Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor

gigatos | December 29, 2021


François II, emperor of the Romans, then from August 11, 1804, François I of Austria, born on February 12, 1768 in Florence and died on March 2, 1835 in Vienna, archduke of Austria (1792 – 1804) then emperor of Austria (1804 – 1835) king of Hungary (1792 – 1835), king of Bohemia (1792 – 1835) and king of Lombardy-Venetia (1815 – 1835), was also the last sovereign of the Holy Roman Empire (1792 – 1806), elected emperor of the Romans under the name of Francis II.

Nephew of Marie-Antoinette, he was involved from the beginning of his reign in the war against France which lasted for twenty-three years. Despite the real abilities of his brother, the Archduke Charles-Louis, Austria was defeated everywhere; Francis II was forced to sign in 1797 the treaty of Campo-Formio, which took away from him the Austrian Netherlands and Lombardy, and gave to France the whole left bank of the Rhine by absorbing the electorates of Trier and Cologne, and largely that of the Rhine Palatinate. As compensation, Austria received the Republic of Venice. Having taken up arms again shortly afterwards, he was defeated at Marengo and Hohenlinden and then lost all his possessions on the left bank of the Rhine by the treaty of Lunéville (1801). In 1801, he had Freemasonry banned.

In a third campaign, in 1805, he was defeated at Ulm and then at Austerlitz, and signed the peace of Presburg, which further reduced his possessions. When the Confederation of the Rhine was established on July 12, 1806, he had to renounce the title of Emperor of the Romans. Foreseeing this failure, he had taken two years earlier, limiting himself to his hereditary states, the title of Emperor of Austria, under the name of Francis I.

In 1808, he had a large theater built in Pest, to appease the national feelings that arose in Hungary. He tried a fourth time to take up arms in 1809, was still beaten at Eckmühl and at Wagram was forced to ask for peace (treaty of Schönbrunn): to cement it, he married his daughter Marie-Louise of Austria to the emperor Napoleon I. In 1809, he appointed the prince of Metternich as minister. This one governed Austria until 1848. Nevertheless, in 1813 he joined the coalition against his son-in-law and contributed to dethrone him. The events of 1814 put him in possession of most of his states. In 1815 he founded the Imperial and Royal Polytechnic Institute of Vienna (de), the precursor of the Technical University of Vienna, on the model of the Polytechnic School.

Upon his death in 1835, his son Ferdinand I succeeded him.

He was the eldest son of Emperor Leopold II and Marie-Louise de Bourbon, infanta of Spain, daughter of Charles III of Spain and Marie-Amélie of Saxony.

The infant was named after his paternal grandfather, Emperor Francis I, who had died three years earlier, just as his older sister had been named after their paternal grandmother, Maria Theresa. The latter, on hearing the news of the birth of her first grandson, overjoyed to see her dynasty consolidated, ran to the Burgtheater adjacent to the imperial palace and exclaimed in Viennese dialect: “Our Poldi has a kid!” The illustrious empress died in 1780 when Archduke Franz was only twelve years old.

Son of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, the education of the young Archduke was marked by Italian culture. The empress married her children to princes from the peninsula as part of her policy of reconciliation with the House of Bourbon: in 1760, the heir archduke married a princess from Parma. In 1765, the Archduke Leopold, promised to the throne of Tuscany, married an infanta of Spain. In 1768, two of his sisters having died before celebrating their nuptials, it was the Archduchess Marie-Caroline who married the King of Naples and Sicily. The following year, the archduchess Marie-Amélie married the duke of Parma. In 1771, Archduke Ferdinand married the heiress of the Duchy of Modena, whose father was governor of the Duchy of Milan, which was a possession of the Archimaison. As for the youngest daughter of the Empress, she married in 1770 the head of the House of Bourbon, future Louis XVI of France.

As Emperor Joseph II had no surviving children from his two marriages, Archduke Franz was very early on considered the second heir to the imperial throne, after his father Archduke Leopold. As such, the emperor followed his education very closely.

At the age of twenty, he was married to Elisabeth of Württemberg, whose main advantage was that she was the sister of Sophie-Dorothea, the future tsarina, wife of Paul I of Russia. The princess died in childbirth shortly after Uncle Joseph II (1790).

Francis” father, until then Grand Duke of Tuscany, was elected Emperor under the name of Leopold II and almost immediately, for reasons of state, Francis was remarried to his double cousin Marie-Thérèse de Bourbon-Naples (1772 – 1807), daughter of Ferdinand IV, King of Naples, and Marie-Caroline of Austria. She gave him a numerous descendants.

