Franz Josef Dies

Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 258th installment in the series.

November 21, 1916: Franz Josef Dies 

Already 84 years old when he made the critical decision that ignited the First World War, Austria-Hungary’s iconic dynast Franz Josef lived long enough to witness the nightmare unleashed by his desperate gamble – but not the final collapse of his empire, nor the strange new world that arose from the ashes. 

On November 21, 1916, several days after contracting pneumonia on a walk around the palace grounds, the Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary died at the age of 86, having ruled his subjects for a remarkable 68 years, making him one of the longest reigning monarchs in history. His successor, his young, liberal-leaning nephew Karl, until recently the commander of an army on the Eastern Front, inherited a system in collapse (below, the royal family at Franz Josef's funeral on November 30, 1916):

Indeed, Franz Josef’s entire life could be viewed as a chronicle of the long, gradual decay of Europe’s old aristocratic order, punctuated by disasters and sudden bursts of frenetic activity – brief and only partially successful attempts at reform. 

Franz Josef ascended to the throne unexpectedly as liberal revolutions swept Europe in 1848, threatening the very existence of the monarchy and its multiethnic dynastic holdings. After his uncle and predecessor Ferdinand I abdicated to appease the revolutionaries, Franz Josef’s father Franz Karl also renounced the throne, leaving the task of reuniting the divided and rebellious empire to his 18-year-old son. 

This the new emperor did with typical caution, reflecting both his youth and generally moderate character – but as a profoundly conservative aristocrat he also showed a steely determination to uphold the old feudal order, as well as a willingness to use force if he judged it necessary. 

After agreeing to the constitution demanded by liberal revolutionaries in 1849, restoring his power base in Austria, Franz Josef crushed a nationalist rising in Hungary by inviting Tsar Nicholas I to send 200,000 Russian troops into the rebellious kingdom – one of the high watermarks of the Concert of Europe, the reactionary diplomatic system created by Metternich to prop up the continent’s old dynasties following the upheavals of the French Revolution and Napoleon. 

Following the defeat of the Hungarian revolution, however, Franz Josef was willing (as he would show himself many times in the decades to come) to compromise in order to preserve the core institution of the monarchy amid the earth-shaking developments resulting from the spread of nationalism across Europe. 

In 1859 Austria lost the kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia to the new-forming nation of Italy, causing a long-standing grudge, which their membership in the Triple Alliance did nothing to allay (ironically Franz Josef’s ill-fated heir, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, though the empire would go to war with Italy before Serbia). 

But no event was more fateful for Austria-Hungary, or Europe, than the creation of a new German state by Prussia led by chancellor Otto von Bismarck, who united the independent German kingdoms by force under Prussian rule with a series of short wars, successfully overcoming opposition by Austria and the German Confederation in 1866, and France in 1870-1. Austria’s stinging defeat damaged Vienna’s prestige and stirred up a new Hungarian national movement by the aristocratic Magyars; with the compromise of 1867, Franz Josef conceded the Hungarians their own constitution, giving rise to the unusual Dual Monarchy that would unite the “kaiserlich und königlich” (Imperial and royal) realms of Austria-Hungary somewhat awkwardly for the rest of its existence.

With the rise of Germany as a leading industrial power in the remaining years of the century, Austria transitioned from defeated foe to junior partner in central Europe – a diplomatic demotion which Franz Josef accepted graciously enough, although he found Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II rude and overbearing. Personal tragedy struck in 1889 with the suicide of Franz Josef’s son and heir Rudolf, who killed himself in a suicide pact with his mistress Mary Vetsera, leaving the crown (unexpectedly, again) to the emperor’s nephew Franz Ferdinand. 

But the emperor never deviated from the basic, aristocratic views that he inherited along with his feudal realm – among them the principle of “hausmacht,” or the power of the noble house. This expressed itself in opportunistic attempts to aggrandize the power of the Habsburgs by acquiring new territorial holdings, just as an ambitious medieval monarch might in the days of the Holy Roman Empire. 

This ancient impulse was ill suited to the modern era, and became dangerous with the surging power of national ideologies requiring resistance to “foreign” rule, even by a well-intended dynasty. This was the bitter fruit of Franz Josef’s ill-advised decision to formally annex Bosnia-Herzegovina, formerly a province of the declining Ottoman Empire, in 1908.

