Imperial Council (Austria)

Last updated
Imperial Council

Imperial Coat of Arms of Austria.svg
Lesser coat of arms of Cisleithania (1915–1918)
Houses House of Lords
House of Deputies
Founded26 February 1861 (1861-02-26)
Disbanded12 November 1918 (1918-11-12)
Preceded by Imperial Diet
Succeeded by Provisional National Assembly
Alfred III (last)
President of the House of Deputies
Gustav Groß (last)
Last election
Meeting place
Wien Parlament um 1900.jpg
Parliament Building

The Imperial Council (German : Reichsrat; Czech: Říšská rada; Polish: Rada Państwa; Italian: Consiglio Imperiale; Slovene: Državni zbor) was the legislature of the Austrian Empire from 1861, and from 1867 the legislature of Cisleithania within Austria-Hungary. It was a bicameral body: the upper house was the House of Lords (German : Herrenhaus), and the lower house was the House of Deputies (German: Abgeordnetenhaus). To become law, bills had to be passed by both houses, signed by the government minister responsible, and then granted royal assent by the Emperor. After having been passed, laws were published in the Reichsgesetzblatt (lit. Reich Law Gazette). In addition to the Imperial Council, the fifteen individual crown lands of Cisleithania had their own diets (German: Landtage).


The seat of the Imperial Council from 4 December 1883 was in the Parliament Building on Ringstraße in Vienna. Prior to the completion of this building, the House of Lords met in the Estates House of Lower Austria, and the House of Deputies met in a temporary wooden building designed by Ferdinand Fellner on Währinger Straße. The Imperial Council was dissolved on 12 November 1918, following Austria-Hungary's defeat in the First World War.


In the course of the Revolutions of 1848, representatives from those crown lands of the Austrian Empire incorporated in the German Confederation met in a "Imperial Diet" at Vienna. The convention was inaugurated by Archduke John on 22 July 1848 and after the Vienna Uprising of October moved to Kroměříž (German: Kremsier) in Moravia. It not only abolished the last remnants of serfdom in the Austrian lands, but also undertook to draw up a constitution that would reflect the Empire's character of a multinational state, especially in view of the Austroslavic movement led by the Czech politician František Palacký.

On 4 March 1849, however, minister-president Felix zu Schwarzenberg took the initiative and imposed the March Constitution, which promised the equality of all Austrian people and also provided for a bicameral "Imperial Diet". It was nevertheless only a sidestep, as Schwarzenberg three days later forcefully disbanded the Kremsier Parliament and finally had the constitution annulled with the New Year's Eve Patent ( Silvesterpatent ) of 1851. Emperor Franz Joseph went on to rule with absolute power. In place of the Imperial Diet, he installed an "Imperial Council" (German: Reichsrat), whose members were appointed on his authority.

In the 1850s, chronic fiscal malaise became acute. The dire nature of the situation was revealed to the Emperor after the Second Italian War of Independence and the bloody defeat of Austrian forces at the 1859 Battle of Solferino. To calm the domestic front and to gain the support of wealthy Bourgeoisie, Franz Joseph issued the October Diploma in 1860. An "Imperial Diet", still meant as a conciliatory body, was supposed to have 100 delegates elected by provincial diets that were to be established for each Austrian crown land. This electoral system, however, satisfied neither the bourgeois liberals nor the Hungarian nobility, who refused to accept any authority higher than the Hungarian Diet.

For this reason, the Diploma was discarded and replaced by the February Patent of 1861, which was drafted by liberal minister-president Anton von Schmerling. This established a bicameral Imperial Council: the upper house was the House of Lords (German : Herrenhaus), and the lower house was the House of Deputies (German: Abgeordnetenhaus).

House of Lords

The House of Lords was convened for the first time on 29 April 1861. It was similar in form to the present day House of Lords of the United Kingdom. It met in the Palais Niederösterreich in Vienna until the Parliament Building was completed in 1883. The House of Lords was composed of:

The last meeting of the House of Lords was held on 30 October 1918. The meeting was adjourned within five minutes. The House of Lords chamber of the Parliament Building was destroyed by bombing during the Second World War. It was rebuilt in a contemporary style, and serves as the chamber of the now democratically elected National Council of the Republic of Austria.

House of Deputies

Seats of the House of Deputies of the Imperial Austro-Hungarian Council.Situation after the November 1911 Cisleithanian legislative elections. The seats are marked by nationality. Plan des Sitzungssaales des Abgeordnetenhauses November 1911.jpg
Seats of the House of Deputies of the Imperial Austro-Hungarian Council.Situation after the November 1911 Cisleithanian legislative elections. The seats are marked by nationality.

