The Blessed Emperor: Karl of Austria
By: Dr. Peter E. Chojnowski
October 23, 2004
There are not very many occasions in which a contemporary man, one who clings to what remains of our Catholic religion and culture, finds something heartening and consoling coming out of the Vatican. The beatification of the Emperor-King Karl I of Austria-Hungary on October 3, 2004 by Pope John Paul II was, however, just such an occasion. It was, in itself, an astounding event. The fact that the Church was declaring to be worthy of veneration a man who led an army against the Liberal Masonic Powers during World War I and actually tried twice to regain a throne, the Hungarian, which was legally his, in spite of the opposition of Anglo-American anti-Habsburg prejudice, is just the most obviously significant aspect of this event. What this event brings to our minds, however, and what probably set off all the rancor against the event in the European press, is the fact that the Catholic Church was making Her children and the peoples of the world aware of the fact that one can be a faithful, orthodox Catholic, a man striving after sanctity, and still deal, at the highest levels of the world-system, with the most complex and, ultimately, hazardous questions of politics, diplomacy, civic morality, and war. Civic courage and acumen can go perfectly well with child-like faith. One can be on the same world-stage as Woodrow Wilson, David Lloyd George, Georges Clemenceau, and Kaiser Wilhelm --- and still be a saint.
What, also, struck me when hearing of the beautification, was how the event and the man behind the event, Karl of Austria, made a complete lie of the typical analysis of the history and the character of Christendom. We are taught to think of Christendom as revealing its inherent implausibility and irrationality by its “decline” into irrelevance and hide-bound stupidity during the opening years of the 20th century. What we actually find is quite the opposite. The first quarter of the 20th century saw Christendom produce its finest, it’s most mature, fruit in both Church and State. Who would have thought that, at the end of this 1,700-year-old civilization we would have had 2 saints, Pope St. Pius X and Blessed Emperor Karl, occupying the two most venerable offices in Christendom? What the beatification tells us is that we must renew our intellectual and imaginative awareness of the Empire of Christ the King, as regards both Church and State, in order that enervating Liberal myths may not impede our own action and plans to “restore all things in Christ.”
Another thought which must come to the minds of traditional Catholics who meditate on the beatification in October, is that our religion, along with the nations that upheld our religion, were the cause of the maelstrom that engulfed the world in the 20th century. Just like we forget that it was the Quebec Act of 1774 (legal recognition of the Catholic Religion in Canada) that ignited the American revolt against King George, so too do we forget that World War I was initiated (unintentionally) by Catholic Austria, fought over Catholic Austria, and had as its ultimate consequence the dismemberment of Catholic Austria. Moreover, three radically anti-Catholic men, Wilson, Lloyd George, and Clemenceau dominated the conference held to reconstitute the political order of the world after the “Great War”. The war itself only came about (it was, by no means inevitable) due to the assassination of a devotedly Catholic prince Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who was known to be a man of faith, justice, and peace. To read the article in the British Catholic weekly The Tablet mourning the death of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, uncle of Blessed Karl, on June 28, 1914, is truly a melancholic experience: “By this senseless crime is lost to the world a Prince upon whom Catholic Europe had learned to build her highest hopes….a devoted Catholic and an eager soldier, a serious and earnest student of statecraft, as well as the higher arts of war….Whatever he set himself to do he seemed to do successfully, and his strong personality soon made itself felt as a power, first in the Empire and then in Europe.” There must have been a reason why the most prominent Catholic prince in Europe, one ready to lead all of Europe into a balanced and Christian tomorrow, needed to be shot down. Such must be the same reason why his nephew’s peace proposals had to be denigrated and contemptuously rejected lest the peace of Christ reign over Europe well into the 20th century.
A) Karl’s Ascent to the Throne Begins
Austria-Hungary remains the cornerstone of Europe.
