Archduke John of Austria

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Archduke John
Leopold Kupelwieser - Erzherzog Johann.jpg
Portrait by Leopold Kupelwieser, 1828
Imperial regent of German Empire (1848-49)
In office12 July 1848 – 20 December 1849
Predecessor Ferdinand I of Austria (President of the German Confederation)
Successor Francis Joseph I of Austria (President of the German Confederation)
Born(1782-01-20)20 January 1782
Florence, Grand Duchy of Tuscany
Died11 May 1859(1859-05-11) (aged 77)
Graz, Styria, Austrian Empire
Schenna Castle, Tyrol
Spouse Anna Maria Josephine Plochl
Issue Franz, Count of Meran
House Habsburg-Lorraine
Father Leopold II, Holy Roman Emperor
Mother Maria Luisa of Spain
Religion Roman Catholic

Archduke John of Austria (German : Erzherzog Johann Baptist Joseph Fabian Sebastian von Österreich; 20 January 1782 – 11 May 1859), a member of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine, was an Austrian field marshal and imperial regent (Reichsverweser) of the short-lived German Empire during the Revolutions of 1848.

German language West Germanic language

German is a West Germanic language that is mainly spoken in Central Europe. It is the most widely spoken and official or co-official language in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, South Tyrol in Italy, the German-speaking Community of Belgium and Liechtenstein. It is one of the three official languages of Luxembourg and a co-official language in the Opole Voivodeship in Poland. The languages that are most similar to German are the other members of the West Germanic language branch, including Afrikaans, Dutch, English, the Frisian languages, Low German/Low Saxon, Luxembourgish, and Yiddish. There are strong similarities in vocabulary with Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, although those belong to the North Germanic group. German is the second most widely spoken Germanic language, after English.

House of Lorraine Royal house of Europe

The House of Lorraine originated as a cadet branch of the House of Metz. It inherited the Duchy of Lorraine in 1473 after the death of duke Nicholas I without a male heir. By the marriage of Francis of Lorraine to Maria Theresa in 1736, and with the success in the ensuing War of the Austrian Succession, the House of Lorraine was joined to the House of Habsburg, and was now known as Habsburg-Lorraine. Francis, his sons Joseph II and Leopold II, and grandson Francis II were the last four Holy Roman Emperors from 1745 to the dissolution of the empire in 1806. Habsburg-Lorraine inherited the Habsburg Empire, ruling the Austrian Empire and Austria-Hungary until the dissolution of the monarchy in 1918.

Austrian Empire monarchy in Central Europe between 1804 and 1867

The Austrian Empire was a Central European multinational great power from 1804 to 1867, created by proclamation out of the realms of the Habsburgs. During its existence, it was the third most populous empire after the Russian Empire and the United Kingdom in Europe. Along with Prussia, it was one of the two major powers of the German Confederation. Geographically, it was the third largest empire in Europe after the Russian Empire and the First French Empire. Proclaimed in response to the First French Empire, it partially overlapped with the Holy Roman Empire until the latter's dissolution in 1806.



John was born in Florence, the thirteenth child of the Habsburg grand duke Leopold of Tuscany and Maria Louisa of Spain. He was baptized with the name of John Baptist Joseph Fabian Sebastian, [1] after the patron saint of the Tuscan capital. In 1790, Leopold succeeded his brother Joseph II as Holy Roman Emperor and his family moved from the Grand Duchy of Tuscany to the Imperial court in Vienna. Only two years later, John's elder brother Francis II ascended the Imperial throne.

Florence Capital and most populous city of the Italian region of Tuscany

Florence is a city in central Italy and the capital city of the Tuscany region. It is the most populous city in Tuscany, with 383,084 inhabitants in 2013, and over 1,520,000 in its metropolitan area.