On March 1, 1792, at the age of twenty-four, after his father”s short reign, he was elected Emperor of the Romans under the name Francis II.

Ten days later, on March 25, 1792, the ultimatum given by France to François II, king of Bohemia and Hungary, to disperse the gatherings of emigrants in the Rhineland, was rejected. From then on, war was inevitable, and the policy of the Girondins, who had been in favor of an armed conflict since October 20, 1791, reached its conclusion. However, there is no reason to believe that they would have succeeded in carrying it out without the change of position of La Fayette and his supporters – with the difference, however, that the former wanted to overthrow the throne, while the latter wished to raise it – and without the dissimulation and complicity of the Court. The following April 24, the same year, in the grip of the Revolution, France, his ally since the diplomatic revolution of 1756, declared war on him.

The war is declared to the “king of Bohemia and Hungary”. By this formula, a clause of style which is explained by the fact that the Habsburg sovereign was not yet crowned emperor, the National Legislative Assembly indicates that it does not wish to make the war with the totality of the German States of the Holy Roman Empire, but only with the house of Austria. For the French, who had been expecting the conflict for a long time, the reception of this news is calm.

François was crowned king of Hungary in Buda on June 6, 1792, elected emperor of the Romans on June 7, 1792, then crowned in Frankfurt am Main on July 14, 1792; he was crowned king of Bohemia on August 5, 1792.

Beginning of the war

After his accession to the throne, the emperor confirmed, on March 3, 1792, his aunt the archduchess Marie-Christine of Austria and her husband the duke Albert of Saxe-Teschen in the position of governors general of the Austrian Netherlands and gave full power to the duke to take, in his name, the oath of inauguration to the States of the provinces of the Netherlands, and to receive from them their oath of obedience and fidelity. France declared war on Austria on April 20, 1792.

The refusal to pay subsidies by the city chiefs of the Duchy of Brabant led to a wave of repressive measures by the Austrian government. On April 29, 1792, Baron de Bender, military commander of the imperial army of the Netherlands, threatened to crack down on anyone who tried to disturb the peace of the state. This martial law is for the deputies of the State a subject of criticism; pamphlets circulate under the cloak.

Faced with the French revolutionary troops, the two great German powers allied themselves in the First Coalition. The purpose of this alliance was not to protect the rights of the Empire, but rather to expand its sphere of influence while ensuring that the ally did not win alone. By insisting on enlarging Austrian territory – if necessary at the expense of the other members of the Empire – Emperor Franz II, elected hastily and unanimously on July 5, 1792, wasted the possibility of being supported by the other imperial states. Prussia also wanted to compensate for its war costs by annexing ecclesiastical territories. Therefore, it is impossible to form a united front against the French revolutionary troops and thus to obtain military success.

On April 8, 1793, a conference brought together in Antwerp the allied countries fighting against France, namely Great Britain, Austria, Prussia and the United Provinces, with a view to re-establishing the monarchy in France. The imperial troops progressed towards Brussels and met on March 15, 1793 the vanguard of the French army near Tienen. On March 18, 1793, the battle of Neerwinden marked a major defeat for the French army, which abandoned the territory of the Belgian States and retreated to the northern parts of France. General Dumouriez decided to break with the French Republic and joined the Austrian forces.

Emperor Franz II took over the Netherlands with the consent of the Belgian people in a spirit of openness. He appointed his brother, the Archduke Charles, as governor and the Count of Metternich-Winnenburg as minister plenipotentiary. Their entry into Brussels on March 26, 1793 was a triumph. The emperor appointed the former governor of the Netherlands, Franz Ferdinand von Trauttmansdorff-Weinsberg, chancellor of the Netherlands in Vienna. He came to Brussels on April 9, 1793 in view of the military campaign against France. On April 23, 1793, the emperor appointed himself duke of Brabant and Limburg and on June 5, the States of Brabant decided to send to the emperor a deputation composed of members of the three orders.

The Austrians regained power in the Netherlands in a spirit of reconciliation. The spirit is towards appeasement and it is planned to return to the situation of February 1791. The internal political situation was good; the States of Brabant granted ordinary subsidies and a free gift to the emperor to help in the war against France. The Austrian government granted unlimited amnesty in the various provinces; moreover, in August, it declared itself willing to give back their property to the suppressed convents. The reparations promised by the Hague Convention were complete. But in spite of the vote of subsidies and new taxes, the confidence does not seem completely restored.

