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The Austrian Empire and Austria-Hungary

"The Habsburg Monarchy, 1809--1918: A History of the Austrian Empire and Austria-Hungary," written by A.J.P. Taylor, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London; copyright Hamish Hamilton Limited, 1948; paperback edition 1976, ISBN 0-226-79145-9.

Chapter One--The Dynasty

The Empire of the Habsburgs (pronounces Hapsburgs) which was dissolved in 1918 had a unique character, out of time and out of place. Metternich, a European from the Rhineland, felt the Habsburg Empire did not belong in Europe. "Asia," he said, "begins at the Landstrasse"--the road out of Vienna to the east. Francis Joseph was conscious that he belonged to the wrong century. He told Theodore Roosevelt" "You see in me the last monarch of the old school." The collection of territories ruled over by the House of Habsburg never found a settled description. Their broad lines were determined in 1526, when Ferdinand, possessing already a variety of titles as ruler of the Alpine-Germanic lands, became King of Bohemia and King of Hungary: yet for almost three hundred years they had no common name. They were "the lands of the House of Habsburg" or "the lands of the [Holy Roman] Emperor." Between 1740 and 1745, when the imperial title passed out of Habsburg hands, Maria Theresa could only call herself "Queen of Hungary," yet her empire was certainly not the Hungarian Empire. In 1894, Francis II, the last Holy Roman Emperor, saw his imperial title threatened by Napoleon and invented for himself the title of "Emperor of Austria." This, too, was a dynamic name; the Empire was the Empire of the House of Austria, not the Empire of the Austrians. In 1867 the nation of Hungary established its claim to the partnership with the Emperor; and the Empire became "Austria-Hungary. The non-Hungarian lands remained without a name until the end.

The Habsburg lands were not bound together either by geography or by nationality. They have sometimes been described as the lands of the valley of the Danube. How could this include the Netherlands, the Breisgau, and northern Italy? Or even in the nineteenth century, Galicia, Bosnia, the Bukovina, and even Bohemia? The Habsburgs themselves were in origin a German dynasty. They added a first a Spanish and later an Italian element, without becoming anchored to a single region or people; they were the last possessors to a shadowy universal monarchy of the Middle Ages and inherited from it a cosmopolitan character. The inhabitants of Vienna, their capital city, were Germans; this was their nearest approach to a national appearance. In other countries dynasties are episodes in the history of the people; in the Habsburg empire peoples are a complication in the history of the dynasty. The Habsburg lands acquired in time a common culture and, to some extent, a common economic character: theses were the creation, not the creator, of the dynasty. No other family has endured so long or left so deep a mark on Europe: The Habsburgs were the greatest dynasty of modern history, and the history of central Europe revolves around them, not they around it.

The Habsburgs, in their time, discharged many missions. In the sixteenth century they defended Europe from the Turk; in the seventeenth century they promoted the victory of the Counter-Reformation; in the eighteenth century they propagated the ideas of the Enlightenment; in the nineteenth century they acted as a barrier against a Great German national state. All these were casual associations. Their enduring aim was to exist in greatness; ideas, like peoples, were exploited for the greatness of their house. Hence the readiness to experiment, which made Francis Joseph, for example, at the end of his reign the exponent of universal suffrage. They changed ideas, territories, methods, alliances, statesmen, whenever it suited dynastic interests to do so. Only "the August House" was permanent. The Habsburg lands were a collection of entitled estates, not a state; and the Habsburgs were landlords, not rulers--some were benevolent landlords, some incompetent, some rapacious and grasping, but all intent on extracting the best return from their tenants so as to cut a great figure in Europe. They could compound everything, except for the demand to be free of landlords; this demand was their ruin.

The Habsburgs began their dynastic career as Archdukes of Austria, the Alpine lands on the south-eastern march of the Holy Roman Empire. In the fifteenth century a Habsburg was elected Emperor, a harmless nonentity after previous turmoils; and the position became virtually hereditary--only between 1742 and 1745 was a non-Habsburg Emperor. Still, even the Habsburgs hoped to make the Empire and Germany a united state; they needed more power with which to subdue the German princes. With peculiar mastery they wielded throughout the centuries the weapon of dynastic marriage; and this weapon built the greatness of their House. Charles V, who was elected Emperor in 1519, ruled over the Netherlands, Spain, and the Indies, and most of Italy; Ferdinand, his younger brother, took over the archduchy of Austria and in 1526 became King of Bohemia and Kind of Hungary. This was a bid for universal monarchy, a monarchy bound by family ties. Its opponents proved too strong: Frances and the German princes combined against it, and it failed. Ferdinand in 1526 acquired new burdens, not new strength. He owed Bohemia and Hungary to the death of the last Jagellon King in battle against the Turks...