When Karl von Habsburg was born at Persenbeug Castle on August 17, 1887, the empire into which he was born, and over which he was destined to reign, was what could be referred to as a “survival.” For our contemporaries of the last few generations used to nation-states of single nationalities and a brittle liberal democratic system conceived in the waning years of the Enlightenment, it is extremely hard to imagine how such a huge enterprise could possibly hang together. Ruled by a dynastic clan that had ruled, more or less, unchallenged for 500 years, comprised of 12 major nationalities, having an unbroken tradition stretching back to the Holy Roman Empire, surrounded by buildings which exuded the glories of the militant Baroque spirit of the Catholic Counter-Reformation, such an entity could only have been viewed by many a Liberal as fit for imminent demise. Indeed, the hostility to old Austria and all she stood was expressed best by the Old Liberal British Prime Minister Gladstone when he said, “There is not an instance, there is not a spot upon the whole map, where you can lay your finger and say, ‘There Austria did good.’”
The problem for the European or Anglo-American Liberal with regards to Habsburg Austria was that the second largest political entity in Europe at the time did not collapse or even “unravel.” This in spite of the constant political and physical attacks directed against the Imperial dynasty. The Emperor Franz Josef, ruling since the failed nationalistic revolution of 1848, suffered the brunt of the physical and psychological attack. His brother, Maximilian had been executed by Mexican leftists, supported by the United States, in 1867; Archduke Rudolf, heir to the entire empire and only son of Franz Josef, was, apparently, “suicided” at the hunting lodge at Mayerling in 1889 (according to the late Empress Zita, the death at Mayerling was not suicide by part of a political plot by foreign agents). The sufferings of this notably austere emperor (on the last day of his life he consented to sit during his morning prayers instead of kneeling as was his life-long custom) were brought to the level of the superhuman when an Italian Anarchist assassinated his wife in 1898. During these staggering events (which did NOT stagger the imperial system), Archduke Karl, the grandson of the second youngest of the Emperor Franz Josef’s brothers, was an infectiously charming child, interested in toy soldiers, farming his small patch of garden for the benefit of the local poor box, and learning to read and write both German and English, becoming fluent in the latter by the age of 6 due to the educational efforts of his Irish nanny Miss Bridie Casey. As an adult he spoke 7 languages fluently. Here, it is interesting to note, that if Karl had been invited to the Versailles Conference in 1919, he would have been the only participant among the leaders of the United States and Europe, other than the notorious anti-clerical Georges Clemenceau, who could have spoken personally, without translator, to every other participant at the conference. It is, perhaps, adding insult to injury to mention that if he had been so invited he would have been the only leader present who actually commanded troops on the front during the cataclysmic struggle.
Events turned markedly serious for the young archduke in 1900, when his uncle and heir to the imperial throne, Franz Ferdinand, announced to the emperor that he was prepared to violate the dynastic laws of the House of Habsburg by wedding a woman below his station and, what was, just as important, a woman from a specific social class within the Empire, namely, the Czech countess Sophia Chotek. These dynastic laws, however, formed to protect the objectivity and the dignity of the dynasty, could not be overlooked. An extraordinarily solemn ceremony, which itself manifested the fact that the venerable “old” ways were very much alive at the very end of the 19th century in Europe, was held at Hofburg Palace in Vienna. All the senior members of the Habsburg family gathered together with the Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Anton Grushcha, and the Primate of Hungary. At the stroke of noon, Emperor Franz Josef, standing in front of his throne in the Private Council Chamber, announced that, “Ever desirous of doing what is best for members of my Archducal House, and with a view of giving my nephew a new proof of my special affection, I have given my consent to his marriage to the Countess Sophia Chotek. It is true that the Countess Sophia Chotek is of noble descent, but her family is not one which, consistent with the customs of our House, can be regarded as of equal birth…..This marriage is to be looked upon as a morganatic marriage, and the children which with God’s blessing may issue from this union, cannot therefore participate in the rights of the members of the Archducal House.” From this moment on, the 12-year-old schoolboy Karl, nephew of Franz Ferdinand, was to be trained to be heir to the Catholic thrones of Austria and Hungary.
