Emperor Karl I von Habsburg is the current Emperor of Austria, the King of Hungary and Illyria (as Karl IV, Hungarian: IV. Károly, Croatian: Karlo IV) and the King of Bohemia (as Karl III, Czech: Karel III), and thus the head of state of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Charles succeeded to the thrones in November 1916 following the death of Emperor Franz Joseph, who ruled for almost 68 years. Under his rule, Austria-Hungary entered an age of political liberalization, constitutional monarchism, relative prosperity and stability.
Karl was born 17 August 1887 in the Castle of Persenbeug in Lower Austria. His parents were Archduke Otto Franz of Austria and Princess Maria Josepha of Saxony. At the time, his granduncle Franz Joseph reigned as Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary, and his uncle Franz Ferdinand became heir presumptive two years later.
As a child, Archduke Karl was raised as a devout Roman Catholic. He spent his early years wherever his father's regiment happened to be stationed; later on he lived in Vienna and Reichenau an der Rax. He was privately educated, but, contrary to the custom ruling in the imperial family, he attended a public gymnasium for the sake of demonstrations in scientific subjects. On the conclusion of his studies at the gymnasium, he entered the army, spending the years from 1906 to 1908 as an officer chiefly in Prague, where he studied law and political science concurrently with his military duties.
In 1907, he was declared of age and Prince Zdenko Lobkowitz was appointed his chamberlain. In the next few years, he carried out his military duties in various Bohemian garrison towns. Karl's relations with his granduncle were not intimate, and those with his uncle Franz Ferdinand were not cordial, with the differences between their wives increasing the existing tension between them. For these reasons, Charles, up to the time of the assassination of his uncle in 1914, obtained no insight into affairs of state but led the life of a prince not destined for a high political position.
Coming of Age and Political Position
Karl became heir presumptive after the assassination of his uncle Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914, the event which precipitated the Weltkrieg. Only at this time did the old Emperor take steps to initiate the heir-presumptive to his crown in affairs of state. But the outbreak of war interfered with this political education. Karl spent his time during the first phase of the war at headquarters at Teschen but exercised no military influence.
Karl then became a Feldmarschall (Field Marshal) in the Austro-Hungarian Army. In the spring of 1916, in connection with the offensive against Italy, he was entrusted with the command of the XX. Corps, whose affections the heir-presumptive to the throne won by his affability and friendliness. The offensive, after a successful start, soon came to a standstill. Shortly afterwards, Karl went to the eastern front as commander of an army operating against the Russians and Romanians.
Coronation and Reign
Karl succeeded to the thrones in November 1916, after the death of his grand-uncle, Emperor Franz Joseph.
On 2 December 1916, he assumed the title of Supreme Commander of the whole army from Archduke Friedrich. His coronation as King of Hungary occurred on 30 December. In 1917, Charles secretly entered into peace negotiations with France. He employed his brother-in-law, Prince Sixtus of Bourbon-Parma, an officer in the Belgian Army, as an intermediary. However, the Allies insisted on Austrian recognition of Italian claims to territory and Karl refused, so no progress was made.
The Austro-Hungarian Empire was wracked by inner turmoil in the final years of the war, with much tension between ethnic groups. In response, Karl agreed to reconvene the Imperial Parliament and allow for the creation of a confederation with each national group exercising self-governance.
Since the beginning of his rule he favoured the creation of a Croatian political entity, in his Croatian Coronation oath from 1916 he recognized the union of the Triune Kingdom of Croatia, Dalmatia and Slavonia with Rijeka and supported trialist suggestions from the Croatian Sabor and Ban, but these suggestions were vetoed by the Hungarian side which did not want to share power with other nations.
After the defeat of Italy and the fall of the France the immediate danger of military collapse of Austria-Hungary was averted. However, ethnic tension continued and the lack of major territorial gains from the war led to general discontent within the war-weary population.
Following the Peace with Honour in 1921 Emperor Karl was finally crowned Emperor in the Stephansdom in Vienna.
Political Developments Under Karl I
Following the Peace with Honour and Karl's official coronation ceremony ethnic tension continued with the empire. In Bohemia, the Czechs' and German-Austrians' quarrelling about how a federated Bohemia had to look like ended a political standstill and several revolts. In Galicia-Lodomeria, both Polish and Ruthenian separatist movements were gaining traction. Across Croatia, Bosnia and occupied Montenegro, South-Slavic insurrection took several cities and led to the formation of the Kingdom of Illyria under Austrian crown, much to the discontent of the Hungarians within the empire.
Even without support from Hungary Karl continued his policy of decentralisation of Austria-Hungary and continued to establish autonomous countries within the empire. As a result of Bohemian, Illyrian and Galician autonomy Cisleithanian Austria, now a federation-state, has calmed down - but the same cannot be said for Transleithania.
Karl is a devoted Catholic who is known for his daily mass attendance, devotion to the Rosary and devotion to the Sacred Heart. As a Catholic Christian, he is personally very weary about war, and has consistently tried to pursue policies of peace. His wife, Zita of Borbón-Parma, is the daughter of the late Robert, Duke of Parma. She is the sister of Prince Xavier of Borbón-Parma who claims to be the rightful successor of the elderly Carlist pretender, Don Alfonso Carlos. While a member of the relatively conservative House of Habsburg, he is loved by his subjects for his affection for the poor.
Karl and his wife, Empress Zita, have seven children.
- Crown Prince Otto, born 20 November 1912
- Archduchess Adelheid, born 3 January 1914
- Archduke Felix, born 31 May 1916
- Archduke Karl Ludwig, born 10 March 1918
- Archduke Rudolf, born 5 September 1919
- Archduchess Charlotte, born 1 March 1921
- Archduchess Elisabeth, born 31 May 1922