History of the Habsburg Family
The Hapsburg domination of the Austrian republic started early in the 11th century where the house of Habsburg started developing their empire. The empire was made up of several estates controlled and ruled by the Habsburg family. The monarchy was made up of Germans, Czechs, Bohemians, Croats, Slovenes, Dalmatians, Hungarians, Poles and the Italians who made up the Habsburg Monarchy. The house of Habsburg produced the kings who ruled this empire from the early 11th century through to the 18th century when the monarchy became extinct (Armour, 2012). This was after a series of events that weakened the empire leading to its extinction as several states rebelled against the harsh rule by the Habsburg family. This house is also known to have produced the occupants of the throne of the Holy Roman Empire continuously ranging from between the year 1438 to 1740.
The Habsburg Monarchy
This monarchy gained momentum across Europe mostly in the 11th, 12thand 13th centuries where the empire was only ruled by descendants of the Habsburg Family (Macartney, 1978). The central rule of the Habsburg family was located in the Habsburg castle which was situated in present day Canton of Aargau in Switzerland. The Habsburg monarchy was in charge of several estates that went beyond the Holy Roman Empire through to other countries and they were headed by dynasties. The monarchy was eventually separated in to two branches that included the senior Habsburg Spain which was situated in Spain and the junior monarchy that was situated in Austria (Armour, 2012). This empire came to an end in the 18th century with senior branch ending after the demise of Charles II of Spain and was eventually replaced by another house the house of Bourbon. The junior branch survived until the year 1740 when The Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI died and it was until the year 1980 when the dynasty ended fully when the eldest sister Maria Theresa lost her life. It was the Vaudemont branch from the house of Lorraine that succeeded her renamed the new dynasty the house of Habsburg-Lorraine but it was still known to many as the house of Habsburg.
The Situation in 1815-1848
There was complete lack of progress in the Habsburg monarchy between these periods as not much development was witnessed. The central rule by the family was oppressive and power was centralized only among the Emperor and his elite friends and advisors. Meanwhile on the ground there were calls for reforms with several protesters demanding for a complete overhaul of the ruling authority. Neither king Francs I nor Ferdinand was able to make these reforms that the people wanted so badly. It took the intervention of the King’ advisor Chancellor Metternich to try to come up with advices that could contain the situation before it got any worse (Armour, 2012). He was able to detect the foremost faults of the throne and came up with several recommendations to help in carrying out reforms but in the end he was not successful in this venture. However when the revolution of 1848 approached he had become infamous due to the policies he imposed to the people and thus he was a key symbol of the revolution as most of the people saw as he was against the reforms that the people so much fronted for.
Austria’s European Position After 1815
The congress of Vienna 1814-1815 was somehow successful in maintaining peace across Europe for a while. It brought an end to a long period of wars that had engulfed the entire Europe. The main objective of this congress in Vienna was to find a lasting peace among several superpowers across the continent since the effects of the previous wars were now too much to handle with the huge loss of humanity and the destruction of property that resulted from these wars. The Habsburgs were in full control of Austria which included Italy Germany and the Near East and they faced an enormous task of ensuring stability in all these regions (Armour, 2012). There were several uprisings in Austria during this period mainly in Italy during the 1820’s and 1830’s. The Austrian authority resorted to suppression to get rid of these rebellions but it was until 1830-1831 when chaos erupted nationwide and this turned ugly as the Austrian authority used force to quell these movements and they succeeded momentarily. These series of rebellions greatly weakened the empire and made it more vulnerable not only to external threats but to internal ones posed by the subjects in the empire who were continuously getting frustrated by the leadership of the empire. In the years to follow Austria continued to be sidelined by other great powers especially the British and the Russians and this weakened the empire further as they had no real allies they could count on in terms of any serious wars.
1848: The Year of Revolution
The watershed of the 19th century was the events of the year 1848 across the continent of Europe. Several great powers of Europe encountered series of revolutions that brought about serious repercussions to the affected powers that even led to the collapse of some great empires that had been standing for a long time. The events that culminated from these revolutions were so grave that not liberals or conservatives were able to avoid them or gain an upper hand above the rest. There was unrest throughout Prussia, Italy, France and Austria and many more that conspired in that year (Taylor, 1948). The revolutions started as early as 1820 but it was until 1848 that it was full-blown and great empires like The Habsburg Monarchy and The Orleans Monarchy could not take it anymore (Sked, 2001). In the end the Orleans monarchy collapsed after the French revolution while the Habsburg monarchy was greatly weakened from a series of waves of unrests that rocked most of their major provinces.
