Francis II (Holy Roman Empire)

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FRANCIS II (HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE) (17681835; ruled 17921806)

FRANCIS II (HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE) (17681835; ruled 17921806). As Holy Roman emperor (17921806), emperor of Austria (18041835), and king of Hungary and king of Bohemia (17921835), Francis has a bad press among historians. He is mostly associated with the Metternichian system after the fall of Napoleon in 1815, when Klemens von Metternich (17731859), his chancellor, created an international system aimed at inhibiting governmental change and preserving the monarchical structure of European countries.

Francis's reign can be divided into two parts, from 1792 to 1815, when Austria (and many other countries) struggled against the French Revolution and Napoleon, and from 1815 to 1835 when Metternich held sway. In both halves Francis is usually overshadowed (in historical works) by the men around him. In the first half, attention focuses on his brother and one of the rare military talents of the Habsburg Monarchy, the Archduke Charles, and on various advisers like Baron Johann Maria Thugut or Count Philip Stadion. In the latter part of the first half and in the entire second half of his reign, the center of scholarly attention is Metternich. Hovering over both is the overwhelming personality of Napoleon. Francis himself comes across as a stolid, mediocre, prosaic man in the background, fearful of allowing too much freedom to anyone, whether peasant or minister.

In his pre-emperor days, Francis spent much time with his uncle, Emperor Joseph II (co-regent 17651780; ruled 17801790), the great reformer. Joseph was not satisfied with his tutee's stubborn streaks and apparent lack of imagination but did admire his basic sense of justice and fairness. When Joseph died in 1790, Francis's father Leopold, a ruler considerably admired by historians, came to the throne, but Leopold only lived until 1792 when, upon his death, his eldest son, Francis, succeeded him.

Without doubt the overwhelming problem facing Francis from 1792 to 1815 was the French Revolution and Napoleon I (17691821). The first war of the French Revolution began just after Francis became ruler and, like all but the last, ended in Austria's defeat and cession of territory and influence. In the campaigns in Italy fought between Austria and France, the young general Napoleon Bonaparte achieved remarkable victories and in 1797 forced the Austrians to agree to the Treaty of Campo Formio, by which Austria gave up Belgium and agreed to French domination of the left bank of the Rhine River.

Further wars with Napoleon followed rapidly. The second began in 1799 and ended in 1801 with another Austrian defeat. In 1803 Napoleon completely reorganized the Holy Roman Empire, that venerable institution that had existed since the tenth century, in a way that forecast its demise. In 1804 he proclaimed himself emperor of the French, an act that encouraged Francis to declare himself emperor of Austria, both to make certain he had a title equal to that of Napoleon and to anticipate the demise of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1805 Austria went to war again, this time suffering total defeat at the famous Battle of Austerlitz, ceding as a result all of its possessions in Italy and Germany, and accepting the destruction of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806.

In 1809 Austria took on Napoleon by itself, but this time with a different approach. Francis and his advisers had little fear of the ideas of the French Revolution because they firmly believed that a political consensus existed in Austria sufficient to hold the various parts of the monarchy together. But they observed that France not only possessed political consensus but had mobilized it, sending its vast armies under astounding leadership throughout Europe. In 1809, inspired by the anti-French outpouring in Spain, Austria undertook an admirable but ultimately feeble effort to mobilize its own political consensus, appealing particularly (and inconsistently) to German nationalism, the idea of a fatherland, and provincial pride and loyalty. It was a good effort, but it could not overcome Napoleon's battalions, and the war ended again in defeat. Subsequently Metternich assumed his role as foreign minister, practicing a more traditional statecraft to help end Napoleon's sway over the monarchy and Europe. Napoleon's disaster in Russia in 1812 led to the complicated coalition that ultimately defeated the French emperor twice, the first leading to his exile to the island of Elba and the second to his expulsion to St. Helena.

Francis's role in these turbulent times has often been downplayed, just like his role in the post-Napoleonic era. But Francis's reign was not without progress. In fact, his and Metternich's basic principles were not the crushing of free speech or the paranoid search for real and potential revolutionaries (as critics have claimed), but the idea that, if people had good governmentmeaning a well-educated, fair, efficient, and incorruptible bureaucracythey would not seek personal participation in government or see the need to change it. In fact, the best illustration of the second half of his reign was not the hunt for subversives but life as reflected in the art and culture of the Biedermeier, a term that began as a description of furniture but which came to describe a comfortable, well-mannered, pleasant, successful (Francis never opposed economic improvements), even middle-class kind of life. It had a flavor of kitsch about it, but it was the kind of life Francis wanted his people to have. The problem was that there were forces at work within and without the monarchy that would overwhelm it after his death.

See also Austria ; Holy Roman Empire ; Monarchy ; Revolutions, Age of .


Palmer, Alan. Metternich. New York, 1972.

Roider, Karl A. Baron Thugut and Austria's Response to the French Revolution. Princeton, 1987.

Rothenberg, Gunther. Napoleon's Great Adversaries: The Archduke Charles and the Austrian Army, 17921814. Bloomington, Ind., 1982.