In addition to sparking a general diplomatic crisis, the annexation of Bosnia embroiled Austria-Hungary in a messy, unwanted confrontation with the neighboring small Slavic kingdom of Serbia, and with it its great Slavic patron, Russia. The confrontation between the Dual Monarchy and Serbia escalated with Serbia’s success in the First and Second Balkan Wars, threatening to cause a general European war. The situation was temporarily defused by the Conference of London, which agreed on the creation of a new nation, Albania, to prevent further Serbian expansion in 1912.   

However Franz Josef’s advisors, including chief of the general staff Conrad von Hotzendorf and foreign minister Count Berchtold, were convinced that Serbia remained committed to undermining the empire in its nationalist quest to free the Serbs of Bosnia (some Serbs, led by the intelligence officer Apis, certainly were). The assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand provided a convenient excuse to finally crush Serbia and dispense with the threat of Slavic nationalism once and for all – but they were unable to avoid war with Russia, resulting in disaster

In the two years following the outbreak of war, Franz Josef found himself largely an onlooker to the empire’s repeated military defeats (and later successes under German control). His refusal to give up traditional Habsburg territories in the Trentino and Trieste provoked Italy to join the war against the empire in 1915. By the same token, there was little he could do to stave off German moves to dominate Eastern Europe economically and diplomatically, giving Austria-Hungary’s inferior position. Chaos was also clearly beginning to rend the old society: on October 21, 1916 the Austrian premier Karl von Stürgkh was assassinated by the socialist revolutionary Friedrich Adler. But at least he lived to see Romania, another erstwhile ally, brought to book.

German victories were hardly much consolation for the people of the fragmenting empire he left behind. On one hand there was still the popular image of a familiar, avuncular figure, who had endured the heartbreaking loss of his child, and could until recently still be seen taking stately walks with his companion Katharina Schratt. On the other was the knowledge that this elderly man had set in motion events that caused the conflagration consuming Europe – and then stood back, a passive bystander to what followed. 

In Karl Kraus’ satirical play “The Last Days of Mankind”, when told that the emperor has died, the character “the Grumbler” responds: “How do you know?” Later the same character opines: “Just for reasons of prestige, this monarchy should have committed suicide long ago.” Asked to evaluate the emperor’s 70-year-reign, he unleashes a tirade against the years in question: 

They are a nightmare of an evil spirit which, in return for extracting all our life juices, and then our life and property also, let us have as a happy gift the opportunity to become completely idiotic by worshiping an emperor’s beard as an idol. Never before in world history has a stronger non-personality impressed his stamp on all things and forms. A demon of mediocrity has determined our fate. Only he insisted on Austria’s right to trouble the world with our murderous nationality brawls, a right grounded in the God-ordained bureaucratic muddle under the Hapsburg scepter, the mission of which, it appears, has been to hover above world peace like Damocles’ sword. 

Later the Grumbler adds: 

I would also like to believe that it is more pleasing to God to show veneration for the majesty of death at the graves of ten millions youths and men, and hundreds of thousands of women and infants who had to die of hunger, than to bow down before that one casket in the Capuchins’ Crypt, that very casket that entombs the old man who considered everything carefully and, with a single scratch of the pen, brought it all about. 

Unsurprisingly, news of Franz Josef’s death didn’t elicit a great outpouring of sympathy from Austria-Hungary’s enemies in the great struggle now unfolding. Mildred Aldrich, an American woman living in the countryside near Paris, wrote in a letter home on November 25, 1916, touching on Franz Josef’s death briefly: 

In the meantime I am sorry that Franz Josef did not live to see this war of his out and take his punishment. I used to be so sorry for him in the old days, when it seemed as if Fate showered disasters on the heads of the Hapsburgs. I wasted my pity. The blows killed everyone in the family but father. The way he stood it and never learned to be kind or wise proved how little he needed pity. 

See the previous installment or all entries.

12 Things We Know About The Crown Season 3

Sophie Mutevelian, Netflix
Sophie Mutevelian, Netflix

Between the birth of Prince Louis, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's wedding, and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex's announcement that they're expecting their first child in the spring, 2018 was a busy year for England's royal family. But the next big royal event we're most looking forward to is season three of The Crown.

Since making its premiere on November 4, 2016, the Netflix series—which won the 2017 Golden Globe for Best Drama—has become an indisputable hit. The streaming series, created by two-time Oscar nominee Peter Morgan, follows the reign of Queen Elizabeth II and the ups and downs of the royal family.

Now that you’ve surely binge-watched both of the first two seasons, we’re looking ahead to season three. Here’s everything we know about The Crown’s third season so far.