During this year there was a huge wave of unrest in Europe with several uprisings coming up in different parts. The Habsburg monarchy was face with a series of revolts mainly in Italy parts of Naples, Milan, Rome and many other cities which witnessed continued unrests as people were fighting for reforms. This led to an all-out war between Piedmont and Austria which went on through 1849 when the Austrian government suppressed the revolts. It was under the leadership of Commander Field Marshal Radetzky that this war was able to be won. Unrest was also witnessed in Vienna in13th March 1848. This date had already been set aside as the day when the lower Austrian diet was to hold key debates on the reform petitions that had been presented to it (Macartney, 1978). Numerous people occupied the streets of Vienna mainly university students demonstrating against the government for their lack of support to the reforms that were fronted by the public. Many people soon joined the protesters and the government face a hard time trying to cool down the protesters.
During this year of 1848 there was a complete disgust in the Austrian public to their government as people yearned to be granted more freedoms and the right to participate in the affairs and the running of the government. There were rising feelings of nationalism with the increase of social problems that resulted due to the industrial revolution led to the unrest witnessed in the country (Sked, 2001). The country had also witnessed crop failures in the mid of 1840s and this greatly affected the public with more cases of hunger facing the public. The center of revolution was one Mr. Metternich who had grown to become a symbol of repression due to his policies that the general public was against. The government had to dismiss him in order to gain public trust and it was not until they promised to deliver a constitution that the unrest was cooled down.
The revolution that engulfed Austria in 1849 greatly weakened the government though they were able to quell the violence after some time but a huge damage was done to the public with several losing their lives as a result of the constant battles the demonstrators had with the authority. More troops came to the streets to quell this violence and serious clashes erupted thus leading to not only loss of life but destruction of property in the entire city of Vienna. The government realized that the only way to appease the public was to take action and deliver the reforms that were so badly needed and this started by the dismissal of Metternich (Macartney, 1978). They finally agreed to meet the demands by the reformers and there was a sigh of relief among many as they had finally succeeded in getting what they wanted.
The other revolution that rocked the Habsburg monarchy was the Hungarian revolution in Budapest that was led by Louis Kossuth. Mr. Kossuth was a lawyer and a journalist cum politician and he was the key figure in the revolution in Hungary. Starting off as a journalist he published pro-reform articles and circulated across Hungary. Through these articles he was able to appeal to the Habsburg monarchy to abolish their tough conditions that they had imposed to the Hungarian public such as higher taxes and feudal burdens that were mainly opposed by the public. He led the revolution in 1848 demanding for Hungary to be granted a parliamentary government and for a constitution to the entire Austrian Monarchy. He was able to lead the Hungarian diet to pass laws that gave them a separate local government and have full autonomy from the Habsburg rule. The Emperor finally agreed to the laws and there was a great sigh of relief in the whole Hungarian capital (Macartney, 1978).
These revolutions did not stop in those cities only; serious demonstrations were witnessed in Prague where the Czech public demanded the Austrian emperor to grant them a constituent assembly for their kingdom of Bohemia. After a series of talks they were finally granted their wishes on 8th April 1848. Several other cities and towns across the Austrian empire also participated in these series of revolutions in this year 1848. Several provinces of Croatia, Moravia, Galicia and many others went to the streets with similar demands as well and by May 1848 the revolution achieved great success across the empire however this meant that the authority of the empire was greatly reduced from their subjects and the fall of this empire was now clearly evident.
The French Revolution of 1848
The French empire was also not left behind from the chain of unrests that swept across the continent of Europe it was actually the first of the many revolutions witnessed that year. This revolution started in February 1848 and it was largely successful as it brought about the end of the Orleans Monarchy by the eventual overthrowing of Louis Philippe. These events led to a power vacuum in the country and gave rise to various competing voices that looked for ways in which they could use in order to gain control of the leadership of the country. Several factors can be said to have led to the revolution happening in the first place. Firstly the bad weather that was experienced between 1845-1846 greatly reduced crop production in the whole of Europe and this led to prices of crops and other commodities rising by the day. The other factor was the depressed economic conditions that affected many and led to various problems such as unemployment, insecurity and many more only fuelled the negative feelings towards the central authority of Louis Philippe. With these sufferings continuing and the economy getting worse by the day there was the sudden formation of several radical political groups. These groups had their radicalism directed towards the central authority as they encouraged the locals to stand up against the oppressive rule of King Louis Philippe.
