Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor

Summary

Francis Stephen of Lorraine (8 December 1708 – 18 August 1765), Prince of the House of Lorraine, reigning Prince of Lorraine and Bar from 1729 to 1737 under the name Francis III, and Grand Duke of Tuscany from 1737 under the name Francis II.  From 1740, he was co-ruler of the Austrian hereditary provinces from 1740, and from 1745, Emperor of the German-Roman Empire as Francis I. Through his wife he was one of the founders of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine.

Origin, siblings

Prince Francis Stephen of Lorraine was born in Nancy, Lorraine. His father was Prince Leo I, Prince Joseph of Vaudémont, reigning Prince of Lorraine and Bar (1679-1729). His paternal grandfather, V. Charles, Duke of Lorraine (1643-1690), an imperial general, was a famous commander in the wars against the Turks, and played a decisive role in the liberation of Vienna in 1683 and the retaking of Buda in 1686. His paternal grandmother was Archduchess Eleonora Maria Josepha Habsburg (1653-1697), daughter of Emperor Ferdinand III.

Her mother was Princess Elisabeth Sarolta of Orléans (1676-1744), wife of Prince Leo, daughter of Prince Philip I of Orléans (1640-1701), brother of King Louis XIV of France, and Princess Elisabeth Sarolta (Liselotte) of Palatinate (1652-1722). Her mother, Elizabeth Sarolta of Orléans, was recognised by her cousin, King Louis XV, as sovereign sovereign princess of Commercy in 1736.

Prince Leo and Princess Elisabeth Sarolta had thirteen children, the ninth being Francis Stephen, the third of five sons. Only five children, three of them sons, reached adulthood.

Youth

The German-Roman Emperor Charles VI (known as Charles III of Hungary and Charles II of Bohemia) favoured the grandchildren of his aunt, Archduchess Eleonora. He had planned to marry his eldest daughter, Archduchess Maria Theresa, to his eldest, Prince Clement Leo, but she died of smallpox in 1723. Charles then invited Clement”s eldest brother, Prince Franz Stephen, to Vienna and appointed him as his future son-in-law.

Prince Franz Stephan arrived at the imperial court in 1723, aged 15. He was a highly educated young man, taking 74 books with him to Vienna, a rarity for such a young man. Charles adopted him as his son and gave him the Silesian Teschen. He brought him up with his own children, who were of the same blood. Maria Theresa, barely 10 years old, met the young French prince, fell in love with him and later remained devoted to her chosen one. Francis and his future father-in-law, Charles, often went hunting together, which brought them close, although Charles (for the sake of the dynasty) also considered other suitors, including Charles Albert, heir to the Bavarian throne, later to be Austria”s great rival. The heir to the Prussian throne, Frederick of Prussia, was also considered, but the Hohenzollern family”s Lutheran religion was a serious obstacle. Prince Francis Stephen met the criteria, coming from a Catholic family that was or had been a monarch (Lorraine was no longer a separate duchy at this time, occupied by Louis XV). Emperor Charles deferred the marriage of his daughter to one and all, as he was waiting for the birth of his own heir.

Prince of Lorraine becomes Grand Duke of Tuscany

In 1729, on the death of his father, Prince Leo, Stephen succeeded to the title of Prince Regent of Lorraine and Bar. He returned briefly to Nancy to claim his inheritance. He had to swear allegiance to King Louis XV, but soon returned to Vienna. He entrusted the administration of the Duchy of Lorraine as regent to his mother, Princess Elisabeth Sarolta of Orléans, sister of the French regent who ruled on behalf of the minor King Louis XV.

In 1731, he was commissioned by the Emperor to undertake a long study trip to the Netherlands, England and Prussia. Such a Kavaliertour was an almost obligatory custom for young aristocrats of the time. At the beginning of June 1731, he was admitted to the Masons in The Hague. John Theophilus Desaguliers (1683-1744), Grand Master of the Premier Grand Lodge of England and Westminster, came to The Hague especially for this event. After the inauguration, Francis Stephen travelled to England. He was received by King George II of England. He received the Master of Freemasonry degree from Robert Walpole (1676-1745), Prime Minister of Great Britain, at Maid”s Head Lodge, Norfolk Castle. He left England on 9 December 1731.

After the death of Miklós Pálffy, Prince of Hungary, on 20 March 1732, King Charles III appointed Prince Franz István as the royal governor of Hungary (without convening the elective Diet). He moved his seat to Bratislava Castle. As Viceroy, he did practically nothing worthwhile. He did not live far from Vienna, often visited the court, and by this time he himself had already reciprocated the affections of Archduchess Maria Theresa. They corresponded in French.