1. Olivia Colman will play the Queen.

Olivia Colman in 'The Crown'
Netflix

From the very beginning, creator Peter Morgan made it clear that each season of The Crown would cover roughly a decade of history, and that the cast would change for season three and again in season five (to more accurately represent the characters 20 and 40 years later). In October 2017, it was announced that Olivia Colmanwho just won a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy for The Favourite—would take over the role of Queen Elizabeth II.

When discussing her replacement with Jimmy Fallon, Claire Foy praised her successor, joking that "You'll forget all about me and the rest of the cast. You'll be like, ‘Who are they?' We're the warm-up act."

Though she might be best known to American audiences for her roles in Broadchurch and The Night Manager (the latter of which earned her a Golden Globe in 2017), Colman is no stranger to playing a member of the royal family. In addition to her award-winning role as Queen Anne in The Favourite, she played Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon—wife of King George VI and the mother of Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Margaret—in Hyde Park on Hudson (2012).

2. We may not seen a third season until later in the year.

While no official release date for season three has been given, the BBC reported that we wouldn't see Colman as Queen Elizabeth II until this year. But we could have some more waiting to do. The good news, however, is that Morgan confirmed they're shooting seasons three and four "back-to-back. I’m writing them all at the moment," he said in February. Meaning we may not have to wait as long for season four to arrive.

3. Tobias Menzies is taking over as Prince Philip.

Tobias Menzies in 'The Crown'
Sophie Mutevelian, Netflix

Between Outlander and The Terror, Tobias Menzies is keeping pretty busy these days. In late March 2017 it was announced that he’d be taking over Matt Smith’s role as Prince Philip for the next two seasons of The Crown—and Smith couldn't be happier.

Shortly after the announcement was made, Smith described his replacement as "the perfect casting," telling the Observer: "He’s a wonderful actor. I worked with him on The History Boys, and he’s a totally fantastic actor. I’m very excited to see what he does with Prince Philip." Of course, passing an iconic role on to another actor is something that former Doctor Who star Smith has some experience with. "It was hard to give up the Doctor—you want to play it for ever. But with this, you know you can’t," Smith told The Times.

For his part, Menzies said that, "I'm thrilled to be joining the new cast of The Crown and to be working with Olivia Colman again. I look forward to becoming her 'liege man of life and limb.'"

4. Paul Bettany came very close to having Menzies's role.

If you remember hearing rumblings that Paul Bettany would be playing the Duke of Edinburgh, no, you're not imagining things. For a while it seemed like the London-born actor was a shoo-in for the part, but it turned out that scheduling was not in Bettany's favor. When asked about the rumors that he was close to signing a deal to play Philip, Bettany said that, "We discussed it. We just couldn’t come to terms on dates really. [That] is all that happened."

5. Helena Bonham Carter will play Princess Margaret.

Honoured @thecrownnetflix

A post shared by Vanessa Kirby (@vanessa__kirby) on

After months of speculation—and one big hint via Instagram (see above)—in May 2018, Netflix finally confirmed the previously "all but confirmed" rumor that Helena Bonham Carter would play Princess Margaret in The Crown's next season. "I’m not sure which I’m more terrified about—doing justice to the real Princess Margaret or following in the shoes of Vanessa Kirby’s Princess Margaret,” Bonham Carter said of the role. “The only thing I can guarantee is that I’ll be shorter [than Vanessa]."

Like Colman, Bonham Carter also has some experience playing a royal: She played Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, a.k.a. the Queen Mother, in the Oscar-winning The King's Speech.

6. Princess Diana will notappear in season 3.

As The Crown moves forward, time will, too. Though fans worried that, based on the current time jumps between seasons, it would take another few years to see Princess Diana be introduced, Morgan told People Magazine that Princess Diana would make her first appearance toward the end of season three and that she will be heavily featured in the two seasons that follow. However, casting director Nina Gold later dispelled that notion.

"Diana’s not in this season," Gold told Vanity Fair. "When we do get to her, that is going to be pretty interesting." Charles and Diana did not meet until 1977, when the Prince began dating Diana's older sister, Sarah. According to Variety, season three will only cover the years 1964 to 1976.

7. Camilla Parker Bowles will be featured.

Lady Diana Spencer and Camilla Parker-Bowles at Ludlow Races where Prince Charles is competing, 1980
Express Newspapers/Archive Photos/Getty Images

As it’s difficult to fully cover the relationship between Prince Charles and Princess Diana without including Camilla Parker Bowles as part of the story, the current Duchess of Cornwall will make her first appearance in season three.

“Peter [Morgan]’s already talking about the most wonderful things,” The Crown producer Suzanne Mackie revealed during the BFI & Radio Times Television Festival in April 2017. “You start meeting Camilla Parker Bowles in season three,” she said, noting that they were then in the process of mapping out seasons three and four.

