by | Apr 9, 2016

The Hungarian Perspective[1]

Ruler of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy Franz Joseph I, aged 86, died on November 21, 1916 in Schönbrunn. He was buried on November 30. On December 30 Charles, aged 29, was crowned king of Hungary in Budapest.


High Politics Outlook

1916 was not a very fortunate year for the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy from a military point of view in the Great War that broke out in 1914.

On May 24 the Monarchy’s army launched a major offensive on the Italian front but the offensive was thwarted. The 6th Battle of the Isonzo got underway on August 5. It ended in the Central Powers’ defeat, despite managing to stop the Italians’ advance. General Brusilov of the Tsar’s army launched a mighty offensive at Luck-Okna on the Russian front on June 4. The fighting resulted in a devastating defeat for the Monarchy’s army, bringing about nearly complete annihilation of its troops. Through successful military operations the Russians took Volhynia and Bukovina, taking 200,000 prisoners of war. Signing a secret treaty in Bucharest Romania joined the Entente on August 17. In exchange, the Entente promised to give Transylvania, the Banat and the Bukovina region as well as part of Transtisza to Romania in case the Entente wins the war. On August 27 Romania declared war on the Monarchy. On September 7 its divisions took Braşov, followed by additional areas in Transylvania. In the second half of September a counter-offensive launched by Austro-Hungarian and German divisions forced the Romanian army out of Transylvania and on December 6 troops of the Central Powers occupied Bucharest. This was the Monarchy’s only definitive military success in 1916 but even that could not have been possible without German assistance.

In Hungary alone, year 1916 showed that war became more and more an integral part of day-to-day life in the hinterland. Retail trade in sugar became a state monopoly and the price of sugar was raised considerably. The same happened to butter. In Budapest the price of gas and power went up by 25% and 16.5%, respectively. More and more people were complaining about difficulties in supplies and high prices. Strikes broke out in many places across Hungary – including the Arms and Machine Factory in Budapest and in many of Hungary’s mining regions. Social dissatisfaction gradually became a constant part of day-to-day life.

Even the highest circles of the Monarchy realized that the situation was rather short of rosy. Political tension in Austria was best indicated by the shooting on October 21 of Austria’s Prime Minister Karl von Stürgkh by the social democratic leader Friedrich Adler.

If nothing else, this fact alone made the Monarchy’s political leadership realize symbolically too that nothing in Austria-Hungary was in good order in terms of its military or domestic politics. For this reason, foreign minister Burian wished to offer a peace deal – coordinated with the German ally – to the Entente, which was finally disclosed on December 12. This was the first peace offer made during the course of the Great War. It was on December 31 that the Entente turned down the Central Powers’ peace offer but at least a process got underway, seeming to offer a chance for bringing the war to an end by an equitable peace deal before long.

This was the high political situation in which Franz Joseph died and one month after his funeral Charles was crowned, on the last but one day of 1916.


The King Is Dead

Franz Joseph’s name denotes an entire era not only in the history of the Habsburg Monarchy but also in that of Hungary.

Franz Joseph reigned over the longest period during Hungary’s history as a state since year 1000.[2]

This seemingly rather gross statement, however, should be clarified – or perhaps only refined – from a Hungarian perspective. He was crowned Emperor of Austria on December 2, 1848, during Hungary’s defensive war of 1848-1849. At that point he was not – could not be – crowned king of Hungary, and, for the very reason of the war events, he did not rule over the whole of the territory of what is referred to as historic Hungary. Artúr Görgey[3] surrendered to the Russian intervention forces near the village of Şiria (Világos, now Romania) on August 13, 1848, from which point on Joseph Franz reigned over the whole of the country. In the wake of the political compromise he was crowned on June 8, 1867 and thus he became king of Hungary formally as well.

From the aspect of public law, his reign lasted from 1867 until his death on November 21, 1916. That is 49 years in all.[4]

Without applying the criteria of public law, the period during which he actually ruled Hungary – de facto, rather than de jure – lasted from 1849 until 1916. That makes 66 years, rounded up.

On the one hand, the public law criteria must be observed since it was the very requirement of complying with public law requirements (an inseparable part of life during that period) which necessitated his crowning after the Compromise.

On the other hand, the whole of the period during which he exercised power must also be taken into account as Franz Joseph held supreme power even between 1849 and 1867. This is why it can be declared that no one else ruled longer than he did in Hungary’s history. And, apparently, the period after 1849 was etched very deeply in the collective Hungarian national memory, with the retributions following the revolution and the freedom fight, Joseph Franz’s responsibility for what happened during that period, along with the age of neoabsolutism.

Thus it can be stated as a fact: of the 86 years of his life Franz Joseph held supreme power exactly for 65 years, 11 months and 21 days and following the suppression of the Hungarian freedom fight his rule was extended to the whole of the country.

The world changed immensely during his reign and there were very few people in the Monarchy or Hungary who had not been accustomed to the fact that Franz Joseph was his or her emperor or king.

His death and burial prompted people to assess the positive and the negative aspects of his reign although this was subject to rather strict restrictions in public.

One cultural type of restriction stemmed from the fact of the emperor’s death. People are not expected to criticize one’s actions after his or her death. As the Latin saying goes: Of the dead, nothing unless good. (“De mortuis nil nisi bene.”)

The restriction imposed by the political system appeared in the form of the criminal code. Sections 140 and 141 of Act V of 1878[5] – which piece of legislation was not without antecedents – specifically provided for the “protection” of the members of the royal house. The law provided that voices of criticism were to be dealt with as “offence to the king members and members of the royal house”. Let us review the two sections referred to above.

“Section 140: A person, who commits an offence against the king, must be punished for a misdemeanor by up to two years in prison and loss of office.

However, one who commits the offence by distributing or publicly displaying a written or printed document or an illustration must be punished for a misdemeanor by up to three years in state prison and loss of office.

Section 141: A person committing an offence against a member of the royal house must be punished by up to one year in prison and in the case of committing an offence by publicly displaying a written or printed document or illustration must be punished by up to two years in state prison.”

Of course, the law did not precisely define what should qualify as an offence. That was always to be judged in view of the circumstances of the case at hand. The fact that even an illustration that could be regarded as a caricature could land one in prison for three years indicated that one had better avoid any potentially misunderstandable wording.

Accordingly, the actual provisions laid down in laws meant more than what they actually said. They prohibited things by encouraging others, suggesting a loyal sort of a tone that ruled out even the appearance of animosity. The law intended to protect the ruler and his family from offence; however, it entailed not only such an effect on mentality but also a certain historic and political meaning.

As for the historic aspects: Franz Joseph was a man who was the target of intense negative feelings from the Hungarian people owing to the retaliations in 1849 and the ensuing neo-absolutism. However, those who wished to give voice to their dislike had no access to publicity through the press. Nonetheless, criticizing the ruler was quite a hazardous venture even in private circles because that could – according to the law – also be sanctioned. The Hungarian people was thus forced – and not for the last time in its history – to talk exclusively in a loyal tone when in public while everyone knew that the head of the country was disliked by many for his past actions.

There was, however, an important political aside. Pursuant to the letter and spirit of the Compromise Franz Joseph was not a mere symbol, he was not a king who only rules but does not govern at all. He retained major absolutistic royal prerogatives and based on the actual course of political events he played an active part of power politics. He was, however, protected against any criticism whatsoever by law. In contrast to how one was free to criticize the government, the Parliament and any other body or institution involved in the exercising of power, any form of criticism or talk of the accountability of the one who was superior to all and who was decisive was simply out of the question. This mandatory – and at the same time absurd – ruling out of criticism was a factor of profound importance in the evolution and shaping of modern political culture in Hungary. It was mandatory because it was enshrined in law and it was absurd because how could criticism, as an element of political life, be equitable if it could not be aimed at one of the most important actual component of political power.

It is therefore perhaps not surprising if newspapers, political speeches and pamphlets did not contain much in the way of critical remarks aimed at the ruler during the reign of Franz Joseph.

This was of course true of opinions voiced publicly after the death of the emperor and king.

This restriction was even more strictly enforced by the censorship during the war years, making it even more difficult to talk about things honestly.

All of the above must be taken into account in examining how Franz Joseph was viewed in public in the wake of his death and funeral.

The immediate responses to his death show a feeling of shock in newspapers.

