On the day of the Armistice of November 11, 1918, Charles issued a carefully worded proclamation in which he recognized the Austrian people’s right to determine the form of the state and “relinquish[ed] every participation in the administration of the State.” He also released his officials from their oath of loyalty to him. On the same day, the Imperial Family left Schönbrunn Palace and moved to Castle Eckartsau, east of Vienna. On November 13, following a visit with Hungarian magnates, Charles issued a similar proclamation—the Eckartsau Proclamation—for Hungary.
Although it has widely been cited as an “abdication”, the word itself was never used in either proclamation. Indeed, he deliberately avoided using the word abdication in the hope that the people of either Austria or Hungary would vote to recall him. Privately, Charles left no doubt that he believed himself to be the rightful emperor. He wrote to Friedrich Gustav Piffl, the Archbishop of Vienna: “I did not abdicate, and never will […] I see my manifesto of November 11, as the equivalent to a cheque which a street thug has forced me to issue at gunpoint […] I do not feel bound by it in any way whatsoever.”
Instead, on November 12, the day after he issued his proclamation, the independent Republic of German-Austria was proclaimed, followed by the proclamation of the First Hungarian Republic on November 16. An uneasy truce-like situation ensued and persisted until March, 23 to 24, 1919, when Charles left for Switzerland, escorted by the commander of the small British guard detachment at Eckartsau, Lieutenant Colonel Edward Lisle Strutt.
As the imperial train left Austria on March 24, 1919, Charles issued another proclamation in which he confirmed his claim of sovereignty, declaring that “whatever the national assembly of German Austria has resolved with respect to these matters since November 11, 1918 is null and void for me and my House.” The newly established republican government of Austria was not aware of this “Manifesto of Feldkirch” at this time—it had been dispatched only to King Alfonso XIII of Spain and to Pope Benedict XV through diplomatic channels—and politicians in power were irritated by the Emperor’s departure without explicit abdication.
The Austrian Parliament responded on April 3, with the Habsburg Law, which dethroned and banished the Habsburgs. Charles was barred from ever returning to Austria. Other male Habsburgs could only return if they renounced all intentions of reclaiming the throne and accepted the status of ordinary citizens. Another law passed on the same day abolished all nobility in Austria. In Switzerland, Charles and his family briefly took residence at Castle Wartegg near Rorschach at Lake Constance, and later moved to Château de Prangins at Lake Geneva on May 20.
Attempts to reclaim throne of Hungary
Charles sought twice in 1921 to reclaim the throne of Hungary, but failed largely because Hungary’s regent, Admiral Miklós Horthy (the last commander of the Imperial and Royal Navy), refused to support Charles’ restoration. Horthy’s action was declared “treasonous” by royalists. Critics suggest that Horthy’s actions were more firmly grounded in political reality than those of Charles and his supporters. Indeed, neighbouring countries had threatened to invade Hungary if Charles tried to regain the throne. Later in 1921, the Hungarian parliament formally nullified the Pragmatic Sanction, an act that effectively dethroned the Habsburgs.
After the second failed attempt at restoration in Hungary, Charles and his pregnant wife Zita were arrested and quarantined at Tihany Abbey. On November 1, 1921 they were taken to the Hungarian Danube harbour city of Baja, were taken onboard the monitor HMS Glowworm, and there removed to the Black Sea where they were transferred to the light cruiser HMS Cardiff.
On November 19, 1921 they arrived at their final exile, the Portuguese island of Madeira. Determined to prevent a third restoration attempt, the Council of Allied Powers had agreed on Madeira because it was isolated in the Atlantic Ocean and easily guarded.
The couple and their children, who joined them on February 2, 1922, lived first at Funchal at the Villa Vittoria, next to Reid’s Hotel, and later moved to Quinta do Monte. Compared to the imperial glory in Vienna and even at Eckartsau, conditions there were certainly impoverished.
Charles did not leave Madeira. On March 9, 1922 he had caught a cold in town, which developed into bronchitis and subsequently progressed to severe pneumonia. Having suffered two heart attacks, he died of respiratory failure on April 1, in the presence of his wife (who was pregnant with their eighth child) and nine-year-old former Crown Prince Otto, remaining conscious almost until his last moments.
His last words to his wife were “I love you so much.” His remains except for his heart are still on the island, resting in state in a chapel devoted to the Emperor in the Church of Our Lady of The Hill (Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Monte), in spite of several attempts to move them to the Habsburg Crypt in Vienna. His heart and the heart of his wife are entombed in Muri Abbey, Switzerland.