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. No wonder, then, that the Viennese joined in with the slew of revolutions that struck Europe in 1848. Emperor Ferdinand I (son of Franz II/I) led the empire at the time.
Vienna never rebelled in the same way that, for example, France did. Nevertheless, the disturbances provoked some political change and liberalisation. For example, Ferdinand 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 shared some of that revolutionary spirit. Hungary, in particular, regularly got a bit frisky, even 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.
The counter-revolutionary efforts of the Habsburg authorities did not, however, 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 never truly happy with the state of their relationship with their rulers in Vienna.
Emperor Franz Joseph eventually decided to redefine the imperial 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) officially 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 Habsburg rule and the (re)birth of Austria.