Franz Joseph von Habsburg, Emperor of Austria

BORN 18 Aug 1830, Wien: Schloss Schönbrunn - DIED 21 Nov 1916, Wien: Schloss Schönbrunn
GRAVE LOCATION Wien: Kapuzinergruft, Tegetthoffstraße 2

Oldest son of Archduke Franz Karl of Austria, the son of Emperor Franz II. His mother was Princess Sophia of Bavaria. Because his uncle Ferdinand was a weak emperor and remained childless and his father seemed unfit as well, his mother regarded him as the future emperor.

He entered the army as a colonel when he was thirteen and this resulted in his wearing of uniforms for the rest of his life. In 1848 revolution broke out and he joined Radetzky at the front in Italy. When he joined his family in Innsbruck he met his Bavarian cousin Elisabeth for the first time. She was only ten at the time.

On 2 Dec 1848 his uncle abdicated and it was decided that Franz Joseph would succeed as emperor. He was further educated by Prince Schwarzenberg, the new prime minister. A new constitution and campaigns against Hungary and Italy were among his first challenges. The revolution was crushed and in 1849 he suspended the new constitution and his rule became absolute.

In 1852 Schwarzenberg died and from then on he effectively reigned the empire himself. In 1853 the Hungarian János Libényi tried to kill him. He was wounded but his collar saved his life and Libényi was was struck down by Count O'Donnell. The butcher Joseph Ettenreich then overwhelmed him. Libényi was tried and executed on the Simmeringer Haide. The Vitovkirche in Vienna was built to thank God for saving the life of the emperor and consecrated in 1879.

It was planned that Franz Joseph would marry the Bavarian Princess Helene ('Nene'), a daughter of his mother's sister Ludovica. When his eye fell on her younger sister Elisabeth ('Sisi'), who was now sixteen, he made his decision quickly and decided to marry her. The wedding took place in the St. Augustine's Church in Vienna on 24 Apr 1854. But Sisi was unhappy at the court and their first child Sophia died after a year. She bore him another daughter, Gisela, and a son, Rudolph, but she didn't love him and was away from Vienna as often as possible.

In 1850 and 1860s things didn't go well for Austria. The Crimean War and a defeat in Italy during the 1850s were followed by a defeat against the Prussians in 1866 and a Compromise with Hungary in 1867. Sisi, who loved Hungary, seems to have played a part in the negotiations and when he granted Hungary a large amount of independence she rewarded him by taking him back into her bed and giving him another daughter, Maria Valeria. However, she soon left him again to travel. She had even taken care of a mistress for him. Anna Nahowski slept with the emperor between 1875 and 1888 and there is little doubt that Helena Nahowski, the future wife of composer Alban Berg, was their daughter.

In 1885 he met the actress Katharina Schratt and she replaced Anna as his mistress. Sisi knew about it and seems not to have objected against the secret relationship that lasted until his death.

In 1889 tragedy struck when his unhappy son Rudolph killed himself at Mayerling, probably after killing his young lover Mary Vetsera first. His nephew Franz Ferdinand was now heir to the throne but after the emperor refused him to marry Sophie Chotek, who was only a countess, the two men were on bad terms. In 1898 Sisi was stabbed to death by the anarchist Lucheni. She had still been very important to him and he never recovered from her death.

In 1914 Franz Ferdinand was murdered in Sarajavo. Franz Joseph reacted that a superior power had restored order. He was talking about his succession, because the First World War and chaos reigned over the empire from then on. In 1916 he died in Schönbrunn, after a reign of 68 years. His grandnephew Karl succeeded him, but only two years later the empire eased to exist.

• Mother: Sophie von Bayern
• Son: Rudolf von Habsburg, Crown Prince of Austria and Hungary
• Daughter: Gisela, archduchess of Austria, princess of Bavaria
• Daughter: Nahowski, Helene
• Wife: Elisabeth von Bayern, Kaiserin von Österreich (1854-1898, Wien: Augustinerkirche)
• Brother: Maximilian of Austria, emperor of Mexico
• Brother: Ludwig Viktor, Erzherzog von Österreich

Related persons
• was painted by Angeli, Heinrich, Ritter von
• has a connection with Kolisko, Alexander
• was painted by Lenbach, Franz von
• quarreled with Leopold Ferdinand of Habsburg-Toscane, Archduke of Austria
• was the lover of Nahowski, Anna
• has a connection with Ortner, Norbert
• was a friend of Schratt, Katharina