B) Marriage and the Prophecy of St. Pius X
In the marriage of the young archduke to Zita of Bourbon-Parma, we can glimpse the subtle ways in which the Almighty God weaves His providential plan for mankind, using the delicate fabric of personal and intimate human affairs. What we, also see, however, is the ways in which men, through ignorance and malice, can act against the obvious and explicit (or as theology would have it, the “antecedent”) will of God. With regard to his marriage, Karl wished to avoid the problems surrounding the marriage of his uncle, by marrying someone of royal birth, one who he could love and trust as his wife and as the mother of his children. He found such a one in Zita of the Northern Italian branch of the Bourbon dynasty, the Bourbon-Parmas. This family of 24 children (3 of whom would become Benedictine nuns) headed by Zita’s father, Duke Robert of Bourbon-Parma, was essentially French in culture and understanding, however, had ruled the tiny Italian duchy of Lucca and Parma from 1748 until the territory was seized by the Liberal forces of the Italian Risorgimento led by the Masonic Count Camille Cavour and the royal house of Savoy.
It was with the brothers of Zita, Sixtus and Xavier that the child Karl spent much of his time when he was holidaying with the Bourbon-Parmas. Little could any one realize that some 2 dozen years later, these three men would be at the center of the one potentially successful private venture to bring an end to the European nightmare of the “Great War,” which was being fought during the years 1916—1918. Without these real and royal Catholic families concerning themselves with the real men fighting in the trenches, Europe would have to look back at this period as one of uniform inhumanity.
The announcement of the engagement between Karl and the young princess Zita (who had received her education at a Benedictine convent on the Isle of Wight from a group of nuns attached to monks from Solesmes) was greeted with universal acclaim. It looked as if Europe was going to be secure under the dominating influences of three outstanding Catholics, Franz Ferdinand, Karl, and the young Zita. A Catholic future, and a durable link to the past, had been forged in the fires of romantic love. Surely now, another generation would be able to say, “Other nations gain their lands by war, but you, happy Austria, marry!” This golden hope, a hope which we have not as yet had the privilege to experience in our life time, had surely possessed the mind of no less a man than Pope St. Pius X when he received the newly engaged Zita at an audience in 1911. Prior to the private audience the Pope celebrated Mass for members of the family in his private chapel, and then he entertained them in his library. He opened the conversation by telling Princess Zita, “I am very happy with this marriage and I expect much from it for the future…. Charles is a gift from Heaven for what Austria has done for the Church.” The inspired foresight of the holy Pontiff revealed itself when, later in the conversation, Princess Zita was placed in an awkward situation when the Pope, seemingly, forgot about Archduke Franz Ferdinand and referred to Karl as the heir to the throne. Zita pointed out, in a very accommodating and discrete manner that her future husband would not be direct heir to the throne, first would come his uncle, Franz Ferdinand. At this however the Pontiff looked serious and repeated that Charles would soon be on the throne. The young Princess, startled, said that surely Franz Ferdinand was not going to abdicate – but the Pope, looking troubled and thoughtful said in a low voice “If it is an abdication…I do not know….”
C) The Murder at Sarajevo
On June 28, 1914, exactly 14 year to the day that the emperor had consented officially to their marriage, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife the Duchess of Hohenburg, after spending 3 days reviewing the Austrian troops stationed in the province of Bosnia, were to make an official visit to the capital of the province, Sarajevo. This day would, surely, be one of the most tragic days the world would ever know. On it, a civilization, 16 centuries in the making, was crashed by the most fateful turn of a steering wheel in all of human history.
In a chapter insightfully entitled, “The Last Days of Mankind: 28 June – 4 August 1914,” Niall Ferguson, a British historian in a recently published book The Pity of War, gives us insight into the real state of the Austrian monarchy, especially in the territories of Bosnia-Herzegovina, in the years immediately leading up to the fateful day in the summer of 1914. According to Ferguson, the question concerning the political status of Bosnia was a part of the larger question as to what to do in the Balkans after the gradual retreat of the Moslem Turk Empire from the European continent. The question was: After the Turk, who? For most of the 19th century, the opponents in this contest had been Austria, long distracted by internal imperial troubles, and Russia, who was the more aggressive of the two empires. In this contest, France and Britain normally allied themselves with the Austrians against the Russians. Throughout the 19th century Prussia and then the Second German Empire played almost no part in this drama.
