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|Karl Franz Josef von Habsburg-Lothringen|
|"No ruler has experienced a fate so ill as that which befell the Emperor Karl. He accepted his fate with dignity, and the way he bore himself in a crucial test did him honor as man and Habsburg. . . he was thoroughly good, brave, and honest and a true Austrian. . ." Kurt Schuschnigg, My Austria|
|Kaiser Karl, the warlord who wanted peace|
|General, Emperor, Son of the Catholic Church... Exiled
Edward O'Brien Jr. writes, "Can a man live well in a palace, as Marcus Aurelius wondered? Can a man live a wise and saintly life, though tempted by high birth, prestige, power, and a great wealth? The life of Karl, emperor of Austria and king of Hungary, demonstrates that such a life is possible. And though wisdom and holiness are related, since the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, we can, for the purpose of analysis, consider these two qualities separately in the life of Emperor Karl.
"Was Karl, of the House of Habsburg, wise? In 1916 Archduke Karl, after a strict Catholic, aristocratic, and military upbringing, inherited the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a realm of eleven major races and fifty million people. He was still only twenty-nine; -- handsome, popular, charming prince married to a lovely young woman, Zita of the royal house of Bourbon-Parma - when he became the direct successor to the Holy Roman Emperors of past ages. World War I was raging, and the Dual Monarchy of Austria and Hungary was weakened by "time and fate." How did Karl handle himself?
|"His biographers tell us that he was intelligent, consistent, and also progressive by the conservative standards of his time and dynasty. This young Habsburg not only was convinced of the aristocracy's mission to rule, but also accepted its duty to serve. With his imperial vision, he feared the egotism and arrogance of nationalism, and so he distrusted and watched carefully his German allies, while in certain respects he could admire his Western enemies of the Entente - France and England. Then, too, Karl worried over the trials of political agitators by Austrian military courts, considering the sentences too severe. He ordered a review of all recent trials and commuted four death sentences to prison terms. Another humanitarian measure was the granting of an amnesty in 1917, from which over 2,500 prisoners benefited. Do not these actions show a wise concern for justice?"|
|A happy Wedding Day in 1911|
|"In similar vein, he banned the bombing of open cities, churches, and museums. Long before Berlin could see it, Karl foresaw defeat for the Central Powers, for his own empire, and for Kaiser William's Germany. He attempted to stop the press from forever trumpeting about victory, because he knew the war was lost as soon as America declared war on Germany, and because his people knew the situation was desperate as they were getting poorer and hungrier. For this admirable objectivity, Karl and Zita were labeled perfidious "royal renegades. An autocratic ruler (one whose authority is uncontrolled) is not so wise and good as he should be, because his mistakes will not be corrected in time and the people will suffer. But Karl is considered to be the first Habsburg ruler who was not autocratic. In certain areas, especially in matters of public authority, wisdom often carries with it the quality of goodness, so that they are commingled. For example, in April 1917, the Emperor Karl learned of a plan of the German High Command to use revolution as a weapon by sending Lenin and other Bolsheviks into Russia so that Russia would be turned upside-down by revolution and thus knocked out of the war. Karl strongly opposed this dismal and short-sighted plan and refused to allow the train carrying Lenin's entourage to cross the Austrian frontier. (What an infamous train-load! The Russian people needed it like they needed a shipment of bubonic plague germs.) Rebuffed, the German government sent the train through Sweden instead. Years later, the Empress Zita said her husband had refused to act in a way that would be "unfair and irresponsible" to the Russian people. Surely, here is wisdom and goodness blinded into a courageous stand against powerful Berlin.
"His efforts to end World War I most clearly demonstrate his commitment to Catholic principles. No war is justified that does not have a reasonable prospect of success. And, therefore, a morally responsible ruler cannot countenance the useless shedding of blood. In his own words, let us hear the pious emperor justify his peace efforts: "Since my accession to the throne I have unceasingly tried to spare my nations the horror of the war, for the outbreak of which I bear no responsibility." But, apparently, the same mysterious forces who were responsible for the starting of the war, had in view an appointed destiny for the Catholic dynasty. As a result, all the emperor's efforts were invariably frustrated, and his motives predictably misinterpreted.
"Listen to historian Warren Carroll comment on Karl's February 1917 peace initiatives: they were "by far the most genuine and unselfish peace offer by the head of government of a belligerent state in the whole course of the war." Here is the famous French writer Anatole France speaking: "The Emperor Karl has offered to make peace; here is the only decent man who has appeared in the course of this war - they didn't listen to him. . . he sincerely wants peace, so everyone detests him. . ."
"On November 11, 1918, Karl was obliged to renounce the Austrian throne; however, he never abdicated, only relinquished power. After Austria rejected him, he planned to reign as king of Hungary, whose anointed and crowned sovereign he was. Then the new Hungarian parliament asked Karl for his renunciation of the scepter of St. Stephan. Again, the young Habsburg monarch refused to abdicate. As Zita put it, "One cannot forfeit one's ancestral rights!" Hence, Karl announced, "I am voluntarily abandoning power." After a few years of exile, he made two restoration attempts in 1921, trying to regain the throne of Hungary. Both failed, but the two bids for control of what was rightfully his reveal his moral goodness shining forth under conditions of great pressure and danger."
|Kaiser Karl on the Isonzo Front, 1917|
|The Heir to the Throne on the Battlefield
Like all Archdukes, Karl was expected to take part in the Empire's military life. Indeed, the old rule that all Imperial Armies should have an Archduke at the helm still applied in the XX. century. Ranked FML, Archduke Karl was appointed commander of the newly organised XX. Corps in March 1916. Karl's Corps took part in the Tirol offensive in May 1916, scoring some successes against the Italian army but also suffering high casualties. His chief of staff was young Oberst Alfred Freiherr von Waldstätten, who would play a greater role in military affairs by years' end. Karl led this force until July 1916, when he was dispatched to lead the new XII. Army, which, however, was never organised. FML Alois Fürst von Schönburg-Hartenstein was Karl's replacement in the XX. Corps.When Roumania declared war on Austria-Hungary in August 1916, the young heir was dispatched to Transylvania to lead the effort in repelling the invader. Holding a rank of General der Kavallerie, Karl was first in command of the newly formed XII. Army on 4 July 1916. However, this army was disbanded on 13 August 1916, before it even saw action. The chief reason for this was that thanks to the undending Russian onslaught, those units intended for the XII. Army were diverted to dangerous sectors and thrown into battle piece-meal. The results were obvious for Karl.