The Austrian offensive led by the Prince of Coburg continued in the north of France: the imperial troops seized Condé on July 10, 1793, Valenciennes on July 28, 1793, then Le Quesnoy and Maubeuge, thus opening the road to Paris. At the same time, the Duke of York undertook the siege of Dunkirk on August 22, 1793.

But, little by little, the French army resisted the Austrians and, after the winter, resumed the offensive towards the north.

Disappointed by the lack of success and to better deal with the resistance born around the new partition of Poland, Prussia signed a separate peace in 1795 with France, the Peace of Basel. In 1796, Baden and Württemberg did the same. The agreements thus signed stipulated that the possessions located on the left bank of the Rhine were to be ceded to France. However, the owners were to be compensated by receiving ecclesiastical territories on the right bank, which were then to be secularized. The other imperial states also negotiated armistices or treaties of neutrality.

In 1797, Austria signed the treaty of Campo-Formio. It gave up various possessions such as the Austrian Netherlands and the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. In compensation, Austria, like Prussia, was to receive territories located on the right bank of the Rhine. The two great powers of the Empire thus compensated themselves at the expense of the smaller members of the Empire. They thus granted France a right of intervention in the future organization of the Empire. By acting as king of Hungary and Bohemia but obliged to guarantee the integrity of the Empire as emperor, Francis II caused irreparable damage to it by dismembering certain other imperial states.

Recess of Empire

In March 1798, at the Congress of Rastadt, the Empire”s deputation agreed to cede the territories on the left bank of the Rhine and to the secularization of those on the right bank, with the exception of the three ecclesiastical electors. But the Second Coalition put an end to the haggling over the various territories. The treaty of Lunéville signed in 1801 put an end to the war. It was approved by the Diet, but did not provide any clear definition of compensation. The peace negotiations of Basel with Prussia, Campo Formio with Austria and Lunéville with the Empire required compensation that could only be approved by an Imperial law. For this reason, a deputation was convened to settle the situation. In the end, the deputation accepted the Franco-Russian compensation plan of June 3, 1802, without substantially modifying it. On March 24, 1803, the Diet of the Empire definitively accepted the recès d”Empire.

Almost all the cities of the Empire, the smallest temporal territories and almost all the ecclesiastical principalities will be chosen to compensate the injured powers. The composition of the Empire was considerably changed. The bench of princes in the Diet, which had been predominantly Catholic, became Protestant. Two of the three ecclesiastical electorates disappeared. Even the elector of Mainz lost his seat to Regensburg. At the same time, there were only two ecclesiastical princes of the Empire: the Grand Prior of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem and the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order. In all, 110 territories disappeared and 3.16 million people changed rulers.

This new territorial organization of the Empire was to have a long-lasting influence on the European political landscape. The year 1624 was referred to as the Normaljahr, i.e. a year that served as a reference point, and the same applies to the year 1803 with regard to confessional and patrimonial relations in Germany. The re-creation of the Empire created a clear number of middle powers from a multitude of territories. In order to make compensations, secularization and mediatization are carried out. The compensation sometimes exceeded what the power in question should have received in view of its losses. The Margrave of Baden, for example, received nine times as many subjects as he had lost in the cession of the territories on the left bank of the Rhine, and seven times as much territory. One of the reasons is that France wants to create a series of satellite states, large enough to create difficulties for the emperor but small enough not to threaten France”s position.

The Church of the Empire has ceased to exist. It had been so embedded in the imperial system that it disappeared even before the Empire collapsed. The anticlerical positions of France did the rest, especially since the emperor thus lost one of his most important powers. The spirit of the Aufklärung and the absolutist power craze also contributed to the obsolescence of the Imperial Church and to the development of the covetousness of Catholic Imperial princes.

The arrival of Napoleon I

On May 18, 1804, Napoleon became emperor of the French. This new dignity, which strengthened his power by confirming its hereditary character, also showed his desire to become the heir of Charlemagne and thus to legitimize his action by inscribing it in the medieval tradition. This is why he visited the cathedral of Aachen in September 1804 as well as the tomb of Charlemagne. During the diplomatic discussions between France and Austria concerning the title of emperor, Napoleon demanded in a secret note dated August 7, 1804 that his empire be recognized; Francis II would be recognized as hereditary Emperor of Austria. A few days later, the wish became an ultimatum. Two solutions are then offered: the recognition of the French empire, or the war. Emperor François II gave in. On August 11, 1804, he added to his title of Holy Roman Emperor that of hereditary Emperor of Austria for himself and his successors. However, this step represented a break in imperial law, since neither the prince-electors were informed nor the Diet of the Empire accepted it. Apart from any legal considerations, many consider this step to be hasty. Friedrich von Gentz wrote to his friend Prince Metternich: “If the German imperial crown remains in the House of Austria – and there is already such a mass of non-politics today where there is no imminent danger clearly visible that one fears the opposite! – all imperial dignity is in vain”.

