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From the Emperor’s Desk: although this blog post is about the accession of Emperor Franz Joseph on the throne of the Austrian Empire during the revolutions of 1848, I will not be addressing the complicated relationship between Franz Joseph and the kingdom of Hungary which was also going through a revolutionary period in 1848. I will deal with the accession of Franz Joseph as king of Hungary in a separate blog post on Monday.

Franz Joseph I (August 18, 1830 – November 21, 1916) was Emperor of Austria, King of Hungary, Bohemia and Croatia and the other states of the Habsburg monarchy from December 2, 1848 until his death on November 21, 1916. In the early part of his reign, his realms and territories were referred to as the Austrian Empire, but were reconstituted as the dual monarchy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1867. From May 1, 1850 to August 24, 1866, Franz Joseph was also President of the German Confederation.

Franz Joseph was born August 18, 1830 in the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna (on the 65th anniversary of the death of his Great-Great-Grandfather Emperor Franz I of Lorraine) as the eldest son of Archduke Franz Charles (the younger son of Holy Roman Emperor Franz II), and his wife Princess Sophie of Bavaria. Archduke Franz Joseph was born during the reign of his grandfather Emperor Franz of Austria, who was the last Holy Roman Emperor Franz II.

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 issue from the marriage of the heir to the throne were expected, Archduke Ferdinand (Emperor from 1835), his next elder brother Archduke 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.

Archduke 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.

Up to the age of seven, little “Franzi” was brought up in the care of the nanny (“Aja”) Louise von Sturmfeder. Then the “state education” began, the central contents of which were “sense of duty”, religiosity and dynastic awareness. The theologian Joseph Othmar von Rauscher conveyed to him the inviolable understanding of rulership of divine origin (divine grace), which is why no participation of the population in rulership in the form of parliaments is required.

During the Revolutions of 1848, the Austrian Chancellor Prince Metternich resigned (March–April 1848). The young Archduke, who (it was widely expected) would soon succeed his uncle on the throne, was appointed Governor of Bohemia on April 6, 1848, but never took up the post. Sent instead to the front in Italy, he joined Field Marshal Radetzky on campaign on April 29, receiving his baptism of fire on May 5 at Santa Lucia.

On December 2, 1848, Franz Joseph’s uncle, Emperor Ferdinand of Austria abdicated the throne at Olomouc, as part of Minister President Felix zu Schwarzenberg’s plan to end the Revolutions of 1848 in Hungary. At this point also came the renunciation of the rights to the throne of his father, the mild-mannered Archduke Franz Charles and Archduke Franz Joseph then acceded to the throne.

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 Emperor Franz III, however he soon realized that the ordinal number “III” was associated with the old Holy Roman Empire and he would therefore be Emperor Franz II of Austria. However, if he had called himself Emperor Franz II many of his advisors believed that would cause confusion since his grandfather was the last Holy Roman Emperor with the name Franz II and that was 42 years ago but still in the memory of the Austrian people. Therefore he chose to be known as Emperor Franz Joseph.

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.

The young Empress Elisabeth of Austria 1855.

His mother 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.

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.

Marriage of Franz Joseph and Elisabeth
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.


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 created 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 murder-suicide of his son Crown Prince Rudolf and his mistress Mary Vetsara 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 of Austria with not only the Ottoman but also the Russian Empire.

The Bosnian Crisis was a result of Franz Joseph’s annexation in 1908 of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which had already 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 declaring war on each other, which resulted in World War I.

Emperor Franz Joseph died in 1916, after ruling his domains for almost 68 years. He was succeeded by his grandnephew as Emperor Charles I of Austria and as King Charles IV of Hungary. The Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed in 1918 at the end of World War I.