting. However, it did not trigger an improvement in health, but a premature birth. When Empress Maria Theresa died after following complications after her last childbirth (the daughter died a few days before the mother) on 13 April 1807 at the age of 34, the Emperor was inconsolable and had to be removed by force from the corpse of his wife. She was buried in the Imperial Crypt in Vienna. The shattered Emperor stayed away from the funeral, instead traveling to Buda with his two eldest children.

3. On January 6, 1808, Emperor Franz II married again to another first cousin, Archduchess Maria Ludovika of Austria-Este (December 14, 1787 – April 7, 1816) with no issue. She was the daughter of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria-Este and Maria Beatrice d’Este, Princess of Modena. She was a member of the House of Austria-Este, a branch of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine.

She is not to be confused with Marie-Louise of Austria (who was given the Latin baptismal name of Maria Ludovica Leopoldina Francisca Theresa Josepha Lucia), who married Napoleon in 1810.

She, as leader of the war party in Austria, was a great enemy of the French Emperor Napoleon I of France and therefore also in opposition to the Austrian foreign minister Prince Klemens Wenzel von Metternich. The French had protested against the marriage because of her political views. She had considerable influence on her husband, and her talent at ruling marvelled many officials, including the Prussian minister who considered her the ruling genius at court.

Maria Ludovika was also immensely popular with her subjects who hailed her a second Maria Theresa. Together with her brother-in-law Archduke Johann, she made the war effort popular. During her coronation in Pressburg, she impressed the Hungarians so much that they declared large financial and military support for the monarchy if needed. But the Emperor hesitated and Archduke Charles who had extensive control over military matters advised caution. Only the effects of the Spanish revolt in 1808 allowed the war party to prevail.

When Napoleon was finally defeated she traveled at the end of the year 1815 to her home country, North Italy, but died of tuberculosis in Verona. She was only 28 years old. She is buried in the Imperial Crypt in Vienna.

4. On October 29, 1816, Franz II married Caroline Charlotte Auguste of Bavaria (8 February 1792 – 9 February 1873) with no issue. She was daughter of Maximilian I Joseph of Bavaria and had been previously married to Wilhelm I of Württemberg.

First marriage

On June 8, 1808, at Munich, Caroline Augusta married Crown Prince Wilhelm of Württemberg (1781–1864) becoming Crown Princess of Württemberg.

Her first marriage was arranged to avoid a political marriage arranged by Napoleon. After the marriage ceremony, her spouse said to her: We are victims to politics. She spent her time writing letters to her brother Ludwig, and learning Italian and English.

The couple never bonded with each other and the marriage was finally annulled by Pope Pius VII to enable both of them to make remarriages that were valid in the Catholic Church. At the time of the annulment, it was claimed by them that they had lived separately in the palace and that the marriage had never been consummated.

Empress

After the annulment of her marriage, Caroline Augusta was considered as a bride for both the Emperor Franz II and his younger brother, Ferdinand. Later, Ferdinand III, Grand Duke of Tuscany withdrew his proposal and Caroline Augusta became the Emperor’s bride.

On October 29, 1816, Caroline Augusta married Franz II, Emperor of Austria, King of Hungary and Bohemia and Croatia. She became the fourth wife of the emperor, who was 24 years older than her and had fathered thirteen children by two of his previous wives. The English diplomat Frederick Lamb called the new empress “ugly, clever and amiable,” and the emperor her husband had this to say of her: “She can stand a push, the other was nothing but air.” The wedding, and indeed their married life, was very simple due to the strict economy favoured by the Emperor. Prior to this marriage, Caroline Augusta had always been known as Charlotte, but now she began using the name Caroline.

This marriage, which lasted until the emperor’s death almost 20 years later, was harmonious but remained childless. She became popular in Austria and was active in social work; she founded several hospitals and residences for the poor. After the death of her spouse in 1835, she moved to Salzburg and lived there in quiet dignity until her own death nearly four decades later. The dowager empress died in February 1873, one day after her 81st birthday.