Franz Joseph (1830–1916)

by Jennifer Woodruff Tait

Tragedy dogged Emperor Franz Joseph.

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue 121 in 2017 ]

Roman Catholic Franz Joseph served as the emperor of Austria; the king of Hungary, Croatia, and Bohemia; and the president of the German Federation … all at once. He ruled most of his territories for 68 years. Coming to the throne in 1848 following the abdication of his uncle, he spent his reign fighting wars with Italy and Prussia. 

[Francis Joseph—Wikimedia]

Franz Joseph’s annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1908 fueled tensions that eventually led to the assassination of his nephew and heir, Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Princip and his conspirators only dealt the latest blow in a long-standing Serbian movement against the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. Franz Joseph, 84 when the war broke out, died two years later of pneumonia. The Austro-Hungarian Empire outlived him by only two years; his great-nephew Charles succeeded him but relinquished power the same day the armstice ending World War I was signed. (Charles spent the next few years trying to restore the monarchy, but he didn’t succeed.) 

In the emperor’s personal life, tragedy followed him even before his nephew’s assassination. His brother Maximilian declared himself emperor of Mexico and was executed by the Mexican Republic in 1867; his 31-year-old son, Rudolph, had an affair with a 17-year-old baroness, and then apparently murdered her and committed suicide in 1889; and his wife, Empress Elisabeth, was tragically assassinated in 1898 by an Italian anarchist who wanted to kill some royal person and had failed to kill the French duke of Orléans.

This article is from Christian History magazine #121 Faith in the Foxholes. Read it in context here!

Jennifer Woodruff Tait is managing editor of Christian History

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