From the Emperor’s Desk: Although the Austrian Empire was created on this date in 1804, this article does not focus on the creation of the Austrian Government but instead focuses on the creation of the title, The Emperor of Austria (German: Kaiser von Österreich).
The Emperor of Austria
The Emperor of Austria was the ruler of the Austrian Empire and later the Austro-Hungarian Empire. A hereditary imperial title and office proclaimed on August 11, 1804 by Holy Roman Emperor Franz II, a member of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine, and continually held by him and his heirs until Charles I relinquished power in 1918.
Imperial Coat of Arms of the Austrian Empire
The emperors retained the title of Archduke of Austria. The wives of the emperors held the title empress, while other members of the family maintained the title archduke or archduchess.
Members of the House of Austria, the Habsburg dynasty, had been the elected Holy Roman Emperors since 1438 (except for a five-year break from 1740 to 1745) and mostly resided in Vienna. Thus the term “Austrian Emperor” may occur in texts dealing with the time before 1804, when no Austrian Empire existed.
In these cases the word Austria means the composite monarchy ruled by the dynasty, not the country. A special case was Maria-Theresa; she bore the imperial title as the consort of Franz I (r. 1745–1765), but she herself was the monarch of the Austrian Hereditary Lands including Bohemia and Hungary.
The French Constitution of the Year XII, also called the Organic Senatus-Consultum of 28 Floréal, amended the earlier Constitution of the Year VIII and Constitution of the Year X, establishing the First French Empire with Napoleon Bonaparte — previously First Consul for Life, with wide-ranging powers — as Napoleon I, Emperor of the French. The Constitution established the House of Bonaparte as France’s imperial dynasty, making the throne hereditary in Napoleon’s family. The Constitution of the Year XII was later itself extensively amended by the Additional Act and definitively abolished with the final return of the Bourbons in 1815.
Napoleon I, Emperor of the French
In the face of aggressions by Napoleon I, who had been proclaimed “Emperor of the French” by the French constitution on May 18, 1804, Franz II feared for the future of the Holy Roman Empire and wished to maintain his and his family’s Imperial status in the event that the Holy Roman Empire should be dissolved.
Therefore, on August 11, 1804 he created the new title of “Emperor of Austria” for himself and his successors as heads of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine. For two years, Francis carried two imperial titles: being Holy Roman Emperor Franz II and “by the Grace of God” and Emperor Franz I of Austria. This was the only time in history was there an Emperor who ruled two separate Empires simultaneously.
In 1805, an Austrian-led army suffered a humiliating defeat at the Battle of Austerlitz and the victorious Napoleon proceeded to dismantle the old Reich (which at this time was only a powerless confederation) by motivating or pressuring several German princes to enter the separate Confederation of the Rhine with their lands in July.
The Confederation of the Rhine was a confederation of client states of the First French Empire. It was formed initially from sixteen German states by Napoleon after he defeated Austria and Russia at the Battle of Austerlitz. The Treaty of Pressburg, in effect, led to the creation of the Confederation of the Rhine, which lasted from 1806 to 1813.
The members of the confederation were German princes (Fürsten) still formerly members within the Holy Roman Empire. They were later joined by 19 others, altogether ruling a total of over 15 million subjects providing a significant strategic advantage to the French Empire on its eastern frontier by providing a separation between France and the two largest German states, Prussia and Austria (which also controlled substantial non-German lands to its north, east and south), to the east, which were not members of the Confederation of the Rhine.
On July 12, 1806, on signing the Treaty of the Confederation of the Rhine in Paris, 16 German states joined together in a confederation (the treaty called it the états confédérés du Rhinelande, with a precursor in the League of the Rhine). The “Protector of the Confederation” was a hereditary office of the Emperor of the French, Napoleon. On August 1, the members of the confederation formally seceded from the Holy Roman Empire.
Franz II, Holy Roman Emperor and Emperor of Austria
This led Emperor Franz II-I on August 6, 1806 to declare the Reich dissolved and to lay down the Imperial Crown created in the second half of the 10th century (today displayed at the Treasury of Hofburg Palace in Vienna).
From 1806 onwards, Franz was Emperor of Austria only. He had three successors—Ferdinand I, Franz-Joseph I and Charles I—before the Empire broke apart in 1918. A coronation ceremony was never established; the heir to the throne became emperor the moment his predecessor died or abdicated. The symbol of the Austrian Emperor was the dynasty’s private crown dating back to Rudolph II (r. 1576–1612), (called Rudolfinische Hauskrone by the experts), which should convey the dignity and myth of the Habsburgs.
Crown of Emperor Rudolph II
Titles of the Emperor
The Austrian Emperors had an extensive list of titles and claims that reflected the geographic expanse and diversity of the lands ruled by the Austrian Habsburgs. The grand title of the Emperor of Austria had been changed several times: by a patent of August 1, 1804, by a court office decree from August 22, 1836, by an Imperial court ministry decree of January 6, 1867 and finally by a letter of December 12, 1867.
Shorter versions were recommended for official documents and international treaties: “Emperor of Austria, King of Bohemia etc. and Apostolic King of Hungary”, “Emperor of Austria and Apostolic King of Hungary”, “His Majesty the Emperor and King” and “His Imperial and Royal Apostolic Majesty”.
The full list (after the loss of the Lombardy in 1859 and Venetia in 1866):
Emperor of Austria,
Apostolic King of Hungary,
King of Bohemia, of Dalmatia, of Croatia, of Slavonia, of Galicia, of Lodomeria, and of Illyria,
King of Jerusalem, and so forth,
Archduke of Austria,
Grand Duke of Tuscany and of Cracow,
Duke of Lorraine, of Salzburg, of Styria, of Carinthia, of Carniola and of the Bukovina,
Grand Prince of Transylvania,
Margrave in Moravia,
Duke of Upper and Lower Silesia, of Modena, Parma, Piacenza and Guastalla, of Auschwitz and Zator, of Teschen, Friuli, Ragusa and Zara,
Princely Count of Habsburg and Tyrol, of Kyburg, Gorizia and Gradisca,
Prince of Trent and Brixen,
Margrave of Upper and Lower Lusatia and in Istria,
Count of Hohenems, Feldkirch, Bregenz, Sonnenberg, and so forth,
Lord of Trieste, of Cattaro and of the Windic March,
Grand Voivode of the Voivodship of Serbia, and so forth,
Sovereign of the Order of the Golden Fleece.