Upon establishment of the Imperial Council by the February Patent, elections to the House of Deputies were conducted through a system of "curiae". [1] In this system, there were 343 deputies elected by the diets of the crown lands. The diets themselves were elected by four curiae. The curiae were essentially assemblies of certain social classes. There was one curia for the landowning class, one curia for the towns and cities, one curia for the chambers of commerce, and one curia for rural communities. Each curia would elect a select number of deputies to the diets, which would in turn elect deputies to the Imperial Council. [1] To be part of the curia of the cities and the curia of the rural communities, a man had to pay at least ten guilders in tax. This system was rejected by Hungary, as with the October Diploma, and Hungary never sent any delegates to the Council. The February Patent was suspended in 1865.

With the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, Hungary would no longer send deputies to the Imperial Council. [2] Instead, the Empire was reorganised into two equal parts: Cisleithania and Transleithania. Cisleithania consisted of the Austrian part of the Empire, officially "the Kingdoms and Lands represented in the Imperial Council". Transleithania consisted of the Kingdom of Hungary and its subordinate, the Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia. Instead of a subordinate regional diet, Hungary was granted its own parliament, and essentially attained the status of "sovereign state". The curia system, however, remained in place. [3] [4] At this point, the Council had extensive legislative powers in all Cisleithanian matters. Appointment and dismissal of the government of the Cisleithania and the Minister-President remained the right of the emperor. The number of deputies each diet sent to the Imperial Council was set by the Compromise. There were 203 deputies in total: [5]

The next great change to the Imperial Council came in 1873. [6] The number of deputies was increased from 203 to 353. Deputies would no longer be elected by the diets of the crown lands. Instead, they would be directly elected through the curia system for six year terms. [7] The curia of the landowners elected 85 deputies, that of the chambers of commerce 21, that of cities 118, and that of the rural communities 128. Overall, only 6% of the population of the Empire could vote in these elections. Tax requirements for entry into the curiae remained the same, but was lowered to five guilders in 1883. [8]

On October 10, 1893, minister-president Eduard Taaffe, 11th Viscount Taaffe submitted a bill in the House of Deputies that intended to abolish the fourth curia, and introduce universal suffrage in the third curia for those men below the five guilder threshold. [8] This was fervently opposed, and was not passed into law. Despite this, the number of deputies was increased to 425 on 14 June 1896 through reforms by minister-president Count Kasimir Felix Badeni. A fifth curia was added, which granted universal suffrage to all men over the age of 24. [9] This curia elected 72 deputies, shifting the balance of power away from the nobility.

Debating chamber of the House of Deputies Vienna - Parlament - 6267.jpg
Debating chamber of the House of Deputies

Minister-president Paul Gautsch von Frankenthurn introduced the final electoral reform in the history of the House of Deputies in 1906, after mass demonstrations by the rising Social Democratic Party, and despite fierce opposition in the House of Lords. [10] [11] Universal suffrage for men was introduced, and the curia system was abolished. The number of deputies was raised to 516, and seats were allotted once again based on the crown lands. [8]

Universal suffrage allowed greater representation for members of the working class, and diminished the power of the German-speaking bourgeoisie. Whilst this was an advance for democracy, it resulted in the splintering of the House of Deputies into numerous factions based on nationality and ideology, which made it dysfunctional. Throughout its existence, the effectiveness of the Imperial Council suffered heavily from conflicts between and within the numerous constituent nationalities of the Empire. Governments of Cisleithania had to rely on loose ad hoc alliances, often with the support of the Polish representatives (Polenklub), and there were as many as 29 Minister-Presidents between 1867 and 1918.

Sessions of the House of Deputies proceeded chaotically, as the deputies could not agree on a working language. Only speeches in German were taken into the official record. After minister-president Count Kasimir Felix Badeni failed to introduce a language ordinance in 1897, many Czech delegates denounced the authority of Council, and sabotaged meetings with countless emergency motions and filibusters. They were fiercely opposed by the German Radicals and the Pan-Germanists, who themselves sought the dissolution of the Monarchy and annexation of all its German-speaking territories to the German Reich. These conflicts culminated in shouting and brawls, which made the galleries a popular entertainment venue for Viennese citizens, among them the young Adolf Hitler.


