Charles (Karl Franz Joseph Ludwig Hubert Georg Otto Marie von Habsburg-Lothringen) (English: en) (17 August 18871 April 1922) (Hungarian: IV. Károly or Károly Ferenc József) was (among other titles) the last ruler of Austria-Hungary as a unified empire. He reigned as Charles I as Emperor of Austria and Charles IV as King of Hungary from 1916 until his death in 1922. Following his beatification, he has become commonly known as Blessed Charles.


Early life


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 Francis Ferdinand of Austria-Este. As a child, Charles was reared a devout Catholic. In 1911, Charles married Princess Zita of Parma.

Charles became heir-presumptive with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, his uncle, in Sarajevo in 1914, the event which precipitated the Great War. Charles' reign began in 1916, when his granduncle, Francis Joseph I died. Charles also became a Generalfeldmarschall in the Austro-Hungarian Army.


On 2 December 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. Although his foreign minister, Ottokar Czernin, was only interested in negotiating a general peace which would include Germany as well, Charles himself, in negotiations with the French with his brother-in-law, Prince Sixtus of Bourbon-Parma, an officer in the Belgian army, as intermediary, 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 the 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 the various ethnic groups composing the empire. Despite the relatively strong position of her ally Germany, after making peace with Russia in early 1918, the mood of various national movements within the empire could not be assuaged. During peace negotiations in 1918 following the June armistice US President Woodrow Wilson had suggested 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, many of the ethnic groups sought full autonomy as separate nations, which determination was effectively backed by armed forces of the Czech Legion and the Polish National Army.

With the threat of civil war looming Karl issued a proclamation that radically changed the nature of the Austrian state. The Poles were granted full independence with the purpose of joining their ethnic brethren in Russia in the Kingdom of Poland, the Polish state created ostensibly in 1916. A separate Polish delegation was received at the New York Peace Conference. The rest of 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 receive a special status.

Germany's ambivalence whether actual or perceived, toward the future make-up of the Empire further weakened its unity. The Czech Legion and other ethnic armies of the Empire effectively became national armies of the various ethnic groups. Charles' political future became uncertain. On October 31, 1918, Hungary officially ended the personal union between Austria and Hungary, having also been received in New York. Charles refused to abdicate the Hungarian throne, instead "renouncing participation in the affairs of the Hungarian government." With the Russian Revolution many returning soldiers also had a notion of establishing soldier's and worker's councils. Charles struggled desperately to keep the Empire together. Separate parliaments were convened in Vienna, Prague, Budapest, Temeschwar, and Zagreb, each declaring independence. Charles would not resort to force, but the official position of Germany was for maintaining the unity of the Empire, and the implicit threat of German force held the Empire together if little more in name only. However, the German government was also reluctant to intervene, given the poor relationship between the two governments in the latter part of the war, and Charles' attempts at brokering a separate peace. Germany's attention was further turned eastward to settle affairs in the newly created states of the former Russian Empire, as well as to supporting the governments in Belarus and Ukraine.


The couple and their children remained in Vienna, which now had a socialist administration. On March 9, 1922 Charles caught a cold walking in town and developed bronchitis which subsequently progressed to severe pneumonia. Having suffered two heart attacks he died of respiratory failure on April 1 in the presence of his wife (who was pregnant with their eighth child) and 9-year old crown prince Otto, retaining consciousness almost to the last moment. His remains except for his heart are kept in the Habsburg Crypt in Vienna. His heart, and that of Empress Zita, repose in the Loreto Chapel of Muri Abbey.


Historians have been mixed in their evaluations of Charles and his short reign. One of the most critical has been Helmut Rumpler, head of the Habsburg commission of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, who has described Charles as "a dilettante, far too weak for the challenges facing him, out of his depth, and not really a politician." However, others have seen Charles as a brave and honourable figure who tried as Emperor-King to halt World War I. The English writer, Herbert Vivian, wrote:

"Karl was a great leader, a Prince of peace, who wanted to save the world from a year of war; a statesman with ideas to save his people from the complicated problems of his empire; a King who loved his people, a fearless man, a noble soul, distinguished, a saint from whose grave blessings come."
Furthermore, Anatole France, the French novelist, stated:
"Emperor Karl is the only decent man to come out of the war in a leadership position, yet he was a saint and no one listened to him. He sincerely wanted peace, and therefore was despised by the whole world. It was a wonderful chance that was lost."
All of these various viewpoints give weight to the words of Pope Saint Pius X during an audience with a young Charles: "I bless Archduke Charles, who will be the future Emperor of Austria and will help lead his countries and peoples to great honor and many blessings - but this will not become obvious until after his death."


The Roman Catholic Church has praised Charles for putting his Christian faith first in making political decisions, and for his perceived role as a peacemaker during the war, especially after 1917. The Church considered his brief rule to have expressed Catholic social teaching, and he created a social legal framework which survives in part to this day.

