Little Bits of History

Francis II

Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 6, 2014
Francis II

Francis II

August 6, 1806: Francis II abdicates and ends the Holy Roman Empire. His reign as King of Hungary, King of Bohemia, and Emperor of Austria did not end until his death in 1835. His full name was Franz Joseph Karl and he was of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine. His father was Leopold II, Holy Roman Emperor and Francis was born in Florence in 1768. At the time of his birth, his father was the Grand Duke of Tuscany while his uncle was the Holy Roman Emperor, but after the uncle’s death without surviving children, Leopold came to the throne in 1790. Leopold was only 44 when he died in 1792 and left the throne to his son. The 25-year-old leader of the multi-ethnic Habsburg Empire was ruling under the shadow cast by France – Napoleon social and political reforms were being adopted around Europe.

Marie Antoinette had been his aunt although they had not been close. She was in captivity and efforts were made to persuade Francis to help get her released, but he declined. She was beheaded on October 16, 1793. Francis did take Austria into the French Revolutionary Wars in 1794 but handed over command to his brother. Napoleon was victorious in the confrontation. Although he lost some territory, Francis once again challenged Napoleon during the Second and Third Coalition and once again lost and had to cede more lands. The resulting treaty left the Austrian Empire weakened and reorganized Germany. Francis felt it was no longer possible to hold the Holy Roman Empire together and abdicated.

The Holy Roman Empire was a conglomeration of lands in central Europe which developed in the Middle Ages and territories were added or lost over time. The largest portion was the Kingdom of Germany but also included at times were Italy, Bohemia, and Burgundy along with many other smaller territories. It grew out of East Francia, and on Christmas Day in 800, Pope Leo III crowned the Frankish king Charlemagne as Emperor. The capital of the Empire moved frequently and there was no single language uniting the territories but rather a mixture of European tongues spoken in various localities. After Charlemagne died, the passage of power was haphazard and eventually the fragmented Carolingian dynasty fell apart in 924.

At that time, the title of Emperor fell into disuse. Otto I revived the idea and was the first elected monarch of the Holy Roman Empire. Although the ruler was theoretically elected the rule was often controlled by dynasties. The Emperor could only be crowned by the Pope. The legislature for the Empire was the Imperial Diet. By the time the entire thing fell apart, there were fifteen entities left to take its place. The population was around 5 million in 1200 and there were about 26.3 million people living under the rule of the last Habsburgs. While Francis ended the Empire and gave Napoleon rights to much of his old lands, he retained rule the Germanic regions and the Habsburgs retained their power until 1918 when their entire power base was dissolved.

A king, realizing his incompetence, can either delegate or abdicate his duties. A father can do neither. If only sons could see the paradox, they would understand the dilemma. – Marlene Dietrich

Better a living beggar than a buried emperor. – Jean de La Fontaine

No one would have doubted his ability to reign had he never been emperor. – Tacitus

Europeans are forever the offspring of Machiavelli, trapped in a historical rollercoaster that can bring us a monarchy-toppling French Revolution and then a few years later Napoleon Bonaparte as emperor. – Loretta Napoleoni

Also on this day: Fat Man’s Predecessor – In 1945, an atomic bomb is dropped on Hiroshima, Japan.
Humane? – In 1890, the first execution by electric chair took place.
Gertrude Ederle – In 1926, Gertrude becomes the first woman to swim the English Channel.
Lost – In 1930, Judge Force Crater disappeared.

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