Karl was then given command of Army Group Erzherzog Karl in late August, which he led until 20 October 1916. After that, his responsibility was expanded to a newly organised Army Front Erzherzog Karl, which basically stretched from the Bulgarian border to the Russian frontlines. Karl was promoted to Generaloberst on 1 November 1916.
Three weeks later (23 November 1916), Karl was notified that he was the new Kaiser, following the death of Franz Josef. Karl's command was relinquished by Karl on 2 December 1916, after the Roumanians had been defeated and the burdens of assuming power were getting in his way. However, in February 1917, he made the decision to dismiss the Supreme Commander of the K.u.K. Armee, Archduke Friedrich, and assume the command himself. Karl remained in this capacity until the end of the war.
|Orders of Battle: Tirol Front, May 1916
Immediately preceding the Tirol Offensive
Army Group Archduke Eugen, GdI Erzherzog Eugen
Chief of Staff, Feldmlt. Alfred Krauss
XI. Army, GO Viktor Dankl
XX. Korps, Feldmlt. Archduke Karl
3 Inf. Div., Feldmlt. Horsetzky
8. Inf. Div., Feldmlt. Fabini
58. Mtn. Brig., Obst. v. Merten
180. Inf. Brigade, Feldmlt. Edler von Verdross
Orders of Battle: Eastern Front, August 1916
Immediately preceding Roumania's declaration of war against Austria
Army Group Erzherzog Karl, Feldmlt. Erzherzog Karl Franz Josef
VII. Army, Generaloberst von Pflanzer-Baltin
XI. Korps, Feldmlt. von Haberman
XL. Honved inf. div., Genmj. Nagy
Brudermann kav. Korps, Feldmlt. von Brudermann
III. kav. div., Oberst von Szivo
Krauss Group, Feldmlt. Krauss
XXXIV. inf. div., Feldmlt. Krauss
Reserve: Deutsch Karpathen Korps, Preußisch Genlt. von Conta
VIII. kav. div., Genmj. von Fluck
III. Armee, Generaloberst Kövess von Kövesshaza
VIII. Korps, Feldz. von Benigni
LIX. inf. div., Genmj. Kroupa
XLIV. Schützen div., Feldmlt. Nemeczek
I. Korps, Gen. d. Kav. von Kirchbach
XXX. inf. div., Genmj. Jesser
XLII. Honved inf. div., Feldmlt. Snjaric
LI. Honved inf. div., Genmj. Foglar
Hadfy Group, Feldmlt. von Hadfy
XXI. Schützen div., Genmj. Podhajsky
V. Honved kav. div., Feldmlt. von Apor
Deutsch Kräwel (Deutsch) Group, Genlt. von Kräwel
VI. K.u.K. kav. div., Genmj. von Schwer
CXIX. Deutsch div., Genmj. von Behr
CV. Deutsch div., Genlt. von Kraewe
K.u.K. Group, Genmj. Leide
Reserve: III. Armee, V. inf. div., Genmj. von Felix
|Orders of Battle: Moldavian Front, November 1916
Immediately following Roumania's defeat
Army Front Erzherzog Karl, Generaloberst Karl Franz Josef
IX. Deutsch Armee, Gen. d. Inf. von Falkenhayn
K.u.K. Group Szivo, Oberst von Szivo
LIV. Deutsch Korps, Genlt. Kühne
XI. Bayerisch inf. div., Genlt. Kneußl
CCCI. inf. div., Genmj. von Busse
Schmettow kav. Korps, Genlt. Schmettow
VI. Deutsch kav. div., Genmj. Sägner
VII. Deutsch kav. div., Genmj. von Mutius
XLI. Deutsch inf. div., Genmj. von Knobelsdorf
Krafft Group, Genlt. Krafft von Dellmensingen
LXXIII. K.u.K. inf. div., Feldmlt. Goiginger
Alpine Korps div., Genmj. von Tutschek
CCXVI. Deutsch inf. div., Genmj. Vett
I. Deutsch res. Korps, Genlt. von Morgen
XII. Bayerisch inf. div., Genlt. Huller
LXXVI. Deutsch res. div., Genlt. Elstermann
XXXIX. Deutsch res. Korps, Genlt. von Staabs
LI. Honved inf. div., Genmj. Tanarky
I. K.u.K. Armee, Gen. d. Inf. Arz von Straußenberg
Stein Group, Genlt. von Stein
I. K.u.K. kav. div., Feldmlt. von Ruiz
VII. K.u.K. inf. div., Genmj. Goldbach
VIII. Bayerisch res. div., Genlt. von Stein
VI. K.u.K. Korps, Feldmlt. von Fabini
XXXIX. Honved inf. div., Oberst Daubner
LXI. Honved inf. div., Genmj. von Grallert
XXI. K.u.K. Korps, Feldmlt. von Lütgendorf
LXXII. inf. div., Feldmlt. Bandian
LXXIII. Honved inf. div., Genmj. Haber
VII. K.u.K. Armee, Generaloberst Kövess von Kövesshaza
XI. Korps, Feldmlt. von Habermann
I. Korps, Feldz. von Scheuchensteuel
Deutsch Karpathen Korps, ?
