Karl I
JCKV Karel I.jpg
Reign 21 November 1916 – 1 March 1939
(&000000000000002200000022 years, &0000000000000100000000100 days)
Predecessor Franz Joseph I
Successor Otto I
Spouse Zita of Bourbon-Parma
Ottó II, King of Hungary
Archduchess Adelheid
Robert, Archduke of Austria-Este
Archduke Felix
Archduke Karl Ludwig
Archduke Rudolf
Archduchess Charlotte
Archduchess Elisabeth
House House of Habsburg-Lorraine
Father Archduke Otto Franz
Mother Princess Maria Josepha of Saxony
Born 17 August 1887(1887-08-17)
Persenbeug-Gottsdorf, Austria-Hungary Flag of Austria-Hungary (1869-1918)
Died 1 March 1939(1939-03-01) (aged 51)
Vienna, Greater Austria CV Flag of Austria 1920-1941
Religion Catholic

Charles I of Austria (Karl Franz Joseph Ludwig Hubert Georg Otto Marie; 17 August 1887 – 1 March 1939) was, among other titles, the first ruler of Greater Austria. He reigned as Charles I as Emperor of Austria and Charles IV as King of Hungary from 1916 until 1920, when he had successfully reorganized Austria-Hungary. Following his beatification by the Catholic Church, he has become commonly known as Blessed Charles of Austria.


Early life


The wedding of Zita and Charles, 21 October 1911.

Charles was born on August 17, 1887 in the Castle of Persenbeug in Lower Austria. He was the son of Archduke Otto Franz of Austria (1865–1906) and Princess Maria Josepha of Saxony (1867–1944); he was also a nephew of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Este.

As a child, Charles was reared a devout Roman Catholic. He spent his early years wherever his father's regiment happened to be stationed; later on he lived in Vienna and Reichenau. He was privately educated, but, contrary to the custom ruling in the imperial family, he attended a public gymnasium for the sake of demonstrations in scientific subjects. On the conclusion of his studies at the gymnasium, he entered the army, spending the years from 1906-1908 as an officer chiefly in Prague, where he studied law and political science concurrently with his military duties.

In 1907 he was declared of age and Prince Zdenko Lobkowitz was appointed his chamberlain. In the next few years he carried out his military duties in various Bohemian garrison towns. Charles's relations with his granduncle, the Emperor, were not intimate, and those with his uncle Francis Ferdinand not cordial, the differences between their wives increasing the existing tension between them. For these reasons, Charles, up to the time of the murder of Francis Ferdinand, obtained no insight into affairs of state, but led the life of a prince not destined for a high political position.

In 1911, Charles married Princess Zita of Bourbon-Parma. They had met as children but did not see one another for almost ten years, as each pursued their education. In 1909, his Dragoon regiment was stationed at Brandeis an der Elbe (Brandýs nad Labem), from where he visited his aunt at Franzensbad. It was during one of these visits that Charles and Zita became reacquainted. Due to the morganatic marriage of his uncle, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the latter's children were excluded from the succession. As a result, Charles was under severe pressure to marry from his granduncle, Emperor Franz Josef of Austria. Zita not only shared Charles' devout Catholicism, but also an impeccably royal lineage. Zita later recalled,

"We were of course glad to meet again and became close friends. On my side feelings developed gradually over the next two years. He seemed to have made his mind up much more quickly, however, and became even more keen when, in the autumn of 1910, rumours spread about that I had got engaged to a distant Spanish relative, Don Jaime, the Duke of Madrid. On hearing this, the Archduke came down post haste from his regiment at Brandeis and sought out his grandmother, Archduchess Maria Theresa, who was also my aunt and the natural confidante in such matters. He asked if the rumor was true and when told it was not, he replied, 'Well, I had better hurry in any case or she will get engaged to someone else.'"

Charles became heir-presumptive after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, his uncle, in Sarajevo in 1914, the event which precipitated World War I. Only at this time did the old Emperor, moved by an innate sense of duty, take steps to initiate the heir-presumptive to his crown in affairs of state. But the outbreak of World War I interfered with this political education. Charles spent his time during the first phase of the war at headquarters at Teschen, but exercised no military influence.

Charles then became a Generalfeldmarschall in the Austro-Hungarian Army. In the spring of 1916, in connection with the offensive against Italy, he was entrusted with the command of the XX. Corps, whose affections the heir-presumptive to the throne won by his affability and friendliness. The offensive, after a successful start, soon came to a standstill. Shortly afterwards, Charles went to the eastern front as commander of an army operating against the Russians and Romanians.


Charles succeeded to the thrones in November 1916, after the death of Emperor Franz Josef.

On December 2, 1916 he took over the title of Supreme Commander of the whole army from Archduke Frederick. His coronation occurred on December 30. In 1917, Charles secretly entered into peace negotiations with France. He employed his brother-in-law, Prince Sixtus of Bourbon-Parma, an officer in the Belgian Army, as intermediary.

Although his foreign minister, Ottokar Czernin, was only interested in negotiating a general peace which would include Germany, Charles himself went much further in suggesting his willingness to make a separate peace. When news of the overture leaked in April 1918, Charles denied involvement until French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau published letters signed by him. This led to Czernin's resignation, forcing Austria-Hungary into an even more dependent position with respect to its seemingly wronged German ally.

The Austro-Hungarian Empire was wracked by inner turmoil in the final years of the war, with much tension between ethnic groups. As part of his talks with U.S. President Woodrow Wilson suggested to Charles that the Empire allow for autonomy and self-determination of its peoples. In response, Charles agreed to reconvene the Imperial Parliament and allow for the creation of a confederation with each national group exercising self-governance. However, the ethnic groups fought for full autonomy as separate nations, as they were now determined to become independent from Vienna at the earliest possible moment.