Karl A. Roider

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Francis II

Francis II (1768-1835) reigned as the last Holy Roman emperor from 1792 to 1806. As Francis I, he was emperor of Austria from 1804 to 1835. During his reign Austria became the principal bastion of European reaction.

Born in Florence on Feb. 12, 1768, Francis was the eldest son of Grand Duke Leopold of Tuscany. As his uncle Emperor Joseph II had no heirs, Leopold had been designated as his successor; and since Francis thus would someday succeed to the imperial throne, he was educated accordingly. At the age of 16, he was sent to Vienna, where Joseph himself supervised his introduction to the art of government. In 1789 he was given nominal command of the Austrian armies fighting against the Turks in the Balkans, but he showed no remarkable aptitude for military leadership.

In 1790 Leopold succeeded Joseph as emperor, and Francis began a long apprenticeship in which he was gradually to share equally in governing the empire. These plans were upset when Leopold died very suddenly on March 1, 1792, and Francis found himself elevated to the throne. In spite of his careful preparation for his responsibilities, he was neither remarkably mature nor very confident that he was equal to his task.

Conflict with France

Francis inherited an uncommonly difficult situation. In foreign affairs the Treaty of Pillnitz, which his father had negotiated with Austria's old antagonist Prussia just before his death, made war with revolutionary France likely, if not inevitable. Indeed, France declared war on the two German powers in April, beginning a struggle which, with some interruptions, would last over 2 decades and which would reveal the weakness of the Austrian monarchy. In the first phase the Austrians, after bungling the opportunity to inflict a rapid and decisive defeat on a still-disorganized France, suffered defeat on all fronts and lost all their Italian territories south of the Adige. The loss was only somewhat counterbalanced by Austria's share in the Third Partition of Poland (1795).

After Napoleon came to power in France, Francis attempted to muster patriotism to counter French pressure by proclaiming himself emperor of Austria in 1804. The attempt was a flat failure, but it did result in the preservation of an imperial title for the Hapsburgs after 1806, when under French pressure Francis agreed to the dissolution of the ancient Holy Roman Empire. Meanwhile, further defeats by France had resulted in the loss of Venetia, the Tirol, and Anterior Austria. Francis sought to rectify the losses by fighting Napoleon in 1809. Again the results were catastrophic, for not only were the Austrians defeated, but Napoleon entered Vienna. Francis was constrained to give Napoleon his daughter Marie Louise in marriage and to supply an auxiliary corps for Napoleon's 1812 invasion of Russia. Only after Napoleon's defeat there did Francis draw back from this enforced alliance and join the great coalition against Napoleon in 1813.

Growing Conservatism

By the time the French had finally been defeated and the powers gathered in Vienna to make the peace (1815), Francis had had his fill of French radicalism. In internal affairs, too, he had moved steadily toward a more conservative pattern. His father had convinced him that the reforms of Joseph II were dangerous because they weakened the existing institutions of the monarchy; Leopold, however, had not lived long enough to establish the validity of his own, more restrained, but nevertheless enlightened system. Moreover, an Austrian Jacobin conspiracy had been discovered in 1794; it amounted to little, but it helped to convince Francis that French radicalism was an article for export, to be feared as much as French armies.

By the time of the Congress of Vienna, then, Francis believed that orderly society could be preserved only if France was permanently restrained from extending its influence beyond its borders and, more important, if political radicalism was stamped out wherever it appeared. In this belief he was reinforced by his brilliant chief minister, Prince Metternich. So, the last 2 decades of Francis' reign saw Austria, in association with Prussia and Russia, solidly lined up behind a policy devoted to the preservation of the status quo and to political reaction. This policy was formalized by the Carlsbad Decrees of 1819 and resulted in Austrian intervention to put down revolutions on several occasions.

Internally also, repression was the rule. Censorship was more strictly applied than at any time during the last three reigns, the peasantry continued to be oppressed by the great landowners, and every attempt by the various nationalities to assert themselves in any way was either suppressed or stifled in bureaucratic delay and inefficiency. Francis died in Vienna on March 2, 1835, leaving a feebleminded son, Ferdinand, to preside over this rickety structure.

Further Reading

A biography of Francis II is Walter Consuelo Langsam, Francis the Good: The Education of an Emperor, 1768-1792 (1949). He is discussed in Carlile Aylmer Macartney, The Habsburg Empire, 1790-1918 (1969). □

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Francis II (1768–1835) Last Holy Roman Emperor (1792–1806), first emperor of Austria, as Francis I (1804–35), and King of Bohemia and of Hungary (1792–1835). The armies of Napoleon I repeatedly defeated Francis in the French Revolutionary Wars, and his territory steadily diminished, culminating in the abolition of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1810 Prince Metternich secured the marriage of Francis' daughter, Marie Louise, to Napoleon. Austria was preserved by this alliance, and in 1813 Francis joined the coalition that defeated Napoleon. He then formed the Holy Alliance.

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