Charles has been solemnly declared "Blessed" in the ceremony of beatification. During the Mass of Beatification on 3 October 2004, Pope John Paul II stated:

The decisive task of Christians consists in seeking, recognizing and following God's will in all things. The Christian statesman, Charles of Austria , confronted this challenge every day. To his eyes, war appeared as "something appalling". Amid the tumult of the First World War, he strove to promote the peace initiative of my Predecessor, Benedict XV.
From the beginning, the Emperor Charles conceived of his office as a holy service to his people. His chief concern was to follow the Christian vocation to holiness also in his political actions. For this reason, his thoughts turned to social assistance. May he be an example for all of us, especially for those who have political responsibilities in Europe today!

The cause or campaign began in 1949 when testimony of his holiness was collected in the Archdiocese of Vienna. In 1954, he was declared venerable, the first step on the process beatification. The League of Prayers established for the promotion of his cause has created a website. Christoph Cardinal Schönborn of Vienna has been the Church's sponsor for his beatification.

Recent milestones

  • On 14 April 2003, the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints in the presence of Pope John Paul II, promulgated Charles of Austria's "heroic virtues."
  • On 21 December 2003, the Congregation certified, on the basis of three expert medical opinions, that a miracle in 1960 occurred through the intercession of Charles. The miracle attributed to Charles was the scientifically-inexplicable healing of a Brazilian nun with debilitating varicose veins; she was able to get out of bed after she prayed for his beatification.
  • On 3 October 2004, he was beatified by Pope John Paul II. The Pope also declared 21 October, the date of Charles' marriage in 1911 to Princess Zita, as Charles' feast day. The beatification has caused controversy because of the mistaken belief that Charles authorized the Austro-Hungarian Army's use of poison gas during World War I,[1] when in fact he was the first, and only, world leader during the war who banned its use.
  • On January 31, 2008, an ecclesiastic tribunal, after a 16-month investigation, formally recognized a second miracle attributed to Charles I (required for his Canonization as a Saint in the Catholic Church); in an uncommon twist, the Florida woman claiming the miracle cure is not Catholic, but Baptist. [2]


  • "Now, we must help each other to get to Heaven."[3] Addressing Empress Zita on October 22, 1911, the day after their wedding.
  • "I am an officer with all my body and soul, but I do not see how anyone who sees his dearest relations leaving for the front can love war."[4] Addressing Empress Zita after the outbreak of World War I.
  • "I have done my duty, as I came here to do. As crowned King, I not only have a right, I also have a duty. I must uphold the right, the dignity and honor of the Crown.... For me, this is not something light. With the last breath of my life I must take the path of duty. Whatever I regret, Our Lord and Savior has led me."[5] Addressing Cardinal Csernoch after the defeat of his attempt to regain the Hungarian throne in 1921. The British Government had vainly hoped that the Cardinal would be able to persuade him to renounce his title as King of Hungary.
  • "I must suffer like this so my people will come together again."[6] Spoken in Madeira, during his last illness.
  • "I can't go on much longer... Thy will be done... Yes... Yes... As you will it... Jesus!"[7] Reciting his last words while contemplating a crucifix held by Empress Zita.

Official grand title

His Imperial and Royal Apostolic 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 etc., 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, etc.; Lord of Trieste, of Cattaro, and in the Windic March; Grand Voivode (Grand Duke) of the Voivodship (Duchy) of Serbia etc. etc. Template:Infobox Austrian monarch styles


Name Birth Death Notes
Crown Prince Otto November 20 1912 married (1951) Princess Regina of Saxe-Meiningen and Hildburghausen (b. January 6 1925) and has seven children.
*Archduchess Adelheid January 3 1914 October 2 1971
*Archduke Robert February 8 1915 February 7 1996 married (1953) Princess Margherita of Savoy-Aosta (b. April 7 1930) and had five children.
*Archduke Felix May 31 1916 married (1952) Princess Anna-Eugénie of Arenberg (b. July 5 1925 d. June 9 1997) and had seven children.
*Archduke Karl Ludwig March 10, 1918 December 11, 2007 married (1950) Princess Yolanda of Ligne (b. May 6 1923) and had four children.
*Archduke Rudolf September 5 1919 married (1953) Countess Xenia Tschernyschev-Besobrasoff (b. June 11 1929 d. September 20 1968) and had four children. Married (secondly) (1971) Princess Anna Gabriele of Wrede (b. September 11 1940) and has one child.
*Archduchess Charlotte March 1 1921 July 23 1989 married (1956) Duke Georg of Mecklenburg (b. Template:OldStyleDate d. July 6 1963).
*Archduchess Elisabeth May 31 1922 January 7 1993 married (1949) Prince Heinrich of Liechtenstein (b. August 5 1916 d. April 17 1991) and had five children.


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