The newly established Kingdom of Serbia, however, would purse a policy of nationalistic aggrandizement. The goal of a “Greater Serbia,” which would bring together all ethnically Serb people within the Serbian State, was directly contrary to the very idea of the multi-ethnic Habsburg Empire. Even, however, with an aggressive and lawless Serb regime in place in Belgrade, real nationalistic ferment was minimal in the years leading up to 1914. According to Ferguson, “there was no irresistible force called nationalism, insisting that Bosnia-Herzegovina could not remain as it was: a religiously heterogeneous province, formerly of the Ottoman Empire, then, after…occupied and administered by Austria-Hungary, and in 1908 formally incorporated…into the Habsburg monarchy.”
A terrorist student group called Mlada Bosna (Young Bosnia) did not support this Imperial Austrian solution to the Bosnian problem. On June 28, 1914, after days of rumors about possible assassination attempts, the archducal car was attacked by means of a bomb thrown from the large surrounding crowds. It fell on the roof and rolled off, exploding behind the vehicle and seriously wounding a member of the entourage, Colonel von Merizzi. Then the course of events turned tragic and bizarre. After a rushed stop at the city hall, in which the officials still seemed ready to present the Archduke and his wife with a formal dinner, the royal couple decided that they wanted to check on the medical status of von Merizzi. It was decided to drive, not through the town, where the crowd was awaiting the Archduke, but along the Appelkai, which was quite deserted. Before they entered the cars, this decision was repeated to the chauffeurs several times, with the express order “not along Franz Josef Street, but along the deserted Appelkai.” The Archduke’s chauffer had instructions to follow the car in front. But when it came to the place where the roads forked the lead car did not, as it had been expressly ordered to do, drive straight on along the Appelkai, but turned aside, against orders, into the crowded Franz Josef Street. The consumptive young Serb, Gavril Princip, intervened and the tragic 20th and 21st centuries were launched.
The news found Charles and his wife Zita taking a family vacation at Reichenau, where the telegram with the catastrophic news reached the couple as they were sitting at lunch in a little summerhouse on the grounds of the mansion. Immediately they understood the import of the events, for their own lives, for the life of their nation, and for Europe as a whole. At any moment the imperial mantle could fall upon the 26 year old shoulders of Karl and his 22-year-old wife Zita. One can only imagine the suspense and historical “electricity” that must have possessed the historically minded when the huge crowds, which gathered in Vienna, witnessed the meeting between the young heir and the aged monarch.
D) The War Emperor
Karl played no part in the critical decisions that led up to the most fateful one of all, the sending of an ultimatum to Serbia. According to Niall Ferguson, it was principally the German decision to support, and indeed to “egg on,” an Austrian military strike against Serbia, which encouraged Franz Josef to attempt to “eliminate…Serbia as a political factor in the Balkans.”