XXV. Deutsch res. Korps, Genlt. Suren
Reserve: Brudermann kav. Korps, Feldmlt. von Brudermann
|Kaiser Karl meets with Tsar Ferdinand of Bulgaria at Triest's train station, 1917.|
|The Family that Karl Loved more than the Throne...|
|Archduke Karl married Zita von Bourbon-Parma on 21 October 1911. He had five sons and three daughters by this marriage, his last daughter only three months before his death on 1 April 1922.|
|The Royal Coronation in Budapest|
|Karl's bride, Zita Bourbon-Parma in 1910|
|The Imperial Family in 1917|
|Two Bids to Regain the Throne|
|The First Attempt
On 7 March 1921, Karl traveled to Budapest and attempted to reclaim the throne from the Regent, Miklos Horthy. He was not about to make a bid for the throne if it was diplomatically reckless. The timing seemed right. The Entente was having its hands filled with troubles in Germany, particularly the Upper Silesian Question.
A month earlier, Zita's brother Sixtus, famous for his role in the "Sixtus Affair" scandal named for him, was dispatched to Paris to gauge the French reaction to a possible Habsburg restoration in Budapest. Premier M. Aristide Briand, the "French Firebrand" was open to a restoration only because of the troubles that had been emanating out of Hungary as of late. Exiles from the white terror of 1920 were camped in Paris, spreading bolshevik discontent among the rabble. Perhaps a Habsburg restoration would close off the soviet spigot once and for all, or so Briand reasoned. In the end, Briand insisted upon a fait accompli on Karl's part. He assured Sixtus that, once the ex-King had been restored to the throne, Paris would issue the expected protests, but otherwise restrain the Little Entente from rash reaction. Interestingly enough, Briand was responsible for fomenting a feud among Habsburgs; apparently he also supported the claims of Archduke Albrecht, who was the son of Archduke Friedrich, the ex-Duke of Teschen who moved to his estates in western Hungary following the collapse of Austria-Hungary. Armed with assurances from the French Premier, Sixtus returned to Switzerland and revealed all to Karl and Zita.
With this good news, the legitimists and monarchists were roused from their apathy. Zita's other brothers, Xaver and Renee, were in Vienna and already in communication with a select number of Hungarian nobles, such as Graf Tamas Erdödy, who had been Karl's childhood playmate. Karl therefore disguised himself as a Portuguese gardener who worked in his Swiss place of exile, and traveled to Vienna on a third-class ticket (for the first time in his life). He stayed at Erdödy's house, who turned out to be less than enthusiastic about the prospects of a victorious putsch in Hungary. Erdödy suggested that almost half of the Hungarian monarchists were hostile to Zita and her brothers, and more in favour of Archduke Albrecht. Erdödy also believed Sixtus to be deceived by Briand, most notably on the former's failure to acquire a written guarantee from the French Premier.
Erdödy succeeded in obtaining visas for himself and Karl, who passed the frontier still disguised as a Portuguese. They stopped at the town of Szombathely in Burgenland. Now Burgenland was a veritable no-man's land between the Republic of Austria and Hungary. From 1919, the Austrians had demanded incorporation of Western Hungary into their country by reason of its German-speaking (though not German-conscious) populace. The Austrians made a small effort to include the territory in 1920 by sending police there, even as Hungary struggled with a white terror designed to eliminate everything to do with Bela Kun's regime. To the shock of the Austrians, well-disciplined Honved battalions attacked the Republic's presence and seized cities such as Szombathely and Sopron, turning their occupied area into a military camp filled with reactionary, pro-monarchist soldiery. Here was to be found the sort of men needed for a putsch against the government.
In Szombathely, they dined with the town's Bishop. Also visiting that evening was Dr. Josef Vass, the Hungarian Minister for Welfare. Upon Erdödy's proclamation of His Majesty's return, Dr. Vass broke the silence of disbelief among the Bishop's houseguests by asking Karl whether he had notified Budapest of his imminent arrival. At this, Erdödy sarcastically inquired aloud as to whether Colonel Anton Lehar was in town with his battalion.
Now, Lehar was quite the monarchist, ready and willing to turn his soldiers over to the King's cause, should Karl have the need. He already had a name for himself in the white terror, and had done service against Hungary's enemies, including the Jugoslavian state and "Red" Austria. He was prepared to march against the Regent if the King ordered him to, the very Regent who had promoted him for his earlier stunning work.
To counter this veiled threat, Vass announced that Premier Pal Teleki was attending a hunt at a local country house. Karl at once decided to visit him, but Erdödy thought it unwise for a King to call on a Premier. By the mid-morning, Szombathely was treated to an honour guard displaying its loyalty to the King. Premier Teleki drove up in time to see this spectacle. He then took audience with Karl, who read his manifesto: "Following the dictates of my heart, I have reëntered my beloved country, to shoulder its government from this day forth." Simple, yet straightforward. Teleki's responded with a plea to forego a likely dangerous march on Budapest but Karl would not be dissuaded by Teleki's warning. Mainly, the Premier was concerned about the reactions from both the Great Entente and the Little Entente, and warned Karl that, in spite of Horthy's monarchist leanings, the Regent would not place Hungary in danger for the sake of an ex-King.
Teleki tried to convince Karl of the foolishness of trying to take power by surprise. Instead, the Premier wanted to dispatch a letter to Horthy announcing the King's arrival. However, the plan was scrapped over one simple problem: noöne knew how to properly address the Regent. After sufficient time had been wasted on this, Karl resolved to continue the march. Colonel Lehar interjected that Horthy should be made to come to Szombathely as the King's servant, rather than the King having to ring the Regent's doorbell like a schoolboy. Barring this, the troops should march. However grateful Karl was for having loyal soldiers at his side, he refused to apply military force to regain his throne. He was not about to take a throne, for he was not a usurper and the prospect of Magyars shedding each others' blood was too heinous for him to think about. In the end, Karl decided to visit Horthy alone, without Lehar's troops, and without Erdödy, who had set him on this path. It was Premier Teleki who sent Karl on his way to Budapest.
