Monday, September 10, 2012

Monarchist Profile: Istvan Rakovszky

Istvan Rakovszky de Nagyrako et Nagyselmecz was a Hungarian born in Vienna, Austria-Hungary on June 18, 1858, one of four children born to Istvan Rakovszky (senior) and Baronness Ilona Majthenyi. He was a bright child who grew up with a commitment to national service. As a young man he studied law in Slovakia (then part of the Kingdom of Hungary) before joining the Imperial-Royal army. Illness cut short his military service and he was sent to Venice (then also part of the Austrian Empire) to recover but still had a desire to serve his country. After leaving the hospital he went home to Hungary and settled on his family estate near Nagyselmec (in what is now Slovakia). He became an advocate for the people in his county and in 1895 helped to co-found the Catholic People’s Party and in 1903 became vice-chairman of the party. The 1896 Catholic Congress greatly raised his profile as a politician where he spoke out in favor of Catholic social teachings, loyalty to the monarchy and the ancient rights of the aristocracy all geared toward protecting and uplifting the people on the local level.

Rakovszky gained enough prestige to enter politics on the national level, being elected in that year to the Hungarian House of Representatives in which he served until 1918 and in that pivotal year he entered the Hungarian Diet in which he served until 1926, becoming known as one of the most active and vocal Hungarian politicians in the Dual-Monarchy. In hundreds of speeches he made his views heard on everything from parliamentary procedure to foreign affairs and economic policy. Rakovszky was invariably loyal but of course put Hungarian interests first and was not always pleased with overall imperial policy. During the height of the Hungarian Constitutional Crisis of 1903-1907 (sparked by disputes over the language of the army but part of a long series of problems between Austria and Hungary) Imperial-Royal troops were sent in to close down the Hungarian Diet, something which Rakovszky strongly condemned and protested against while filling in for the absent Speaker of the House of Representatives. However, his reputation was so solid that Emperor Francis Joseph had earlier sought out his advice on how to handle the volatile situation in Hungary so there is no doubt he was quite trusted at court.

Despite often being at odds with the sitting Hungarian government, Rakovszky remained a prominent figure and was chosen to be a “secret” councilor by Emperor Francis Joseph in 1907. The following year he was chosen to be chairman of the League of Catholic People and in the next government session, as leader of the Catholic People’s Party he called for greater protection of ecclesiastical rights and more regular elections. Toward the end of World War I, however, he opposed government actions in spreading democracy too widely and too quickly. When World War I did begin, Rakivszky enlisted in the army but continued to be involved in politics being appointed to a special oversight committee to ensure that Hungarian interests were represented. However, when their recommendations were not taken up by the government the members resigned. During the war years he proposed several pieces of legislation to serve the interests of soldiers such as making it easier for the family of wounded men to travel across internal borders to visit their relatives. Unfortunately, wartime conditions prevented much solid action being taken and the political situation in Hungary became increasingly chaotic (as was the case throughout Austria-Hungary), worsening as the war began to draw to a close with various nationalities asserting independence and government funds being depleted.

As the government of the Kingdom of Hungary fell and the Dual-Monarchy began to fall apart, Rakovszky resigned from office and as he was known for being a staunch Catholic and monarchist, when the Hungarian Soviet Republic was declared the communists had him arrested and confiscated all of his papers. Nonetheless, he remained outspoken in his opposition to the Reds and continued to be a voice for the Catholic population and, as the communists cracked down on all religions, for Christian Hungarians in general. In 1920 he was elected to the National Assembly as a representative of the Christian National Party and became Speaker of the Assembly. He remained as vociferous an orator as ever and gave what was perhaps his most famous speech condemning the Treaty of Trianon which saw Hungary mutilated, drastically reducing the national territory and crippling the economy. He clashed bitterly with the leadership of the Independent Smallholder’s Party and their intractable opposition led him to resign his office in 1921.

Outside of politics, Rakovszky continued to voice his strident opposition to the government which earned him the wrath of many in power, leading ultimately to an attempt to assassinate him which was, fortunately, unsuccessful. Although the monarchy has been “officially” restored and the country was again, technically, the Kingdom of Hungary, Rakovszky and others were outraged that the King had not been invited back to take the throne and resume his royal duties. They became even more disgruntled as more time passed and it became clear that the government of former Admiral Miklos Horthy had no intention of ever actually handing power back to the King (Blessed Emperor Charles I then in exile in Switzerland). Rakovszky and other like-minded monarchists began working behind the scenes to weaken the regency as much as possible to pave the way for the return of the King. The government finally had to take them seriously and recognized that there was a great deal of public support for the complete restoration of the monarchy. Rakovszky was considered a moderate among the monarchists but one of the most effective and when Emperor Charles (in Hungary King Charles IV) began his bid to resume the throne and return to Hungary, Rakovszky was chosen to be his new prime minister. In fact, the return of the King had been planned in Rakovszky’s apartment.

When Emperor Charles did return to Hungary, Rakovszky was quick to join him and was also most concerned that the change in leadership happen peacefully and in keeping with the legal process so as to avoid any accusations that the King had reclaimed his throne by means of a royal coup. If that were the case it would give foreign states a pretext for opposing the restoration. Unfortunately, as it happened, the regent refused to give up power to the King and made more promises to the Emperor Charles professing loyalty but stating that the time was just not yet right for his total restoration. Troops were assembling but, of course, the last thing Charles wanted was bloodshed or a civil war and so he finally agreed to leave the country and go into exile again. Rakovszky was arrested, along with numerous others, by the government which wanted to ensure the monarchists never attempted such a thing again -they had come too close to being successful.

After his release, Rakovszky returned to politics, co-founding the National Farmer and Civic Party and remained a determined critic of the government. He finally retired in 1926 after a near lifetime in public service and died on August 12, 1931.


  1. Thank you very much for this: after Baron Lehár, Rakovszky seems to perfect choice to be next in line!

    1. Actually, I almost covered another Hungarian figure but passed him over for being too controversial. I still might cover him someday, but I'll save him for when I'm in a really bad mood!

    2. Let me guess, the mentionned Hungarian figure would be Miklós Horthy? :)

  2. Thank you for this post. A very good article, as always.
    Rakovszky is unfortunately not someone who is often mentioned (let alone praised) in Hungary novadays...


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