We still encounter Emperor Franz Joseph (1830-1916) wherever we go. Even those who rave about Tafelspitz or Kaiserschmarren are reminded of his favourite dishes. Then we always imagine the ancient regent with the legendary whiskers. However, the “good old emperor” who has become a myth, was very different from the youthful monarch, who in the turmoil of the revolution of 1848 ascended to the throne, who suppressed this revolution forcefully, and had its instigators executed. The first centuries of his reign were also overshadowed by disheartening military defeats such as 1859 in Solferino and 1866 in Königgrätz, which always led to a loss of lands.
I am not spared anything on this earth! He sighs when in 1898 he receives the news about the assassination of his wife Elisabeth. Only his self-discipline and his unswerving trust in God help him to bear the suicide of his son Rudolf in Mayerling (1889) and the assassination of his nephew Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in June 1914 in Sarajevo. Therefore, this emperor, as long-suffering sovereign and benevolent patron of art and culture, science and enterprise, which led to the heyday, of Vienna in particular, reaches popularity only late in life.
Could he not also have saved us from the First World War by refusing to sign the declaration of war in July 1914? Due to his misguided sense of honour and his misjudgement of the military situation between 1914 and 1918, millions lost their lives. No amount of nostalgia can make us forget about this …
Dr. Hannes Etzlstorfer, born in 1959, is an art and culture historian, exhibitions curator and culture journalist in Vienna and Neulengbach. He has devoted his time for decades in research about the Habsburgs, culminating in publications about their residences, travels and culinary enjoyment, as well as a series of exhibitions. He curated the new Crown Prince Rudolf exhibition in Mayerling and the show about "Karl and Zita" in Schloss Eckartsau. Moreover, he was guest of the TV documentary series about the fame and fortunes of the House of Habsburg.