From the July Crisis in 1914, the Imperial Council was suspended. [10] It remained so for the duration of the First World War, until it was finally reconvened in May 1917. It was permanently dissolved on 12 November 1918, the day after the de facto abdication of Emperor Charles. [10]

See also


  1. 1 2 Victor L. Tapié (1971). The Rise and Fall of the Habsburg Monarchy. New York: Praeger Publishers. p. 301.
  2. Victor L. Tapié (1971). The Rise and Fall of the Habsburg Monarchy. New York: Praeger Publishers. pp. 306–307.
  3. Victor L. Tapié (1971). The Rise and Fall of the Habsburg Monarchy. New York: Praeger Publishers. p. 309.
  4. Oscar Jászi (1929). The Dissolution of the Habsburg Monarchy. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. p. 107.
  5. "Gesetz vom 21. December 1867, wodurch das Grundgesetz über die Reichsvertretung vom 26. Februar 1861 abgeändert wird". Reichs-Gesetz-Blatt für das Kaiserthum Österreich (in German). Imperial Council of Austria. 21 December 1867. pp. 389–390. Retrieved 31 July 2014.
  6. Oscar Jászi (1929). The Dissolution of the Habsburg Monarchy. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. p. 104.
  7. Barbara Jelavich (1987). Modern Austria: Empire and Republic, 1815-1986 . Cambridge University Press. pp.  83. ISBN   0521316251.
  8. 1 2 3 Ernst Bruckmüller (2001). Der Reichsrat, das Parlament der westlichen Reichshälfte Österreich-Ungarns (1861–1918) (in German). Vienna: Schriften des Institutes für Österreichkunde. pp. 60–109. ISBN   3-209-03811-2.
  9. "Kasimir Felix, count von Badeni". Encyclopædia Britannica. 2014. Retrieved 31 July 2014.
  10. 1 2 3 "Austria". Encyclopædia Britannica. 2014. Retrieved 31 July 2014.
  11. Oscar Jászi (1929). The Dissolution of the Habsburg Monarchy. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. p. 226.

Related Research Articles

Austria-Hungary Constitutional monarchic union between 1867 and 1918

Austria-Hungary, often referred to as the Austro-Hungarian Empire or the Dual Monarchy, was a constitutional monarchy in Central and Eastern Europe between 1867 and 1918. It was formed when the Austrian Empire adopted a new constitution; as a result Austria (Cisleithania) and Hungary (Transleithania) were placed on equal footing. It dissolved when its member states proclaimed sovereignty and independence following the First World War.

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.

Cisleithania The Austrian Empire without the Kingdom of Hungary

Cisleithania was a common yet unofficial denotation of the northern and western part of Austria-Hungary, the Dual Monarchy created in the Compromise of 1867—as distinguished from Transleithania, i.e. the Hungarian Lands of the Crown of Saint Stephen east of ("beyond") the Leitha River.

Count Kasimir Felix Badeni Austrian politician

Count Kasimir Felix Badeni, a member of the Polish noble House of Badeni, was an Austrian statesman, who served as Minister-President of Cisleithania from 1895 until 1897. Many people in Austria, especially Emperor Franz Joseph, had placed great hope in Badeni's efforts to reform the electoral system and the language legislation in order to solve some fundamental problems of the multinational state, which eventually failed.

Emperor of Austria

The Emperor of Austria was the ruler of the Austrian Empire and later the Austro-Hungarian Empire. A hereditary imperial title and office proclaimed in 1804 by Holy Roman Emperor Francis II, a member of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine, and continually held by him and his heirs until Charles I relinquished power in 1918.

Imperial and Royal

The German phrase kaiserlich und königlich, typically abbreviated as k. u. k., k. und k., k. & k. in German, cs. és k. in Hungarian, c. a k. in Czech, C. i K. in Polish, c. in k. in Slovenian, c. i kr. in Bosnian and Croatian, and I.R. in Italian, refers to the court/government of the Habsburgs in a broader historical perspective. Some modern authors restrict its use to the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary from 1867 to 1918. During that period, it indicated that the Habsburg monarch reigned simultaneously as the Kaiser and as the König, while the two territories were joined in a real union. The acts of the common government, which was responsible only for the Imperial & Royal ("I&R") Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the I&R Ministry of War and the I&R Ministry of Finance, were carried out in the name of "His Imperial and Royal Majesty", and the central governmental bodies had their names prefixed with k. u. k.