Prior to his mission, Karl attended Holy Mass presided over by the Bishop of Szombathely. He was then driven by two of Lehar's fellow officers. Along the road, Karl saw a disabled car, and wanted to offer help, but the driver reminded him of his mission and suggested another motorist would surely pass by soon. The King's automobile rushed past the disabled vehicle; it's stranded passengers were Premier Teleki and Dr. Vass, who had left earlier in the morning with the hope of reaching Horthy before Karl.
The car drove straight to the Royal Palace in Budapest on a sunny but chilly afternoon of 27 March 1921. While Karl waited in a courtyard, his driver climbed the stairs and alerted Horthy's Aide-de-Camp that the King had arrived. All though there was disbelief, there was swift action. Upon interrupting Horthy's lunch, the Regent dashed to his office and contacted his Ministers, ordering them to the palace. The army was also alerted, just in case of a military putsch.
The first thing Karl heard from his driver was "Horthy is against us." Karl was led by the Aide-de-Camp up the stairs to Horthy's office for a face-to-face meeting. However, Karl was met by the obstinant servants of Horthy's office, who--unlike the soldiers in the courtyard below--refused to salute their King. They were in possession of a headstrong temperment, something for which their master and Regent of Hungary was also known. After entering the Regent's office and greetings were exchanged, Horthy suggested that Karl should return to Switzerland without delay. Karl refused, reminding Horthy that he had come to assume control of the office that the Regent was guarding.
Horthy stated plainly the bare facts: both the Great Entente and the Little Entente were aware of Karl's return and they were completely hostile to a Habsburg on the throne of Hungary. He even mentioned Czechoslovakia's military preparations. Karl denounced such things as rumours. He told Horthy about his guarantee from M. Briand. Horthy was unamused, particularly since there was no written guarantee; the Great Entente would never fight their small allies, even if they had given a guarantee. Horthy advised Karl that his timing was poor, and Hungary was in danger. His tone grew more condescending: "Switzerland, by the next train--that is the only solution."
Karl made a prepared speech to Horthy regarding the inviolability of the crown of St. Stefan and a eulogy describing the many war-time feats and loyal services of the Regent during his reign. Then, as Zita had insisted, he conferred the title of Duke on Horthy as payment for his trust. But the Regent was now displeased--he told the Karl he had not accepted the post of Regent for titles, and advised the King to leave. Karl offered to make the Regent chief of the army and navy, but Horthy reminded the King that the army was negligible and the navy belong to Jugoslavia. The final attempt by Karl backfired the worst. He offered Horthy a knighthood in the Order of the Golden Fleece. The Regent replied that he was a Protestant; truly a Catholic award was not a prize to him.
Karl had arrived in Budapest a little after noon on 27 March 1921. His meeting with Horthy ended in abysmal failure and he took leave of the city before six. Teleki accompanied him for some distance, until the city limits at least. Karl came down with influenza on the next day, probably as a result of his insomnia during the past two days mixed with severe depression. Horthy had meantime reported to the diplomatic corps that the King had in fact arrived in Budapest but was ushered out just as quickly. He was to be expelled from the country within 24 hours. Karl's illness meant that he was bed-ridden in the Bishop's house in Szombathely. The Czechs did not believe the stories of Karl's illness and demanded his expulsion immediately. Incensed by this, Horthy refused to comply but instead sent a delegation of important men to Karl's bed--men such as Gyula Andrassy, Istvan Bethlen, Dr. Gustav Gratz, and General Paul Hegedüs. (All of these men would come to play majour roles in the events of later that year.)
In spite of the gentlemen's insistence that Karl's illness was based in truth, and the suggestion of an American doctor that surgery in Budapest should not be discounted, it was Karl who decided that he should leave Hungary. On 5 April, a special train was sent from Budapest, and the severely weak King was preparing to depart. The conspirators meanwhile rallied a vast crowd of townspeople who mobbed the Bishop's house. Soon enough, his loyal magnates and Colonel Lehar appeared in full regalia, urging a military putsch against Horthy. Karl was aware of the Little Entente, and this was the reason for his departure. Had he not heard of Czech mobilisations and Rumanian sabre-rattling, then no power could have moved him from Hungarian soil.
But the train had a full head of steam, and had orders to pull out of the station upon Karl's arrival. The train proceeded into Austrian territory, where the Austrian President had a special sealed train placed at the King's disposal. Vienna had no intention of letting the population know of Karl's presence on their soil. It might spark the sort of monarchist sentiment that had caused Hungary such trouble. By the evening of 6 April, the train pulled into the station at Luzern, Switzerland. The immigration authorities took custody of the ill passenger and escorted him to a hotel in town, pending new visas for the entire family. Switzerland, which had given him asylum following his flight from Austria in 1918, was not pleased with his disappearing act in March. It was a violation of their good will, and they were not disposed to grant any more. Karl and his family returned to Schloss Hertenstein near Zürich. Erdödy returned to Vienna, and swore off any more political intrigues. Colonel Lehar returned to power-games in Burgenland. The others sat by and wondered at the failure of the King's putsch.
|Karl and his family in exile in Switzerland, 1920 or 1921.|
|The Second Attempt
Perhaps Karl's mind to make a second attempt to regain the throne of Hungary came from the Swiss government, which indicated that the exiles' visas were due to expire on 31 October 1921. Convinced of the necessity to make a second bid for a restoration, Zita established contact with Hungarian magnates through two pilots, Fekete and Alexy.