Leopold II, Holy Roman Emperor Holy Roman Emperor

Leopold II was Holy Roman Emperor, King of Hungary, and Bohemia from 1790 to 1792, and Archduke of Austria and Grand Duke of Tuscany from 1765 to 1790. He was the earliest opponent of capital punishment in modern history. He was a son of Emperor Francis I and his wife, Empress Maria Theresa, and the brother of Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, Maria Carolina of Austria and Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor. Leopold was a moderate proponent of enlightened absolutism. He granted the Academy of Georgofili his protection. Despite his brief reign, he is highly regarded. The historian Paul W. Schroeder called him "one of the most shrewd and sensible monarchs ever to wear a crown".

Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor Holy Roman Emperor

Joseph II was Holy Roman Emperor from August 1765 and sole ruler of the Habsburg lands from November 1780 until his death. He was the eldest son of Empress Maria Theresa and her husband, Emperor Francis I, and the brother of Marie Antoinette. He was thus the first ruler in the Austrian dominions of the House of Lorraine, styled Habsburg-Lorraine. Joseph was a proponent of enlightened absolutism; however, his commitment to modernizing reforms subsequently engendered significant opposition, which resulted in failure to fully implement his programs. Meanwhile, despite making some territorial gains, his reckless foreign policy badly isolated Austria. He has been ranked, with Catherine the Great of Russia and Frederick the Great of Prussia, as one of the three great Enlightenment monarchs. His policies are now known as Josephinism. He was a supporter of the arts, and most importantly, of composers such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri. He died with no sons and was succeeded by his younger brother, Leopold II.

Archduke John of Austria, c. 1799 Arciduca Giovanni d'Austria.jpg
Archduke John of Austria, c.1799

John's native language was Italian, he learned to speak French and German fluently. Educated by the Swiss historian Johannes von Müller, he developed wide-ranging skills and interests, especially in the history and geography of the Alpine countries.

Italian language Romance language

Italian is a Romance language of the Indo-European language family. Italian descended from the Vulgar Latin of the Roman Empire and, together with Sardinian, is by most measures the closest language to it of the Romance languages. Italian is an official language in Italy, Switzerland, San Marino and Vatican City. It has an official minority status in western Istria. It formerly had official status in Albania, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro (Kotor) and Greece, and is generally understood in Corsica and Savoie. It also used to be an official language in the former Italian East Africa and Italian North Africa, where it still plays a significant role in various sectors. Italian is also spoken by large expatriate communities in the Americas and Australia. Italian is included under the languages covered by the European Charter for Regional or Minority languages in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Romania, although Italian is neither a co-official nor a protected language in these countries. Many speakers of Italian are native bilinguals of both Italian and other regional languages.

French language Romance language

French is a Romance language of the Indo-European family. It descended from the Vulgar Latin of the Roman Empire, as did all Romance languages. French evolved from Gallo-Romance, the spoken Latin in Gaul, and more specifically in Northern Gaul. Its closest relatives are the other langues d'oïl—languages historically spoken in northern France and in southern Belgium, which French (Francien) has largely supplanted. French was also influenced by native Celtic languages of Northern Roman Gaul like Gallia Belgica and by the (Germanic) Frankish language of the post-Roman Frankish invaders. Today, owing to France's past overseas expansion, there are numerous French-based creole languages, most notably Haitian Creole. A French-speaking person or nation may be referred to as Francophone in both English and French.

Johannes von Müller Swiss historian

Johannes von Müller was a Swiss historian.

Military service

During the Napoleonic Wars, John was given command of the Austrian army in September 1800, despite his personal reluctance to assume the position. He showed personal bravery in the War of the Second Coalition, but his troops were crushed at the Battle of Hohenlinden on 3 December. Demoralized by defeat, the army nearly disintegrated in the subsequent retreat, which was only stopped by an armistice arranged on 22 December. After the Peace of Lunéville in 1801, Archduke John was made General Director of the Engineering and Fortification Service, and later commander of the Theresian Military Academy in Wiener Neustadt.