However, Napoleon lost his patience for good. During the Third Coalition, he had his army march on Vienna. The troops of the Bavarian army and the army of Wurtemberg came to reinforce him. This is how he won the battle of Austerlitz on December 2, 1805 over the Russians and the Austrians. The Treaty of Presburg that Napoleon dictated to Francis II and Tsar Alexander I sealed the end of the Empire. Napoleon imposed that Bavaria should become a kingdom like Württemberg and Baden, thus becoming equal to Prussia and Austria. It was the structure of the Empire that was once again under attack, since by acquiring full sovereignty, these kingdoms were detached from it. This is what Napoleon underlined to his Minister of Foreign Affairs, Talleyrand: “However, I will have arranged the part of Germany that interests me: there will no longer be a Diet in Regensburg, since Regensburg will belong to Bavaria; there will no longer be a Germanic Empire, and we will leave it at that.

The fact that the Elector of Mainz Charles-Theodore of Dalberg made the great chaplain of the French Empire Joseph Cardinal Fesch his coadjutor, hoping to save the Empire, was a final blow in favor of the abdication of the crown. Dalberg, chancellor of the Empire and therefore head of the Imperial Chancellery, guardian of the imperial court and the imperial archives, appointed a Frenchman who did not speak a word of German and who was also an uncle of Napoleon. In the event of Dalberg”s death or resignation, the French emperor”s uncle would have become Chancellor of the Empire. The Diet of the Empire took note of the situation on May 27, 1806. According to the Austrian Minister of Foreign Affairs Johann Philipp von Stadion, there were only two possible solutions: the disappearance of the Empire or its reorganization under French domination. It is thus that François II decides to protest on June 18, in vain.

On July 12, 1806, by the treaty of the Confederation of the Rhine, the Electorate of Mainz, Bavaria, Württemberg, the Electorate of Baden, the Landgraviate of Hesse-Darmstadt, which became the Grand Duchy of Hesse, the Duchy of Nassau, the Duchy of Berg and Cleves, and other princes founded the Confederation of the Rhine in Paris. Napoleon became their protector and they seceded from the Empire on August 1. In January, the Swedish king had already suspended the participation of the West Pomeranian envoys in the sessions of the Diet, and in reaction to the signing of the acts of the Confederation on June 28, he declared the imperial constitution suspended in the imperial territories under Swedish command, and also declared the provincial states and councils dissolved. Instead, he introduced the Swedish constitution in Swedish Pomerania. Thus, the imperial regime in this part of the Empire, which had already practically ceased to exist, was brought to an end.

Abdication of Francis II

The abdication of the imperial crown was anticipated by an ultimatum presented on July 22, 1806 in Paris to the Austrian envoy. If Emperor Franz II did not abdicate before August 10, 1806, French troops attacked Austria. However, for several weeks Johann Aloys Josef Freiherr von Hügel and Count von Stadion had been busy preparing an expert report on the preservation of the Empire. Their rational analysis led them to the conclusion that France would try to dissolve the constitution of the Empire and transform it into a federal state influenced by France. The preservation of the imperial dignity will inevitably lead to a conflict with France, so that the renunciation of the crown is inevitable.

On June 17, 1806, the expertise is presented to the emperor. On August 1, the French envoy La Rochefoucauld entered the Austrian chancellery. Only after La Rochefoucauld had formally attested to von Stadion, after heated confrontations, that Napoleon would not wear the imperial crown and would respect Austrian independence, did the Austrian foreign minister approve the abdication, which was promulgated on August 6.

In his act of abdication, the emperor indicated that he was no longer able to fulfill his duties as head of the Empire and declared: “We therefore hereby declare that We consider the ties that have hitherto attached Us to the body of the German Empire to be dissolved, that We consider the office and dignity of Head of the Empire to be extinguished by the formation of the Confederation of the Rhine, and that We consider Ourselves to be released from all duties to this Empire. Francis II not only deposited his crown, but also dissolved the Holy Roman Empire entirely without the approval of the Imperial Diet, proclaiming: “We release at the same time the electors, princes and states, and all the members of the Empire, namely also the members of the supreme courts and other officers of the Empire, from all the duties by which they were bound to Us, as the legal Head of the Empire, by the constitution. He also dissolved the territories of the Empire under his own power and submitted them to the Austrian Empire. Even if the dissolution of the Empire does not follow any legal character, there is no will or power to preserve it.

