5 – THE ARCHDUPES
Ferdinand Maximilian of Habsburg, Archduke of Austria, and Marie Charlotte Amélie of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Princess of Belgium, were married on 27 July 1857. On Charlotte’s part it was love at first sight, but on Maximilian’s part it looked more like it was money. Charlotte’s dowry of 500,000 francs and her personal fortune of 2,000,000 was no small fry, even for a Habsburg prince.
Charlotte’s brother Leo, the future King Leopold II, wrote in his diary (25 December 1856): “No doubt the Archduke is grand and generous enough, but seldom have I encountered such greed, nor a similar wish for wealth.” And he concluded his entry: “As a Belgian I am pleased that my sister marries the Archduke, as a brother I would have wished better”.
Charlotte’s father, King Leopold I, negotiated with the Austrians a suitable position for his daughter. Max, who already held the position of Vice-admiral of the Austrian navy, was now appointed Viceroy of the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia, a state created from the north Italian provinces that were annexed to Austria after Napoleon I’s downfall in 1815.
Maximilian intended to play the sovereign in this unwilling and troublesome province, that was teetering on the brink of revolting against its Austrian rulers. His brother however, Emperor Franz-Joseph, had only a minor representative role for him in mind. Decisions were taken in Vienna: the Viceroy was not even consulted.
In 1858, as the cry for independence became stronger by the day, Napoleon III entered into an alliance with the champion of Italian unification, King Victor Emmanuel of Piedmont-Sardinia. Even that couldn’t wake up Franz-Josef, who was convinced that a few harsh words to Piedmont and firm use of the stick were enough to check the march of events. Meanwhile the Archdukes had more success with the carrot: Max even went as far as to lend a favourable ear to a scheme of autonomy which would make him head of state. In a letter to his mother he criticised the line of conduct of his brother: “The government has acted badly, and as the fine result, we have obtained that everyone at present takes part in the opposition”. The enraged “government” promptly recalled the Viceroy.
Piedmontese Minister Cavour: “The Archduke was our greatest enemy in Lombardy, because (…) he was at the brink of succeeding, and in seducing the Milanese. Never was a province so well governed and his liberal ideas have taken many partisans from us. Thanks to God, the good government of Vienna has intervened and, as usual, has not failed to commit a stupidity. (…) Lombardy can’t escape us any more!”.
©2010, M.S.F. Wick