Page 11..."Habsburg creativeness was exhausted with the failure of Charles V. In 1556, when he abdicated and the Imperial title was passed to Ferdinand, began the Habsburg struggle to survive in greatness; the Habsburgs monarchy had acquired its lasting character. External enemies had been the enemy of the first have of the sixteenth century; disintegration was the danger of the second half of the century. The estates of the various lands sought to maintain their independence and the privileges of their aristocratic members. Bohemia had already a national religion in the Hussite Church; Protestantism spread both in the remnant of Hungary and in the German lands. Even the policy of marriages had its reverse effect; for marriages produce children and the Habsburgs divided their lands among their offspring until the end of the seventeenth century, new marriages then followed to redress the results of the old ones. The idea of unity of the Habsburg lands questioned the rights of the dynasty to dispose of its lands at will; and the Habsburgs strove to keep their dominions apart; not to bring meeting of Estates, as there were in France...In other countries the dynasties co-operated with their peoples; the Habsburgs believed that the peoples would co-operate only against the dynasty. They sought an ally against the initiative of their subjects, and this ally they found in the Counter-Reformation.

The alliance of the dynasty and the Jesuits saved the Habsburgs and defeated Protestantism in central Europe; it also gave to "Austrian" culture the peculiar stamp which it preserved to the end. Austrian Baroque civilization, like the buildings which it created, was grandiose, full of superficial life, yet sterile within: it was theatre, not reality. It lacked integrity and individual character; at its heart was a despairing frivolity. "Hopelessness, but les serious" was the guiding principle which the age of Baroque stamped on the Habsburg world. Deep feelings found an outlet only in music, the least political of the arts, even here the creative spirit strove to break its bonds, and the air of Vienna was more congenial to Johann Strauss than to Mozart or to Beethoven. The Habsburgs leant from the Jesuits patience, subtlety, and showmanship; the could not learn from them sincerity and creativeness.

The Germanic lands were won back peacefully by the Counter-Reformation in the latter part of the sixteenth century: Protestantism survived only in a few mountain valleys of Carinthia. The narrow strip of Habsburg Hungary, with the Diet of Bratislava, also succumbed easily. Central Hungary was a Turkish pashalic, wasting to nothing under Turkish exploitation. The Hungarian lands to the east were a dependent principality under Turkish suzerainty; and her Calvinism held out, preserved by the Turks, to thwart the Habsburgs later. The open conflict came in Bohemia. Here the nobility, like the estates in the Netherlands, called Calvinism and nationalism to the aid of aristocratic privilege. Unlike the Netherlands, Bohemia lacked a rising middle class to transform the defense of privilege into a struggle for new freedoms. The Bohemian nobles invoked the name of Huss and glorified the Czech nation; in fact they never advanced from a refusal to pay taxes. The conflict turned to war in 1618. The Bohemian Diet, alarmed by imperial encroachment. refused to elect the new Habsburg as their King, despite a previous promise. Instead they elected a German Protestant prince, who, it was thought, could count on the army of the Calvinist Union in Germany and his father-in-law, the King of England. The Habsburg Monarchy seemed in dissolution: the Emperor had neither money nor men, and Bohemian cavalry reached the gates of Vienna. The Bohemian success was short; the nobility would not make sacrifices to defend their privileges , or even their existence; James I, sunk in pacific diplomacy, would not even be prompted by the House of Commons into sending an army to Bohemia; the Calvinist Union provided few forces to aid Bohemia, the Catholic League much to the add the Habsburgs. In 1620 historic Bohemia was destroyed in the battle of White Mountain. Czech Hussite culture was replaced by the cosmopolitan Baroque culture of the Counter-Reformation. The native nobility was expropriated or driven into exile; two-thirds of the landed estates changed hands; and adventurers from every country in Europe, the hanger-on of the Habsburgs, set up a new, Imperial aristocracy. The Crown became hereditary in the Habsburg line; the Diet, revived by the Revised Ordinance of 1627, lost its rights and could only listen to the demands of the Crown for money.