Napoleonic Wars Series of early 19th century European wars

The Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815) were a series of major conflicts pitting the French Empire and its allies, led by Napoleon I, against a fluctuating array of European powers formed into various coalitions, financed and usually led by the United Kingdom. The wars stemmed from the unresolved disputes associated with the French Revolution and its resultant conflict. The wars are often categorised into five conflicts, each termed after the coalition that fought Napoleon: the Third Coalition (1805), the Fourth (1806–07), the Fifth (1809), the Sixth (1813), and the Seventh (1815).

Military history of Austria

The Military Frontier was an important way in which Austria defended itself against the Ottomans.
The following shown below is a history of the Austrian military history.

War of the Second Coalition Attempt to contain or eliminate Revolutionary France

The War of the Second Coalition (1798–1802) was the second war on revolutionary France by most of the European monarchies, led by Britain, Austria and Russia, and including the Ottoman Empire, Portugal, Naples, various German monarchies and Sweden, though Prussia did not join this coalition and Spain supported France.

In the War of the Third Coalition, John again fought the French and Bavarian forces. From 1805 he directed an able defence of several Tyrolean passes against the French and was awarded the Commander Cross of the Military Order of Maria Theresa. However, according to the Peace of Pressburg, Austria had to cede Tyrol and Vorarlberg to Bavaria. John remained obliged to Tyrol and maintained friendly contact with Baron Joseph Hormayr who forged a resistance movement against the Bavarian occupation. In 1808, John pressed for the creation of Tyrolean Landwehr forces based on the success of the Prussian Landwehr, which played a vital role in the Tyrolean Rebellion led by Andreas Hofer.

War of the Third Coalition war

The War of the Third Coalition was a European conflict spanning the years 1803 to 1806. During the war, France and its client states under Napoleon I defeated an alliance, the Third Coalition, made up of the Holy Roman Empire, Russia, Britain and others. Prussia remained neutral during the war.

First French Empire Empire of Napoleon I of France between 1804–1815

The First French Empire, officially the French Empire, was the empire of Napoleon Bonaparte of France and the dominant power in much of continental Europe at the beginning of the 19th century. Although France had already established an overseas colonial empire beginning in the 17th century, the French state had remained a kingdom under the Bourbons and a republic after the Revolution. Historians refer to Napoleon's regime as the First Empire to distinguish it from the restorationist Second Empire (1852–1870) ruled by his nephew as Napoleon III.

Electorate of Bavaria state in the Holy Roman Empire

The Electorate of Bavaria was an independent hereditary electorate of the Holy Roman Empire from 1623 to 1806, when it was succeeded by the Kingdom of Bavaria.

At the commencement of the War of the Fifth Coalition in 1809 he became commander of the Army of Inner Austria, fighting against the French forces of Eugène de Beauharnais in Italy. Under his command were the VIII Armeekorps led by Albert Gyulai and the IX Armeekorps headed by Albert's brother Ignaz Gyulai. After winning a significant victory at the Battle of Sacile on 16 April 1809, his army advanced almost to Verona. Having detached forces to besiege Venice and other fortresses, John's army was soon outnumbered by Eugène's heavily reinforced host. Worse, news of the Austrian defeat at the Battle of Eckmühl reached him and compelled him to order a retreat. Before withdrawing, he fought off Franco-Italian attacks at the Battle of Caldiero between 27 and 30 April. Attempting to blunt the Franco-Italian pursuit, he stood to fight on 8 May and was beaten at the Battle of Piave River. Trying to defend the entire border, he sent Ignaz Gyulai to defend Ljubljana (Laibach) in Carniola, while holding Villach in Carinthia with his own forces. Eugène's pursuit overran the frontier defenses at the Battle of Tarvis and wrecked a column of hoped-for reinforcements at the Battle of Sankt Michael. Forced to flee northeast into Hungary, John offered battle again but was defeated at Raab on 14 June 1809. Ordered to join his brother Archduke Charles at the Battle of Wagram on 5 and 6 July, John's small army arrived too late to avert an Austrian defeat. His brother criticized him for tardiness.