The fall of the Holy Roman Empire seemed inevitable as soon as Napoleon began to redefine its geopolitical map. Reactions to this disappearance were varied, oscillating between indifference and astonishment, as shown by one of the best known testimonies, that of Goethe”s mother, Catharina Elisabeth Textor, who wrote on August 19, 1806, less than a fortnight after the abdication of Francis II: “I am in the same state of mind as when an old friend is very ill. The doctors declare him condemned, one is assured that he is going to die soon and one is certainly upset when the mail arrives announcing us that he is dead “. The indifference in front of the disappearance shows how the Holy Roman Empire had sclerosed and how its institutions did not function any more. The day after the abdication, Goethe wrote in his diary that an argument between a coachman and his valet aroused more passion than the disappearance of the Empire. Others, like in Hamburg, celebrated the end of the Empire.

End of the Holy Roman Empire

On August 11, 1804, Francis II of the Holy Roman Empire added to his title of “elected emperor of the Romans” (in Latin: electus Romanorum Imperator) that of “hereditary emperor of Austria” (in Latin: haereditarius Austriae Imperator). He signed the Patente of 1804, considered the founding act of the Austrian Empire.

When Napoleon I proclaimed the end of the Holy Roman Empire by creating new kingdoms and principalities, such as Bavaria, Württemberg, the Kingdom of Saxony, Hesse, the Grand Duchy of Baden and many others, which he grouped together in the Confederation of the Rhine, the Habsburg possessions were excluded. Francis II, the last emperor of the Romans, became the first emperor of Austria under the name of Francis I, in 1805.

On July 12, 1806, with the signing of the Treaty of the Confederation of the Rhine, sixteen states left the Holy Roman Empire and formed the Confederation (called in the treaty “Confederate States of the Rhine”). Napoleon I was its “protector”. On August 6, 1806, the Holy Roman Empire, founded in 962 by Otto I, was dissolved.

In the following year, 23 other German states joined the Confederation. Only Austria, Prussia, Holstein and Swedish Pomerania remained outside. Charles-Theodore of Dalberg, who had become Grand Duke of Frankfurt and an ally of Napoleon, became president and prince primate of the Confederation.

Two states belonged to members of the Bonaparte family: the Grand Duchy of Berg, which went to Joachim Murat, husband of Caroline Bonaparte, sister of Napoleon I, and the Kingdom of Westphalia, created for Jerome Bonaparte. Napoleon tried to enter the restricted circle of royal families by marrying his relatives to members of the German sovereign houses.

The Confederation was above all a military alliance. The member states had to provide France with a significant number of soldiers. In return, the states were enlarged – notably at the expense of the episcopal principalities and free cities – and given higher status: Baden, Hesse, Cleves and Berg were transformed into grand duchies. Württemberg, Bavaria and Saxony were made kingdoms. For their cooperation, some states incorporated small imperial domains. Many small and medium-sized states joined the Confederation, which reached its territorial peak in 1808. It included four kingdoms, five grand duchies, thirteen duchies, seventeen principalities and the Hanseatic cities of Hamburg, Lübeck and Bremen.

The principality of Erfurt, located in the center of the Confederation, was never part of it. It was subordinated to the French Empire in 1806 after the defeat of Prussia at the Battle of Jena.

At the end of 1810, large regions of northwestern Germany were incorporated into the Empire, along with the kingdom of Holland, in order to improve the continental blockade against England. The senatus-consult of December 13, 1810 indicates that, except Holland, these are the territories of the Hanseatic cities (Hamburg, Bremen and Lubeck), of Lauembourg, and of the countries located between the North Sea and a line drawn from the confluence of the Lippe in the Rhine, up to Halteren; from Halteren to the Ems, above Telget; from the Ems to the confluence of the Verra in the Weser, and from Stolzenau on the Weser, to the Elbe, above the confluence of the Steckenitz. The duchies of Aremberg, Salm, Oldenburg, and the Hanseatic cities already occupied by France since the end of 1806 disappeared, while Westphalia and the Grand Duchy of Berg were amputated by approximately the northern third of their respective territories.

In 1813, with the failure of the Russian campaign, some of the sovereigns, members of the Confederation, changed sides in exchange for maintaining their status and their possessions. The Confederation of the Rhine collapsed between October and December of that year.

On May 30, 1814, the Treaty of Paris declared the German states independent.