There is no one who can say that Karl was against the moves taken by Austria to defend her position in Europe against the terrorist state that Serbia had become. He was not, however, motivated by a German chauvinism, which was the guiding inspiration to Pan-Germans of the time that saw in a possible war an opening to assert German dominance over Europe. He had been of one mind with his deceased uncle Franz Ferdinand as to the need to federalize the Austrian Empire. The most critical aspect of this new devolution of power, would have to be the granting of equal political status to the Slavic people living in the Kingdom of Hungary, which, since 1866 had been rendered an equal partner in the Austrian system. Franz Ferdinand had known that this would meet with the complete opposition of the Hungarian landed aristocracy that dominated the Hungarian parliament and government. If, as Karl hoped, the Croats, Slovenes, Slovaks, and the Serbs, could be given an equal position an the empire, this situation would meet the political ideal of “subsidiarity” offered by the Catholic Church as the best way of exercising and dividing power so as to give men and communities real control over their own affairs, power that would be consonant with the capacity of their practical judgment and in line with an legitimate exercise of political action in their own self-interest. He knew, however, as had his imperial forebears, that such a system of semi-independent ethnic groups could only keep from fragmentation and acrimonious division by the unifying influence of the Crown and the Catholic Imperial Family. A common human and historical loyalty to a family that had been part of the European landscape for some 700 years, would make all think about the overriding common good, rather than, merely, of the good of one group or another. As we have seen, in our discussion of the morganatic marriage to Countess Chotek, the Imperial Family was above, independent of, and “unrelated to,” any particular “constituency” in the Empire or in the Hungarian kingdom. This is, of course, one of the major arguments advanced in support of the claim that a monarchy is superior to a republic as a form of social and political order. A king always has the prestige and, sometimes, the power to break the hold and the advantage of the wealthy oligarchy of any nation.
This desire to achieve a truly federal system in the empire that he was to inherit caused him to hesitate at one of the most significant and dramatic moments of his relatively short life. After more than 2 years of serving as a real soldier and commanding officer at the front, along with acting as a military liaison to the aged emperor, Karl received at telegram on November 11, 1916 that he knew must come. The emperor was seriously ill and Karl was needed in Vienna. On November 21st, the end came for the man who had embodied what was great in the European tradition. Not only had Franz Josef von Habsburg been emperor of Austria and king of Hungary since 1848, not only had he endured the assassinations of his wife, his only son, brother, and nephew, but he had, also, saved the Catholic Church by exercising his veto power over the selection of Cardinal Rampolla as the new pope in 1903. His intervention set the stage for the emergence of St. Pius X, the great champion of the anti-Modernist crusade.
Karl became emperor immediately on that day in November. One of his first acts, one which must have been pressing on his Catholic conscience for a long time, was to prohibit a long standing custom, one insisted upon by his great-uncle during his reign, in which an officer of the imperial army was required to challenge to a duel anyone who attacked his honor. Such activity had been condemned by the popes decades before in the 19th century.
Before he could make the claim to be king of Hungary, Karl would need to be crowned in Budapest with the historic crown of St. Stephen, the symbol of the Catholic Hungarian Nation. The problem Karl had, in this regard, would be a deep one. The coronation would have a supreme religious significant. Along with being a sacramental action, it would put him in the line of Kings of Hungary who were heirs to the first Apostolic King. Failure to have the ceremony would undermine the Hungarian war commitment. One of the problems with performing the full ceremony surrounding the reception of the crown, was the fact that he would need to charge up a hill (made up of soil from all the various districts of the Hungarian Kingdom), crowned, on horse back, with drawn sword, pointing his sword in all 4 directions while pledging to maintain the boundaries of the kingdom. Karl thought that this action, along with the taking of the coronation oath binding him to “protect St. Stephen’s lands,” would seem to imply a total commitment to Magyar (Hungarian) domination.
Karl, however, soon recognized the need for such a spiritual/political act to take place in the midst of the dreadful war. The ancient coronation robes which Charles would wear, and the ceremony in which these would be given to him, all dated back to those distant days of the 10th century. They represented a heritage of faith that was splendid, and solemnly rooted in bedrock to an ancient tradition.
It was amidst the adulation and acclaim of this most solemn and public event, that Karl von Habsburg revealed his deep humility and masculine piety. Years after the coronation, performed by the Cardinal-Primate of Hungary, we find the Cardinal recalling that, “He [the King] prepared himself conscientiously for this great ceremony. He examined every detail and pondered the inner meaning of it all. Like a priest before his ordination – that was how devout and prayerful the King was before his coronation. I often had the opportunity of speaking with him during the period of preparation beforehand, and I remember observing him at the rehearsal as well as at the coronation itself. It was moving to see how the difficult burden of the feelings of responsibility had imprinted itself on his young soul. It was neither the ornamentation nor the pomp that interested him, it was only the duty that he was undertaking before God, before the nation and before the Church. He wished to be worthy of this, for which he had been chosen.”
