Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Monarchist Profile: Andreas Hofer

One of the greatest though somewhat lesser-known figures to come out of the Napoleonic Wars was the Austrian innkeeper Andreas Hofer. He set such an example of religious devotion and monarchist loyalty that his memory was still being invoked in the Hapsburg Empire during World War I. Born in 1767 in the Tyrol region he seemed quite ordinary for much of his life. He ran and inn, worked as a merchant and served in government on the local level. When the War of the Third Coalition broke out with Napoleonic France he joined the Austrain militia, first as a sharpshooter but later rising to the rank of captain. When the Tyrol was handed over to the French ally Bavaria in 1805 as a spoil of war he joined the anti-Bavarian underground. Four years later he led a delegation to Vienna to ask the Emperor Francis II for his support. The devout mountain man was not impressed by the morals of the great city and famously said that, "my Anne Gertrude would not approve of this". However, he met with the Emperor and Francis assured his loyal subject of his support.

Hofer went back to the Tyrol and raised a rebellion against the French and Bavarians, fighting for "God, Emperor and Fatherland". He and his troops quickly overran the local Bavarian garrisons and defeated a number of French troops in the area. Things seemed to be going well until the great Austrian Archduke Charles was defeated by Napoleon and Austrian forces retreated from the area. Napoleon was then able to help the Bavarians regain control. However, Hofer was nothing if not persistent and as soon as the French left he renewed his attacks. In time the loyal peasants, Austrian soldiers and even some clerics under Hofer's command numbered nearly 20,000. A respectable army for an innkeeper. Again his forces drove the Bavarians out of the Tyrol and captured Innsbruck. Only the day before his forces entered the city he had been given a letter from Emperor Francis II vowing not to sign any treaty that would renounce the Tyrol.

Andreas Hofer, thinking his work was at an end, returned home to his wife and family but the fortunes of war would soon turn again. By mid-summer another armistice had been signed that gave the Tyrol to Bavaria and French troops marched back into Innsbruck. Reluctantly but with the determination of a true monarchist patriot Andreas Hofer rallied his forces yet again and led a fearsome charge against the French forces of Marshal Lefebvre. After 12 hours of vicious fighting the French were defeated and Andreas Hofer again marched triumphantly into Innsbruck. This time Hofer took charge of the administration himself in the name of Emperor Francis II. He saw to the government and even some diplomacy when he sent emissaries to Great Britain for help. The Emperor decorated him for his victory and again promised not to abandon the Tyrol.

It is to the credit of Andreas Hofer that he forever kept faith with a monarch who could not always keep faith with him. By October the Tyrol had again been handed over to the Franco-Bavarians in another peace treaty and Hofer was forced to retreat into the mountains. The French put a huge price on his head and in January 1810 he was betrayed by a neighbor and captured by a troop of French-allied Italians. Andreas Hofer was taken to Mantua and executed by firing squad, some said on orders from Napoleon though the French Emperor later claimed that he had never ordered it. In any event he died a hero for the Austrian Empire and the Hapsburg Emperor raised his family to the nobility. His brave death only increased his fame and across Austria and southern Germany the memory of Andreas Hofer became a rallying cry for the forces that united in the final defeat of the French. A large monument topped by a statue of Andreas Hofer stands near Innsbruck bearing the words, "For God, Emperor and Fatherland".

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