Hungarians got news of his death at 9 o’clock in the evening at about 11 at night. Newspaper editors posted the news on their street notice-boards and news men ran all over the city to deliver the special edition of papers to readers as quickly as possible.

According to the news of the day: “The people of Budapest, still up during the night hours learned of the tragic news in the streets and in cafés first from the newspaper Világ. Everyone was deeply moved and shocked upon learning what had happened. Silence fell on the streets, the city was overcome by grief, pain and a solemn dignity.

Large groups congregated in front of our posters but all were quiet, a soundless condolence took hold of the streets. And in the next moments the news began to spread like wildfire, all over the town. Some people expressed doubts, some did not believe even the printed words and the telephones in our editorial office never ceased to ring. Trembling voices asked: is that true? All we could answer was this short, expressive and debilitating word: he is dead!”[6]

The daily Budapest Hírlap reported: “People learned of the death of the king at about eleven at night, just like in Budapest, in larger towns all over the country, as we have been informed by telephone from a variety of places. The first signs of grief and mourning were the same as in the capital city. Music was silenced, merrymaking ceased. And like in Budapest, black flags appeared on buildings at about midnight in rural towns as well. The flags of grief, nearly invisibly blending in with the black of the night. Into the black sky…”[7]

After the emperor and king’s death on Wednesday black flags appeared on all buildings on Thursday, and during the next days all kinds of institutions announced what an immense loss Hungary had suffered.[8]

Financial institutions, shops, theatres closed – everyday life was brought to a halt – on the day of the funeral. According to newspapers “the official attendees from Hungary, the two Houses of Parliament and the delegates of the legislature alone exceeded eight hundred; and hundreds and thousands more Hungarians came from Budapest and all over the country, most of them in black funeral attire or dark civil mourning clothes.”[9]

People had the feeling that a ruler who had been their grandfathers’, fathers’ and their own ruler, had left them.

And now let us see how the public rated Franz Joseph besides expressing their distress.

As Budapesti Hírlap wrote: “Franz Joseph was the prince of peace.” Although this is slightly at odds with the fact that the Monarchy was at war at that time, they resolve the contradiction. It continued as follows: “His first great achievement of peace was that with the Hungarian nation. (Here they refer to the Compromise – A.G.) In addition, he had been making efforts, of no avail, to make peace among his Austrian regions and peoples. And now, in the last ten years, despite the terrible and disgraceful provocations and humiliating affronts, he still insisted on maintaining world peace until his royal brother’s blood was splashed into his benevolent face.”[10]

In the newspaper’s opinion, Franz Joseph was not only the king of peace but had also become Hungarian hearted: “Franz Joseph I was a Hungarian king, a Hungarian ruler, who shared our feelings and our way of thinking (i.e. respected our laws and constitutional rights), and he understood and appreciated us to an extent that is unprecedented in the history of the Habsburg Dynasty.”[11]

Esti Újság regarded the king’s death as a punishment. They wrote: “we feel that the passing of the great king is a punishment for sins we have not even committed, just like the war, which provides a tragically fine background for the royal family, while we sit back and endure the loss of our blood.”[12]

According to Est, Franz Joseph “reorganized its states to create a new masterpiece in world history. At the end of his life, the special heavenly grace let him recognize the glory of his work.”[13] This opinion also ignored the fact that a world war was going on. As for the king’s personality, the paper says in the same article that “wisdom gleamed in one of his eyes and benevolence in the other, and his forehead shone with real spiritual nobility.” His role in world history is verified by the size of the nation: “Both the entire present area of Hungary and its larger part were created under the reign of Franz Joseph.”

The author of the literary journal Hét wrote: “In my dream I can see his statue standing with a sword in his hand, smiling, and with teardrops in his eyes.”[14] Besides the lyric tone, the article pointed out: “When Franz Joseph’s eyes closed, a historical era came to an end. The war, the end of which he could not witness, was not his era. It was a revolution against all the refinements and arrangements he achieved during his reign.” Having a sense of personal empathy, the author concluded that “An infinite series of tragedies in a biblically long lifetime – yet, Franz Joseph felt happy.” We do not know what made him happy in spite of all those family tragedies.

As the newspaper Világ perceives, Franz Joseph “bridged over eras with his personality”. At the beginning of his reign “…there were hardly any trains on Hungarian land, candles were put out with extinguishers, and Sándor Petőfi[15] wrote his first poems with a quill. Today, warplanes fly across the sky, we have lamps on our desks, and necrologies are written with dip pens.”[16] This paper also refers to the tragic life events, yet it does not make us see Franz Joseph as a happy man but one who endured the tragedies with dignity, without losing his peace of mind. They do not think he was Hungarian hearted but they believe “Hungarians liked him. All we claim is that the Hungarian people came to like him.” They think it is a sign of this affection that he is nicknamed “Ferenc Jóska” [Francis Josh] in the songs of Hungarian soldiers. At the same time, they conclude: “his coffin is standing on the doorstep of a new era.”

Friss Újság also draws attention to Franz Joseph’s wisdom, which it thinks is indicated by the fact that he broke with absolutism and embarked on the path to modern constitutionalism. They highlight Franz Joseph’s sense of understanding. In their view, the king was able to understand the words of time and could use this sense of understanding despite all the prejudices. They think his most prominent merit in history was the revival of Hungary’s greatness and glory: “The heyday of Hungary’s development is attributable to the reign of Franz Joseph. Under his rule Hungary reached a degree of power, economic and cultural development, and prestige before foreign nations that it could only enjoy during the reign of St. Stephen[17], Louis the Great[18] and Matthias Corvinus[19]. This fact is the most stunning and permanent memorial stone of his glorious personality.”[20]

Pesti Hírlap is the only paper which candidly refers to the mistakes the king made, but it immediately adds that he found the “truths of life”. They underline Franz Joseph’s stamina. Their opinion is quite straightforward: “and even if he had not been born a king, his stamina would have enabled him to climb to the top of the ladder.”[21] Franz Joseph is associated with civil work ethos.[22]

Vasárnapi Újság emphasizes Franz Joseph’s extraordinary character and talent. They also mention that the Emperor identified himself with the Hungarian nation. Similarly, they see and make us see the king’s love of work as a virtue, while referring to the fact that the image of the praying monarch was as characteristic of him as his civil virtues.

Using a tone of complete loyalty, Budapesti Hétfői Újság used these words: “The half-century that has passed since the restoration of constitutional life is inseparably bound up with Franz Joseph’s name and the huge development that has remedied the mistakes of the past centuries and enabled the culture, science and economics of our country to catch up, during a relatively short time, with those of the western countries that were so proud of their stable growth over the centuries. His chivalry and noble thinking compelled respect towards his stately person all over the world. His sense of duty served as a glorious example for his peoples and his admirable stamina was never broken by the sufferings, adversities or heroic sacrifices, even by the burdens of the patriarchic era. These historic times revitalized the youth of his soul. He watched the outstanding efforts of his peoples with great interest and believed in victorious peace and the undisturbed happiness of his nation’s future with prophetic inspiration.”[23] Thus, according to the paper, Franz Joseph raised Hungary to the standards of Western Europe.

Népújság mentions the monarch’s kind-heartedness and wisdom and the fact that there were a number of disputes between Franz Joseph and the Hungarian nation but he would always seek to find the way out of such conflicts.[24]

It is rather interesting how the social democratic Népszava resolves the problem of restrictions on culture and power. After the king’s death, they tried to present the facts instead of rating the monarch. Their style and their articles resembled a history book containing pure facts only. They met their readers’ expectations as journalists without being disloyal to the king or to their own critical attitude. Another reason why it is interesting is that in any other respect Népszava was one of the most ideological papers. This time, however, they sacrificed their ideology to objectivity.[25]

The journal Nyugat, which had a significant intellectual influence but a small circulation number, wrote about Franz Joseph as well. The article was written by Ignotus[26], the editor-in-chief of the paper. Ignotus regarded Franz Joseph a realist politician: “Surely, the most useful virtue and the most effective power of his personality as a realist politician was his unsentimental objectivity. After the tough disappointments and disillusionments of a short initial period, he learned – or rather, his latent ability reawakened – to see things as they really were, without any illusions. This way he could finally realize that the concept of an empire, which they wanted to build his power on, was a mere illusion. On the other hand, the power of the Hungarians, whose efforts were intentionally underrated before him, was not an illusion. The illusion was the restoration of the Roman-German Empire. And he saw that it was necessary to definitively recognize the national integrity of Germany and Italy. True enough, such an unsentimental attitude has more to do with self-restraint, sacrifice and compromises than with concepts. But as the goal takes shape subsequently from the way leading to it, the concept takes shape subsequently from the sacrifices and compromises. It would be equal to blindness not to see the most personal and most decisive contribution of Franz Joseph to both the Hungarian Compromise and the German-Austrian-Hungarian alliance. Another point we cannot deny is that both of them are some sort of concepts.