The battle of the White Mountain determined the character of the Habsburg Empire. Previously, Bohemia and Hungary had been similar, semi-independent kingdoms; now Bohemia became a "hereditary land" like the German lands, and Hungary stood alone. The Czech nation was submerged. Bohemia existed as an a administrative unit. Though Germany was placed on an equality with Czech, Bohemia did not become German; it became "Austrian," that is a cosmopolitan or nondescript. The victory of 1620 was a victory for absolutism, not centralism. The Habsburgs feared to bring their peoples together, even in subjection; besides, centralizing their states was beyond their administrative capacity. The power which they had assembled to subdue Bohemia was dissipated in a final attempt to reduce Germany to obedience. Old ambitions stirred a dream, and the Imperial armies reached the shores of the Baltic. The intervention of France and Sweden defeated these Habsburgs projects; and the Peace of Westphalia, which ended the Thirty Years' War, embodied the verdict that Germany would not attain unity through the Holy Roman Empire. There was another side to the verdict: the Habsburgs, though thwarted as Emperors, ere not condemned to death--they remained great as rulers in there dynastic lands. The House of Austria received European recognition, no longer as holder of the Imperial title, but in virtue of its own strength. (page 14).

The final element in the constitution of the Habsburg Monarchy was added with the reconquest of Hungary. The Habsburgs were provoked into action by a last outburst Turkish vigor, which led to a second siege of Vienna in 1683. When this failed, the Turkish tide ran back rapidly, and the Habsburg armies cleared practically all Hungary of the Turks by the end of the seventeenth century. The Habsburgs had another motive for haste. The landowners who made up the Hungarian nation were determined to escape the fate of Bohemia: liberated from the Turks, they rebelled against the Habsburgs and in 1708 deposed their Habsburg king. The battle of White Mountain was not, however, repeated at their expense: the Habsburgs forces were fully engaged in the War of Spanish Succession, and could not be diverted to subduing the Hungarian nobles. Compromise, the first of many between the Habsburgs and Hungary followed in 1711. By the Peace at Szatmar the Hungarian nobles, led by Alexander Karolyi, deserted their leader, Rakoczi, and recognized the Habsburg ruler as king; he in turn recognized the traditional constitution and privileges of Hungary. Hungary thus preserved it feudal Diet, its separate existence, and the privileges of the landed class. Above all, it preserved the comitat, the institution, unique in Europe, an autonomous local government. Habsburg administration stopped at the Hungarian frontier; Hungary, even in periods of absolutism, was administered by the elected committees of county gentry, and these would never operate measures which ran against their privileges. The pattern of Hungary’s future was determined: the Habsburgs were accepted as kings, only so long as they sustained the “freedom” of the landowners...

...In 1740 the survival of the Habsburg Monarchy was in question as it was in 1618. The King of Prussia demanded Silesia and, by conquering it, changed the balance of German and non-German peoples in the lands of the Bohemian crown; a non-Habsburg, the Elector of Bavaria, was elected Emperor; a French army invaded Bohemia and occupied Prague. Marie Theresa used the weapons of her forbearers: patience and obstinacy, a professional army and wise policy of alliances. She did not attempt to appeal to the support of her people. Her one appeal to patriotism, her dramatic appearance at the Hungarian Diet in 1741, was not a success. The Hungarian nobles indeed declared that they would die for their king, Maria Theresa. They would not, however, pay taxes to her, and their very declaration of loyalty was an assertion that Hungary knew only the King of Hungary and had no concern for the unity of the Habsburg lands. The crisis of 1618 had left the Habsburgs with the belief that the peoples would co-operate only against the dynasty; the crisis of 1740 established the belief that an appeal to the peoples would not help the dynasty but would be exploited by the peoples to extract damaging concessions. When Maria Theresa had overcome her foreign enemies, she went on to create the unity of her empire.

Charles V had made the Habsburgs land a legal unit; Marie Theresa translated this unity into practice. When she came to the throne, the provinces were all and the center of nothing; the “Empire” was merely the court and the army. Maria Theresa gave her Empire the bureaucratic system with which it could not have continued as a Great Power. The Bohemian Chancellery was abolished and a central direction established in Vienna; agents of this central body, independent of the provincial Diets, supervised local administration. The great landlord still exercised “patrimonial jurisdiction” over their peasants; this survived until 1848. Its value to the lord was financial, rather than political....(Page 16.)