It should not be surprising that it was Zita who initiated the second attempt. Such was her ambition to safeguard her son's ascension to a throne--any throne--that she was the prime influence behind Karl's attempts to regain the crown of Austria, as well as the first attempt at Hungary's throne in March 1921. Zita was the proverbial "strong woman behind the throne," the sort of woman that made ministers nervous, much like Katharina Schratt, the close, anti-Serbian friend of Kaiser Franz Josef's on whom the Entente press and later the socialists blamed the start of World War I. Or perhaps Sophie Chotek, the headstrong Czech lady in-waiting to an Duchess of Teschen who hoped Franz Ferdinand would marry her daughter; he ended up creating a tremendous scandal by taking the lady in-waiting instead. Important men in the realms of Austria-Hungary had no use for strong women, for they tended to have a veil of scandal and intrigue wrapped about them. Zita was no different, not the least because she was the lynchpin in the terrible "Sixtus Affair," proving the old adage right. However, her ambition was shared by Karl. He was no pawn of his Queen, but relied heavily on her encouragement. It is unlikely that she ever compelled him to do anything he himself did not want to.
In early October, Karl and Zita were flown to the estate of Cziraky from Switzerland by the German pilot von Zimmermann. Their children were left in Schloss Hertenstein, near Zürich. Key magnates were assembled at Cziraky's house to meet the royals. It had not taken very much plotting on Zita's part to build a monarchist conspiracy. Regret over the failure of the previous attempt was so fresh in the minds of the magnates, that the second attempt was begun even as the first collapsed. The plan of the second was merely the alternate of the first: to march into Budapest with an armed escort.
However, the previous Premier, Pal Teleki, was out of office shortly after the first attempt, replaced by the republic-minded Graf Istvan Bethlen on 14 April 1921. There had been hope among the magnates that Teleki's pro-monarchist sentiments would be awakened with a display of force and pomp. Bethlen was something different; he endeavoured from the first to turn the tide of the white terror and reintroduce some of the socialist programmes of Mihaly Karolyi, a horror to the magnates. Even worse for the conspiracy, General Gyula Gömbös, supreme commander of the Honved, had rejected the conspirators' exhortations, and even threatened to use violence should the King attempt a putsch in Budapest.
Meanwhile, the key guest among the assembled magnates, Graf Gyula Andrassy, had just recently delivered an oath to Bethlen and the whole Parliament that no restoration would be further attempted "until Hungary was ready for it." Was his participation in this scheme open treason against the Hungarian government? He might have considered it otherwise, since Karl was the only legitimate sovereign of Royal and Apostolic Hungary, and he did not appoint Bethlen to be Premier. Still, his logic was not bound to be shared by the government.
Shortly after their arrival, Karl and Zita were escorted by Colonel Anton Lehar to Sopron (Ödenburg) in the disputed Burgenland region. Now, Sopron was a mostly Magyar-speaking city surrounded by Germans. It was seized by the same reactionary, pro-monarchist troops who had flushed the Austrians out from the rest of West Hungary. From these ranks came FML Paul Hegedüs and his hussars, ready to storm the Parliament with sabers and shouts of "Hurruh!" if necessary. These hardy pioneers would turn back time itself, and to their hospitality did Lehar commit the royal couple.
Karl refused the comfort of the Hotel Pannonia in downtown Sopron, choosing to camp with the troops. By the next morning, the whole city had been roused to their King's return, and the festive displays of loyalty to the Habsburg royals were duly noted by Entente commissioners who were stationed in the city to review the Burgenland Question (they would set up a plebiscite vote for Sopron nearly at the time of Karl's putsch; Austria would lose). These men slipped out of the city and quickly made their way to Vienna, where they reported to Prague, Paris, and Geneva the beginning of a new putsch by the ex-King.
This was not lost on Lehar, who took the initiative and ordered his troops to board the trains stationed in Sopron. It came to a race. Who would be faster, the Entente spies or the monarchists? The putsch would rely on fate accompli--Karl remembered his assurances from Briand back in March, when France was disposed to ignore a putsch. Unfortunately for the ex-King, Briand had changed his mind after the first attempt failed and Czech Premier Eduard Benes expressed his outrage. Furthermore, the Burgenland Question was getting sticky, as the Czechs and Jugoslavs had demanded solutions in their favour; namely, annexation by one state or the other to separate German from Magyar with a narrow corridor. The Entente commissioners were reviewing this possibility and weighing the strength of Hegedüs' reactionary forces. Surely another attempt by Karl would throw the Czechs and/or Jugoslavs into a war situation--if not over a Habsburg restoration, then over the fate of Burgenland.
As Colonel Lehar assembled his trains of soldiers and supplies, volunteers and recruits from all over the region poured into Sopron, eager to bring the King to Budapest. Former dignitaries of Austria-Hungary personally joined Karl's entourage, including Graf Gyula Andrassy. Not only magnates but even radical socialists such as Karl Payer chose to bring down the regency and restore something of Hungary's former glory. Lehar was promoted to a full general by Karl prior to the expedition, and was given full authority to conduct military operations leading to the royal palace. Karl also created a provisional cabinet from those dignitaries present, and most had plans ready for implementation upon resumption of royal authority in Budapest.
The first train filled with Hussar cavalry left Sopron on the night of 27 October 1921. It reached Györ (Raab) early in the morning. The royal train carrying Karl and Zita followed about fourteen hours later. Upon reaching Györ, a monarchist stronghold if there ever was one, the royal train ground to a halt. A message from Budapest awaited them, and it's contents were no more complicated than this: "Great Entente protests vehemently against restoration, threatens intervention." Across the Danube from Györ, Czech soldiers could be seen, making certain preparations, though for what end was anyone's guess. Meanwhile, the commander of Györ, General Lörinczy, surrendered to the putsch without a struggle. He explained that he had been responsible for contacting Horthy to ask for advice once the first trainload of monarchists rolled into the city. After receiving this explanation, Karl released Lörinczy, but Lehar felt it necessary to make the General the movement's first prisoner of war, and clapped him in irons again.