Obviously, just like the Swiss ruler, a Habsburg statesman must also give up the kind of popularity some state representatives such as Washington or Bismarck used to spark a nation’s imagination. If you are expected to be clear-headed, you must not be self-conceited, and if you are to belong to everyone, you may not be possessed by one or the other. We can declare, without any exaggeration, that since Matthias we Hungarians have never had such a Hungarian hearted king as Franz Joseph. But it would be a disgrace to express our sorrow with any of the national colors at his grave, whether it be red, white and green or the Germans’ cornflower symbol. This crowned statesman did not only represent his empires, states or peoples, but also their cohesion, which necessarily stems from their history, geography and economy, and to the extent such cohesion compels and allows them to integrate. He knew exactly what this extent was in both respects, and this is demonstrated by the war where the monarchy, which had been condemned to death, proved to survive and that showed that both Franz Joseph’s concessions and reservations paid off, with few exceptions.”[27]

So Ignotus was of the opinion that it was Franz Joseph’s attitude as a realist politician that had led to a lack of imagination and an inability of emotional identification which ultimately formed a concept and which was the only possibility to maintain and keep the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, which Ignotus did support.

His death inspired poets as well. For example, Marcel Vidor[28] wrote a poem in the paper entitled A Hét.

This brief overview, which does not cover all press organs, highlights contents that the newspapers of various political views wanted to communicate to the public. Let me stress that this was all done in the midst of the existing restrictions of culture and power, which may raise doubts concerning their sincerity, however, in retrospect, it is hard to tell whether it was the spirit of inner conviction or the constraint of laudatory loyalty that dictated those lines.

Based on the foregoing, what the Hungarian public learned about Franz Joseph was that he was a man of historic significance, he raised Hungary to the standards of Western Europe, he was the prince of peace, he became Hungarian hearted, he was a representative of Hungary’s greatness and glory, he bridged over eras with his personality, his politics were determined by understanding and accepting the truths of life, he was an extraordinary man, he was benevolent and wise, his activity was characterized by civil work ethos, and some thought it was his attitude as a realist politics grew to become the concept of his reign.

Of course, released from the threats of the penal code and the cultural impacts of the naturalness of death, the afterworld may rate Franz Joseph and his reign differently. All in all, based on the press materials I have studied, one thing is for sure: in November 1916 Hungary paid honor, with hardly any criticism, to the deceased King. They bid farewell to him and made us feel that something was over and a new era was to come.


The New King

The new king was named Charles People in Austria and Hungary had known since the assassination of Franz Ferdinand that this was the name of the potential new ruler but they had to be explained the regnal number he would have before his name. So it was that two short days after the death of Franz Joseph the press announced in both Austria and Hungary that the monarch would have different regnal numbers in the two halves of the empire. They wrote: “Referring to a credible source the Neue Freie Presse reports that the new ruler as the emperor of Austria will adopt the name Charles I. In Hungary he will rule under the name of Charles IV …”

The current emperor is the first Austrian emperor to be named Charles. As Hungarian king, he is Charles IV. Charles I known in Hungarian history as Charles Robert came from the House of Anjou and was father to Louis the Great. Charles II was the son of Louis Durazzo, King of Naples, he took the Hungarian throne in 1385, crowned in Székesfehérvár and fell victim to a conspiracy eleven months later. Charles III was the father of Maria Theresa and his name as Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI.[29]

It was as early as 21 November, the day of death of Franz Joseph, that Charles addressed a proclamation to the people of his empire. He noted that he wished to continue and finish the work of Franz Joseph. He declared that in the war he would rebuff all enemy attacks and help his nations to a victorious conclusion of the war. On the other hand, he also said he would bring the blessings of peace back to his nations and that he wished to be a just and loving ruler respecting equality in law as well as freedom and guaranteeing all the protection afforded by the legal system.[30]

Two days later – on November 23 – he wrote to the Hungarian Prime minister Count István Tisza the following: “Dear Count Tisza,

Driven by the intent to have myself crowned king of Hungary, Croatia-Slavonia and Dalmatia as quickly as possible, I hereby instruct you to contact Parliament and then make your proposals to me concerning these matters.

Dated: Vienna, November 23, 1916.

Charles, s.m.

Count István Tisza s.m.”[31]

Coronation was a crucial element of the Hungarian public law. Without it a king’s reign could not be regarded as fully legal, which could be a source of a variety of complications. As Ignotus wrote in the literary periodical Nyugat: “format is also of the essence in public law, and coronation that not only confers power on the king but also grants rights to the nation, is a sacred ceremony even for unceremonious sentiment … Because Hungary’s history has built up not one but two traditions around the Hungarian sacred Crown. A coronation is an act of outstanding importance but a coronation that has not taken place is equally important. The latter has been so important since Joseph II, the king who wanted the most and who committed the biggest mistake. The coronation in 1867 would not have been so beneficial and so gratifying without its failure to take place in 1848… Ever since then the question whether there will be a coronation once the reigning king is called away by fate, has been hanging in the air, just like the crown over our coat of arms. It is probably not a question of desperation – every that failed to take place in Hungary’s history so far was made up for at some point … And the answer given by the new king to the eternal question was what we wished from our hearts when he hastened to have himself crowned and by bowing his forehead under the crown of King Saint Stephen he gave a dual meaning to the sacred ceremony: the coronation took place and just as importantly, the coronation did not fail to take place. May his sacred goodwill be blessed.”[32]

No ruler could be referred to as the lawful king of Hungary before his was crowned. Such a king was officially entitled only to the title of heir king though under the rules of protocol he was to be addressed highness and could exercise all rights of governance, including that of appointment. In two aspects however, he had no legal capacity: he could not grant privileges, something no longer very important at that point. The other capacity he did not have, however, was more significant: he could not give sanction to acts of law. Consequently, he could only rule on the basis of existing laws and, for example, was not in a position to approve the country’s budget for the next year.

Under the Hungarian public law coronation comprised three important elements:

  1. Issuance of diploma
  2. The coronation ceremony
  3. Taking the coronation oath

In principle, up to several months might pass between the date on which the diploma is issued and the day of the coronation but each criteria had to be met for a coronation ceremony to be complete.

Under the concept prevailing in 1916 the monarch was to be crowned by the nation – by way of its institutionalized representative, that is, the Parliament – together with the Catholic Church. Coronation in this case is not a church act but one performed by Parliament in which the church has to participate on a mandatory basis. Coronation took place in Budapest – as that had officially been Hungary’s capital city since 1872 which was the very reason for Budapest being the venue of the national assembly. No rule was, however, in place to specify the actual site where the act of coronation was to be carried out within the capital city.

The Sacred Crown[33] had to be used in coronation for the ceremony to be legally valid.

In brief – and without mentioning some particular details – this was the essence of the coronation of Hungarian kings. Of course there was an established ritual to the procedure but at this point it is not necessary to go into detail.[34]

As I have noted, the coronation of the king was an indispensable element for the king’s power to be complete under the public law. Accordingly, when notifying Tisza of his intent to have himself crowned king of Hungary what Charles did was none other but declaring his readiness to fulfill the criteria required for taking the position of Hungary’s king.