Emperor of Austria and Congress of Vienna

As Emperor of Austria, Francis uses an expanded official title: “We, Francis the First, by the grace of God, Emperor of Austria; King of Jerusalem, Hungary, Bohemia, Dalmatia, Croatia, Slavonia, Galicia, and Lodomiria; Archduke of Austria; Duke of Lorraine, Salzburg, Würzburg, Franconia, Styria, Carinthia, and Carniola; Grand Duke of Krakow ; prince of Transylvania; margrave of Moravia; duke of Sandomir, Masovia, Lublin, upper and lower Silesia, Auschwitz and Zator, Teschen, and Friuli; prince of Berchtesgaden and Mergentheim; prince-count of Habsburg, Gorice, and Gradisce and of Tyrol; and margrave of upper and lower Lusatia and Istria. His usual title remained “Emperor of Austria”.

In 1815, the Congress of Vienna redraws the political map of the continent. The territorial reconfiguration, particularly in the north of Germany, is important. The Napoleonic creations – the kingdom of Westphalia, the grand duchies of Berg, Würzburg and Frankfurt – were abolished and the states suppressed by Napoleon – notably Hanover, the duchies of Brunswick, Hesse-Cassel and Oldenburg – were recreated. Prussia regained lost ground and made significant territorial gains on the Rhine, in Westphalia and in Hesse. The kingdom of Saxony, too long loyal to Napoleon, lost a third of its territory, as did the Grand Duchy of Hesse. On the other hand, most of the former members of the Rhine Confederation in central and southern Germany survived with more or less significant border changes. Like the states that were recreated, they were to join the new German Confederation formed under the aegis of Prussia and Austria, with the presidency reserved – on a hereditary basis – for the Emperor of Austria (former elected ruler of the Holy Roman Empire).

After the Congress of Vienna in 1815, the German states came together in the German Confederation. Before that, in November 1814, a group of twenty-nine rulers of small and medium-sized states proposed to the committee that was drawing up a plan to build a federal state that imperial dignity be reintroduced in Germany. This was not an expression of patriotic fervor, but rather a fear of the domination of princes who, thanks to Napoleon, had become kings of sovereign territories such as the kings of Württemberg, Bavaria and Saxony.

It was also discussed whether a new emperor should be elected. Thus, the proposal to alternate the imperial dignity between the powerful princes of the south and the north of Germany appeared. However, the spokesmen of the Empire pronounce themselves in favour of an imperial dignity taken again by Austria, thus by François II. But this last rejects the proposal because of the weak function which it would take on. The emperor would not obtain the rights which would make him a true head of Empire. Thus, Franz II and his chancellor Metternich considered the imperial office as a burden while not wanting the title of emperor to go to Prussia or any other powerful prince. The Congress of Vienna dissolved without having renewed the Empire. The German Confederation was founded on June 8, 1815 and Austria ruled it until 1866.

The Germanic Confederation is one of the main results of the negotiations of the Congress of Vienna which took place from 1814 to 1815. Its creation was envisaged as early as the peace of Paris on May 30, 1814. A clause refers to the future of the German states: they must retain their independence while forming a federation together. This project was taken up by the Congress of Vienna after lengthy discussions and competition with other models.

On June 8, 1815, the Deutsche Bundesakte was signed, laying the foundations for the international organization that was the German Confederation. It was to have the legal status of an international subject able to declare war and conclude peace, confirmed by the Vienna agreements. The Bundesakte was then included in the text resulting from the work of the congress; the great powers thus implicitly guaranteed the confederation.

However, many additions were needed to make it more precise and complete: it took five years, punctuated by diplomatic exchanges and treaties, such as the Frankfurt convention in 1819, for the Vienna negotiations to be completed. The final agreement was signed unanimously by the member states on June 8, 1820. In legal terms, it has the same value as the Bundesakte.

The Congress of Vienna, in 1815, consecrated this title and achieved a compromise between the new Napoleonic order in Central Europe (the simplification of the states in Germany was preserved), and the restoration of the previous order: thus, a Germanic Confederation was created within the limits of the former Holy Roman Empire, of which the Emperor of Austria took the presidency. However, the Austrian pre-eminence was quickly challenged by the kingdom of Prussia.

The territories of the empire of Francis I included nearly 900,000 square kilometers divided between :

In addition, Ferdinand, brother of Francis I, reigned over the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, and the Austrian influence on the kingdoms of Spain and Naples was major.