Appendix: The Political and Ethnographic Structure of the Habsburg Monarchy

1. Territorial Structure and Changes

It would need a long essay to explain the casual forces of marriage, diplomacy, and luck that brought together "the lands of the House of Austria." These lands acquired the title of Empire of Austria in 1804. The Empire lost territory in 1805 and again in 1809; it regained territory and acquired new at the Congress of Vienna, and the Treaty of Vienna (1815) gave the Habsburg Monarchy the definition which kept to the end with certain modifications. Cracow was annexed in 1846. Lombardy (except for the four fortress towns which compromised the Quadrilateral) was surrendered in 1859; Venetia and the rest of Lombard in 1866. At the Congress of Berlin in 1878 Austria-Hungary was given the administration of Bosnia and Hercegovinia (which remained theoretically part of the Turkish Empire) and also the military occupation of the Sanjak of Novi-Bazar. In 1908 Bosnia and Hercegovina were annexed and the military rights of the Sanjak abandoned.

It is sometimes said that the Austrian Empire was a "natural unit;" this catch phrase only means that it was large and had existed for a long time. Many economic ties had grown up with the centuries; these were certainly not "natural." There was no geographic unity. Vorarlberg is geographically part of Switzerland, Tyrol of Southern Germany; many districts of Tyrol are inaccessible except from Germany. Carinthia and most of Styria are separated from the Danube valley by a great mountain barrier and belong to the Adriatic hinterland, as to Carniola and the coastal provinces; in fact "Slovenia" has a natural unity, though it has never existed in history. Dalmatia had no geographic connection with Austria, nor any economic connection, except as ta Riviera for Imperial bureaucrats. Bohemia is severed from Moravia by a line of hills; the Elbe, not the Danube, is its great river, and its economic outlet is Hamburg, not Trieste--a geographic fact with unwelcome political implications. Galicia was severed from Austria, except though a narrow corridor at Tešin; it was divided even from Hungary by the barrier of the Carpathians. As for Burovina, it was cut off from everywhere, a meaningless fragment of territory for which there could be no rational explanation.

Hungary had a geographic unity, in so far as it was made of the great plain of the middle Danube; this unity did cover Croatia, which has much more "natural" unity with Carniola or Bosnia. The Austrian Empire looked an impressive unit on the map; its reality, as Austria-Hungary, often prevented unity in the interests of Hungary. Thus, there was no railway connection between Moravia and the Slovak districts of northern Hungary; and no important railway between Zagreb and Vienna. The forty-odd miles between Zagreb and the junction with the Vienna-Ljubljana line took almost three hours with the fastest train; and all the freight had to go by Budapest. There was no railway communication between Dalmatia and Bosnia; in fact Dalmatia had better communication with its hinterland in Roman times. All these defects, and many more. were made up after the fall of the Habsburg Monarchy. Far from being a "natural unit," the Habsburg Monarchy was a geographic nonsense, explicable only by dynastic graspings and the accidents of centuries of history.

2. National Composition

National statistics were a constant weapon of political struggle; in 1919 they became the deciding factor in the drawing of the frontiers, though they were not designed for that purpose nor suited for it. They have many limitations. The census of 1846 was taken by Imperial officers without national allegiance, though no doubt with unconscious German prejudices; having no propaganda purpose, it took the test of "mother tongue," and therefore gave something like a historical picture. The later censuses were made by the local administrations and were conducted as political battles; the test was the "language usually used," a test which was always injures a minority and usually favors a dominant people. For instance, The Times correspondent in Vienna in 1910 was recorded as German. since this was the language which he used when shopping. On all the "language frontiers" astonishing variations occurred, according to the whim of the local officials; thus, entire Slovak villages disappeared at one census and reappeared at the next. In other words, population figures are least reliable in the disputed areas, although they were used to determine the fate of these areas in 1919 and on many latter occasions...

Further, national statistics only count heads: they cannot record national consciousness or economic weight. A Little Russian peasant who has never heard of the Ukraine cannot be counted as the equal of a Pan-German enthusiast. A true national picture would have to show the number of elementary schools, secondary schools. universities, newspapers, and publishing houses possessed by each nationality. It would have to divide the Empire according to the nationality of the landowners, of the employers of labor, of the shopkeepers, the intellectuals--school teachers, lawyers, trade union secretaries--and so finally down to the peasants. It would be particularly important to record the nationality of the voters under the limited franchise which always existed in Hungary and until 1907 in Austria.