Further to its importance under the public law the actual coronation process itself entailed a number of current political aspects as well. For István Tisza – as Hungary’s Prime Minister – it was important that the monarch should meet the requirements enshrined in Hungary’s public law. The reason for this was that Charles had not been very deeply influenced by Franz Ferdinand’s federative concepts therefore Tisza found it crucial to have the country’s rights secured as quickly as possible. Moreover, he also found the role to be undertaken in the coronation process to be highly important. In days of yore kings used to be crowned by the Palatine under the public law together with the head of the Hungarian Catholic Church, that is the Archbishop of Esztergom. Because there had been no Palatine in Hungary since 1848 the person to proceed in this function was elected by Parliament. In that case it was the then Prime Minister Gyula Andrássy. Tisza wished to take the same position in this case, to be the person acting in the position of the Palatine. That would have added considerable symbolic weight to his own political leadership. The person to take the Palatine position in the ceremony was to be elected by Parliament in which Tisza did have an indisputable majority. The parties in opposition however, questioned the legitimacy of Tisza’s intent, arguing that he only represented a single political party but not the nation as a whole. They suggested others for the role, including Arch-Duke Joseph, a member of the Habsburg family living in Hungary. Their proposal was driven not only by their hatred of Tisza but also by their intent to prevent an upstart gentry from crowning a king. An aristocrat should be crowned by another aristocrat. Just as important was that it would have been as a Protestant that Tisza would crown a Catholic. That was another thing they would not accept.

There was, however, no doubt about the likely outcome: when it came to voting in Parliament, there were 210 votes for Tisza against 103 for Archbishop Joseph.

Coronation was also important for Charles, despite the fact that some of his handful of advisers wanted to dissuade him. Count Arthur Polzer-Hoditz, Charles’ close confidante, was staunchly against coronation, asking Charles to refuse to take an oath and remain passive because taking an oath on the Hungarian Constitution would make him face conflicts that would not be possible to resolve. Charles however, had a keen eye to recognize that he must not cause legitimacy problems in a country at war and that he had secure the legitimacy of his reign over a Monarchy already ridden by internal political tensions. It was also obvious for him that the country was in need of a new budget and that the coming negotiations concerning an economic compromise between Austria and Hungary were to be carried out and closed so there was a need for full legitimacy. For this very reason he requested Tisza to make arrangements for the coronation to take place as quickly as possible.[35]

His wife Zita, his son Ottó and Charles arrived in Budapest at about two o’clock in the afternoon on Wednesday, December 27, 1916 and left the capital city at about six in the afternoon on December 30. In other words, he spent a little more than a mere three days on having himself crowned King of Hungary.

I do not intend to discuss all of the events that took place during those three days but the royal family’s stay in Budapest attracted great public interest. According to some sources more than two hundred thousand people wished to see the new ruler along the route between Budapest’s Nyugati (west bound) railway station and Buda Castle.[36]

The issuance of the diploma was a prerequisite for coronation. This was officially drafted by Parliament – that is, by a committee of 36 representatives of the two Houses of Parliament – and was handed over to the Monarch upon his arrival in Budapest, who in turn was required to make a declaration on its acceptance. It was on December 27 that Charles received the Parliament’s delegation who handed over the diploma approved by Parliament and it was on the next day, on the 28th, that Charles declared his acceptance of the document. The document (diploma inaugurale) identified the legal framework of ruling Hungary.

The substantive elements of the diploma had been unchanged since the early 18th century.

The diploma contained five essential points. In the first one the King declares that he would maintain the order of the inheritance of the throne and pledges to observe Hungary’s laws, constitution, lawful autonomy, privileges and territorial integrity. In the second point he commits to keep and safeguard the Sacred Crown in Hungary. The third point prescribed that the recovered territories and those to be recovered would be annexed to the territory of Hungary. In the fourth point he declares that in case succession through both the male and female lines of royal family is broken, the right to elect a king would be returned to the nation. In the fifth point he declares in regard to his successors that future heir kings will also be bound to commit themselves to the securities guaranteed by the diploma.

The wording of Charles’ diploma was practically identical to that of the one issued upon the coronation of Franz Joseph, even in that both documents were written in the Hungarian language. There were, however, some minor alterations. On the one hand, the way Charles got into the ruler’s position in the order of the inheritance of the throne was described and on the other hand, in the wake of the Hungarian – Croatian compromise of 1868 the diploma contained specific reference to Croatia, Slavonic and Dalmatia. Another subject of debate was whether the diploma should contain the ruler’s lesser or greater title, but eventually the greater one was chosen, the one comprising the Austrian emperor and the Hungarian king title without separation.[37] (The coronation oath included the so-called lesser title.)[38]

The procedure was rehearsed on December 29 in the Mathias church, the venue of ceremony, and coronation took place there on December 30.[39]

The third key element of legal validity besides diploma and the coronation ceremony was the coronation oath. In terms of content elements it was identical to the coronation diploma, but it was much less extensive. While coronation itself took place in the church, the coronation oath was taken on Trinity Square near the outside the church in the Castle District. In the diploma the King expressed his will to secure the country’s constitutional order and after coronation this was publicly confirmed by the oath. After the oath was taken, the coronation ceremony continued on St. George Square near Trinity Square where the king rode his horse up a mound built up of earth sent to Buda from all jurisdictions of Hungary and slashing with his sword towards the four points of the compass he declared that in case of an attack he would be ready to defend Hungary.

The political elite had been making preparations for the coronation since the beginning of December. A Coronation Ceremony Arranging Committee was set up, comprising four subcommittees. The Artistic and Technical Subcommittee was the most interesting one, chaired by Count Miklós Bánffy[40], in essence the leader and main director of the artistic aspects of the ceremonies. Bánffy invited outstanding professionals to assist him. The coronation church was decorated by Jenő Lechner[41], the podium for oath-taking was designed by Móric Pogány[42], while the mound for the symbolic slashing with the sword was created by Károly Kós.[43]

The coronation event was unanimously found to have been an outstanding success, the artists did a great job. It was learned only later that the story nearly ended in tragedy. One hour after the dress rehearsal on the 29th – in which the ruler also participated – the following happened according to Bánffy’s memoir: “When, after about an hour or so, it ended and I remained there by myself, one of the 4000-candle lamp over the altar, invisibly installed in a tent over the sanctum, lighting with full power during the rehearsal, was blown up by the heat. Shrapnel of glass rained down, sprinkling the altar with small razor-sharp pieces of crystal. Such an accident had to be prevented from occurring during the coronation ceremony. Lighting of the scene at the altar, the act of coronation, was a must and one could not count on sunshine in December so based on the electrician’s advice an inch-thick glass plate was quickly produced to fully block the bottom of the space in which the electric lights were installed.”[44]

The coronation ceremony took place the next day and what could easily have caused tragedy occurred right after the event. Let us see again what Bánffy wrote about it: “The one-inch thick glass plate covering the source of light over the altar cracked from the heat and hardly had the church been left by all, it crushed onto the altar, with an edge as sharp as a pole-axe.”[45]

One might prefer not to think what could have happened if the broken glass plate fell down during the ceremony. Hungary and Austria could easily found themselves in need of a new king and emperor.

However, the public did not know about this. Nonetheless, they saw that at the outdoor events of the coronation process (during the oath and the coronation sword-strokes) the crown tilted on Charles’s head, which they definitely thought to be a bad omen.

Of course, the explanation to this phenomenon was much more prosaic than those concerned with finding some sinister signs had predicted. The inner diameter of the Hungarian crown is 63.5 cm, while the head perimeter of an average person is approximately 56‑58 cm. This means that the crown is too large and, let me note, it is in no way comfortable to wear as it weighs 2056 grams[46]. The person wearing it has to carry an extra weight of more than two kilos on his neck. Before Franz Joseph’s coronation the crown was lined with some golden fabric and an internal strap made from corkwood was added to prevent it from tilting on the person’s head. When Charles IV was crowned the crown was re-lined but no attention was paid to the prevention of possible tilting. The persons in charge of this did a careless job, which led to the tilting of the crown. Also, as it is apparent from several photos, the crown slipped onto Charles’s forehead lower than it should have.

In addition to the mandatory parts required under public law, some further elements, arising out of traditions rather than legal requirements, were incorporated into the coronation process.

One example is the coronation dinner consisting of 18 courses, with golden tableware. However, no one touched the food because the king offered it to the injured who were being cured in the army hospital.

Another tradition was the court procession and introduction to the royal family (defilier-cour), which turned out to be a group of people introducing themselves because the royal couple was about to set off on a journey.

A similar traditional element was that the nation gave the royal couple a coronation gift of 50 thousand forints each, which Charles and Zita offered for charitable purposes: for helping war widows and orphans.

Furthermore, after the coronation, a ceremony was held in Matthias Church, where the newly crowned monarch inaugurated “golden-spurred warriors”[47].