Catering Policy

At home, in Austria, Chancellor Metternich promoted absolutism. Outside of Austria, through congresses or by the force of the Holy Alliance, he imposed order: the Karlsbad decrees of 1819 were particularly liberticidal for the press of the German Confederation and the German University. Anxious to preserve his power, he convinced Emperor Francis I to keep his eldest son, Archduke Ferdinand, as heir, even though he was notoriously incapable. In this way, he wanted to outdo Archduchess Sophie, the energetic, intelligent and ambitious wife of Archduke Franz Karl, the youngest son of the emperor, who was promised the crown at the Congress of Vienna and who was the reason for his marriage.

The archduke couple having had a son, the future Franz Joseph I, after six years of sterility, Metternich made the heir archduke marry Princess Marie-Anne of Sardinia, who was unable to consummate his marriage. The union remained sterile, the new archduchess taking the place of a nurse rather than a wife to her husband and not meddling in politics (she never spoke German).

In the middle of the 19th century, after the Napoleonic wars, a wind of reform was blowing in Hungary. The Austrian government remained feudal, centralized in Vienna, and deaf to requests for change.

Since 1830, István Széchenyi and Miklós Wesselényi had been advocating reforms. The national conservative current of Aurél Dessewffy (en), György Apponyi, Sámuel Jósika (hu) and István Széchenyi demanded a reform guaranteeing the primacy of the aristocracy. A liberal movement led by Lajos Batthyány, Ferenc Deák and Lajos Kossuth called for the abolition of feudal rights and more autonomy (a dose of Hungarian parliamentarianism). Finally, the “Young Hungarians” movement, with Sándor Petőfi, Pál Vasvári (hu) and Mihály Táncsics, wanted to establish a republic, even if it meant an armed revolt.

Last wedding

On October 29, 1816, the emperor remarried to Caroline-Auguste of Bavaria, daughter of King Maximilian I of Bavaria and the late Wilhelmine of Hesse-Darmstadt, and former wife of Crown Prince William of Württemberg. They had no children. Before this marriage she was known as Charlotte, but then Caroline began to be used.

The marriage was simple because of the strict economy of the emperor who was marrying for the fourth time. Caroline, 24 years younger than her husband, was only a few months older than the Crown Archduke. She became popular in Austria, was active in social work and founded several hospitals and residences for the poor. Empress Caroline was described as elegant, sympathetic, pious and intelligent, without being beautiful.

In 1824, her half-sister Sophie of Bavaria married Archduke Franz Karl of Austria, the son of the emperor from his second marriage, and Caroline became her sister”s mother-in-law.

Influential at court, the new archduchess found the chancellor of the empire, Prince Metternich, who had been ruling since 1810 and was suspicious of this ambitious young archduchess with a strong personality who could overshadow him.

Confronted with the very limited capacities of his heir, Archduke Ferdinand, a man of a gentle and amiable character but bordering on debility, the emperor thought of passing the crown to his youngest son, Archduke Franz Charles. This one should have become emperor of Austria and Sophie empress at the death of his father. Chancellor Metternich invoked the dynastic principle to oppose this substitution. The chancellor saw in the monarch more the institution than the man and he also feared to have to count with Sophie, whose husband was to his devotion. After the birth of Archduke Franz Joseph, the chancellor had urged the emperor to preserve Archduke Ferdinand”s right to the crown and to marry him when he was in his forties, in order to procreate and to keep Sophie off the throne. With Ferdinand, a weak emperor, married to a woman as uninterested in political affairs as Archduchess Maria Anna, Metternich was able to maintain control of Austrian politics for the thirteen years following the death of Emperor Franz I. This period of history is called the Vormärz.

Revolution of 1830

In France, the July Revolution of 1830, during which the House of Bourbon represented by Charles X was overthrown, and during which liberal forces established the “King of the French” (not “King of France”) Louis-Philippe I, also gave impetus to liberal forces in Germany and other parts of Europe. This led to uprisings in several German principalities, such as Brunswick, Hesse-Cassel, the Kingdom of Saxony and Hanover, as early as 1830, and to the adoption of constitutions.

There were also uprisings in 1830 in the Italian states as well as in the Polish provinces of Austria, Prussia and Russia (Kingdom of Congress), whose aim was the autonomy of a national state. In the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the Belgian Revolution led to the detachment of the southern provinces and the creation of an independent Belgian state in the form of a constitutional monarchy.

Festival of Hambach and attack of the Frankfurt Guard

On the whole, however, Metternich”s system was maintained, although cracks appeared in many places. The Karlsbad decrees did not prevent spectacular gatherings along the lines of the Wartburg Festival, such as the Hambach Festival of 1832, during which tricolored republican flags, black, red, and gold, were flown, even though they were prohibited (as they had been in 1817 during the Wartburg Festival).