E) The Sixtus Affair
1917, the most pivotal year of the 20th century (we think of the fall of the Russian monarchy, the coming to power of Lenin, the Apparitions of the Blessed Virgin at Fatima, and the entrance of the United States into the Great European War), dawned with a new emperor in Schöbrunn Palace who wanted to immediately set out on the path towards European peace. In this, he even preempted the concerted efforts on the part of Pope Benedict XV, in August of 1917, to bring peace to a bloodied Continent that had endured 3 years of war.
There were attempts at internal political reform, which serve as the background of the peace initiative initiated by the Habsburgs and the Bourbons (the two most historically prominent Catholic families in Europe). Along with initiating government policies that would guarantee some type of social security for families in his realm, he attempted to reach out to the Czechs in order that they might feel themselves to be an integral and equal part of the Imperial System. Here Karl was in full support of the Czech desire for greater political autonomy for Bohemia (N.B., perhaps one of the biggest political mistakes Karl made was not to hold a coronation in Prague as he had in Budapest). The problems which faced the Austrian monarch in his attempt to initiate a federalization of his realm, was the same problem faced by the other monarchs of Europe when dealing with matters of peace or internal reform. The 19th and the early 20th centuries had been the age of parliamentary government. The monarchs now had to work through a cabinet and a parliament over which they had varying degrees of control. Any initiative for the common good was thereby dependent on the support of special interest groups and their ministerial and parliamentary representatives. Such was the case with the cause of the Czechs. The Emperor’s proposals for autonomy for the nationalities was met with complete opposition on the part of his own prime minister Clam-Martinitz. In the autonomous Hungarian government, there was also outright hostility to the proposals. It would not be until the end was near in 1918, that Karl would issue a proclamation declaring the rights of the constituent peoples of his empire on his own royal initiative. It was the right thing to do; he should have done it earlier. The “spirit of democracy” had, however, sunk too deeply into the blood and bones, not to mention the brain of Western Man. The release of 2,000, primarily Czech, political prisoners, on the initiative of the Emperor was criticized by those who saw it as a sign of weakness and a concession to “troublemakers.” In an interesting note in this regard, Niall Ferguson makes the following statement, “There were also ethnic minorities who did not much want national independence before 1914, though some would later embrace it. The Czechs and the Slovaks in Austria-Hungary, for example; but also the Jews there, with the exception of the few Zionists.” Obviously, the peoples of Central Europe were not chomping at the bit to “break free” from centuries old Habsburg rule.
The ‘Sixtus Affair” began when one of Empress Zita’s brothers, Prince Sixtus of Bourbon-Parma wrote a letter in a French newspaper, which was followed up upon by high level French officials, including the President Poincaré. Sixtus had been excluded from service in the army of the French Republic on account of his descent from King St. Louis IX. He was able, however, through royal contacts throughout Europe, to receive a commission in the Belgian Army. After Karl became emperor in late 1916, he asked his wife to establish regular contacts with her brother with a view to making overtures to the British and French governments. To show us how royal contacts worked – for the benefit of millions – the first official overtures came via the Duchess of Parma, the mother of the empress and of Prince Sixtus.
Throughout this back-channel contact established between officially belligerent parties, Prince Sixtus, and his brother Xavier, were continually attempting to present a realistic picture of the new emperor to the Entente Powers. We find this view presented in a British foreign office report, signed by W. Gugot, which reads: “The Emperor used to make an impression on the general public of being an amiable but colorless young man. In reality he is full of character and autocratic. He takes advice up to a certain point from the Empress, who is very intelligent, but in no sense under her thumb….All the recent changes have been made by the Emperor alone on his own initiative. He has become an immensely popular figure in Austria.”