Based on the prime minister’s proposal, it was at this event that officers with outstanding military achievements during the war were declared golden-spurred warriors. It was Bánffy’s idea that frontline soldiers would line up in their everyday military uniforms and the richly decorated church was filled with people dressed in field-gray clothes. According to Bánffy’s report: “They were all frontline officers. Field-gray uniforms. Worn-out. Patched. Ragged leather belts, discolored straps. Apparently, the tired boots were brushed too many times to look well-polished. Those with crutches and artificial legs were at the front. Limping, pattering, short of breath. In fact, the tragedy of the battlefield poured in through the door and filled the space in front of the altar, which had previously been glistening with glory.

Some of them, the more crippled ones, flopped down on chairs. The uninjured, to whom fate was merciful, were standing in the lines straight, in strict soldierly lines. All of them were wearing shirts covered with medals, signs, and service ribbons. They were all speechless. They were not even talking to each other, and they were gazing with apathy. This is how those who glimpse death day by day look.

This turn truly reminds us of the Divine Comedy, first in the Paradiso and then in the Inferno.

They were lining and waiting. They did not look right or left, they seemed as if they had been waiting for the command before an attack…

The king returned. In his crown and his cloak. He sat down in the throne, which was drawn forward. The first name was announced.

A broken, gray human wreck struggled to his feet, leaning on two black crutches. His serviceman caught him to prevent him from falling. He assisted him in making the first couple of steps. He collapsed on the throne step while his shoulders were being struck by St. Stephen’s sword three times. Then he was lifted from the ground somehow and he staggered out of the church with the help of his servant.”[48]

48 golden-spurred warriors were inaugurated.[49] 22 of them were aristocrats, that is, barons, counts and princes. Since the inaugurations took place on the basis of the prime minister’s personal recommendations, it was no surprise that two of his relatives were granted this honor.

As far as I am concerned, I have no doubts that the prime minister recommended officers who had actually accomplished remarkable feats of arms, yet I am sure that the social composition of Hungarian war heroes with a commission rank was quite different in reality. It is hard to believe that nearly 46% of the heroic war feats were carried out by aristocrats, while the ratio of aristocrats in society as a whole was negligible, and so was it among commissioned officers.

It was a ceremony of the political elite and, for this very reason, a much higher percentage of the upper social class was represented than what would have been justified based on the ratio of frontline soldiers in society. The political elite glorified their own social background.

Another common law practice involved the conferral of titles, ranks[50] and medals of honor after the coronation. (Some 40‑50 people received medals, including two leading politicians of the following era, Count István Bethlen[51] and Count Kunó Klebelsberg[52].)

The coronation process was not only a rather important act of public law, but it was also seen as a kind of political-cultural representation of Hungary in those days. This representation was reflected in the details attached to the coronation ceremony but not essential under the public law, and this had a key role in respect of the mandatory elements prescribed by the public law. A new component of the entire process was the addition of the National Anthem, which was played exactly three times at the various venues.

But on the whole, it was mostly a manifestation of aristocratic Hungary. As the paper Hét reported in a rather polished tone: “The crown came from Rome, but it became Hungarian in its fate and power, its glory and sorrow alike. Now it rests as a sanctity on the most beautiful altar of God’s elegant house in Buda, and again this Roman gold jewel claims the full array of eastern glamour and splendor that the Hungarian lord now wears on his body on festive occasions. The fur-caps and dolmans, luxurious golden embroideries and stitch-works, cordovan boots and gemmed hats, once exchanged for villages and forests (as well as men and serfs), all reflect the onetime glittering and gorgeous grandeur of Eastern aristocracy… While this dazzling splendor of the old world flares up once again around the holy crown, beyond the borders of the country a heroic suit becomes a fadeless memory in the minds of the forthcoming generations. Richness on one side and poverty on the other, but upper-class Hungarians also had their shadows, even if in the crowning procession we can only see Máté Csák[53] and Bánk[54], the grand seigneur. We cannot see Tiborcz[55], a name held by millions, but only one of them is worth remembering.”[56]

Or else, as Miklós Bánffy expressed it when seeing the ladies of the bedchamber marching in for the coronation ceremony: “Their beautiful Hungarian dresses made them look as if the family photos of the past centuries had come to life. Amazing diamond tiaras and bonnets with beaded jewels were glistening in the flood of light all over the place. It was the last procession of our magnificent past.”[57]

At the beginning of the new era, however, it was the old Hungary that showed herself.


Zita and Otto

As was wont to happen, the attention of the public and the press came to be focused primarily on the new king. Since however, the new ruler was accompanied by his family, the family members also came under the limelight. At that time Charles’s wife Zita was 24, while the crown prince Otto was 4 years of age. The king’s wife also played a role in the coronation procedure in Matthias Church; the Sacred Crown was held to her right shoulder during the ritual. Otto was only one of the spectators in the church. The family also was present as spectators at the outdoor venues of the coronation ceremony.[58]

No newspaper failed to make mention of Zita and Otto in their coverage of the coronation procedure; both of them were described in very positive terms. This is what the daily “Az Újság” wrote about Otto for instance, for whom it was the very first public appearance in Hungary: once everybody had taken seat in the church “and the heir to the throne has freedom of movement from that point on, and it’s just as though he has just popped out of the one thousand and one nights’ fairy tales. A true little prince, standing there just like in the story, looking the way we used to imagine him in our own long-gone childhood dreams. His little garment and boots of pure gold, only his tiny fur hat is made of ermine, from beneath which his golden locks peak out inquisitively. A hearty ovation is reverberating in the church, people are beckoning to the little prince with their very hearts and he seems to be fully aware of this outpour of love for him. He appears to be a little bit self-conscious, wishing to stop for a moment and watch the unfolding wonder from closer range, and a little calmer. But that cannot be because Brigadier General Wallis – holding his tiny hands – is striding forward and the little prince cannot keep up with him, even though he is being forced to run along. Nonetheless, he keeps throwing kisses with his left hand to the people who are celebrating him and who cannot have enough of watching and adoring him. And everyone is clearly aware of how this extraordinary child, the four-year-old prince, Hungary’s future king, is just being closed for good in his or her heart.”[59]

The crown prince was seated together with Ferdinand, King of Bulgaria, who – holding himself to be excelled by none in the knowledge of European royal family trees – kept continuously talking to that little heir to the throne, who was quite baffled and disturbed by that incomprehensible torrent of words.[60]

But Zita drew similarly focused attention. According to her biographer: “Zita was one of the central figures of the coronation ceremony; she first came into the limelight as the wife of the new emperor. In Franz Joseph’s burial ceremony she hid behind a black veil but in the coronation ceremony in Buda she appeared, a glorious beauty, dressed as truly befits a queen.”[61]

Zita took part in the coronation ceremony wearing the coronation garment prepared partly in Budapest and partly in the town of Pozsony. Zita had requested that a traditional Hungarian dress be sawn for her; therefore the garment was fashioned after a classic Hungarian dress. The model used had been worn by a Hungarian noblewoman during the era of Maria Theresa. Some fifty seamstresses worked on creating the new dress.[62]

As tradition would have it the coronation pall – which most likely belonged to St. Stephen and is thus a thousand years old piece of clothing – was part of the coronation ceremony and any weakened or torn parts had to be mended by the new queen. And this is what Zita did, so besides a dress being sawn for her, she was also sawing.

Moreover, on the evening of December 27, Zita welcomed the members of Parliament in Hungarian in the royal Castle Palace, which was, of course, covered by the press. The use of the Hungarian language was liked by all – despite the fact that Zita’s command of the Hungarian language was far from “perfect”.[63]

All these are only meant to illustrate how the family’s presence benefited the perceptions being formed of the new king – he was brought closer to the day-to-day world from which he was distanced by the coronation ceremony.


Expectations facing the new king

A major Hungarian poet, Árpád Tóth[64] wrote this poem before the coronation. The last line of the poem is this: “Even war should acclaim peace!”[65]

A brief, to-the-point rendering of an idea. This was all people were longing for.

But of course, the whole of the picture is somewhat more complex.

