It’s 1867 and time for another formal name change for the Habsburg realms. Say goodbye (sort of) to the Austrian Empire and say hello to Austria-Hungary.
But how did this happen? And why?
Censorship and strict control on political freedoms characterised the early 19th century in Vienna. In 1848, a slew of revolutions struck Europe and the Viennese joined in, even though they never rebelled in the same way that, for example, the French did.
Their actions did, however, provoke significant political change and some liberalisation. For example, Emperor Ferdinand I (son of Franz II/I) abdicated in favour of his young nephew, Franz Joseph.
(Prince Metternich, Austrian chancellor in the early 19th century, spymaster and guardian of the Austrian Empire’s conservative values. He resigned during the 1848 revolution. He’s also why we have Sachertorte. Photo courtesy of the Rijksmuseum)
Other Habsburg lands also caught the revolutionary spirit. Indeed, the Austrian Empire was coming loose at the seams across much of the 19th century.
Hungary, in particular, regularly got a bit frisky, resulting in a brief war of independence in (no surprise) 1848. The “rebels” lost and the Austrian Empire cracked down hard, dissolving the local Hungarian parliament and effectively introducing totalitarian rule from Vienna.
But the counter-revolutionary efforts of the Habsburg authorities did not put an end to nationalist and liberal sentiments across their territories.
(1849 map of Hungary. Photo courtesy of the British Library)
Events continued to chip away at the Habsburg map. For example, the Austro-Prussian war of 1866 led to the Venetian lands switching to Italian rule. And the Hungarians were still unhappy.
Emperor Franz Joseph eventually decided to redefine the power lines to take the wind out of the sails of Hungarian independence efforts and free up military and other resources tied down keeping Hungary quiet.
The result was the 1867 Austro-Hungarian Compromise, which saw our “Habsburg Empire” (now the Austrian Empire) morph into Austria-Hungary, also known as the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
(The Hungarian text says “Franz Joseph I, King of Hungary”. Photo courtesy of the British Library)
This change effectively split the empire into two semi-independent halves: the Kingdom of Hungary and the Austrian Empire. Hungary got back its parliament and authority over most internal affairs, but Franz Joseph remained head of state. So he was Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary.
On top of all that, certain aspects of political power remained centralised: the monarchy retained authority, for example, over the military and foreign affairs. So it was Austria-Hungary as a whole and not just the Austrian Empire part that went to war in 1914 under Franz Joseph, a war that saw the end of that empire and the (re)birth of Austria.