2/12/1848Emperor Ferdinand I abdicates in favour of his nephew Franz Joseph. It had been restless in Austria that year and he decided that it was better to abdicate. Probably Sophia of Bavaria had a hand in this. Windischgrätz and Schwarzenberg were certainly in favour of his abdication. 
6/4/1851Franz Joseph invites Metternich to come to Vienna. Metternich had fled to England in 1858. In December of 1851 he would temporarily return to Vienna. 
16/8/1853First meeting between emperor Franz Joseph and Elisabeth [Elisabeth von Bayern, Kaiserin von Österreich][Sophie von Bayern]
19/8/1853Engagement of emperor Franz Joseph and Elisabeth in Bayern [Elisabeth von Bayern, Kaiserin von Österreich]
27/3/1854Elisabeth in Bayern renounces her rights of inheritance. It was very unlikely that she would ever become queen of Bavaria, but she was forced to renouce her rights because of her marriage to emperor Franz Joseph of Austria. [Elisabeth von Bayern, Kaiserin von Österreich]
20/4/1854Elisabeth in Bayern leaves Bavaria in a stagecoach for her marriage. The coach was strung with six horses. She travelled to Staubing and the next day she crossed the Austrian Border. In Linz she was welcomed by her future husband emperor Franz Joseph. [Elisabeth von Bayern, Kaiserin von Österreich]
22/4/1854The future empress Elisabeth arrives in Austria. She arrived with a ship in Nussdorf for her marriage to emperor Franz Joseph. The emperor welcomed her and cardinal Rauscher held a speech. She spent the night at Schönbrunn. She continued her journey to the Theresianum and the Hofburg. On 23 April she entered Vienna in a glass carriage. The streets were covered with flowers, but Elisabeth was shy and afraid. At the Hofburg she was immediately attended by ladies who presented her with numerous rules and regulations. [Elisabeth von Bayern, Kaiserin von Österreich]
24/4/1854Emperor Franz Joseph marries princess Elisabeth in Bayern. The marriage took place at the Augistine Church in Vienna at 7 pm. Cardinal Rauscher took care of the blessing. He was assisted by over seventy bishops and prelates. [Elisabeth von Bayern, Kaiserin von Österreich]
26/11/1856Franz Joseph and Elisabeth visit Venice. Elisabeth had never visited to Venice before. They were welcomed by the old Count Radetzky. The austrians weren't popular in Vienna and the crowd didn't cheer the young couple. Franz Joseph wore a white uniform and Elisabeth wore a blue travelling dress. She had her young daughter with her. Everybody wanted to see the empress, but no one dared to cheer. [Elisabeth von Bayern, Kaiserin von Österreich]
3/12/1856Emperor Franz Joseph pardons Venetians by decree. Seventy Venetians that were convicted for treason were pardoned and a number of political refugees was allowed to return home. Franz Joseph and empress Elisabeth were visiting Venice and they were finally cheered by the crowd when the pardon was made known. [Elisabeth von Bayern, Kaiserin von Österreich]
15/1/1857Franz Joseph and Elisabeth arrive in Milan. Elisabeth's charms didn't work as well in Milan as in other places that were visited by the imperial couple. [Elisabeth von Bayern, Kaiserin von Österreich]
4/5/1857Franz Joseph and Elisabeth arrive in Budapest. There was a rumour that Elisabeth had a positive attitude towards the 'Hungarian cause'. Elisabeth immediately liked Hungary and she quickly became popular. [Elisabeth von Bayern, Kaiserin von Österreich]
31/5/1859The French defeat the Austrians during the Battle of Palestro. The Battle was fought on 30 and 31 Mat. The French troops and the troops of the Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont fought against the Austrians and were victorious. King victor Emmanuell II was directly involved in the battle, Napoleon III and Francis Joseph weren't. [Napoleon III Bonaparte]
24/6/1859Napoleon III defeats Franz Joseph near Solferino. The French armies were commande by Napoleon III and the Austrian armies by Franz Joseph. Napoleon III was watching a chaotic fight from the church tower of Castiglione. He was smoking cigarettes continuously. The fighting took place at Campo di Medole, Solferino and San Martino. The Austrians were defeated by the French and Franz Joseph would never again take direct command of the Austrian troops. In a short time Napoleon III had driven Austria out of a large part of Italy. But the French troops had suffered heavy losses and this affected Napoleon. He decided to end the war and the Armistice of Villafranca was signed on 11 July 1859. Lombardia would be added to Piedmonte, but Veneto remained under Austrian rule. Jean-Henri Dunant saw the battlefield afterwards. He was horrified and published "Un souvenir de Solférino". His actions started a process that led to the Geneva Conventions and to the foundation of the International Red Cross. [Dunant, Henry][Napoleon III Bonaparte]
7/7/1859Napoleon III and Franz Joseph declare an armastice. Napoleon III had won several battles but it wasn't easy to proceed because tha Austrians had the larger army. He was also concerned about Prussia that might attack France at the Rhine border. [Napoleon III Bonaparte]
11/7/1859Conference of Villafranca between France and Austria. Napoleon III and Franz Joseph met personally for peace talks. Their conversation wasn't recorded. The result was that Franz Joseph lost Lombardia to France but he was able to keep Venice on the condition that reforms would take place. The agreement would be formalised by Peace of Zürich. The Italians weren't consulted and were angry that Napoleon left Venice in the hands of the Austrians. It was suggested that Napoleon wanted to go home because it was hot and because he was sick of the futility of it all. [Napoleon III Bonaparte]
18/1/1868Maximilian of Austria is buried in Vienna. On 17 January his body had arrived at the Südbahnhof (Southern Railway Station) in Vienna. Apart from the empress Elisabeth the entire imperial family was there. The next day he was buried in the Kapuzinergruft, where he was laid to rest next to the Duke of Reichstadt, Napoleon's son. Because it was cold in Vienna and it was carnival, the service at the Hofburg on the 17th had received little visitors. Maximilian's mother Sophia insisted on accompanying the body to the Kapuzinergruft through the cold. [Maximilian of Austria, emperor of Mexico][Sophie von Bayern]
20/1/1897Emperor Franz Joseph opens the Schubert centenary in Vienna [Schubert, Franz]
11/7/1906Former empress Eugénie meets emperor Francis Joseph in Bad Ischl. Eugénie had been invited to Austria and emperor Francis Joseph received Eugénie and her companion Isabel de Vesey heartily at the train station. None of them seemed to realise that it was exactly 47 years after Napoleon III and Francis Joseph had met each other in Villafranca. 
5/7/1914Conrad von Hötzendorf considers war against Serbia inevitable. He said this to emperor Francis Joseph who shared his opinion. The emperor asked him if he was sure that Germany would support Austria. A little later the Germans assured the Austrians that they would support them, war or not. [Conrad von Hötzendorff, Franz]