After Charles’s proclamation on November 21 the daily Friss Újság wrote: Charles “will lead his Hungarian people to prosperity.”[66] The wording became somewhat clearer one day later: “Charles wants to use his best efforts to put an end to the sacrifices and horrors of war. He came to the throne right from the battlefield, from facing the atrocity of war to rule a country. His noble soul was filled by grief over what he saw there and he wishes to bring the bloodshed to an end. His first goal is to accomplish what is being prayed for by millions. But his words, spoken by a king, also express the will and dedication of millions. He wants peace but he wants only peace that befits the honor of our arms and our most vital interests.”[67]

Charles was intended to be shown as a creditworthy ruler identifying with the Hungarians. As is indicated by the following quotation: “One who drops to his knees on the altar’s steps and touches his forehead to the ground while praying during service, the way we witnessed him doing, may be none but a faithful, a religious soul. One who cuts with the sword the way he did: he is filled with resolve and power. One who loves his son the way he does, can only be a very good man. We have seen him a good husband, good father, a docile son of the church, a strong man, a law-abiding ruler and a general who cares about the fate of his soldiers.

And we heard him saying right after the coronation procedure: my beloved Hungarian nation! Let us keep these words in our good memory. Centuries had gone by without a Hungarian hearing such words. The Hungarian is also my “nation”. And it is yours too, dear reader. It is mine because I am a member of it. I am a part of it. I come from it. Mine is its glory, its sorrow is mine and I share its prosperity and misfortune alike.

The king also refers to the Hungarian as “his nation”. And this is a confession that feels good to hear, a confession that warms one’s heart. He not only wants to rule over the country but also proclaims that he is one with the nation, this is what he confesses because this is what he feels. And that he even proclaims this, it is a sign that this is a new-begot feeling either. It has taken time for this sentiment to have sprung up, developed and matured in its full and noble form.

“There are so many things making Hungarians feel like it is time to look into the future with high hopes!”[68]

Arguments were sought for and found, to justify the king’s identification with the Hungarian nation. Such as: “The royal house realized during the times of the great trials and tribulations that the constitutional Hungary was its staunchest pillar. There was a time when Austria was afraid to see Hungary growing stronger. Now they can see that Austria would have long been engulfed by the Russian, Italian, Serbian and Romanian waves, had it not been for the Hungarian soldier standing guard everywhere so loyally.”[69]

From all this it was concluded that Charles would support Hungarian national endeavors: “There is full understanding between king and nation. The power of the Hungarian state, its structure growing ever stronger on the basis of Hungarian national traditions is not an obstacle but a major pillar in the global historical concept of the Habsburgs’ power. There is no need for looking at the king – who wished to hear the solemn sounds of the Hungarian Anthem after taking his oath – with a sensitiveness full of concern for him, and the king needs not be sensitive to our wishes aimed at accomplishing our national endeavors.”[70]

Others expected that the harmony between king and nation, and the support of the Hungarian national endeavors, might provide opportunities for reforms to transform the country: “No longer has the dynasty any reason for looking at Hungarian national endeavors with hesitation. The Hungarian nation needs not look at its laws with concern when it has found that the security of its laws is assured even by the very character of its king and his way of thinking. The new era looming beyond the world war will find the Hungarian nation being headed by a new leader. And we are looking forward to it all happy and hopeful, because the greater powers required for making increased efforts have been released by the easing of the political professions. The consequences of the war are bringing about new tasks and transformations to be tackled and carried out by Hungary’s public life and the full harmony and agreement of emotions and way of thinking between the nation and its king enable the nation to successfully carry out these tasks. Political problems are being replaced by social and economic tasks. These are the things that make the coming era a new one, a new era that we are bound to be facing.”[71] The social and economic tasks the tackling of which they are thinking about, are not detailed. However, they have a feeling that the war is the beginning of a new era and they convey that feeling.

It is in the atmosphere of the new era that articles claiming women’s rights and social opportunities appear. The magazine called “Woman” for instance wrote before the coronation: “Franz Joseph opened before women the doors of the university that had been founded by his ancestor and predecessor Maria Theresa. Some of his girl grandchildren go to grammar school and even in matters of marriage he was more understanding and lenient towards his family members than so many of the money aristocracy of Leopold Town, haughty landowners, stick-in-the-mud magnate parents or rural civic families.

This is what we recall when the image of the deceased old man dissipates before our eyes. And this is what we remember when we turn with questions in our eyes, to a young couple who have just obtained an unimaginable power … King Charles chose peace and the right of man as the foundations of his coronation manifesto: in this he will meet the determined Hungarian women’s society who know that the war was not a thing by itself but had been made by man and that even peace can only be created by very hard work.”[72]

The tone grows even more demanding after the coronation: “No woman’s will, no thoughts of any woman’s brains, no emotions of any woman’s heart had been invited to take part in the coronation of the Hungarian king and queen!”

This event is yet another illustration that the Hungarian women and Hungarian mothers – together with a large proportion of men – are still excluded from the framework of the constitution.

It is greatly unjust from our perspective that in a country in which we could glorify ladies such as Maria Theresa and Elisabeth, the Hungarian woman is still being forced to go begging and there she is still begging in vain, for being included among the political entities of the nation … The work of the 1867 Compromise was, however, not perfect: the bulk of the Hungarian nation, Hungarian women as a whole, were not made a part of the new freedom.” They expect women’s rights to be enabled by the new ruler. They write: “The character of the new ruler, however, invites new hopes.”[73]

And they discussed Hungary’s social problems not only in the light of women’s rights. Quite interestingly, two authors – holding very different views of the world and heading in very different directions in their later lives – expressed very strong expectations concerning the new king.

One of them was Lajos Bíró, who became foreign state secretary in the government of the civic democratic revolution following the disintegration of the Monarchy and then emigrated – with a temporary intermission – to become co-worker of the Sándor (Alexander) Korda who became a world-famous film director. His scenarios helped many a film to become hugely successful. After the coronation ceremony Bíró wrote: “Fate prevented your predecessor who was called the monarch of peace by his age, to finish his life as the monarch of peace. May fate let you be inaugurated by the beginning of your reign and then continuously embellished by long decades of your rule, with the unique title of the monarch of peace. A young will – so we are already witnessing – may do wonders. A suffering world is longing for wonders to be done by a young will. You are being hailed by those marching towards death, from ten battlegrounds, oh young king; clouded looks of those about to start off to their deaths are searching for you through country after country, oh young king, waiting atremble for your answer: will you bestow life upon those marching off to their deaths. […]

Your faithful Hungary was bleeding even during peacetime, young king. She was tormented by disease, poverty and misery. Hundreds of thousands of young people fled and ran to America from this bountiful and beauteous country. Can it continue like this? Once peace comes, will not come a new world with it by the joint will of the people and the king? Hail, young king, you are being hailed, yearning and hoping, by millions of your people.”[74]

The other author is István Milotay. He did not contribute to the production of world-famous films but he became a major figure of the Hungarian political right between the two world wars. Both as a writer and as a politician he supported the idea of a Christian national Hungary which entailed, of course, supporting the anti-Jewish politics of the Horthy era as well.

Even before the coronation Milotay writes: “At the coronation of the new king of Hungary Charles IV – if I may use these lightly frivolous words – the historicising backdrop and the costume colors will again be made up of representatives of the same social classes for the most part that stood around the throne of the deceased Franz Joseph I in the Church of Our Lady in Buda Castle and whose crowds thronged the streets of the old town of Pest around the coronation hill in the shadow and under the protection of the sword swished toward the four points of the compass. Delegates of the Hungarian aristocracy, the high priests, the Parliament and the towns and counties. This however, is not more than a mere larva, a stately dressed shadow of their neglected class whose once formidable power is now dwindling away inside. Those holding the actual political, social and economic power will, for the time being and for the last time now, be standing around in the background, since outside, in the real world, they have already broken through, galloped over and trampled on these historical barriers… And the new king, as he may look over this expanse, over the crowd of the delegates of the new Hungarian society around him, may realize some fleeting questions being formed in his soul: which ones of you may I truly count on, which ones of you should I build my country on so that it is as strong as a rock, like the one on which the Redeemer once built his own? The king will look around in the wide open space and he will surely see – just like and where Franz Joseph did – the delegates of the people of the earth too, the people whom he saw marching along in endless files, into suffering, death and self-sacrifice, on the distant front lines of the war. That people occupied only a modest part of the space, somewhere in the background, waiving with their hats to Franz Joseph. Since then – and this is our only solace, source of strength and hope – this people has come a long way in the history of Hungary. Having left that restricted space in the background that people has become a giant and is now in the centre of everything, the faceless crowd has turned into the protagonist, more and greater than any other player as is now realized by the true.

