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BIOGRAPHIES

FRANCIS II (I)

(1768 - 1835) Holy Roman Emperor, Emperor of Austria


Born in Florence (Italy) 1768, died 1835 Vienna. Last Holy Roman Emperor (Francis II., 1792-1806), first Emperor of Austria (Francis I., 1804-35); Son of Emperor Leopold II, 1747-1792 and Maria–Luisa of Spain (1745 – 1792)). He had four wives, only the second of whom (Maria-Theresa of the Two Sicilies (d.1807) produced significant numbers of children, notably his eldest daughter, Maria Luisa.

The first two decades of his reign were marked by his struggle against the French Revolution and against Napoleon. As nephew of Marie-Antoinette, he had familial reasons for being distrustful of the French Revolution. And his ethnically multifarious lands made him fear calls for liberty and equality. His initial attempts to fight revolutionary France (ending at Valmy in September 1792) were unsuccessful. After taking of brunt of Napoleon's military genius during the First Italian campaign, he was forced to the negotiating table at Campo Formio (Venetian territory). Austrian territories on the Left Bank of the Rhine were handed to France in return for which Austria was allowed to keep its lands around Venice and in Dalmatia. Beaten again after the Second Italian campaign at Marengo (June 1800), Venice finally fell and Austrian influence in northern Italy was for the moment suspended as per the Peace of Lunéville. The Austrian Grand Duchy of Tuscany was given to France, the Batavian (once the Austrian Netherlands), Ligurian (once an imperial fief), Helvetic and Italian (once an imperial fief) republics were to be safeguarded from Austrian meddling and given independent status. With the loss of the left bank of the Rhine and the rise of the Napoleonic influence in German lands (as evinced by the German princes who came to welcome Napoleon on his imperial visit to Aachen in the autumn of 1804), Francis took the step of resigning as emperor of the Holy Roman Emperor (thus effectively killing it) and styling himself Francis I of Austria. Goaded by Napoleon's coronation as king of Italy, his wife Maria-Theresa's (and her party's) implacable hatred of the French Revolution and encouraged by Britain, Francis joined the Third Coalition in the late summer of 1805. But this mobilisation took place before the army was effectively ready. The defeats at Ulm and then Austerlitz lead to the humiliating treaty of Pressburg, and the creation of the Confederation of the Rhine put the final touches to the death of the empire and giving a Napoleonic imprint to German lands. In 1809, Francis attacked France again, hoping to take advantage of the conflict embroiling Napoleon in Spain. He was again defeated, and this time was forced to ally himself with Napoleon, ceding territory to the Empire, joining the Continental System, and wedding his daughter Marie-Louise to the Emperor. Francis essentially became a vassal of the Emperor of France. The Napoleonic wars drastically weakened Austria and reduced its prestige, which would lead to Prussia's acquiring the edge in the contest for dominance of Germany. In 1813, for the fourth and final time, Austria turned against France and joined Britain, Russia, and Prussia in their war against Napoleon. Austria played a major role in the final defeat of France—in recognition of this, Francis, represented by Clemens von Metternich, presided over the Congress of Vienna, helping to form the Concert of Europe and the Holy Alliance, ushering in an era of conservatism and reactionism in Europe. The German Confederation, a loose association of Central European states was created by the Congress of Vienna in 1815 to organize the surviving states of the Holy Roman Empire. The federal diet met at Frankfurt under Austrian presidency (in fact the Habsburg Emperor was represented by an Austrian 'presidential envoy'). Within Austria, at the end of the Napoleonic wars Francis decided not to reinstate the Ancien Régime system but legitimised his rule by erecting a social conservative and finally reactionary system, as drafted by Metternich and established by the Holy Alliance founded in 1818. He followed the policies of his uncle Joseph II (known as Josephism) with its emphasis upon the role of the police, the censor and the repression of democratic tendencies.

Peter Hicks, June 2006

 
     
 
 

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Further information

 Special Dossier: The Creation of the Confederation of the Rhine, 12 July, 1806, on the website napoleon.org

 
 

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