On the month of January the 14th that year several regulations were put in to force some which included the outlawing of “banquet” a gathering that had sporadically been held by ‘liberal’ interests after July the previous year in the capital Paris and consequently to other parts across the country. Such actions by the government only helped fuel the need for a revolution to occur among the people. This law denied people their right to hold assembly or their freedom of speak their minds. There was even a regulation that required for one to seek permission while holding any meeting involving more than six persons. By 22nd February the people had had enough and several of them started streaming in the streets to demonstrate. The crowd soon became so big that the troops found it hard to control them. Louis then fired Guizot who was the center of the anger for most demonstrators. This led to the eventual overthrowing of Louis Philippe and a new government was put in place and the monarchial type of government was abandoned and a French republic born.
Germany and the Revolution of 1848
Germany also was faced by a similar fate as their neighbors Austria and France. Germany was at this time under a very powerful kingdom of Prussia and was led by an anti-liberal King Frederick William IV. With the waves of revolution sweeping across Europe, Berlin also joined the wave and several battles ensued among the demonstrators and soldiers before the King decided to call from the streets his soldiers claiming he did not want to see any more blood of a German spilled. He moved swiftly into creating a complete change to the country and its organs by first appointing new ministries and streamlining all other arms of the government then he led the formation of the German nation placing himself as the leader of the association for change in the German Republic. The revolution in Germany was somewhat short but the changes that came with it were better than before and so it was through the cleverness of King Frederick William IV that Germany did not witness a strong revolution like those witnessed in Austria and France.
The turn of the tide: the failure of the revolutions
The revolution in Austria Vienna encountered several low points that greatly slowed down the pace of the revolutionists. On 17th of May that year it was found out that the emperor had run away from Vienna where the chaos were unstoppable to Innsbruck in order to be able to be able to give further concessions to the demonstrators who by then had developed their own liberal government(Sked, 2001). This was the only major failure of the Vienna revolution however in Prague the General Windischgratz who was the Imperial commander at that time was able to use the military to help him establish a military dictatorship rule. This was a huge step backward to the revolutionaries but it was not after a few months that the dictator was also overthrown. In Italy however the Piedmontese army was defeated in a battle of Custozza by the help of their charismatic General Radetsky and this allowed them to regain the control of Lombardy. After sensing the revolution was getting out of hand in some parts of the monarchy, the Habsburg monarchy sent troops to take on Budapest in order to defeat Kossuth. The armies were able to close in on the rebels at Vienna and they were completely crushed there.
These revolutions across Europe brought about several significant changes in the countries they happened not only politically but socially too. After the Vienna revolution The Austrian Constituent assembly was finally abolished due to the pressures that resulted from the revolution. As much as the revolutions destabilized the Habsburg Monarchy they still regained their rule on almost all parts of the empire including Hungary. The only front that the revolutionaries had much success in was on the issue of social reforms where they were able to put an end to feudalism in the entire empire completely. The French revolution however was greatly victorious and they were able to remove from power the ruler Louis Philippe and subsequently lead to the formation of the Republic of France. Hungary may have been momentarily successful but they were finally defeated by the Austrian troops and this led to Kossuth fleeing to Turkey he still did not give up with his quest for a democratic and free Hungary. The other revolution in Germany was a little shorter and was not as thorough as those witnessed in other countries this was due to their King who was able to read the mood on the ground and give the people what they wanted in time. It was only two great forces that were left standing after the 1848 revolution that is the British Empire and the Russian Empire that did not experience any form of revolution during this period
Sked, Alan. The Decline and Fall of the Habsburg Empire, 1815-1918. Harlow, England: Longman, 2001. Print.
Macartney, C A. The House of Austria: The Later Phase, 1790-1918. Edinburgh: University Press, 1978. Print.
Armour, Ian D. A History of Eastern Europe 1740-1918: Empires, Nations and Modernisation. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2012. Print.
Taylor, A J. P. The Habsburg Monarchy, 1809-1918. a History of the Austrian Empire and Austria-Hungary New Edition. Pp. 279. Hamish Hamilton: London, 1948. Print.