War of the Fifth Coalition 1809 conflict during the Napoleonic Wars

The War of the Fifth Coalition was fought in 1809 by a coalition of the Austrian Empire and the United Kingdom against Napoleon's French Empire and its allied Allied German states, including Bavaria. Prussia and Russia did not participate. Major engagements between France and Austria, the main participants, unfolded over much of Central Europe from April to July, with very high casualty rates for both sides. Britain, already involved on the European continent in the ongoing Peninsular War, took advantage of the Austrian intervention to launch the Walcheren Campaign, although this effort had little impact on the outcome of the conflict.

Inner Austria

Inner Austria was a term used from the late 14th to the early 17th century for the Habsburg hereditary lands south of the Semmering Pass, referring to the Imperial duchies of Styria, Carinthia and Carniola and the lands of the Austrian Littoral. The residence of the Inner Austrian archdukes and stadtholders was at the Burg castle complex in Graz.

Eugène de Beauharnais French Prince, Prince of Venice, Grand Duke of Frankfurt, Duke of Leuchtenberg, Prince of Eichstätt

Eugène Rose de Beauharnais, Duke of Leuchtenberg was the first child and only son of Alexandre de Beauharnais and Joséphine Tascher de la Pagerie, first wife of Napoleon I.

After the conclusion of the campaign, John again evolved plans for a widespread rebellion. However, upon the Treaty of Schönbrunn Austrian policies under Minister Klemens von Metternich sought a rapprochement to France. John's friend Baron Hormayr and other conspirators were arrested, the archduke himself effectively was sidelined and retired to his estates in Thernberg.

Post military

Anna Plochl [de] Anna Plochl1.jpg
Anna Plochl  [ de ]
John's proclamation to the German people of July 15, 1848 after provisionally taking central control Proklamation-Reichsverweser-1848.png
John's proclamation to the German people of July 15, 1848 after provisionally taking central control
Election of Erzherzog Johann von Osterreich 1848 as Imperial Regent (Reichsverweser) by the Frankfurt Parliament. Medal by Karl Radnitzky, obverse. Archduke John of Austria 1848 Frankfurt Br.- Medal, obverse.jpg
Election of Erzherzog Johann von Österreich 1848 as Imperial Regent (Reichsverweser) by the Frankfurt Parliament. Medal by Karl Radnitzky, obverse.
Election of Erzherzog Johann von Osterreich 1848 as Imperial Regent (Reichsverweser) by the Frankfurt Parliament. Medal by Karl Radnitzky, reverse, showing the German double-headed Imperial Eagle. Archduke John of Austria 1848 Frankfurt Br.- Medal, reverse.jpg
Election of Erzherzog Johann von Österreich 1848 as Imperial Regent (Reichsverweser) by the Frankfurt Parliament. Medal by Karl Radnitzky, reverse, showing the German double-headed Imperial Eagle.

John, tired of warfare, turned away from the military and developed a great interest for nature, technology and agriculture. He collected minerals and was active as an alpinist and hunter in the Duchy of Styria. In his early days Archduke Johann and his brother Louis had the habit of travelling to France, where the latter married Madame de Gueroust. In 1815, on his visit to the United Kingdom, John received a Doctor honoris causa degree from the University of Edinburgh. [1]

In the history of Styria, he is remembered as a great modernizer and became an important figure of identification for Styrians. His proximity to the people is given evidence to by his many contacts with the common man, by wearing the local Tracht, the Steireranzug, and by collecting and promoting the material and spiritual culture of the country.

In 1811, he founded the Joanneum Museum in Graz and the predecessor of Graz University of Technology. Some other foundations were initiated by him, such as the Styrian State Archive 1817, the Steiermärkisch-Ständische Montanlehranstalt, which was founded in 1840 in Vordernberg and later became the University of Leoben, the Styrian Society for Agriculture 1819, the Mutual Fire Insurance, the Styrian Building Society, the Landesoberrealschule in 1845 and the Society for Styrian History in 1850. His routing of the Austrian Southern Railway from Vienna to Triest over the Semmering Pass and through the Mura and Mürz valleys to Graz is particularly notable. The inheritance of his maternal uncle Duke Albert Casimir of Teschen enabled him to acquire a tin factory in Krems near Voitsberg and coal mines near Köflach, thereby he also became an industrialist. In 1840, he bought the Stainz dominion. He was already the lord of the Brandhof manor in Mariazell.