The crude figures which follow are therefore included only for purposes of illustration: The population of Austria-Hungary in 1910 was roughly:

Germans 12 million 23 percent

Magyars 10 million 19 percent

Roumanians 03 million 06 percent

Slavs 23 1/2 million 45 percent

Others 2 1/2 million 05 percent

If the Slavs and the Roumanians [sic, author's spelling] held together as "subject peoples," they were a majority. On the other hand, if the Poles (five million) went over to the Germans and the Magyars [true Hungarians] this gave the majority to the "master nations." Hence the political importance of the Poles and the privileges which they enjoyed. However the massed figures for Austria-Hungary have no serious political importance; it more useful to break them up into figures for the Austrian provinces and for Hungary, as in two new sections.

3. The National Balance in the Austrian Provinces

Population of constitutional Austria in 1910:

Germans 9.950 million 35 percent

Czechs 6.436 million 23 percent

Poles 4.968 million 17 percent

Little Russians 3.519 million 12 percent

Slovenes 1.253 million 4 percent

Serbo-Croats .788 million 2.8 percent

Italians .768 million 2.75 percent

Roumanians .275 million 0.98 percent

These figures draw even more striking attention to the decisive position of the Poles: the Germans could maintain a majority only with their support...(pages 262 through 265)

(Page 267) The "lands of the Bohemian Crown" were Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia. Bohemia had 62 percent Czechs to 38 percent Germans--three and half million to two million; Moravia had 70 percent Czechs to 30 percent Germans--on and a half million to six hundred thousand. In Moravia the two nationalities were mingled; in Bohemia the Germans were mainly on the fringes--the Sudentenlands, as they were later (erroneously) named--though there were German pockets throughout Czech territory and vice versa. The proportions of Czechs and Germans had changed little in the course of a century. This formal statement conceals the fact of the Czech renaissance; in 1815 Bohemia and Moravia had been to all appearance German, in 1910 the Germans were struggling to resist the position of tolerated minority. Silesia was predominately German, with a large Polish population in its eastern part: 281,000 Germans, 178,000 Poles, 129,000 Czechs. The Poles, who supplied the industrial working-class, were increasing more rapidly than the other two peoples, partly from a higher rate of natural increase, mainly by immigration from Prussian Silesia, where conditions were less attractive to them.

More on the Germans in the Czech Crown Lands

Chapter Twelve: Liberal Failure: German Ascendancy in Austria; 1867--1879

[Francis Joseph rules Austria-Hungary]

"...German rule could be moderated or overthrown by playing off the other nations of Austria, and especially the Czechs, against the Germans; the settlement with Hungary could be challenged only if the Czechs and Germans were reconciled, and any real accord among the peoples of Austria, though it would weaken the Magyars, would also endanger the supremacy of the Emperor...

In 1868, after the creation of the bourgeois ministry, the immediate need of Imperial policy was to bring the Czechs back into practical politics, in order to play them off against the Germans. The Czech leaders had been driven to despair...they had feared disaster if Austria remained a German power, they encountered disaster even though Austria was excluded from Germany...In 1868 the Czech intellectuals and the Bohemian aristocrats renewed their alliance;...they asked for equal rights for the Czechs in Bohemia, and for a reform in the electoral system; they demanded also the unity of the lands of St. Wenceslaus and the same independence for this "great Bohemia" as Hungary possessed. The Czech leaders were bewitched by the Hungarian example. They saw. quite rightly, that the Magyars had achieved their national freedom by associating it with historical rights, and they supposed that the way to achieve the national freedom of the Czechs was to claim the historic rights of Bohemia. They did not see that the historic rights of Hungary were real, the historic rights of Bohemia imaginary, and that in claming them the Czech were taking up an added burden, not acquiring a new weapon. Still, the Declaration put them back in the political market, though the price they asked was too high.

...[The aim was] that the Czechs should acknowledge the unity of Austria by attending the Reichsrat, in return for fair treatment in Bohemia; and this aim was acceptable to the German ministers, who, after the disasters of the previous years, would also pay a good price for the recognition of Austrian unity.

The offer was rejected by the Czech politicians. Leaders without followers, they dared not abandon their noble allies. unlike the nationalities of Hungary, they asked for more than tolerable treatment. They insisted that the Czechs were Bohemians as the Magyar were Hungarians; so indeed they were both in Czech and German. They were tied to the history which they had themselves revived and claimed to be the "people of the state" in Bohemia.. not a minority in Austria. This was not a simple conflict between Czech and German; it was a clash between the historic Kingdom of Bohemia and the equally historic "Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation" which had included Bohemia. The Czechs could no more be content with minority rights in Bohemia, which they claimed was their own state, than the Germans, accustomed to regard Bohemia as part of the Reich or at any rate as part of the German State of Austria, could be content later with minority rights in Czechoslovakia.