Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

People Who Get Kicked Around By History: Habsburg Edition

I just finished reading Europe's Last Summer by David Fromkin about the start of the Great War, a book which I recommend if you're interested in a fairly short but cogent discussion of topic. Weighing in around 300 pages, it's a good quick read and covers its topic well. Some have (and perhaps rightly) criticized it for having no less than 50 chapters, some of which are as few as two pages long, and for repeating key points a number of times. This adds to the quick-read feel, but generally I think the points he's making are very sound and although some have claimed they're unoriginal, it certainly stands as a corrective to the "it was a total accident -- and yet it was made inevitable by the [military build-up, labor unrest, secret treaties, imperialism, etc.] of Europe at that time" summary that seems to come at the beginning of most histories of the Great War.

What most caught my interest, however, was the description of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose assassination was if not the cause of the Serbian war (which was in turn the cause of the Great War) at least the excuse that allowed it to happen at that time.
The Archduke, it seems, was not much loved, in part because of his marriage to Sophie, a woman from an impoverished family of minor nobility who was acting as a serving woman/ladies companion to a more monied family at the time that Franz met her. Their marriage took place over the objections of the Habsburg family, and those in charge of court etiquette seemed determined to humiliate Sophie at ever turn. Indeed, even after Franz and Sophie had both been assassinated in Sarajevo, there was an attempt (over-ruled by Franz's successor, Archduke Charles) to have two separate funerals since Sophie was not of royal rank -- and their children (who had been excluded from succession by agreement at the time of the marriage) were not allowed to attend the funeral.
Perhaps in part because of this, Franz was not a social creature, and treated most other members of the court coldly. He was devoted to his wife and children, and also to his Catholic faith. He also was perhaps the only major figured in the Austro-Hungarian ruling elite who held that Serbia should be left alone. Serbia was generally seen as a threat, stirring up nationalism among the Slavic majority in the Austro-Hungarian domains, which the German and Magyar ruling classes were only able to keep under control with a certain degree of difficulty and repression.
Thus, when a Bosnian nationalist who had been trained and aided by Serbian officers assassinated Franz and Sophie, he not only provided Austria-Hungary with the excuse it had been looking for to attack Serbia, but also cleared away the main voice for the view that crushing Serbia was not vital the empires security.
I found myself wondering what had happened to Franz and Sophie's three children, who ranged from 13 to 10 at the time of the assassination. It seems the three children were taken in by friends of their parents. They lost much of the family land as a result of the re-drawing of Europe's map in 1919 and from then on lived primarily in Vienna. All three married and had children, some of whom are still alive. (Princess Sophie, the eldest, died at 89 in 1990, one year after Hungary threw off communist rule, and a year before the fall of the Soviet Union -- talk about someone who'd seen a lot of history.)
As Hitler rose to power in Germany and talked about uniting all the Germanic peoples under one state, Franz's eldest son Duke Mimilian was one of the principle public opponents of the Anschluss. As a result, all three siblings were arrested in 1938 and sent to Dachau, where they remained until 1945.

1 comment:

Fidei Defensor said...

Darwin, great post, I love all things Habsburg, you ought to do a post on Blessed Karl of Austria, or my personal favorite, the Emperor Charles V! He is on a wine bottle now you know!