Shortly after this disturbing incident, Karl resolved to push forward. At each town, the train was hailed by the people as though the royals were saviours. Many men dropped what they were doing and volunteered for the King's service. During the trip toward Budapest, Karl's contingent was strengthened by 4,000 volunteers. Such makes one wonder what the turn-out might have been if news of the fast-moving putsch had reached those places beyond the railway. Still, the garrison of Komorn blew up a long stretch of track outside the city. This caused the first train to grind to a halt, and soon the royal train caught up. Lehar ordered the repair of the tracks, but as it was taking so long, everyone was beginning to feel their nerves. Lehar even had the lack of tact to suggest burning Komorn to the ground, something for which Karl openly chastised him.
While waiting for the tracks to be repaired, Premier Bethlen was called by Stefan von Rakovszky, who introduced himself as the new Premier of Hungary, by order of the King. After a heated exchange, Rakovszky ordered an open way to Budapest, now only an hour away by train. Bethlen replied that he would consider it, and reply with 15 minutes. About 45 minutes passed before Rakovszky began frantically calling every place in Budapest where Bethlen might be found. Bethlen, it turned out, had just gone home. Rakovszky called his house and issued his first and only summary court-martial, threatening to hang Bethlen on the gallows for his perfidy.
This waste of time allowed Horthy to summon all forces, including cavalry under the command of General Gömbös, to defend the capital. The monarchists had failed to capture Colonel Perczel of the Komorn garrison, who had ordered the tracks blown earlier in the day. The monarchists had not paid much attention to Perczel earlier, because upon the arrival of Karl, the city of Komorn acclaimed him and even the garrison that had halted the putsch decided to throw their lot in with the monarchists, now numbering many thousands in the city. Perczel meantime succeeded in signaling government forces assembling across the limitless Alföld by--of all things--semaphor flags. Lehar had seized the wireless stations and telegraph lines, so the Colonel had no choice but to fall back on more traditional means of communication.
As darkness engulfed the plain and fateful 29 October rolled in, Lehar's forward train sped out of Komorn, intent on reaching the Sandberg tunnel under the Danube river by dawn. It was only a few miles beyond Komorn when, to Lehar's frustration, a motorcar pulled alongside and ordered the train to stop. It was one of Horthy's ministers, Dr. Josef Vass, once again putting in an appearance at Karl's putsch attempt. He bore a letter for Karl from Horthy, who urged him to stop the putsch before events grew beyond his control. "Premier" Rakovszky denounced the letter and suggested that any more letters for Karl should be delivered to his palace in Budapest in the morning.
In Budapest, General Gömbös had followed his Regent's order to the fullest. He had rallied a large portion of the army together and knew of the exact location of the monarchists thanks to fast-moving hussars on the Alföld and men like Colonel Perczel who supplied information. Gömbös needed something more. It was not enough for him to repel the monarchists in a military fashion. Being strictly anti-royal, even having disdain for the likes of Regent Horthy, Gömbös found time to gather student volunteers steeped with a little bolshevik hatred for things royal. He formed these into irregular bands of Honved. These were led out of the city and to a line of heights called Türkensprung, lying on the railway between the ancient Eszterhazy residence of Tata and Budapest.
Prince Ferenc Eszterhazy, long a friend of the King, welcomed the royals to his ancestor's house when the train pulled into the Tata station on the morning of 29 October. His joy was tempered by news of the nearness of Gömbös and his bands. The prince boarded Karl's royal train in a sign of allegiance, and the monarchists rolled on toward Budaörs, a suburb of the capital lying at the foot of the Türkensprung heights. There was serious fighting reported ahead, as Gömbös had fortified Budaörs with a heavy contingent of regular government troops in addition to student bands. These had opened fire on Lehar's forward train without warning, and now a battle was raging in an arc from the centre of the town all the way to the rising slopes of the Türkensprung.
|The royal couple celebrate Holy Mass as the Battle of Budaörs begins, 29 October 1921.||General Anton Lehar, the driving force behind Karl's use of military force.|
|Even worse, some government cavalry was reportedly charging round the back of the heights, and might trap the whole monarchist force, unless Lehar managed to force a decision early. Upon reaching the viaduct, monarchist soldiers stopped the royal train. As there was no pressing to Budapest until this difficulty had been breached, Zita insisted on a celebration of Holy Mass, for it was Sunday. Priests from Sopron conducted the service in the open air, even as small-arms fire could be heard in the distance. As the Mass drew to a close, the pulse of artillery was heard for the first time. With communion administered to all who would fight, the soldiers of the royal train then bolted to formation and rushed forward, across the viaduct and to the battle ahead.
Karl had not wanted civil war. A conflict of Magyar brother against brother was outrageous, especially whether he, the rightful sovereign crowned with the apostolic regalia of St. Stefan, should be restored to the position of Hungarian Head of State. His most specific order of entire operation was that under no conditions should blood be spilled. It shouldn't have to be done. Karl believed the question could be answered peacefully, and honourably, either with the streets of Budapest filled with cheering subjects loyalty removing hats and bowing heads, or! As it was, there had been no "or" in Karl's mind. Zita would not allow it, not after the ignominious retreat from the office of Horthy during the first restoration attempt. Civil war is what he got.
The Battle of Budaörs was a fiasco, as Gömbös led his well-trained and experienced Honved cavalry into a breach, splitting the monarchist army in two. The northern group was embattled from two sides and its retreat turned into a rout. In the south, the front held, but as the combined monarchist forces had not been strong enough to match the government's army, this reduced force could not possibly turn the tide of defeat. Karl was anxious to learn of the fate of his gambit. Initial reports were sketchy, but as the night wore on, it became clear to all that the government forces were not beyond spilling blood to prevent the King's return. Karl was horrified by the turn of events, and immediately boarded his royal train, and ordered it to make for Budapest with the intention of seeking an armistice with Gömbös. FML Hegedüs was opposed to a truce with Gömbös, as the latter had promised court-martials for all monarchist conspirators. Karl was all the more determined to end the fighting and the killing. Zita joined him, and they stood in the locomotive cab as it crossed the viaduct to Budaörs amidst the red sky of sunset. However, the train was stopped by the raging battle, and the very life of the King was in peril as the front began to give way. Soldiers trying to escape the enemy clung to the locomotive itself as it prepared to leave the chaotic scene.