In 1829, he married Anna Plochl  [ de ] (1804-1885), the daughter of Jakob Plochl, postmaster of Aussee, and his wife Maria Anna Pilz, during a nocturnal ceremony in Brandhof. By this morganatic marriage, John was excluded from succession to the throne. Emperor Francis elevated Anna to a "Baroness of Brandhofen" in 1834 and in 1839 she gave birth to a son, Franz, the only child from the marriage. His descendants were styled "Counts of Meran" and "Barons of Brandhofen", Proprietors of Stainz and Brandhofen.

John was also a passionate mountaineer in the Eastern Alps and attempted to be the first to climb the Großvenediger. For that reason, the Erzherzog-Johann-Hütte (Adlersruhe) at the Grossglockner, and the Archduke John's Vanilla Orchid (Nigritella rubra subsp. archiducis-joannis), an orchid growing on mountain meadows, are named after him.

The Events of 1848

Even though Johann did not consider himself a liberal, he promoted some liberal ideas. He was often in conflict with the rigid Habsburg court, especially because of his morganatic marriage, though he would never espouse rebellion. He had earned great recognition in the Styrian lands and, moreover, he gained general acceptance by his jovial manners and his marriage with a middle-class woman. Certain remarks he had made in favor of German unification, including a toast at a banquet in the 1830s, added to circulating rumors that the Archduke was a man of political liberalism, even though he was kept very far from politics by the Court. [2]

Head of the Austrian Government

Rioting in the streets of Vienna caused the Imperial household to flee to Innsbruck on 17 May 1848. Based on his reputation among the masses as a liberal and his personal character as a loyal prince of the reigning House, Archduke John was appointed on 16 June to be an effective viceroy in the absence of the Emperor. He was to both open the Constituent Diet and conduct the normal business of the government. [3] By a proclamation dated 25 June and written entirely by himself, the Archduke assumed his responsibilities and set the date to open the Diet for 22 July 1848.

After he accepted the office of Regent of Germany on 5 July 1848 (see below), John maintained that he could not undertake his responsibilities in Frankfurt until he had fulfilled his responsibilities in Vienna. Therefore, he set out for Frankfurt on 8 July, the same day that the Austrian Ministry led by Count Pillersdorf fell. After being appointed Regent in Frankfurt, he returned to Vienna on 17 July, and solemnly opened the Diet on 22 July as the Emperor's representative. Shortly thereafter, the Archduke resigned his official duties and departed for Frankfurt. This caused the Diet to petition for the Emperor's return to Vienna, and he did so on 12 August.

Regent of Germany

Upon the March Revolution of 1848, the Frankfurt Parliament discussed the appointment of an all-German government replacing the Federal Convention. On a proposal by the liberal politician Heinrich von Gagern, the assembly on 28 June 1848 voted for the establishment of a central authority ( Provisorische Zentralgewalt ) and on the next day a broad majority elected Archduke John regent of the realm (Reichsverweser).

Archduke John accepted the nomination as head of the short-lived German Empire on 5 July 1848, and on 12 July the delegates of the Federal Convention, in response to public pressure, ceded their powers to him. On July 15, the day he left for Vienna, the Regent appointed the ministers Anton von Schmerling, Johann Gustav Heckscher and Eduard von Peucker to office, completed by Prince Carl of Leiningen as minister president and head of government. Nevertheless, his political office did not offer many opportunities, though all laws had to be signed by him.

