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BIOGRAPHIES

MAXIMILIAN I

(1756 –1825) King of Bavaria


King Maximilian I of Bavaria. (1756 –1825) was prince-elector of Bavaria (as Maximilian IV Joseph) from 1799 to 1805, King of Bavaria (as Maximilian I) from 1805 to 1825
 
Born in Schwetzingen - between Heidelberg and Mannheim – Maximilian Joseph took service in 1777 as a colonel in the French army and rose rapidly to the rank of major-general. On the outbreak of the French Revolution however he exchanged the French for the Austrian service, taking part in the opening campaigns of the revolutionary wars fighting against the French.

With the death of his brother, he became duke of Zweibrücken on 1 April, 1795, with the title Charles II, and on 16 February, 1799 he became Elector of Bavaria and Count Palatine of the Rhine, as a result of the death of the elector Charles Theodore. Although initially doubtful of French politics, Maximilian was not as pro-Austrian as Charles Theodore. And so on the latter's death and the initiation of overtures to Bavaria made by the new First Consul led to a rapprochement between France and Bavaria. Not only did Maximilian become sympathetic to enlightenment ideas, he was assisted by pro-French figures such as Max Josef von Montgelas, (at one time Maximilian Joseph's private secretary). Despite the fact that there was a party in Munich concerned to pacify Austria, Max-Joseph pursued foreign policy closely linked to that of France. Having agreed to territorial adjustments as a result of the Treaty of Lunéville (notably the loss of territory on the left bank of the Rhine), Max-Joseph was to receive guarantees of complete indemnification with territories on the right bank. After the Reichdeputationshauptschluss (an extraordinary commission set up to regulate indemnification after the treaty of Lunéville), Bavaria was to receive compensation brought about by the ‘mediatisation' of 13 Free cities (basically the cities were no longer allowed to remain autonomous) and the secularisation of 15 monasteries. In total the gains were 17,000km2 of territory, 800,000 inhabitants and 6.5 million guldens in revenue. Helped by France, Bavaria consolidated her 83 separate territories into one relatively compact whole, one much threatened with dismemberment or annexation by Austria. Relations between Max-Joseph and the First Consul were thus very good. The Bavarian ruler was one of the first to send his congratulations on the First Consul's elevation to the rank of emperor. He did not join the court of German princes who came to meet Napoleon in his visit to the areas around Aachen in September 1804, but it was this time that Napoleon came up with idea of marrying Eugène de Beauharnais (his step son) to Max-Joseph's daughter, Augusta de Bavière. An offensive and defensive treaty (that of Bogenhausen) was signed between Bavaria and France in the spring of 1805 (25 April). While Max-Joseph was hesitating to sign, Austria invaded Bavaria on 7 September, 1805, taking Munich a week later. Given this situation, Max-Joseph's felt that the treaty he had ratified was very much one of defence. On the complete victory at Ulm on 17 October and subsequent arrival in Munich (again a week later) Franco-Bavarian relations were at their zenith. With the Treaty of Brunn (10 December 1805) and the Treaty of Pressburg (26 December, 1805), Max-Joseph not only became king but also consolidated yet further Bavarian lands with important territorial acquisitions in Swabia and Franconia. The style of king was assumed (amidst great celebrations and in the presence of Napoleon and Josephine) on January 1, 1806. Given the close relations between the Bonapartes and Wittelsbachs (Eugène and Augusta's marriage took place on 16 January), the new king of Bavaria was to become the most important of the princes belonging to the Confederation of the Rhine. However, as the Empire continued, and Bavaria provided ever greater numbers of troops for ever decreasing rewards, relations became frayed. For example despite fighting bravely and successfully in 1807, Bavaria was to get nothing out of the Treaty of Tilsit (June 1807). Napoleon for his part (despite attempts at conciliation) was unable to accept the refusal of Max-Joseph to introduce the Code Napoléon to the kingdom. Relations fell further after events of 1809 in which Bavaria lost many men and 22 million gulden (the equivalent of two years revenue) only to received nothing in return, and furthermore Napoleon set about organising his divorce from Josephine (Max-Joseph's daughter's mother-in-law) and his marriage to an Austrian, in the shape of Marie-Louis. Any Franco-Austrian rapprochement brought with it the spectre of Habsburg retaliation for Bavaria's opposition throughout the first decade of the 19th century. Negotiations begun in late 1810 regarding reparation for the war of 1809 (involving notably Bavaria ceding the Tyrol to the kingdom of Italy) left Max-Joseph in no doubt that his ‘special relationship' with Napoleon was at an end. Furthermore, on the birth of Napoleon's son in 1811, Augusta could no longer expect to become queen of Italy. Disaffection was to lead to defection. On eve of the Battle of Leipzig, via the Treaty of Ried (8 October, 1813) Max-Joseph, agreed to join the allies against Napleon, but only on the proviso of preserving the integrity of his kingdom. By the first Treaty of Paris (June 3, 1814), however, he ceded Tyrol to Austria in exchange for the former duchy of Würzburg.
 
At the Congress of Vienna too, which he attended in person, Maximilian had to make further concessions to Austria, ceding the quarters of the Inn and Hausruck in return for a part of the old Palatinate. The king fought hard to maintain the contiguity of the Bavarian territories as guaranteed at Ried but the most he could obtain was an assurance from Metternich in the matter of the Baden succession, in which he was also doomed to be disappointed.
 
At Vienna and afterwards Maximilian sturdily opposed any reconstitution of Germany which should endanger the independence of Bavaria, and it was his insistence on the principle of full sovereignty being left to the German reigning princes that largely contributed to the loose and weak organization of the new German Confederation. The Federal Act of the Vienna Congress was proclaimed in Bavaria, not as a law but as an international treaty. It was partly to secure popular support in his resistance to any interference of the federal diet in the internal affairs of Bavaria, partly to give unity to his somewhat heterogeneous territories, that Maximilian on May 26, 1818 granted a liberal constitution to his people. Montgelas, who had opposed this concession, had fallen in the previous year, and Maximilian had also reversed his ecclesiastical policy, signing on October 24, 1817 a concordat with Rome by which the powers of the clergy, largely curtailed under Montgelas's administration, were restored. The new parliament proved to be more independent than he had anticipated and in 1819 Maximilian resorted to appealing to the powers against his own creation; but his Bavarian "particularism" and his genuine popular sympathies prevented him from allowing the Carlsbad Decrees to be strictly enforced within his dominions. The suspects arrested by order of the Mainz Commission he was accustomed to examine himself, with the result that in many cases the whole proceedings were quashed, and in not a few the accused dismissed with a present of money.
 
Maximilian died at Nymphenburg Palace, near Munich, on October 13, 1825 and was succeeded by his son Ludwig I.
 
In private life Maximilian was kindly and simple. He loved to play the part of Landesvater, walking about the streets of his capital en bourgeois and entering into conversation with all ranks of his subjects, by whom he was regarded with great affection.

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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