Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

were much occupied with the Polish question, and to have plunged into a crusade against France would have been to have left Poland, where the new constitution had been proclaimed on the 3rd of May, to the mercy of Russia. Towards the further development of events in France, therefore, Leopold assumed at first a studiously moderate attitude; but his refusal to respond to the demand of the French government for the dispersal of the corps of émigrés assembled under the protection of the German princes on the frontier of France, and the insistence on the rights of princes dispossessed in Alsace and Lorraine, precipitated the crisis. On the 25th of January 1792 the French Assembly adopted the decree declaring that, in the event of no satisfactory reply having been received from the emperor by the 1st of March, war should be declared. On the 7th of February Austria and Prussia signed at Berlin an offensive and defensive treaty of alliance. Thus was ushered in the series of stupendous events which were to change the face of Europe and profoundly to affect the destinies of Austria. Leopold himself did not live to see the beginning of the struggle; he died on the 1st of March 1792, the day fixed by the Legislative Assembly as that on which the question of peace or war was to be decided.

The events of the period that followed, in which Austria Effects of the Revolutionary Wars. necessarily played a conspicuous part, are dealt with elsewhere (see Europe, French Revolutionary Wars, Napoleon, Napoleonic Campaigns). Here it will only be necessary to mention those which form permanent landmarks in the progressive conformation of the Austrian monarchy. Such was the second partition of Poland (January 23, 1793), which eliminated the “buffer state” on which Austrian statesmanship had hitherto laid such importance, and brought the Austrian and Russian frontiers into contact. Such, too, was the treaty of Campo Formio (October 17, 1797) which ended the first revolutionary war. By this treaty the loss of the Belgian provinces was confirmed, and though Austria gained Venice, the establishment of French preponderance in the rest of Italy made a breach in the tradition of Habsburg supremacy in the peninsula, which was to have its full effect only in the struggles of the next century. The rise of Napoleon, and his masterful interference in Germany, produced a complete and permanent revolution in the relations of Austria to the German states. The campaigns which issued in the treaty of Lunéville (February 9, 1801) practically sealed the fateThe “Empire of Austria.” of the old Empire. Even were the venerable name to survive, it was felt that it would pass, by the election of the princes now tributary to France, from the house of Habsburg to that of Bonaparte. Francis II. determined to forestall the possible indignity of the subordination of his family to an upstart dynasty. On the 14th of May 1804, Napoleon was proclaimed emperor of the French; on the 11th of August Francis II. assumed the style of Francis I., hereditary emperor of Austria. End of the Holy Roman Empire. Two years later, when the defeat of Austerlitz had led to the treaty of Pressburg (January 1, 1806) by which Austria lost Venice and Tirol, and Napoleon’s Confederation of the Rhine had broken the unity of Germany, Francis formally abdicated the title and functions of Holy Roman emperor (August 6, 1806).

Austria had to undergo further losses and humiliations, notably by the treaty of Vienna (1809), before the outcome of Napoleon’s Russian campaign in 1812 gave her the opportunity for recuperation and revenge. The skilful diplomacy of Metternich, who was now at the head of the Austrian government, enabled Austria to take full advantage of the situation created by the disaster to Napoleon’s arms. His object was to recover Austria’s lost possessions and if possible to add to them, a policy which did not necessarily involve the complete overthrow of the French emperor. Austria, therefore, refused to join the alliance between Russia and Prussia signed on the 17th of March 1813, but pressed on her armaments so as to be ready in any event. Her opportunity came after the defeats of the Allies at Lützen and Bautzen and the conclusion of an armistice at Pleswitz. Between 200,000 and 300,000 Austrian troops were massed in Bohemia; and Austria took up the rôle of mediator, prepared to throw the weight of her support into the scale of whichever side should prove most amenable to her claims. The news of the battle of Vittoria, following on the reluctance of Napoleon to listen to demands involving the overthrow of the whole of his political system in central Europe, decided Austria in favour of the Allies. By this fateful decision Napoleon’s fall was assured. By the treaty of Trachenberg (July 12, 1813) the Grand Alliance was completed; on the 16th, 17th and 18th of October the battle of Leipzig was fought; and the victorious advance into France was begun, which issued, on the 11th of April 1814, in Napoleon’s abdication. (See Napoleon, Napoleonic Campaigns, Europe.)

It was a recognition of the decisive part played by Austria in these great events that Vienna was chosen as the scene of the great international congress summoned (September 1814) for the purpose of re-establishing the balance of power in Europe, which Congress of Vienna.Napoleon’s conquests had upset. An account of the congress is given elsewhere (see Vienna, Congress of). The result for Austria was a triumphant vindication of Metternich’s diplomacy. He had, it is true, been unable to prevent the retention of the grand-duchy of Warsaw by Alexander of Russia; but with the aid of Great Britain and France (secret treaty of January 3, 1815) he had frustrated the efforts of Prussia to absorb the whole of Saxony, Bavaria was forced to disgorge the territories gained for her by Napoleon at Austria’s expense, Illyria and Dalmatia were regained, and Lombardy was added to Venetia to constitute a kingdom under the Habsburg crown; while in the whole Italian peninsula French was replaced by Austrian influence. In Germany the settlement was even more fateful for Austria’s future. The Holy Empire, in spite of the protests of the Holy See, was not restored, Austria preferring the loose confederation of sovereign states (Staatenbund) actually constituted under her presidency. Such a body, Metternich held, “powerful for defence, powerless for offence,” would form a guarantee of the peace of central Europe—and of the preponderance of Austria; and in its councils Austrian diplomacy, backed by the weight of the Habsburg power beyond the borders of Germany, would exercise a greater influence than any possible prestige derived from a venerable title that had become a by-word for the union of unlimited pretensions with practical impotence. Moreover, to the refusal to revive the Empire—which shattered so many patriotic hopes in Germany—Austria added another decision yet more fateful. By relinquishing her claim to the Belgian provinces and other outlying territories in western Germany, and by acquiescing in the establishment of Prussia in the Rhine provinces, she abdicated to Prussia her position as the bulwark of Germany against France, and hastened the process of her own gravitation towards the Slavonic East to which the final impetus was given in 1866.

In order to understand the foreign policy of Austria, inseparably Internal affairs of Austria under Francis II. and Metternich. associated with the name of Metternich, during the period from the close of the congress of Vienna to the outbreak of the revolutions of 1848, it is necessary to know something of the internal conditions of the monarchy before and during this time. In 1792 Leopold II. had been succeeded by his son Francis II. His popular designation of “our good Kaiser Franz” this monarch owed to a certain simplicity of address and bonhomie which pleased the Viennese, certainly not to his serious qualities as a ruler. He shared to the full the autocratic temper of the Habsburgs, their narrow-mindedness and their religious and intellectual obscurantism; and the qualities which would have made him a kindly, if somewhat tyrannical, father of a family, and an excellent head clerk, were hardly those required by the conditions of the Austrian monarchy during a singularly critical period of its history.

The personal character of the emperor, moreover, gained a special importance owing to the modifications that were made in the administrative system of the empire. This had been originally organized in a series of departments: Aulic chanceries for Austria, for Hungary and Transylvania, a general Aulic chamber for finance, domains, mines, trade, post, &c., an Aulic council