Throughout the negotiations with the French and the British, all behind the backs of the Germans, the Emperor/King’s Czech foreign minister Count Ottokar Czernin, undercut the effort. Around February 1917, he sent a message to the Bourbon princes, knee deep in the ongoing negotiations, saying that the alliance between Austria-Hungary, Turkey, Germany, and Bulgaria was indissoluble and that a conclusion of a separate peace for Austria-Hungary was permanently barred.
The terms that Karl was offering to the British and the French were extremely generous. Karl was willing to have the Central Powers hand over Alsace-Lorraine as well as parts of Italy, craved by the Masonic Italian State. He was, also, more than amenable to the restoration of the sovereignty of Belgium and to the setting up of a Southern Slav kingdom, which would include the Serbs and constitute an integral and equal part of the present Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. Prince Sixtus would write, after the war, “It was well known that the Emperor of Austria had very clear views and decided willpower on this point, that he was in accord with the cherished hopes of Poland, Bohemia, Croatia, and Yugoslavia. The most bona fide representatives of those countries had expressed their entire confidence in their young sovereign. But there was no desire to go further, or to destroy further. Nobody wished to break essential and necessary bonds or to arouse interior and exterior hatreds between neighbors. The Emperor Charles would have gone on further, for his duty clearly showed him that he could not uselessly sacrifice his people to the obstinacy of an ally whose pride was causing his coming destruction . . . . a separate peace with Austria would have realized the principle object of the war….The lives of thousands, nay millions of men would have been saved.”
The efforts made by Karl were to be for naught, except for the sanctity of his own soul. The secret agreement between Britain, France, and Italy called the Treaty of London of 1915, would prove an unmovable obstacle. The Italians were committed to territorial aggrandizement at the expense of the Austrian Empire. They would demand fulfillment of the treaty’s promises even if it mean continuation of the bloody trench war. Moreover, Georges Clemenceau, having become one of the “revolving door” prime ministers of the French parliamentary republic, in November 1917, was unscrupulous in his treachery when the contents of the Sixtus negotiations were officially revealed to him. In April 1918, he proceeded to publish the contents of the letters in which Emperor Karl promised the French government to use his personal influence to support the French claims to Alsace-Lorraine. Immediately, not only did a separate Austrian peace become impossible, but also Karl completely lost his standing vis à vis his German allies. There were even concrete proposals, made by the Germans, to invade and assimilate her ally Austria. In this regard, to his credit, the American Secretary of State Robert Lansing, decried this action of Clemenceau as “a piece of the most outstanding stupidity…an unpardonable blunder.”
There is little real question as to whether or not this was a “blunder.” The Entente Powers, now backed by the power of Woodrow Wilson’s troops and his crusade to “Make the World Safe for Democracy,” were ideologically committed to the break-up and extinction of the ancient Empire, which had held together Central Europe for some 500 years. This Masonic Revolutionary ideological commitment was most perfectly displayed in, perhaps, the last serious attempt, on the part of Emperor Karl, to reach out to the “enemy” in order to bring peace to a ravaged Europe. This overture was made to the United States, whose entrance into the war Karl felt to be an indication of certain defeat for the Germans and Austrians. The peace proposal, which included much discussion of Karl’s federalistic plans for the ethnic groups of Central Europe, was made by Dr. Heinrich Lammasch to George Herron in February of 1918. Dr. Lammasch, former three-time president of the International Court of Arbitration at The Hague, was an intimate and trusted friend of Emperor Karl. George Herron was a former Congregationalist minister, and hero of the American Socialists, who served as the unofficial eyes and ears of Woodrow Wilson in Europe during the United States’ involvement in the War. There meeting took place in Berne, Switzerland on February 3-4, 1918. At first impressed with Lammasch’s proposals, Herron asked to “sleep on the matter.” During the night, he stated that he “wrestled with this temptation as Jacob wrestled with God near Yabbok.” By morning he knew that he had gained complete victory over himself: Lammasch had been nothing but an evil tempter. No! The Habsburg monarchy had to go because the Habsburgs as such were an obstacle to progress, democracy, and liberty. To top off the actions of this man who was totally committed to the American Democratic Messianism of his political master, Woodrow Wilson, he offered the broken Lammasch one of his own books against peace. Such were the flintheads upon which Blessed Emperor Karl cut his sanctity.
