Friday, July 8, 2011

The Significance of an Archduke

Depending of course on how one keeps count, and if things had gone differently at a couple of points in history, His Imperial Royal Highness Archduke Otto of Austria would have been the 165th Emperor of the Romans. I can honestly say that he was a man I could easily picture filling that capacity, a modern, cosmopolitan Holy Roman Emperor. He was probably the most brilliant un-crowned royal in the world in his time. Probably no other modern royal could have so easily filled such a position. No one else had his sort of family history, so intimate a knowledge of the causes and events which made modern Europe the way it is and few could be found who could speak fluently so many diverse European languages. He could have been immensely successful as King of Hungary, Emperor of Austria or even Holy Roman Emperor. Moreover, he would have been a talented ruler, in fact the status of a purely ceremonial monarch would have been something of a waste for a man so gifted as the Archduke.

However, he was not ambitious, only anxious to help. General Franco supposedly offered to make him King of Spain after his own demise but the Archduke felt the House of Hapsburg was too distance in the Spanish memory for that and he recommended a certain Prince Juan Carlos for the job. Nonetheless, he caused socialists to gasp in horror when he spoke somewhat kindly of the Spanish caudillo saying that Franco was a “dictator of the South American type…not totalitarian like Hitler or Stalin”. He pointed out the aid Franco had given refugees during World War II among other things. Naturally the socialists would think this an outrageous thing to say, mostly because it was perfectly true. Franco was not an arbitrary totalitarian and in many ways he did Europe a service through his victory in the civil war. Nor was that the only time the Archduke of Austria was criticized for speaking the truth.

Some were also upset when he referred to Austria as a victim, in fact the first victim, of Nazi aggression. Once again, this happened to be completely true. The Nazis had assassinated the Austrian chancellor, Engelbert Dollfuss, who was a good man, invaded the country and deposed the sitting government. These were obviously quite unfriendly acts and the fact that a vote was later held in which the Austrians approved the union with Germany should be taken with a grain of salt since it was held after Austria was already under German occupation. As we know, one of the things that prompted that invasion was fear that the Austrian government was about to restore Archduke Otto to his rightful throne (at least one of them) and Hitler, who despised the Hapsburgs, was determined to prevent that at any cost. The Archduke was that rarest of breeds: an honest politician, and he spoke the truth as he saw it no matter how some might receive it. He angered some on the political right when he came out in favor of dialogue with the Muslim world and even praised Muslims for retaining such an ardent faith in God when most Europeans had decided that God was no longer needed.

We here might be a bit disappointed that the Archduke did not do more to actively campaign for his own restoration, however, he had as many supporters doing that as he was ever going to have and to do so would have forced him to remain on the sidelines. That was something he could not tolerate and the primary reason why he (reluctantly) renounced his rights to the throne and recognized the Austrian republic. He had something to contribute to western history and he was not going to allow the built-in bigotry of the republican system in Austria to stop him. In so doing he proved that he would have made an excellent monarch in a far more tangible way than if he had simply been campaigning. This does not mean I endorse any/all cases of royals getting involved in politics, and even in the case of the Archduke things may have gone very differently if he had stood for election in one of his former countries.

It does though, I think, prove that Archduke Otto was singularly prepared, at almost any stage, to have taken up the position of a reigning and ruling monarch. Honestly, most modern constitutional monarchs are so limited and restricted to mere ceremonial functions that one does not have to be a brilliant statesman to do their “job” (which is to take nothing away from any of those currently reigning, most of whom are vastly over-qualified). Actually ruling a country, leading a government, deciding foreign policy and domestic policy is a very different thing but in every area, there is no doubt it my mind, the Archduke was fully qualified to take up those duties at a moments notice. Furthermore, he would have been prepared to do so in almost any country in central Europe one could name. I do not know of many other non-reigning royals about whom I could say the same (excluding of course those who have actually done the job themselves in the past already).

The Archduke was a man totally worthy of his rank and the unique place he held in European history, in a roundabout way the modern-day, would-be successor of Augustus Caesar. Even without reigning, in this way, his life represented what a grand and ancient history only a monarch can embody. His loss is hard to overstate. His death truly represented the end of an era, the loss of the last link with a time when republics were the exception and monarchies the rule and he was, sadly, the first Hapsburg in centuries who never wore a crown. Had he done so, a great deal of human suffering might never have happened and that is an injustice we must all work to correct so that the Europe he envisioned, of free states united by common bonds of culture and faith, based on traditional authority, might someday become reality.


  1. Have been some time since I seen such acts of hypocrisy. Almost all the presidents and / or governments of the countries of the former Hapsburg realm now “proudly” declares HIRM Emperor Otto as a great friend of the republic, a patron of democracy, a friend of their countries, bla … bla … bla.
    In Hungary, the parliament even ostentatiously given the Emperor “a minute of silence”

    Here are my questions to them, “if you respect him so much, then why the hell you are still usurping his Crown and Throne?, if you care so much about him, then why do you still insulting his ancestors and denying them of their rightful place in history.

    Call me old fashioned, but I rather have my enemies openly showing their dislike toward me then a theatrical and half-hearted homage.

  2. And here is my question to them: Would you be saying these exact same things, if the Archduke had gone about his career exactly as he did but without ever renouncing his throne or pledging allegiance to the republic?

    Somehow, I doubt it.

  3. HIRH may have remained an Archduke, but upon the repose of his father, Emperor Charles he was the Emperor of Austria-Hungary. That he never took the throne is irrelevant. The republics of Austria, Hungary, Cezch and Slovakia should be reunited under the monarchy, now in 2011.

  4. His opposition to Nazi Germany, his willingness to stand up to Ian Paisley in the European Parliament. Those were just two things worth remembering about this remarkable man.

    My heritage is Czech, and therefore that of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

  5. Regarding this talk of Archduke Otto as the last link.

    Archduke Otto could remember the last years of the monarchy, which is something we probably could not say about Archduke Felix. However, Archduke Felix, the last surviving issue of Emperor-King Charles and Empress-Queen Zita, was born in the reign of Franz Josef.

    So could we not say that Archduke Felix also is a link? And obviously he survived his eldest brother.

  6. I thought of that (and am a little surprised it has not been brought up before now) especially after seeing headlines like "the last Hapsburg" etc, which of course is not true. I only mean it in the sense of the direct succession (which has since been changed). Archduke Otto was the last to hold official position, to be Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary etc.

    To David V, I have found that the Czechs are often misrepresented in history. After Bl. Emperor Charles came to the throne, every time he visited the Czech lands his family were given a very warm and rousing welcome despite all the problems that were going on. The fact that the enemies of the Hapsburg monarchy were ultimately successful is too often used to sweep the great mass of loyal Czechs under the carpet as though they never existed -not true!


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