The second restoration attempt thus ended in complete disaster. As the Royal train prepared to throttle in reverse all the way to the border, if necessary, any wounded soldiers from the northern wing within reach were placed in the cars, even in the private car of the King. The monarchists were determined to leave none in the hands of the government army. Only the dead were left, as there was no time to bury them. Perhaps most stunning was that the royal train was the rear-guard to the retreat of the monarchist forces. The train roared westward in the night, stopping to occasionally pick up bands of stragglers limping their way westward. By the late morning on the next day, they paused at Prince Ferenc Eszterhazy's vast estate of Tata, only to hear that the governmental troops drawing on Györ had cut the tracks ahead of them, and were arresting everyone trying to seek refuge in the west. A web was being closed around the royal couple and their conspirators.
Prince Ferenc Eszterhazy offered his estate as a royal refuge, assuring the couple that it was impregnable to invasion by the enemy. If there was no respect for the royals among the government members, there was deep admiration for the name Eszterhazy, which had even been inviolate during the nightmarish red terror of Bela Kun. The Eszterhazys even managed to safeguard the world-famous Lipizzaner horses from the Spanish riding school in Vienna during those hard months of 1919. How much more would the Prince protect his King and Queen!
Unfortunately, his confidence was shaken to the core when kidnappers violated the Eszterhazy stronghold on the very first night of their arrival. Only swift action by Eszterhazy's personal servant saved the moment. He tackled one of the criminals and threw him through a glass window. The accomplices witnessed this brutal spectacle and fled, apparently expecting no resistance from the country house. This crude invasion was not followed by the government, however. Truly, the place was left in peace, though Gömbös' troops arrived in town the next morning and occupied Tata's railway station to prevent any escape.
Meanwhile, Horthy authorised the arrest and detention of the higher magnates who had supported the putsch, including Stefan von Rakovszky and Gyula Andrassy. These former magnates and high nobles, the real power behind Apostolic Hungary, were tracked down hunted in the wilderness like animals. General Lehar alone escaped Horthy's warrant, fleeing right into the gleeful hands of the Czechs, who let him pass to spite the Regent. Lehar would live an underground life for several years in Germany, fearful of being tried for treason by hid former commander in-chief.
Even as Karl and Zita fell asleep amidst the tumult, Horthy handed out court-martials to all military personnel involved, even to the lowest rank. The troops of Sopron were scrutinized with great care later in November, for there was the start of the whole conspiracy.
Horthy's mercy on the royals was forced upon him by his chief nemesis of late, the Czechoslovak Premier, Eduard Benes. Once news had reached Hradcany of the putsch attempt, Benes reacted with a mobilisation of troops on the Hungarian frontier. On 30 October, he sent Horthy an ultimatum. Regarding Karl, it read: "If he is given further protection, the Little Entente will regard such action as a cassus belli, and will order a general mobilisation of her armies in order to obtain final settlement of the Habsburg problem in Hungary, and to eliminate once and forever the danger presented by the House of Habsburg in Central Europe." Benes of course was struggling with a phantom. The Habsburgs were clearly no threat to Prague, as they could not even find respect in the land whose crown they had the most claim, much less a fiercely nationalist successor state like Czechoslovakia. The ghosts of the Habsburgs would haunt Benes until the Munich Agreement--rumours in 1937 and 1938 that Karl's son and heir Otto might be restored to the throne of Austria to thwart Nazi annexation schemes was met with strong and violent language from Prague not unsimilar (and perhaps more genuine) than the demagoguery emanating from Berlin.
Horthy was nevertheless appalled by the words coming from Prague, and so was Gömbös. Far from complying with the demands of Benes by turning over the trouble-making ex-king and being rid of him forever, Gömbös dispatched a message to Tata, offering the royal couple sanctuary in a monastery in Tihany, southwestern Hungary. There was a real threat that the kidnappers who assaulted Tata days earlier were Czech agents, and that Prague might authorise a military expedition across the frontier to seize Karl, since the Eszterhazy estate was close by. Karl and Zita immediately accepted the offer, nervous about placing themselves in the protection of a government that had intended to seize them as war criminals only a week before. Karl was astute enough by now to know that the political situation was getting out of hand and there was nothing to be gained by risking Eszterhazy's estate to plunder by an advancing Czech army. Gömbös delivered them to Tihany and placed at their disposal two Hungarian officers, who were to hold the double roles of bodyguards for the royals and informants for Budapest.
While Karl and Zita passed the chilly week ensconced in the grounds of the monastery, the Entente sent diplomats to Budapest at Prague's insistence, all with a mission of bringing about Karl's forma renunciation of not only the Crown of St. Stefan, but also those of Austria, Bohemia, and every other land formerly belonging to the Habsburg Empire. Horthy deferred the issue to the ex-King, as he considered his government's position safe from any further putsch and the matter an Entente effort at humiliating the down-trodden Hungarian state. Karl refused to sign any abdication, on the grounds that his oath of kingship was terminable only upon death, and not before. His refusal is spoken with much eloquence: "As long as God gives me strength to carry out my duty, I shall not abdicate the throne to which I am bound by sacred oath. As wearer of the Holy Crown, I shall maintain its rights by professing my willingness to remain in office, despite all perils confronting me. It is my belief that only thus can the integrity of Hungary be restored."
|The Imperial Family in 1922, shortly before exile in Madeira|
Things were being planned for the King without his knowledge. Horthy might have resisted the bullying of Benes and the taunts of Entente diplomats, but he would not be content with the ex-King forever. Premier Bethlen solved the problem by introducing into the Parliament a bill calling for the royals' deportation. Considering all the trouble Karl had caused in the last month, the bill was passed without opposition.