F) The End of Christendom
If we can say that “Christendom” is a system of societal and political organization that explicitly or implicitly relies on the ancient tradition of embodiment of the natural and divine law in institutions and structures meant to express the created and redeemed nature of mankind, with anointed leaders whose offices have a sacral character, then we can say that Christendom fell in 1918. It fell in Russia with the triumph of the Marxists in 1917. It fell in Central Europe with the fall of the ancient Habsburg and Hohenzollern dynasties (N.B., the Hohenzollerns had originated as Grand Masters of the once Catholic Teutonic Knights). And it ceased to be a possibility in Western Europe with the wartime triumph of political atheism, also called secularist democracy. It was publicly displayed at the signing of the “suburban” treaty of Versailles (“suburban” in mentality and making way for the “suburban age”) in which, for the first time in the history of European Christian civilization, a treaty was signed which did not invoke the Holy Trinity. To demonstrate that the Pope had no jurisdiction, even indirect, over the affairs of the New Democratic Europe, the Holy See was completely excluded from all the conferences that were being held to create a stable post-war order in overwhelmingly Catholic Central Europe.
At the age of 31, Karl was placed in the vortex of the forces, which were systematically toppling the structures of government and culture that had existed from time immemorial. He tried to hold it together, that delicate system of nationalities, cultures, and loyalties, by making peace offers to the belligerent and ideologically blinded Woodrow Wilson, proclaiming on his own initiative the rights of the peoples of his empire and of the Hungarian kingdom, and by trying to piece together governments to rule a nation that was disintegrating. It was his duty; he tried to perform his duty. Which of his ancestors had had a worse task. And yet he achieved holiness in the doing.
After 2 attempts to regain his Hungarian throne, from a “regent” who refused to acknowledge the claims of his king, Karl and Zita and their children were led to a British ship and unceremoniously dumped off on the Portuguese island of Madeira. Without money or permanent accommodations, not even being given money to buy firewood for the little shack in the mountains they were forced to occupy due to their inability to pay for the hotel in which they first stayed when they arrived on the island, Karl was being prepared to endure his moment of Calvary.
G) A Modern Saint Dies
In all this talk of Karl as emperor, we have forgotten to consider his position as father. In his love for his children, the affection shown by a true Christian man was displayed in his last months of life. Archduke Otto, his eldest son, spoke years later of his father’s constant encouragement of his family, telling them that they still had faith and hope, emphasizing that they still had one another. Otto and his sister Archduchess Adelheid would spend long hours on walks with their father while he talked to them about a whole range of things. He answered their questions and tried to help them understand the particular position of their family and the duties of a Christian ruler under God. A certain sadness touches us when we find out that the Blessed Emperor’s last illness came upon him on account of a cold caught on a visit to the neighboring city to buy toys for his children. A few days later he had to admit he was ill and was confined to bed. Pneumonia set in. When doctors were summoned, he initially protested on account of the complete lack of funds. He suffered much from the doctors’ primitive treatments, turpentine injections in the leg and “hot cupping” of his back, which raised terrible blisters and brought him to a state of agony. Joining his sufferings to the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that was performed in his room every day, he was heard to say, “I must suffer like this so my people will come together again.” When it became obvious that he was dying, he was given Extreme Unction. He asked that his son be brought into the room for the ritual. “I would have liked to have spared him all that yesterday. But I had to call him to show him the example. He has to know how one conducts oneself at times like this – as a Catholic and as an Emperor.” The next day he called Otto into his room again. The child slipped in and was knelling, crying by the bed. “I love you so much,” were his final words to his wife. He no longer even had the strength to kiss the cross that his wife held before him. “I can’t go on much longer. Thy will be done….Yes….Yes….As you will it….Jesus!” In saying the Holy Name, he died. So now we do not feel so bad. A modern man has fought against the modern world --- and won.