Habsburg Monarchy Former monarchy in Europe from 1282 to 1918

Habsburg Monarchy is an umbrella term used by historians for the lands and kingdoms of the House of Habsburg, especially for those of the Austrian line. Although from 1438 until 1806 the head of the House of Habsburg was also Holy Roman Emperor, the Empire itself is not considered a part of the Habsburg Monarchy.

February Patent

The February Patent was a constitution of the Austrian Empire promulgated in the form of letters patent on 26 February 1861.

Austrian Parliament Building parliament building

The Austrian Parliament Building in Vienna is where the two houses of the Austrian Parliament conduct their sessions. The building is located on the Ringstraße boulevard in the first district Innere Stadt, near Hofburg Palace and the Palace of Justice. It was built to house the two chambers of the Imperial Council (Reichsrat), the bicameral legislature of the Cisleithanian (Austrian) part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Since its construction, the Parliament Building has been the seat of these two houses, and their successors—the National Council (Nationalrat) and the Federal Council (Bundesrat)—of the Austrian legislature.

Ernest von Koerber Austrian minister of finance of the Austria-Hungary and nobleman

Ernest Karl Franz Joseph Thomas Friedrich von Koerber was an Austrian liberal statesman who served as Prime Minister of the Austrian portion of Austro-Hungary in 1900-1904 and 1916.


Országgyűlés from 1867 to 1918 was the name of the bicameral parliament of the Kingdom of Hungary (Transleithania) during the Austro-Hungarian Empire (1867–1918), replacing the earlier Hungarian Diet.

Archduchy of Austria Fief of the Holy Roman Empire

The Archduchy of Austria was a major principality of the Holy Roman Empire and the nucleus of the Habsburg Monarchy. With its capital at Vienna, the archduchy was centered at the Empire's southeastern periphery.

Young Czech Party Political party in Austria-Hungary

The Young Czech Party was formed in the Bohemian crown land of Austria-Hungary in 1874. It initiated the democratization of Czech political parties and led to the establishment of the political base of Czechoslovakia.

House of Representatives is the name of legislative bodies in many countries and sub-national entitles. In many countries, the House of Representatives is the lower house of a bicameral legislature, with the corresponding upper house often called a "Senate". In some countries, the House of Representatives is the sole chamber of a unicameral legislature.

The Austrian Reichstag was the first elected parliament in the Austrian Empire. It lasted for only a short time between 1848 and 1849, but had an important effect on Austrian history.

Diet of Galicia and Lodomeria regional parliament of Galicia within Austria 1861-1918

The Diet of the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria, and of the Grand Duchy of Cracow was the regional assembly of the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria, a crown land of the Austrian Empire, and later Austria-Hungary. In the history of the Polish parliaments, it is considered the successor of the former sejm walny, or general sejm of the Kingdom of Poland and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and also of the sejmik, or local councils, in the territories of the Austrian Partition. It existed from 1861 until the dissolution of Austria-Hungary in 1918.

The Deutscher Nationalverband was a loose coalition of ethnic German national and liberal political parties in Cisleithania, a part of Austria-Hungary. It was formed to contest the 1911 election of the lower house of the Imperial Council of Cisleithania. Loose coalitions of this type were common in the Imperial Council. It comprised ten individual parties, including the German People's Party, German Progress Party, German Radical Party, and German Agrarian Party.

House of Lords (Austria) upper house of the Cisleithania (Austria-Hungary) Parliament

The House of Lords was the upper house of the Imperial Council, the bicameral legislature of the Austrian Empire from 1861 and of the Cisleithanian (Austrian) half of Austria-Hungary upon the Compromise of 1867. Created by the February Patent issued by Emperor Franz Joseph I on 26 February 1861, it existed until the end of World War I and the dissolution of the Dual Monarchy, when on 12 November 1918 the transitional National Assembly of German-Austria declared it abolished. It was superseded by the Federal Council of the Austrian Parliament implemented by the 1920 Federal Constitutional Law.

1900–1901 Cisleithanian legislative election

Legislative elections to elect the members of the 10th Imperial Council were held in Cisleithania, the northern and western ("Austrian") crown lands of Austria-Hungary, from December 12, 1900 to January 18, 1901.

1897 Cisleithanian legislative election

Legislative elections to elect the members of the ninth Imperial Council were held in March 1897 in Cisleithania, the northern and western ("Austrian") crown lands of Austria-Hungary. These elections were first in Cisleithania held under the curial system with universal, but still not equal, suffrage.


Commons-logo.svg Media related to Imperial Council (Austria) at Wikimedia Commons