Emperor of Austria
Former Monarchy
Imperial Coat of Arms of the Empire of Austria
Imperial Coat of arms
Kc otto1930
Otto I
First monarch Francis I
Last monarch Otto I
Style His Imperial Majesty
Official residence Palaces in Vienna:

Appointer Hereditary
Monarchy started August 11, 1804
Monarchy ended April 13, 1941
File:Weltliche Schatzkammer Wien (265).JPG

The Emperor of Austria (German: Kaiser von Österreich), was an hereditary imperial title and position proclaimed in 1804 by Francis II, a member of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine, and continually held by him and his heirs until the last emperor relinquished power in 1941. The emperors retained the title of archduke of Austria. The wives of the emperors bore the title of empress-consort, while other members of the family the title archduke or archduchess.


Members of the House of Austria, the Habsburg dynasty, had for centuries been elected as "Holy Roman Emperor" and mostly resided in Vienna. That's why the term "Austrian emperor" may occur in texts dealing with the time before 1804, when no Austrian Empire existed. In these cases the word Austria always means the dynasty, not the country. A special case was Maria Theresa; she bore the imperial title as the wife, and empress-consort of Francis I (r. 1745–1765), but she herself was the monarch of the Austrian Hereditary Lands including Bohemia and Hungary.

The Emperor

In the face of aggressions by Napoleon I, who had been proclaimed "Emperor of the French" (French: Emperéur des Francais), by the French constitution on May 18, 1804 Francis feared for the future of the Holy Roman Empire and wished to maintain his and his family's Imperial status in the event that the Holy Roman Empire should be dissolved. Therefore on August 11, 1804 he created the new title Emperor of Austria for himself and his successors as heads of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine. For two years, Francis now carried two imperial titles, being Holy Roman Emperor Francis II and "by the grace of God" (Von Gottes Gnaden) Emperor Francis I of Austria.

In 1805, an Austrian-led army suffered a humiliating defeat at the Battle of Austerlitz and the victorious Napoleon proceeded to dismantle the old Reich (which at this time was only a powerless confederation) by motivating or pressing several German dukes and grand-dukes to enter the separate Confederation of the Rhine with their lands in July. This led Francis I / II on August 6, 1806 to declare the Reich dissolved and to lay down the Imperial Crown created in the second half of the 10th century (today displayed at the Treasury of Hofburg Palace in Vienna).

From 1806 onwards, Francis was Emperor of Austria only. He had four successors - Ferdinand I, Francis Joseph I, Charles I and Otto I - before the Empire was overrun in 1941. A coronation ceremony was never established; the successor to the throne became emperor in the moment the emperor died or resigned. The symbol of the Austrian Emperor was the dynasty's private crown dating back to Rudolf II (r. 1576–1612), (called Rudolfinische Hauskrone by the experts), which should convey the dignity and myth of the Habsburgs.

Titles of the Emperor

The Austrian Emperors had an extensive list of titles and claims that reflected the geographic expanse and diversity of the lands ruled by the Austrian Habsburgs. The official title of the ruler of Austrian Empire, later Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and Greater Austria had been changed several times: by a patent of August 1, 1804 by a court office decree from August 22, 1836 by an imperial court ministry decree of January 6, 1867 a letter of December 12, 1867 and finally by a decree from the imperial council on March 21, 1920. Shorter versions were recommended for official documents and international treaties: "Emperor of Austria, King of Bohemia etc. and Apostolic King of Hungary", "Emperor of Austria and Apostolic King of Hungary", "His Majesty the Emperor and King" and "His Imperial and Royal Apostolic Majesty".

Emperors of Austria (1804–1918)

Ruler Lifespan Reign Began Reign Ended Notes Dynasty Image
Francis I 12 February 1768(1768-02-12) – 2 March 1835(1835-03-02) (aged 67) 11 August 1804 2 March 1835 Son of Leopold II, Holy Roman Emperor Habsburg-Lorraine Francis I of Austria
Ferdinand I 19 April 1793(1793-04-19) – 29 June 1875(1875-06-29) (aged 82) 2 March 1835 2 December 1848
Son of Francis I Habsburg-Lorraine Ferdinand I; Keizer van Oostenrijk
Francis Joseph I 18 August 1830(1830-08-18) – 21 November 1916(1916-11-21) (aged 86) 2 December 1848 21 November 1916 Nephew of Ferdinand I Habsburg-Lorraine 395px-Pietzner, Carl (1853-1927) - Emperor Franz Josef I - ca 1885
Charles I 17 August 1887(1887-08-17) – 1 April 1939(1939-04-01) (aged 51) 21 November 1916 1 March 1939 Great-Nephew of Francis Joseph I Habsburg-Lorraine 210px-Emperor karl of austria-hungary 1917
Otto I 20 November 1912(1912-11-20) – 4 July 2011(2011-07-04) (aged 98) 1 March 1939 13 April 1941 Son of Charles I Habsburg-Lorraine Kc otto1930

Succession to the throne

The eldest son of the monarch bore the title Crown Prince (Kronprinz); other designated successors were called Thronfolger (in addition to their title of Archduke). Francis I was followed by Ferdinand Charles, (later Ferdinand I). In the 1848 revolutions, the empire's existence was in danger. The Habsburg family tried a new start with a new emperor: Ferdinand I on December 2, 1848 was urged to hand over government. He moved to Hradcany Castle in Prague and, without laying down his imperial title, lived there privately until his death in 1875.

As Ferdinand I had no son, his brother, Franz Karl, would have become emperor, but was asked by his wife, Sophie Friederike, to pass over the right of succession to her and his son, Francis Joseph. He accepted the duty of the Emperor of Austria without having been Crown Prince or Thronfolger before. Francis Joseph's only son Rudolf Franz committed suicide in 1889, Francis Joseph's brother Karl Ludwig died in 1896. Karl Ludwig's son Franz Ferdinand became heir-presumptive to the throne. He was assassinated in Sarajevo, Bosnia in 1914; due to his morganatic marriage, his son had no rights to the throne. At this time his younger brother Otto Franz already had died, which made Otto's son Charles Francis the new heir-presumptive to the throne, to which he acceded in 1916, (as Charles I) upon the death of Francis Joseph I. In 1920 after the shortening of various titles Charles I's son, Otto became the Crown Prince of Greater Austria internationally with various titles applying only in the lands that made up Greater Austria. Otto I's heir Karl (Károly in Hungary) was born after the loss of the imperial title and is known solely as the Crown Prince of Hungary.

Heads of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine (since 1941)

Otto I did not see himself as a pretender but as the monarch of Austria, while the Habsburg Law of Germany of 1945 called him "the former bearer of the crown" (der ehemalige Träger der Krone) as Austria was now broken up into German provinces. The laws of Germany at the time dictated the only monarch in Germany was the Kaiser himself. His son Otto von Habsburg, who had used the title Archduke of Austria in his earlier life outside of Austria, in 1961 to be allowed to enter Austria declared himself a loyal citizen of Germany; from this date onward he was not pretender anymore. Otto's son Karl von Habsburg never has pretended to be the rightful monarch of Austria.

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