In 1733, the Habsburg Empire became embroiled in the War of the Polish Succession, where it faced France. As a result of the war, Emperor Charles I and the Russian Tsarina Anna I restored Augustus III, former King of Poland and Elector of Saxony, to the Polish throne. King Sanislo I (Leszczyński), overthrown by the Russian armies, fled his country. As he was the father-in-law of King Louis XV of France, the Emperor wanted to compensate him with another country. Lorraine was just what Charles VI wanted, so he demanded that Prince Francis Stephen renounce the Duchy of Lorraine or he would deny him the hand of his daughter. (The Imperial Councillor Bartenstein was very clear in his interpretation of the Emperor”s offer to the young Francis: “No Abtretung, keine Erzherzogin” (“No resignation, no Archduchess”). Since Francis was in love with Maria Theresa, he gave up Lotharingia after a short period of reflection.

In 1735 Francis gave way. As part of the peace treaty of Vienna that ended the war, Sanislas was granted Lorraine in return for Charles”s permission to marry Francis and Maria Theresa (1736). However, since Prince Francis Stephen was also a born monarch, he was also entitled to compensation: the Emperor appointed him as the candidate for the throne of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. In 1737, when the last Grand Duke of Tuscany of the Medici family, Gian Gastone (1671-1737), died, Prince Francis Stephen of Lorraine was invested with the title of Grand Duke of Tuscany.

His marriage to Maria Theresa

Grand Duke Franz Stephen of Lorraine of Tuscany married Archduchess Maria Theresa of Austria, later Queen of Hungary and the Czech Republic, in a ceremony in Vienna on 12 February 1736. Unlike the usual dynastic marriages of convenience, this was a true marriage of love. The newlyweds travelled to Tuscany for three months before returning to Vienna. Their marriage resulted in 16 children, creating the House of Habsburg-Lorraine:

It should also be mentioned that his family completely disregarded the expectations of the time, and instead his family was like an ordinary well-to-do middle-class family.

Travels of the Grand Duke of Tuscany

Maria Theresa had intended a career as a military commander for her husband, so Franz István retired in 1738, took part in the Habsburg-Turkish War of 1737-39 (Austria had entered the Russo-Turkish War in 1737, which had been going on since 1735), but soon returned with symptoms of a nervous breakdown. The war ended disastrously for Austria, which lost much of the territory it had gained in 1718, including Belgrade (with large areas of Serbia), the western part of the Wallachian Lowlands and Oltenia. Even the Timis region, which belonged to Hungary, was only retained with great luck. Francis” younger brother, Prince Charles Alexander, who had lived in Vienna since 1736 and joined the Imperial Army in 1737, distinguished himself in the same war, receiving the rank of Generalwachtmeister (Major General).

After his failure in the military, Francis offered to take the throne of Tuscany. Together with Maria Theresa, they set off for Florence via Venice. In Verona in December 1738, the Venetian authorities quarantined them for two weeks, together with a large entourage. Because of the cramped conditions, Maria Theresa resented the Venetians for the rest of her life.

They spent three months in Florence. Francis founded a knightly academy (Ritterakademie) for noble youths, where they could train to become modern state officials in the spirit of enlightened absolutism. Francis then appointed an aristocrat from Lorraine, the Duke of Craon, as regent, and he and his wife returned to Vienna. On the way, they met Francis”s mother, Princess Elisabeth Sarolta of Orléans, in Innsbruck, who was seeing her daughter-in-law for the first (and last) time.

In the autumn of 1739 they were back in Vienna. Emperor Charles VI made his son-in-law Francis (not his own daughter, Maria Theresa!) a member of the supreme governing body of the state, the Secret Conference (Geheime Konferenz).In the autumn of 1740, Emperor Charles VI returned home ill from a hunting trip to West Hungary and died on 20 October.

The War of the Austrian Succession

As Emperor Charles died without a male heir, his daughter, Archduchess Maria Theresa, inherited the Habsburg hereditary provinces (Erbländer) under the Pragmatica sanctio issued in 1713, which triggered the War of the Austrian Succession, which began with the invasion of Silesia by King Frederick II of Prussia. On 25 June 1741, Maria Theresa was crowned Queen of Hungary by the Hungarian orders in Bratislava, and on 7 September she was assured of their support.

Charles Albert, Elector of Bavaria, whose wife was Maria Amalia, Archduchess of Austria (1701-1756), daughter of the German-Roman Emperor Joseph I, claimed the right to the Habsburg hereditary provinces, although he renounced this right in 1722, as a condition of this marriage. His troops – with French support – conquered Bohemia, and the Czech aristocracy swore allegiance to him. On 12 February 1742, the Imperial Assembly in Frankfurt elected him as Charles VII to succeed the deceased emperor. On 7 December 1741, the Czech orders crowned Charles Albert King of Bohemia in Prague.

Co-ruler and Emperor

After 1740, Franz István became co-regent of the Habsburg hereditary provinces alongside his wife, but he did not interfere in Austria”s internal political decisions, only assisting his wife, the ruling archduchess, as a kind of secretary.

In 1744, Francis”s younger brother, Prince Charles Alexander of Lorraine, married Maria Anna, Archduchess of Austria (1718-1744), sister of Maria Theresa. After the wedding, the couple travelled to Brussels and took up the post of Governor General of Austria and the German Low Countries. Alexander Charles went to war as commander of the Austrian army in the Rhineland, and his young wife died with their child at the birth of their first child.

