21/11/1916 Franz Josef of Austria-Hungary dies

Emperor Franz Josef of Austria-Hungary caught a cold a few days ago while out walking with the King of Bavaria. Today he succumbs to pneumonia. The emperor was 86 years old and has reigned since 1848. Few of his subjects can remember a time when he was not their ruler.

Franz Josef’s reign was not a happy one, with the Habsburg Empire experiencing a long drawn-out decline. First the Empire lost its territories in northern Italy, then its hegemonic role in Germany was supplanted by Prussia. Internally the Empire has been troubled by increasing nationalism among its peoples. In 1866 Franz Josef was forced to effectively divide his empire in two, creating a self-governing Hungary; this has had the effect of starving central institutions (notably the army) of funds.

The emperor’s personal life has also had its travails. His marriage to Elizabeth of Bavaria was a difficult one. Their only son, Rudolph, died with his mistress in a suicide pact (or an instance of murder-suicide). Elizabeth herself was subsequently murdered by an Italian anarchist. Maximilian one of the emperor’s brothers, was executed by Mexican rebels after he unwisely accepted the imperial throne of Mexico as part of a bizarre French scheme. The one real solace to Franz Josef has been his friendship with the actress, Katharina Schratt.

The death of Rudolph had left Franz Josef’s nephew Franz Ferdinand as his heir. His assassination in 1914 set in motion the events that led to the current war. Having seen Italy and Germany removed from the orbit of his rule, Franz Josef was determined to maintain his control over his Slavic subjects and so supported using the murder of Franz Ferdinand as a pretext to crush Serbia. Sadly for him the war has not gone well for Austria-Hungary, with his empire now little more than a satellite of Germany.

Franz Josef is succeeded by Karl, the grandson of another of his brothers.

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Franz Josef, c. 1905 (Wikipedia)

Franz Josef on his death bed (The World of the Habsburgs)

28/10/1916 A new Prime Minister for Austria

The recent assassination of Prime Minister Karl von Stürgkh shocked the Austrian elite. Now Franz Josef has filled that vacancy by appointing Ernest von Koerber as premier. Koerber had previously spent some time as Austrian prime minister in the early years of the century. More recently he was serving as finance minister for the whole empire.

Koerber is an old man, born in 1850 (just two years after the accession of Franz Josef). As the Austrian parliament has effectively been suppressed, Koerber holds his post at the pleasure of the emperor. This makes him a far less significant figure than Tisza, the Hungarian prime minister, who is responsible to the Hungarian parliament.

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Ernest von Koerber, in 1905 (Wikipedia)

24/5/1915 Italy’s war with Austria-Hungary begins

Italy declared war on Austria-Hungary yesterday with the war officially beginning at midnight. If the more bellicose members of the Italian public were expecting a rapid march to victory they are soon mistaken. The army is still being mobilised and is not expected to be ready until mid-June. There is some skirmishing along the border but no major engagements.

The Austro-Hungarians have been aware for some time that Italy is going to join the Allies. They are still shocked by the declaration of war. Italy has after all been allied to Austria-Hungary for more than thirty years. Emperor Franz Josef issues a message to his people denouncing Italy’s treachery. He also reminds them that in previous conflicts Austrian forces have always been able to defeat Italian armies.

Austria-Hungary’s commitments on the Eastern Front mean that there are few troops to spare for deployment against the Italians. Austro-Hungarian troops on the frontier are heavily outnumbered, but they have the advantage of terrain that favours the defender.

There is little action today between Italy and Austria-Hungary’s land armies, but at sea it is a different matter. The Austro-Hungarian navy sets sail from its naval base at Pula and bombards the Italian port of Ancona and other coastal targets. Austro-Hungarian ships also sink the Turbine, an Italian destroyer.

The war in the air too begins more promptly than on land. Austro-Hungarian aeroplanes drop bombs on Venice and other Italian targets.

image source:

Franz Josef (Wikipedia)

28/07/1914 Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia

Berchtold visits Emperor Franz Josef. The foreign minister tells the emperor that Serbian forces have already fired across the Danube; this is not true, something Berchtold probably knows to be the case. At 11.00 am Franz Josef signs a declaration of war against Serbia. No military action follows, as the army will not be ready to move until mid-August.

The tersely worded declaration of war is sent to Belgrade by telegram. The message is immediately brought to Pašić, who is in a café with the temporary head of the Russian mission. The Prime Minister is confused. No one has ever declared war by telegram before and he wonders whether he might be the victim of an elaborate hoax. He sends immediate telegrams of his own to London, Paris and St. Petersburg, describing the message he has received and asking whether they think Austria-Hungary has really declared war.

25/7/1914 Serbia rejects the ultimatum

In the morning, Serbia gives the impression to foreign diplomats that Austria-Hungary’s ultimatum will be accepted. Prime Minister Pašić nevertheless takes the precaution of ordering the mobilisation of Serbia’s army. Gold reserves are also moved from Belgrade to the interior of the country. These preparations do not go unnoticed and are reported back to Vienna by Baron Giesl, Austro-Hungarian ambassador.

At 5.55 pm, Pašić arrives at the Austro-Hungarian embassy. He hands his reply to the ultimatum to Giesl and says that the ultimatum has been partially accepted; the terms that would severely curtail Serbian sovereignty have been rejected. Giesl quickly looks over the note and says that as the ultimatum has not been accepted in full, he and his legation will be leaving Belgrade that night.

The Austro-Hungarians move quickly, burning their diplomatic code books and any other compromising documents. At 6.15 pm Giesl, his wife and his staff leave the legation and make their way to the station. There they catch the 6.30 pm train to Vienna. At 6.40 pm the train crosses the border. Giesl stops in a border town and wires the news to Vienna.

At 9.23 pm Franz Josef orders the mobilisation of the Austro-Hungarian army. Martial law is also declared in the restive province of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

21/7/1914 Berchtold is not entirely truthful

Now that it has been despatched to the embassy in Belgrade, Berchtold shows the text of the Serbian ultimatum to his emperor. Franz Josef makes no objection.

Berchtold does not show the ultimatum to Tschirschky. He tells the German ambassador that it is still being drafted.