8. Buckingham Palace will be getting an upgrade.

Though it's hard to imagine a more lavish set design, Left Bank—the series's production company—requested more studio space for its sets at Elstree Studios in late 2017, and received approval to do just that in April. According to Variety, Left Bank specifically "sought planning permission for a new Buckingham Palace main gates and exterior, including the iconic balcony on which the royals stand at key moments. The Downing Street plans show a new Number 10 and the road leading up to the building itself. The sketches for the new work, seen by Variety, show an aerial view of Downing Street with a Rolls Royce pulling up outside Number 10."

9. Princess Margaret's marriage to Lord Snowdon will be a part of the story.

Vanessa Kirby as Princess Margaret in 'The Crown'
Alex Bailey/Netflix

Princess Margaret’s roller-coaster relationship with Antony Armstrong-Jones played a major part of The Crown’s second season, and the dissolution of their marriage will play out in season three.

“We’re now writing season three," Robert Lacey, the series’s history consultant and the author of The Crown: The Official Companion, Volume 1, told Town & Country in December. “And in season three, without giving anything away—it’s on the record, it’s history—we’ll see the breakup of this extraordinary marriage between Margaret and Snowdon. This season, you see how it starts, and what a strange character, a brilliant character Snowdon was.”

10. Vanessa Kirby would like to see Princess Margaret get a spinoff.

While Kirby, who played Princess Margaret in the first two seasons, knows that the cast will undergo a shakeup, she’s not afraid to admit that she’s jealous of all the juicy drama Bonham Carter will get to experience as the character.

“I was so desperate to do further on,” Kirby told Vanity Fair, “because it’s going to be so fun [to enact] when their marriage starts to break down. You see the beginnings of that in episode 10. I kept saying to [Peter Morgan], ‘Can’t you put in an episode where Margaret and Tony have a big row, and she throws a plate at his head?’ I’m so envious of the actress who gets to do it.”

Kirby even went so far as to suggest that Margaret’s life could be turned into its own series, telling Morgan, “‘We need to do a spinoff.’ You actually could do 10 hours on Margaret because she’s so fascinating. There’s so much to her, and she’s such an interesting character. I know that parts like this hardly ever come along."

11. Jason Watkins will play prime minister Harold Wilson.

At the same time Netflix confirmed Bonham Carter's casting, the network announced that BAFTA-winning actor Jason Watkins had been cast as Harold Wilson, who was prime minister between 1964 and 1970 and again between 1974 and 1976. "I am delighted to become part of this exceptional show,” Watkins said. “And so thrilled to be working once again with Peter Morgan. Harold Wilson is a significant and fascinating character in our history. So looking forward to bringing him to life, through a decade that transformed us culturally and politically."

12. Gillian Anderson will play Margaret Thatcher.

Gillian Anderson speaks onstage at The X-Files panel during 2017 New York Comic Con -Day 4 on October 8, 2017 in New York City
Dia Dipasupil, Getty Images

Ok, so this might be a fourth season tidbit—but it's still very worth talking about. In January 2019 it was announced that The Crown had cast its Iron Lady: former The X-Files star Gillian Anderson will play former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in The Crown's fourth season.

One Key Stranger Things Death Was Originally Much Darker

Netflix
Netflix

While many Stranger Things fans rallied for #JusticeForBarb after Nancy Wheeler’s best friend was abducted to the Upside Down in the first season, season two packed even more of an emotional punch with the death of Bob Newby. The character, played by Sean Astin, was Joyce Byers’s quirky and sweet new boyfriend, who ultimately died a hero when saving the gang from a terrifying group of Demodogs.

As upsetting as the scene was, it turns out it could have been a lot worse. Producers Dan Cohen and Shawn Levy previously revealed the original, much darker plan they had for the beloved character.

“We had talked about the death of some major characters, that may or may not happen in the future near or far. But that was never part of the discussion for Season 2,” Levy said. “The death of Bob was initially much earlier. In fact, in an early outline, Evil Will kill[ed] him in like Episode 3.”

The pair went on explain that Bob’s death was supposed to take place during the scene where in which he and Will are in the car, and Bob is attempting to give Will advice.

“Will just straight-up murders Bob in that car,” Levy said. The scene in question turned out to be pretty sweet, as Bob tells Will what he was afraid of growing up, even making him laugh. Thankfully, they decided to change the original plan.

Stranger Things will return to Netflix on July 4, 2019.

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