  1. Charles saw this giant grow on the battlefields. When he looks around on the top of the coronation hill in his soul he will fly over the expanses, plains, hills, waters and millions of people of the land he has just been bequeathed, what we will be wishing and praying for is this: may this figure catch his eyes and may his eyes rest on this figure for the longest time of all.”[75]

And after the coronation, true to his concept that the new king should rely not on obsolete social classes that have forgotten to leave behind their historical stage set, he writes: “IV. Neither Charles nor the nation has anything in the past that they should mutually forget about and forgive each other. IV. Charles comes to join us with a storm in his heart and mind, a young man with a wreath of shared memories, struggles and suffering whereby the king and his nation got to know each other in a war, in the same camp, on a battlefield, fighting for shared interests. To him the question of whether he might trust the Hungarian nation is answered by battlegrounds and endless waves of graves in war cemeteries. After encounters whereby he got to know the Hungarian nation on the vast plains of Galitia and Poland, in the Carpathians and the hills of Serbia or at Doberdo, in possession of such a past and under the weight of such experiences, now isn’t it clear for all why Hungarians look upon him like upon a young groom, with an expectation that his hand, raised upon taking his oath, and his sword swishing to the four points of the compass, is tearing up a carpet behind which a new era is looming.”[76]

One shared element between the above ways of thinking one of which came to turn towards the political left and the other to the right later on, is that they were thinking in terms of social reforms, holding that the political Hungary which manifested itself in the course of the coronation procedure, should become a thing of the past. And this is the expectation that they projected into the new king.

One might say that it was the new era itself that was speaking through their words.




Charles failed to carry out the tasks undertaken in the coronation diploma. He could not protect Hungary – its territory and constitutional set-up – he failed to protect his throne and he even failed to provide for his successor on the throne. He failed to meet the expectations he was facing and he failed to secure a fair peace for the Monarchy; he did not even have an opportunity to radically transform the social background of his reign.

The Great War wiped out his undertakings, his endeavors, his state and even himself.

His coronation brought promises for many but he failed to live up to them. And for this very reason the importance of the coronation that was once thought of as a historical event has diminished and vanished from historical memory. It can be dug up but since nothing ensued from it in the long run, it is more like a find than a tradition.

[1] This is a conference paper. The conference was held on April 9 2016 in Vienna at the Hungarian Embassy. The organizers of the conference were Der Akademische Bund Katholisch-Österreichischer Landsmannschaften; Paneuropaunion Österreich und der Kaiser Karl Gebetsliga and Hungarian Embassy.

[2] Gerő, András: Emperor Francis Joseph, King of the Hungarians. Boulder, Colorado; Center for Hungarian Studies and Publications Inc. Wayne, New Jersey, Columbia University Press, New York, 2001, p. 251.

[3] Artúr Görgey (1818-1916) was a general and minister of defense in 1848–1849 who served as the commanding officer of the Hungarian army several times during the 1848–1849 revolution and war of independence.

[4] There was another king in Hungarian history whose reign lasted longer according to Hungarian public law, namely, from 1387 to 1437, that is, for fifty years.


[6] Az utca [The Street]. In the November 22, 1916 issue of the bourgeois-radical newspaper Világ.

[7] A vidék [The Countryside]. In the November 22, 1916 issue of the conservative newspaper Budapesti Hírlap.

[8] I. Ferenc József [Franz Joseph I]. In: Budapesti Hírlap, November 25, 1916.

[9] Ferenc József temetése [Franz Joseph’s funeral]. In: Budapesti Hírlap, December 1, 1916.

[10] I. Ferenc József 1830–1916 [Franz Joseph I, 1830–1916]. In: Budapesti Hírlap, November 22, 1916.

[11] A király a ravatalon [The King on His Funeral Bier]. In: Budapesti Hírlap, November 23, 1916.

[12] A király halála [The Death of the King]. In the November 23, 1916 issue of the tabloid newspaper Esti Újság.

[13] In the November 22, 1916 issue of the liberal tabloid newspaper Az Est.

[14] Első Ferencz József [Franz Joseph I]. In the November 26, 1916 issue of the bourgeois social, literary and artistic journal A Hét.

[15] Sándor Petőfi (1823-1849) was a Hungarian poet and revolutionary, a classical author of Hungarian national poetry.

[16] Világ. November 22, 1916.

[17] King Saint Stephen was the founder of the Hungarian state, who ruled from 1000 to 1038. The day of his sanctification is still a national holiday in Hungary.

[18] Louis the Great was a king of Hungary from the Angevin dynasty reigning from 1342 to 1382. The period of his rule is regarded as one of those in which the Hungarian state was in its prime.

[19] Matthias Corvinus ruled from 1458 to 1490. He became a figure in Hungarian folklore. During his reign Hungary counted as a strong state in international terms.

[20] Meghalt a király! [The King Is Dead!]. In the November 22, 1916 issue of the early morning tabloid newspaper Friss Újság.

[21] Meghalt a király! [The King Is Dead!]. In the November 22, 1916 issue of the moderately conservative newspaper Pesti Hírlap. Obviously, the public was not only interested in praise but also in personal details, therefore the newspapers also reported on how, according to their sources, the death of the king had come about, what the funeral ceremony had been like as well as how the death mask of the king had been made. The people were also interested in the monarch’s testament. Despite the fact that the king’s will was not made public, all the following were presumed, for example: “Nobody knows the provisions of the testament related to the distribution of wealth; nevertheless, we have managed to learn some provisions from our well-informed sources. That is to say, the private wealth of Franz Joseph consists of cash, bonds and estates. Franz Joseph owned a number of immoveable properties in the area of the city of Vienna. The house at Kígyó Square in Budapest was also part of his private property. Moreover, the paintings, collections of pieces of art and hunting grounds are all worth millions. The testament covers all these assets in great detail. Obviously, the king’s two daughters, Archduchess Maria Valeria and Archduchess Gisella inherited the most. […]

Franz Joseph’s grandchildren, great grandchildren and sons-in-law are also about to receive a considerable inheritance. In addition to the provisions pertaining to the family members, the testament of the length of more than a hundred thousand characters includes passages that do not forget about loyal servants of the deceased king either. Two servants of the king, Ketterl and Schaumbauer, received a particularly big sum of money. They both inherited a quarter million crowns.

The testament also includes provisions about the funeral ceremony. On the basis of the document, it is King Franz Joseph’s last will to rest between his deceased wife Queen Elizabeth and heir presumptive Rudolf. The monarch had voiced this wish of his several times before his death. […] As already reported on above, Franz Joseph had that separate double room to the Capuchins’ tomb constructed so that this wish of his can be carried out without any changes.” See: Ferenc József végrendelete. A halotti maszk – A schönbrunni ravatal. [Franz Joseph’s Will. The Death Mask – The Schönbrunn Catafalque]. In the November 26 1916 issue of a paper of the liberal intelligentsia Budapesti Napló.

[22] I. Ferencz József [Franz Joseph I]. In the November 26, 1916 issue of the informational weekly Vasárnapi Újság.

[23] I Ferenc József [Franz Joseph I]. In the November 27, 1916 issue of the political weekly Budapesti Hétfői Hírlap.

[24] Meghalt a király! [The King Is Dead!] In the November 22, 1916 issue of the political, social and economic catholic popular tabloid Népújság.

[25] See, for example, “I. Ferenc József életrajza” [A Biography of Franz Joseph I] in the November 22, 1916 issue of the leftist political daily Népszava.

[26] “Ignotus” is the Latin word for “unknown”; the real name of the editor is Hugó Veigelsberg. He lived between 1869 and 1949.

[27] Ignotus: Ferenc József [Franz Joseph] In the December 1, 1916 issue of a 20th century Hungarian literary periodical Nyugat.

[28] Királyi alkony [Royal Sunset]. In the November 26, 1916 issue of the weekly A Hét. Marcel Vidor, poet (1876-1945).

[29] Károly király neve [The Name of King Charles]. In the November 24, 1916 issue of the daily Az Est. Discussion started of course immediately about when the portrait of the new ruler would appear on the Monarchy’s coins. (Az új király képe a pénzeken [The Portrait of the New King on Coins]. In the November 25, 1916 issue of the daily Az Est.)


[31] This letter, written by Charles, also appeared in the press.

[32] Ignotus: Koronázás [Coronation]. In the December 16, 1916 issue of the literary periodical Nyugat.