The attack on the Frankfurt Guard on April 3, 1833, was the first attempt by about 50 students to start a nationwide revolution. The action was aimed at the seat of the Bundestag, which was located in Frankfurt am Main at the time and was seen by the democrats as an instrument of restoration policy. After the neutralization of the two police stations in Frankfurt, the insurgents wanted to capture the envoys of the princes and thus encourage the uprising of all Germany. The action was revealed before it even began, but it was short-lived from the start, after an exchange of fire that left a few people dead or wounded.

In Italy, in 1831, the revolutionary and patriot Giuseppe Mazzini founded the secret society Giovine Italia (Young Italy). It gave birth to other societies in Europe such as Junges Deutschland (Young Germany) or “Young Poland”. Together they formed in 1834 the supranational secret society Giovine Europa (Young Europe).

In 1834, Georg Büchner and Friedrich Ludwig Weidig smuggled the libel Der Hessische Landbote (The Hessian Country Messenger) with the slogan “Peace to the cottages, war to the palaces!” (Friede den Hütten, Krieg den Palästen!) in the Grand Duchy of Hesse. In 1837, the solemn protest letter of the Göttingen Seven (a group of prominent liberal university professors, among them the Grimm brothers) against the revocation of the constitution of the Kingdom of Hanover, was echoed throughout the German Confederation. The professors were dismissed and some were expelled from the country.

Death of the Emperor and consequences

Emperor Francis I died in 1835, and Ferdinand ascended the throne. Metternich became all-powerful and remained more than ever the “gendarme of Europe”. With little Franz Joseph becoming the heir apparent to the Austrian throne, Archduchess Sophie approached the chancellor and entrusted him with part of her son”s education.

The Metternichian order lasted until March 1848. Riots broke out in Austria. Emperor Ferdinand I, who had taken refuge in Bohemia, at the instigation of his wife, the Empress Dowager and Archduchess Sophie, abandoned Metternich, who resigned on March 13. He had to flee, at 75 years old, hidden in a laundry basket. He left for an exile in England until 1849, then in Brussels (Saint-Josse-ten-Noode). The government allowed him to return to Austria, where he stayed away from political life: he died in Vienna, eleven years after being driven out of power.

The trigger for the March Revolution was the February Revolution in France, from which the revolutionary spark quickly spread to the neighbouring German states. The events in France led to the deposition of King Louis-Philippe I, who had become increasingly alienated from liberal ideas, and to the proclamation of the Second Republic, which set in motion a revolutionary agitation that kept the continent in suspense for more than a year and a half. Similar movements developed in Baden, the Kingdom of Prussia, the Austrian Empire, Northern Italy, Hungary, the Kingdom of Bavaria and Saxony, while uprisings and protest rallies occurred in other states and principalities. After the Mannheim People”s Assembly of February 27, 1848, in which the “March demands” were formulated for the first time, the main demands of the revolution in Germany consisted of “1. arming the people with free election of officers, 2. unconditional freedom of the press, 3. a court of assizes according to the English example, 4. immediate establishment of a German parliament.” The basic rights with the “demands of the people” were demanded during the Offenburg rally of September 12, where the Baden radical-democratic politicians assembled. On the following October 10, at the meeting in Heppenheim, the moderate liberals drew up their political program.

In some countries of the German Confederation, such as the kingdoms of Württemberg and Hanover, or the Grand Duchy of Hesse, the princes quickly gave way to liberal-oriented ministries of Mars, which responded in part to revolutionary demands, such as the establishment of criminal courts, the abolition of press censorship, and the liberation of peasants. However, these were often mere promises. These quick concessions to the revolutionaries allowed these countries to enjoy relatively peaceful years in 1848 and 1849.

Also in Denmark, King Frederick VII gave in without a shot being fired.

From May and June 1848 onwards, the princely houses increasingly asserted their desire for restoration, so that the revolutionaries in the countries of the Germanic Confederation went on the defensive. At the same time, the defeat in Paris of the insurgents of the June days was a decisive victory for the counter-revolution. It strongly influenced the continuation of the February Revolution in France as well as revolutionary events throughout Europe. This uprising of the Parisian workers in June 1848 also historically marked the split between the proletariat and the revolutionary bourgeoisie.

Francis I married four times and his first two wives gave him his thirteen children:

Having played a crucial role in the fall of Napoleon, Francis I is present in film and television productions.

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  1. François Ier (empereur d”Autriche)
  2. Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor
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