Karl responded: "I hereby declare the resolution of the National Assembly, ordering my deportation, to be the result of foreign pressure; it is therefore unlawful, ineffective, and contrary to the Constitution, forcing me to enter the most emphatic protest against it. Again I invoke the constitutional rights vested in me as Apostolic King, crowned with the crown of St. Stefan." While he was writing this protest, a British flotilla of gunboats had steamed up the Danube to tie up along the quays of Budapest, not far from the Parliament building itself. The statute of limitations on the deportation orders ran out on 1 November 1921. A line of armoured cars appeared at Tihany the day before, and the abbot of the monastery roused his guests from their sleep, and sent them on their uncertain way. They were escorted aboard the ship with characteristic respect, and a group of spectators witnessed their ex-sovereign depart the Apostolic kingdom for the last time. This moment realised, Honved soldiers in the crowd waved their hats and shouted "until we meet again" to the departing vessel.
The royal couple were taken as far as Galatz in Rumania, where on 6 November 1921 the gunboat was traded for an ocean-going vessel as far as the Straits. As prisoner-guests aboard the vessel Cardiff, neither Karl nor Zita were told of their ultimate destination, even as they passed Malta. The fate of their children grew ever more desperate in their minds as they reached the Strait of Gibraltar. No answers were forthcoming, and after two weeks at sea, the Cardiff reached the isle of Funchal in the Madeiras, a lonely subtropical Portuguese outpost in the Atlantic.
As 1922 neared, still no word had come from Switzerland, where the royals' children were awaiting their parents. Then on Christmas Day, of all days, a telegram arrived from Switzerland. Their third child, Robert, was striken with appendicitis, but the Entente officials refused to grant permission for the operation. Zita immediately boarded a ship for France, in order to save her children. Karl remained behind, knowing full well that the Entente would not permit him to break exile. His safety was further dependent on the return of Zita. The ex-Kaiserin's passage through France was accompanied by threats from M. Briand, who suggested that a permanent separation of the royals might crush royal plots once and for all. Upon reaching Schloss Hertenstein, Zita wasted no time in gathering her children and removing them to Zürich. From there, Robert was treated in a hospital and then the whole family was removed to Madeira, minus the Habsburg servants who were prevented from joining the exile. The Entente feared a conspiracy culd be hatched even from the isolated rocks of Madeira.
The Entente provided a pension to the royals that was sufficient to cover necessities. The largest house in Funchal had originally been granted to Karl, but as he had not set aside funds for exile (as "Foxy Ferdinand" of Bulgaria had), there was no royal bank accounts to pay for luxury. The governor found a suitable villa at the Capo do Monte, a barren if not uncivilised location often shrouded in seafog for many weeks of winter.
The Death of the Last Emperor
While Zita spent her time caring for her children with the aid of two Portuguese servant women, Karl was caught between depression and a recurring fever. Illness struck hard during a freezing day in the first week of March, when Karl journeyed into town to buy toys for his children.
Karl's condition did not improve after weeks of coughing and hemorrhages. Severe pneumonia had set in. The local doctors administered turpentine injections to his legs, and attempted hot-cupping on his back to relieve the pneumonia; the poor Emperor found no relief but terrible blisters were added to his burdens. Two specialists from Austria were finally permitted to visit the ailing Karl, but by the time they reached the cold, foggy villa, a priest was already administering extreme unction. During this spolemn rite, Karl bade his son Otto into the room to witness his father's preparation for death. Afterward, he told Zita, "I would have liked to have spared him all that ... but I had to call him to show him the example. He has to know how one conducts oneself at times like this: as a Catholic and as an Emperor."
Karl choked to death in the darkness of 1 April 1922, at the young age of 34.
As an interesting conclusion, Zita long outlived her husband, only passing away in 1986. Her funeral ceremony at the Capucin crypt was the first seen in seventy years. As the coffin was borne to the closed doors of the crypt, a priest knocked three times. The monk who guarded the crypt opened a speaking window in the door. He asked who was there. The priest proclaimed "Zita, the Empress of Austria and the Queen of Hungary!" The monk replied, "I do not know her!" The priest knocked again, and the monk asked "Who is there?" The priest announced "Zita, the Queen of Lombardy, the Duchess of Styria, the Queen of Jerusalem!" The monk responded "I do not know her!" For the third time, the priest knocked, and the monk inquired "Who is there?" The priest softly stated, "Zita, a sinning mortal." With that, the monk bade their entrance, and Zita's body was given rest among the Habsburgs who once were.
As for Karl, his body remained in Madeira. In 1994, his coffin was opened, and it was revealed that his body had not decomposed. He appeared as he had on that painful night in April 1922. It was considered by many a miracle and testament to the holy faith of Karl, who, though surrounded by war and misery, led a Christian life and strove deeply for peace and righteousness.
On the Road to Sainthood: Karl the Venerable, Karl the Blessed
In 1998, the Vatican proclaimed him "Venerable," a distinction below that of a Saint, but a still worthy honour to the last Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary. As of 22 December 2003, the Vatican had recognized a miracle performed in Karl's name, putting the late ruler on the road to sainthood.
The Roman Catholic Church said that it will grant beatification to the emperor. Beatification is one confirmed miracle short of sainthood. The Associated Press reported the last emperor's grandson, Georg Habsburg, as saying that a Brazilian nun praying for the beatification of Karl had resulted in the cure of her deadly disease. Mr. Habsburg said the woman's healing was unable to be explained by three medical experts. As of 3 October 2004, Karl the Venerable shall henceforth be known as the Blessed, as the Church announced the Beatification of Karl von Habsburg.
GWS, 2/02 [rev. 4/05]