On 16 July 1848, War Minister von Peucker issued an order to all German Federal Army soldiers that, on 6 August 1848, they were to parade in honor of the Regent as the supreme commander of the Army in Germany. Upon his arrival in Vienna, the Archduke was greeted by Austrian War Minister Latour, who was quite upset with the interference of the provisional government in Austrian Army affairs. The whole Austrian Ministerial Council demanded action, and, as a result, the Archduke was forced to dispatch a formal complaint as Viceroy of Austria to himself as Regent of Germany. [4]

First attempts by the government to obtain supreme command of the German Federal Army faced entrenched resistance from the member states. To strengthen support, the left-wing politician Robert von Mohl joined the Leiningen Cabinet on 9 August. Leiningen himself resigned on 6 September, after the Frankfurt assembly rejected to ratify the armistice of Malmö, signed by Prussia during the First Schleswig War. Minister Anton von Schmerling acted as head of government, until from November 1848 the cabinet gradually lost the support of the centrist Casino faction and finally its majority in parliament. Schmerling was forced to resign and on 17 December, Archduke John had to appoint Heinrich von Gagern new minister president, though he opposed his 'Lesser German' ideas.

Archduke John did not take part in the draft of the Frankfurt Constitution, which was adopted on 28 March 1849 after lengthy negotiations led by Gagern, and he pronounced against the strong position of Prussia. Determined to resign, he was once more turned over by appeals from National Assembly President Eduard Simpson. When, in April 1849, King Frederick William IV of Prussia disappointed Gagern's hopes and openly rejected the Constitution, Archduke John remained passive because the terms of his service as Regent forbade him to interfere in the Constitutional process. Prime Minister Gagern handed in his resignation on 10 May. Prussia exerted pressure on the Regent to vacate the office that he had resigned, but the Archduke insisted that he would remain out of a sense of obligation, and had powerful backing from Austria's Prime Minister, Prince Schwarzenberg, who was eager to stifle Prussian ambitions in Germany. Nevertheless, he departed for a prolonged stay at the health resort of Bad Gastein. At this point, the National Assembly was reduced to a rump parliament led by radicals and in opposition to the Regent. The Regency existed in name only, though the Archduke continued formal correspondence with Vienna and Berlin as such. He finally was allowed to resign from his office on 20 December 1849. When Archduke Johann came back to Frankfurt on a visit in 1858, he openly regretted the failure of the German unification.

Archduke John memorial in Graz IMG 0390 - Graz - Hauptplatz and Rathaus.JPG
Archduke John memorial in Graz

Mayor of Stainz

After nearly two years absence, the Archduke returned to Stainz, where he was elected the town's first mayor on 23 July 1850. This was the first and only case in Austria where a member of the Imperial family was elected mayor of a small market town. He exercised this office until 1858, represented in his occasional absence by market judge Georg Ensbrunner. [5]


Archduke John died in 1859 in Graz, where a fountain erected in his honor dominates the central square. He is buried in Schenna near Meran. He was the great-grandfather of noted conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1929–2016).




  1. 1 2 Schlossar 1878, p. 319.
  2. Heinrich von Sybel, The Founding of the German Empire by William I., 1896. Volume I, page 163.
  3. William Cox, History of the House of Austria, 1905. Page 253.
  4. Heinrich von Sybel, The Founding of the German Empire by William I., 1891. Volume I, page 228.
  5. Hans Wilfinger, Erzherzog Johann und Stainz. Verlag der Marktgemeinde Stainz, Stainz 1959 (2nd ed. 2001), pages 13 and 50.
  6. Le livre d'or de l'ordre de Léopold et de la croix de fer, Volume 1 /Ferdinand Veldekens
  7. Genealogie ascendante jusqu'au quatrieme degre inclusivement de tous les Rois et Princes de maisons souveraines de l'Europe actuellement vivans [Genealogy up to the fourth degree inclusive of all the Kings and Princes of sovereign houses of Europe currently living] (in French). Bourdeaux: Frederic Guillaume Birnstiel. 1768. p. 109.

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