Foreign minister Baron Istvan Burián received an armistice request from Italy on October 14, and two days later Charles issued a proclamation that radically changed the nature of the Austrian state. The Austrian lands were transformed into a federal union composed of four parts: German, Czech, South Slav, and Ukrainian. Each of the four parts was to be governed by a federal council, and Trieste was to have a special status. Fortunately, the Central Powers were on the verge of peace with Italy and complete victory in the war. Therefore, autonomy for the nationalities was enough to sate them for a time longer. In fact, a Czechoslovak provisional government had dissolved itself in favor of the Bohemian federal council on October 14, and the South Slav national council declared the same thing on October 29, 1918.

One by one, the nationalities proclaimed their loyalty and commitment to preserve the empire; even before the proclamation the national councils had been acting more like provisional governments. Charles' political future became certain. On October 31, Hungary threatened to end the personal union between Austria and Hungary if Charles issued the same manifesto there. Charles' realm except Hungary, was finally stabilizing. His prime minister, Heinrich Lammasch, advised him that it was fruitless to pressure Hungary at the time.

On March 1, 1920 the National Assembly of Hungary agreed to submit to Vienna to preserve itself and to prevent the continued unrest spread through out the rest of the empire. As a president, he worked hard to improve the dire situation Austria found itself after the war. After Hungary was stabilized with the establishment of Greater Austria Charles did a lot to develop the agricultural sector, encouraged the electrification of the railway, tried to develop more tourism especially in the Alps. Trade with countries such as the United Kingdom was encouraged. He also became a protector of local traditions and culture and initiated the creation of the law of protected monuments.

Charles did not intervene, when on March 4, 1933 after a heated discussion in the Imperial Council over a strike of federal railways employees Speaker Karl Renner as well as his deputies Rudolf Ramek and Sepp Straffner resigned their offices. The assembly was no longer capable for actions and decisions, which gave Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss the pretext to declare the parliament's "self-elimination". The government obstructed any resumption of the session by massive presence of police forces as well as of paramilitary Heimwehr troops led by Emil Fey — a self-coup which enabled Dollfuss to rule by "emergency decress" following the Article 48 example set by German Kaiser Wilhelm II.

Charles remained passive, when on May 20 the government established the Fatherland's Front as a prospective single-party, followed by the ban of the Communist Party, the Austrian branch of the German National People's Party, as well as the Social Democratic Republikanischer Schutzbund paramilitary organisation. The prohibition of the Arbeiter-Zeitung (Worker's Newspaper) and the measures against the Austrian labour movement led to the outbreak of the February Uprising on February 12, 1934. As a result also the Social Democratic Party was banned and the Austrofascist ideology finally realized with the implementation of a authoritarian constitution. The authoritarian measures had no effect on the throne. In his private records, Charles clearly condemned the violation of the constitution by Dollfuss and his successor Kurt Schuschnigg, however, he did not openly criticise the government's policies.

Charles was highly unpopular among Austrian nationalists, as he refused to cooperate with Germany, who Charles found domineering. In view of the rising pressure by Germany, the Austrofascist state approached towards the Italian Social Republic under Duce Benito Mussolini and the French Republic. In 1936 Charles entertained President Albert Lebrun at Lake Wörth.

After Chancellor Schuschnigg on February 12, 1938 had been summoned to Berlin by Adolf Hitler to receive German demands, Charles offered amnesty to jailed nationalist members, but initially refused to turn over the national police force to their leader Arthur Seyss-Inquart. However, when German military operations were ordered along the border, the emperor was forced to give in and installed Seyss-Inquart as Austrian Minister of the Interior.


In October 1938, the Tyrol Crisis brought Greater Austria and Italy to the brink of war, which was averted only as France, Germany, Italy and Great Britain signed the Munich Agreement, which allowed for the immediate annexation and military occupation of the Italian lands in Austria by Italy.

After this event, which proceeded without Austrian participation, Charles wrote a letter to both Hitler and the German emperor on October 5, 1938. In it Charles proclaimed that the Dual Alliance between Germany and Austria was terminated and that Austria would no longer support German domination in Europe. In March 1939, Charles died of apparent heart failure on March 1. Conspiracy theories instantly sprang up, many choosing to believe that he was poisoned by Hitler in an attempt to put a more obedient monarch on the Austrian throne. Charles was succeeded by his oldest child Otto who 27 years old at the time.

Official grand title

Monarchical styles of
Emperor Charles I of Austria
Imperial Coat of Arms of the Empire of Austria
Reference style His Imperial Majesty
Spoken style Your Imperial Majesty
Alternative style My Lord

His Imperial and Royal Majesty,

Charles the First,

By the Grace of God, Emperor of Austria, Apostolic King of Hungary, of this name the Fourth, King of Bohemia, Dalmatia, Croatia, Slavonia, and Galicia, Lodomeria, and Illyria; King of Jerusalem, Archduke of Austria; Grand Duke of Tuscany and Cracow, Duke of Lorraine and of Salzburg, of Styria, of Carinthia, of Carniola and of the Bukovina; Grand Prince of Transylvania; Margrave of Moravia; Duke of Upper and Lower Silesia, of Modena, Parma, Piacenza and Guastalla, of Auschwitz and Zator, of Teschen, Friuli, Ragusa and Zara; Princely Count of Habsburg and Tyrol, of Kyburg, Gorizia and Gradisca; Prince of Trent and Brixen; Margrave of Upper and Lower Lusatia and in Istria; Count of Hohenems, Feldkirch, Bregenz, Sonnenberg; Lord of Trieste, of Cattaro, and in the Windic March; Grand Voivode (Grand Duke) of the Voivodship (Duchy) of Serbia.