The villa Hermes in the Lainzer Tiergarten in Vienna was a gift of emperor Franz Joseph to empress Elisabeth.
Picture by Androom (24 Jan 1999)


The tomb of emperor Francis Joseph in the Kapuzinergruft, Vienna.
Picture by Androom (31 Aug 2002)


Bust of emperor Franz Joseph at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Wien.
Picture by Androom (22 Aug 2009)


Metternich, Staatsman und Kavalier, Wilhelm Heyne Verlag, München, 1978
• Cars, Jean des, Elisabeth d'Autriche Ou La Fatalité, Perrin, Paris, 1983
• Vincent, Benjamin, Haydn's Dictionary of Dates, and Universal Information, Ward, Lock & Co, London, 1906
• Haslip, Joan, The Lonely empress, A Biography of Elizabeth of Austria, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1965
• Orlandi, Enzo en Mario Rivoire (ed.), Onsterfelijke Vrouwen (deel 3), Spaarnestad, Haarlem, 1970
Point de Vue (Images du Monde), Point de Vue, Créteil
• Ridley, Jasper, Napoleon III and Eugénie, Constable, London, 1979
• Thompson, J.M., Louis Napoleon and the Second Empire, Norton, New York, 1967
Winkler Prins Encyclopedie (editie 1909), 1909
• Zeman, Z.A.B., Schaduwen over de Habsburgers, De ineenstorting van de dubbelmonarchie, Sijthoff, Leiden, 1971
Wikipedia (EN):

Franz, Helene, Freifrau von Heldburg

Published: 15 May 2010
Last update: 15 Aug 2023