[33] There is ample literature discussing the history and the changing symbolism of the crown. Most recently: Teszelszky, Kees: Az ismeretlen korona. Jelentések, szimbólumok és nemzeti identitás [The Unknown Crown. Meanings, Symbols and National Identity]. Bencés Kiadó, Pannonhalma, 2009.

[34] I still do not wish to discuss the coronation ritual in detail.

[35] On current political conflicts relating to the coronation, see Vermes, Gábor: Tisza István [István Tisza]. Századvég, Budapest, 1994, pp. 398-406. The paper was originally published in the English language: Vermes, Gabor: István Tisza. The Liberal Vision and Conservative Statecraft of a Magyar Nationalist. (East European Monographs, Columbia University Press, 1985).


[36] A koronázás előtt. A királyi pár Budapesten. Az országgyülés küldöttsége a királynál. A hitlevél és eskütervezet átnyujtása [Before Coronation. The Royal Couple in Budapest. The Parliament’s Delegation at the Monarch. Delivery of the Diploma and the Draft of the Oath]. In the December, 1916 issue of the daily Népszava.


[37] The royal diploma and the text of the oath was enshrined in a law after the coronation. See: Act III of 1917 On the Enshrining of the Royal Diploma Issued to the Country by His Majesty the King Before His Fortunate Inauguration and Coronation and the Oath Taken upon His Coronation, in the Law of the Country:


[39] A representative publication was produced, covering the coronation: Koronázási Album. [Coronation Album] Érdekes Újság, 1917. The authors contributing to the volume: Emil Ábrányi, Zoltán Ambrus, Count Gyula Andrássy, Count Albert Apponyi, Zsolt Beöthy, Albert Berzeviczy, János Csernoch, Jenő Heltai, Ferenc Herczeg, Ede Kabos, Count Károly Khuen-Héderváry, József Kiss, Gyula Krúdy, Ferenc Molnár, Zsigmond, Viktor Rákosi, István Szomaházy, Baron Gyula Wlassics, with original contributions. József Bató, Dezső Bér, Ferenc Csont, Andor Dudits, Sándor Endrey, Lipót Gedő, Lipót Herman, Nándor Honti, Endre Komáromi-Kacz, Tibor Pólya, Bertalan Pór, József Rippl-Rónai, Gyula Rudnay, Gusztáv Végh, Margit Vészi, István Zádor with original drawings and paintings.

[40] Miklós Bánffy (1873-1950): Hungarian writer, graphic artist, stage set and costume designer, stage director, politician, and between 1921 and 1922 Minister of Foreign Affairs.

[41] Jenő Lechner (1878-1962): Hungarian architect, author of book on the history of architecture.

[42] Móric Pogány (1878-1942): Hungarian architect, urbanist, university professor, graphic artist.

[43] Károly Kós (1883-1977): Hungarian architect, writer, graphic artist.

[44] Miklós Bánffy: Emlékeimből [From my Memories]. Polis, Cluj-Napoca (Kolozsvár), 2001, p. 30. The first edition of the memoirs was brought out in 1932. Hereinafter: Bánffy 2001.

[45] Bánffy 2001, p. 44.


[47] The Order of the Golden Spur has no specific statutes. The first mention originates from the 14th century, the time of the reign of the Anjou (Angevin) kings, of the inauguration of knights of the golden spur on the occasion of the coronation.

[48] Bánffy 2001, p. 39.

[49] For the list of names see:

[50] In the case of one of the rank promotion ceremonies there was an awkward misunderstanding. A high sheriff named László Ivánka had been notified of having been given the rank of a baron while the rank concerned had been intended for another man named László Ivánka. For the documentation on the incident see: The mistake was corrected.

[51] Count István Bethlen (1874-1946): lawyer, agronomist, politician. Hungary’s Prime Minister between 1921 and 1931.

[52] Count Kunó Klebelsberg (1875-1932): Hungarian lawyer, Member of Parliament, Minister of the Interior for some time and then Minister of Religion and Public Education for nearly 10 years. A 34-minute documentary film was compiled on 2005 on the coronation ceremony. At the time of the coronation the film making companies Uher-Film and Kino-Riport were granted right to record the event. In the compilation of various fragments of footage Miklós Horthy appears in his naval officer’s uniform appears near the hill constructed for the coronation oath on Trinity square. Horthy came to be Hungary’s governor later on, between the two world wars.

[53] Máté Csák: powerful provincial lord upon the turn of the 13th and 14th centuries. His name became a symbol of the power usurper figure of the world of the orders turning against the central power.

[54] Viceroy Bánk: Slavonian viceroy who lived on the turn of the 12th and 13th centuries, later Palatine, Bailiff, and finally Lord Chief Justice. At the beginning of the 19th century József Katona – one of the first Hungarian playwrights – wrote a drama about him, which has come to be a classical national drama.

[55] Tiborc is one of the figures in Katona’s drama, the voice of peasants living in serfdom at the time.

[56] Koronázás 1916-ban [Coronation in 1916]. In the December 31, 1916 issue of the weekly A Hét.

[57] Bánffy 2001, p. 35.

[58] Otto’s dress was designed by a famous Hungarian painter Gyula Benczúr (1844-1920).

[59] A trónörökös érkezése [The Arrival of the Heir to the Throne]. In the December 31, 1916 issue of the liberal daily Az Újság. Miklós Bánffy also wrote in a similar tone about the presence of Otto. In his words: “he was a charming child”. See: Bánffy 2001. 36.p. The author of the Hungarian volume written on the occasion of the beatification of Charles also writes highly positively about Otto’s conduct. See: Kovács, Gergely: Fogadd a koronát! Károly magyar király hitvalló élete [Receive the Crown! The Confessor’s Life of Hungarian King Charles]. Új Ember, 2004. pp. 64-65.

[60] Brook-Shepherd, Gordon: A megkoronázatlan király. Habsburg Ottó élete és kora[The Uncrowned King. The Life and Times of Otto von Habsburg]. Magyar Könyvklub, Budapest, 2003. p. 49. The title of the English Edition is Uncrowned Emperor – The Life and Times of Otto von Habsburg, Hambledon Continuum, London. 2003. The book does not contain the personal memory of Otto von Habsburg about which he told me in person. People were watching the ceremony with their hats in their hands. Otto saw that many of them were bald. Later on the asked his mother who had come to the church, to which his mother answered that respectable people. As a small child, Otto thought that one would be made a respectable man by being bald, so he also determined to become bald when the time comes. Incidentally, he actually managed to go bald.

[61] Emil Csonka: Zita története. Az utolsó magyar királyné [Zita’s Story. The Last Hungarian Queen]. Eötvös Kiadó – Szent Gellért Egyházi Kiadó, Budapest-Szeged, 1989. p. 82. Hereinafter: Csonka 1989.

[62] Csonka 1989, p. 86.

[63] Csonka 1989, p. 86.

[64] Árpád Tóth (1886-1928): Hungarian poet, translator of literary works.

[65] Árpád Tóth: Óda az ifjú Caesarhoz [Ode to the Young Caesar]. In the December 16, 1916 issue of the literary weekly Nyugat.

[66] Meghalt a király! [The king is dead!]. In the November 22, 1916 issue of the daily Friss Újság.

[67] A király halála. Károly király trónra lépett [The Death of the Monarch. King Charles has Taken the Throne]. In the November 23, 1916 issue of the daily Friss Újság.

[68] A koronás király [The Crowned King]. In the January 7, 1917 issue of the weekly Vasárnapi Újság

[69] Új esztendő, új király [New Year, New King]. In the December 31, 1916 edition of the daily Népújság.

[70] A koronázás napja [Coronation Day]. In the December 31, 1916 issue of the conservative Christian daily Alkotmány.

[71] A koronázás napja [Coronation Day]. In the December 30, 1916 issue of the daily Az Újság.

[72] Trónváltozás [Change on the Throne]. In the December 5, 1916 issue of the feminist paper A Nő.

[73] Koronázás [Coronation]. In the January 5, 1917 issue of the feminist paper A Nő.

[74] A koronás király [Crowned King]. In the December 31, 1916 issue of the periodical Világ.

[75] István Milotay: Új király, új ország! [New King, New Country!]. In the November 26, 1916 political, literary and economic weekly (from 1919: daily) Új Nemzedék.

[76] István Milotay: Koronázás után [After Coronation]. In the January 7, 1917 issue of the weekly Új Nemzedék.