Born Florence 20 January, 1782, died 1859, 9th son of Granduca di Firenze, Pietro-Leopoldo of Tuscany (future emperor Leopold II)
Made colonel of the dragoons, 1795
Commander (de iure) of Army of Bavaria, 1800, beaten at Hohenlinden, 3 December, replaced by brother Charles as head of the army
Director general of engineers and fortifications, after the Peace of Lunéville
President of the Council of War, bellicist, and opponent of Cobenzl
Cobenzl had Archduke John relegated to Innsbruck
Commander of the Tyrol Landwehr, 1805
Retreat to Carniola to join his brother Karl and the Army of Italy, leaving Ney in command of Innsbruck
Too late to participate in the catastrophe at Austerlitz, December 3, 1805
Returned to Vienna after the Peace of Presbourg, 26 December 1805
Commander of the Army of the South, 1809, charged with opposing Eugène de Beauharnais
Left Villach, 7 April, 1809
Liberated the Tyrol from Bavarian control and marched on Italy
Victory at Sacile
On his brother's defeat at Eckmühl, he returned to Austria, where at Klagenfurt, in Carinthia (18 May) he received the order to march on Hungary
He arrived too late for the battle of Wagram
Retired to Komorn
Grand-croix of the Order of Maria-Theresa
After 1815, left Vienna to travel in France and Britain, eventually settling in Styria
Elected administrator of the Empire in 1848 by the Frankfurt Parliament, becoming temporary president of the new German state after the liberal and national revolution.
He was the 9th son of the grand-duke Peter-Leopold of Tuscany (future emperor Leopold II) and Maria-Ludovica de Bourbon. He was born on 20 January, 1782, in Florence and only came to Vienna in 1790, when his father succeeded Joseph II. In 1792, aged 10, he was orphaned and his elder brother, the emperor Francis II, entrusted his education to General von Hager, who imposed a thoroughly Spartan regime; in 1795, the Archduke was promoted to dragoon colonel and in 1800 his brother gave him the nominal command of the Army of Bavaria, which was beaten at Hohenlinden on 3 December. Very popular amongst the soldiery, he held out at Salzburg before handing over command to his brother the Archduke Charles. After the Peace of Lunéville, the latter appointed John as director general of Engineering and Fortifications.
In this post he travelled in the Alpine provinces, thus getting to know the Baron von Hormayr. He also struck up a friendship with Frederick von Gentz, who had just been appointed Councillor in the Hofrath: his policy was to encourage an alliance with Prussia and the restarting of hostilities with France. With the Archduke Charles, president of the Austrian war ministry (the Council of War), the Archduke John, Hormayr, Gentz formed the war party, resolutely hostile to Bonaparte, to the Revolution, to its conquests and its ideology. Indeed, they came into conflict with the Count Louis Cobenzl, the head of the Austrian diplomatic service, who practised a policy of playing for time. Cobenzl in the end managed to get both archdukes removed from Vienna, John being sent Innsbruck.
When war broke out in 1805, the Archduke John was given command of the Landwehr (territorial army) of the Tyrol, which he had played a role in organising. Left without instructions, his only role was to be that of defending the mountain passes after the Mack's capitulation at Ulm; Ney occupied Innsbruck and the Archduke fell back to Carniola, where he joined up with his brother Charles and the army of Italy; the archdukes were preparing to march on Vienna when they learned of the defeat at Austerlitz, which sounded the death knell to the hopes of the war party.
After the Peace of Pressburg, the Archduke John returned to Vienna where he led a studious life, joining his friend Hormayr in both contemplation and action. He corresponded with the Tyrolians who disliked the new Bavarian administration (the Tyrol had been ceded to Bavaria as per article viii of the Treaty of Pressburg) and he discreetly encouraged the preparation of a pro-Habsburg putsch. He took an interest in the province of Styria and in a Report written in 1806 and aimed at the War Council, he drew conclusions from the campaign of 1805. In short, in concert with the Archduke Charles, he was preparing for revenge against Napoleon. However, the two archdukes were not well liked by their much more patient and conservative elder brother, the emperor Francis. Indeed, the archduke John's actions were set against those of his elder brother, John attempting to create a sense of Austrian nationalism, whilst Francis merely demanded of his people that they be loyal to his person and the house of Austria.
The campaign of 1809 was the summit of the archduke John's military career. His brother had given him 80,000 men for the Army of the South, and his mission was to fight Eugène de Beauharnais, viceroy of Italy. Leaving Villach on 7 April, 1809, the Archduke first liberated the Tyrol, where he installed Hormayr, and then marched on Italy. He was victorious at Sacile and the French were already in retreat when John received the news that his brother had been beaten at Eckmühl, thoroughly ruining all his plans: he was thus forced to bring his army rapidly back to Austria to provide assistance to the Army of the North. On 18 May he was at Klagenfurt, in Carinthia, where he received the order to march on Hungary; there he joined recently mobilised troops and took up a position at Pressburg. The archduke with his corps of 12,000 men was however to arrive too late at Wagram, although it is very unlikely that he could have changed the course of events. He withdrew to Komorn, unable to bring others over to his opinion, namely to continue the war in Hungary.
The archduke John, having received the Grand Cross of the order of Maria Theresa, then lived out his existence far from public affairs dedicated entirely to study. Blessed with a gift for observation and well educated, John developed an passion for natural sciences. But he was also a convinced liberal and very popular in the Alpine provinces. After 1815, he left Vienna to travel in France and Britain, finally settling in Styria; in 1828, he was granted permission to marry the daughter of a humble innkeeper.
His position was hugely different from that of the other Habsburgs to such an extent that he stood for election and was elected as an administrator of the Empire by the Frankfurt parliament — in fact, this meant that he was provisional president of the new German state born from the liberal, national revolution. The archduke John was therefore throughout the whole of his life a confirmed opponent of Metternich.
(c) Fayard with permission, trans. P.H.
Biographisches Lexicon des Kaiserthums Oesterreich, Vienna, 1856 (57 volumes)
Pickl, Othmar (eds), Erzherzog Johann von Österreich; Sein Wirken in seiner Zeit. Festschrift zur 200, Forschungen zur Geschichtlichen Landeskunde der Steiermark, 33, Graz: Hist. Landeskommission für Steirmark, 1982
Theiss, V., Erzherzog Johann, der Steirische Prinz, ein Lebensbild, Graz: H. Bühlaus, 1950
Theiss, V., Leben und Wirken Erzherzog Johanns, Graz: H. Bühlaus, 1960