After the death of Emperor Charles VII (1745), his son, the Bavarian Electoral Prince Frederick Joseph III (1727-1777), learned from the Bavarian defeat in the war, on the advice of his mother, made peace with Austria, renounced his claim to the imperial throne and agreed to the nomination of Francis Stephen of Lorraine. Francis was elected Holy Roman Emperor in Frankfurt on 13 September 1745. He won the votes of seven of the nine electoral princes. On 4 October, he was crowned in the Coronation Church of St. Bartholomew (Kaiserdom St. Bartholomäus) in Frankfurt. The coronation was followed by a banquet at Frankfurt Town Hall, traditionally served by the dignitaries of the Empire and attended only by men. Mary Theresa, seven months pregnant, forced her way in and attended the banquet with her husband.

Since he did not rule Austria, being only the husband of the Archduchess of Austria, he kept himself far away from the political affairs of the Habsburg Empire, although he was in favour of peace with the Kingdom of Prussia, and was willing to cede Silesia to Frederick the Great. During the Seven Years” War he opposed pro-French policies.

Lord and businessman

Emperor Francis had enough free time to indulge in the pleasures of life, hunting, women and intellectual pursuits. He was a passionate naturalist, educating himself in the natural sciences. He amassed a considerable collection of coins and minerals. This interest was shared by his eldest daughter, Archduchess Maria Anna Josepha. Together with her friends, the members of the so-called Lorraine Circle (Lothringischer Kreis), they promoted the cause of natural sciences in Austria. Francis invited Gerard van Swieten (1700-1772), the famous Dutch doctor whom Maria Theresa had taken as her private physician, to Vienna. The enlightened Van Swieten founded the first medical school in Vienna, radically transformed the entire Austrian medical system of the time and successfully fought against superstitions such as vampire hysteria. Emperor Francis also initiated the foundation of the Schönbrunn Wildlife Park (Tiergarten Schönbrunn).

In the taste of his time, Franz Stephan was a handsome man, and the Russian envoy in Vienna wrote about many of the emperor”s misadventures, including that of Countess Wilhelmine Neipperg, who later became Duchess Auersperg (her father, Count Wilhelm Reinhard Neipperg, was the tutor of the young Prince Franz Stephan of Lorraine). He was a true 18th-century lord, able to enjoy the ”sweetness of life” (which Talleyrand would recall with poignancy and nostalgia in his writings half a century later, after the French Revolution).

He also supported his brother”s career. Prince General Charles Alexander, Duke of Lorraine, lost several major battles in the War of the Austrian Succession, but was reappointed commander-in-chief in the Seven Years” War and was only relieved after his ignominious defeat at the Battle of Leuthen in 1757.

Stephen Stephen had a highly developed economic and business sense, multiplying his inherited wealth and managing his estates skilfully. Through his commercial and financial transactions, he established the wealth of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine. He amassed a huge private fortune (20 million guilders) without using dishonest business methods or abusing his political position. In 1763, he took over the administration of the state finances and helped to modernise the Empire”s financial system. He promoted and supported industry, Mediterranean trade and modern agricultural methods. He established model farms and stud farms on his private estates, boosted livestock breeding, promoted the establishment of industry and organised manufactories. He established a famous ceramics factory in Holič and a textile factory in Sasvár (now Holíč and Šaštín, Slovakia).

His death and succession

On 5 August 1765, Franz Stephan, together with the imperial family, celebrated the marriage of his son, Grand Duke Leo of Tuscany, to the Spanish Infanta Maria Ludovica of the House of Bourbon (María Luísa de España, 1745-1792), daughter of King Charles III of Spain and Princess Maria Amália of Saxony, in Innsbruck. Court festivities lasted for weeks, with large feasts and celebrations. A vigorous man of good health, he was returning home from the theatre on 18 August with his eldest son, Archduke Joseph, when he suffered a stroke and died. His body was brought to Vienna and buried in the traditional burial place of the Habsburg family, in the crypt of the Capuchin church. In advance, Maria Theresa had an ornate, double marble sarcophagus made, depicting a full-length statue of the couple in cheerful conversation. The reliefs decorating the sides of the sarcophagus depict significant events in Francis” life, including his coronation entry into Frankfurt.

Maria Theresa was inconsolable. She had her long hair cut and her expensive jewellery sold or given away. For the rest of her life she wore widow”s black. The room in Innsbruck Castle where her husband died was converted into a memorial chapel. She often visited her husband”s resting place. In his old age, when he could no longer walk up the stairs, he was lowered into the Imperial Crypt in a rope-suspended armchair.

Francis was succeeded on the imperial throne by his son, Emperor Joseph II, who, after the death of Maria Theresa (from 1780), inherited the Hungarian and Czech kingships. A portion of Francis” vast private fortune (12 million gulden) was enough to pay off Joseph”s swollen Austrian debt. His collection of coins and minerals was organised by his eldest daughter, Archduchess Maria Anna Josepha. This collection became the basis of the collection of the Natural History Museum in Vienna.

Sources

  1. I. Ferenc német-római császár
  2. Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor