Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor
Birthday: February 12, 1768
Emperors & Kings
Died At Age: 67
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Also Known As: Francis II
Born Country: Italy
Born in: Florence, Italy
Famous as: Last Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire
Spouse/Ex-: Caroline Augusta of Bavaria, Duchess Elisabeth of Württemberg, Maria Ludovika of Austria-Este, Maria Theresa of Naples and Sicily
father: Leopold II, Holy Roman Emperor
mother: Maria Luisa of Spain
siblings: Archduchess Maria Clementina of Austria, Archduke Alexander Leopold of Austria, Archduke Anton Victor of Austria, Archduke Charles, Archduke John of Austria, Archduke Joseph, Archduke Louis of Austria, Archduke Rainer Joseph of Austria, Archduke Rudolf of Austria, Duke of Teschen, Ferdinand III, Grand Duke of Tuscany, Maria Anna d'Asburgo-Lorena, Maria Theresa of Austria, Palatine of Hungary
children: Archduchess Amalie Theresa of Austria, Archduchess Caroline Ludovika of Austria, Archduchess Clementina of Austria, Archduchess Ludovika Elisabeth of Austria, Archduchess Maria Anna of Austria, Archduchess Marie Caroline of Austria, Archduke Franz Karl of Austria, Archduke Johann Nepomuk of Austria, Archduke Joseph Franz of Austria, Duchess of Parma, Ferdinand I of Austria, Maria Leopoldina of Austria, Marie Louise
Died on: March 2, 1835
place of death: Vienna, Austria
awards: Knights of the Order of the Holy Spirit
Knight in the order of Saint-Michel
Knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece
Knight Grand Cross of the Military Order of Maria Theresa
Order of St. Alexander Nevsky
Order of St. Andrew
Francis II was the last emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, ruling from 1792 until 1806. He also ruled as Francis I, the Emperor of Austria, and as Francis I, the King of Bohemia and Hungary. Born to Leopold II of Tuscany, he became the heir to Joseph II, the Holy Roman Emperor, who was his uncle. Francis was groomed and educated for his future role by his uncle. He became the emperor at the age of 24 after his uncle and his father both died within a span of two years. The Napoleonic Wars dominated the first twenty years of Francis II’s reign. He was repeatedly defeated by Napoleon and had to cede territories, dissolve the Holy Roman Empire, and give his daughter in marriage to Napoleon. However, in the end, it was he, as the emperor of Austria, who played a critical role in Napoleon’s defeat. He was also able to recover most of the territories that he had lost. After the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire, Francis ruled as the emperor of Austria and thus he is known as history’s only “Doppelkaiser” (double emperor). Marie-Antoinette, the Queen of France, was his aunt. Due to this reason, the French Revolution affected Francis II greatly. He had a wide network of spies and heavy censorship in place. His rule was marked by conservatism and suppression of democratic ideas. After his death, he was succeeded by his eldest son, Ferdinand I.
Childhood & Early Life
Francis was born on February 12, 1768, at Florence, Tuscany, as the son of Leopold II and Maria Luisa of Spain. At the time of his birth, his father was the Grand Duke of Tuscany. His childhood was spent in the city of his birth. He had many siblings.
Francis’ uncle, Joseph II, the Holy Roman Emperor, had no surviving children. Therefore, the crown had to eventually rest on young Francis’ head. Thus in 1784, at the age of 16, he was sent to Vienna to be trained as a future king. His life in Vienna was different from his happy and easygoing childhood.
Joseph II, a disciplinarian, saw Francis as a “mother’s spoilt child”. According to his uncle, he was “backward in bodily dexterity and deportment” and lacked imagination. To remedy matters and build character, he kept his nephew in isolation, as he believed that Francis could only be improved with “fear and unpleasantness”.
Francis, however, looked up to his uncle, and his uncle did think that he applied himself well and had a sense of duty and justice. Francis’ training as a future king ended with military training. He was sent to Hungary to join an army regiment.
Joseph II died in 1790 and Leopold, his brother, became the emperor. Francis became the direct descendant to the throne. When Leopold traveled across the empire, it was Francis who acted as his deputy in Vienna.
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Accession & Reign
Leopold II fell ill in the winter of 1791. His health deteriorated and he passed away on March 1, 1792, at the age of 44, ending his very short reign. Francis, who had just turned 24, became the Holy Roman Emperor, officially taking the throne on July 5, 1792.
During the start of Francis’ reign, calls of liberty and equality from the French Revolution were echoing throughout Europe. Francis II had inherited a multi-ethnic kingdom and this made him distrustful of revolutionary movements.
He got embroiled in the Napoleonic Wars right from the start of his reign. He was the commander of the Allied forces during part of the campaign. The first war lasted from 1792 to 1797 and ended in a defeat for the coalition.
Francis II had to sign the Treaty of Campo Formio in 1797. According to the treaty, Austria had to give up Lombardy on the left bank of the River Rhine and in exchange could retain territories around Venice and in Dalmatia.
Francis II fought against France again as part of the second coalition from 1798 to 1802 and was defeated. The Grand Duchy of Tuscany became a part of France while the Batavian, Helvetic, Ligurian and Italian regions were given independent status.
Francis II had the foresight to realize that the days of the Holy Roman Empire were numbered. He consolidated Austria, Hungary, Bohemia and northern Italy and raised Austria to the status of an empire in 1804. He himself became Francis I, Emperor of Austria, on August 11, 1804.
After the coronation of Napoleon as king of Italy, Austria joined the third coalition against Napoleon. The result was disastrous, and Austria was forced to sign the Treaty of Pressburg. With this treaty, the Holy Roman Empire was reorganized as the Confederation of the Rhine.
Francis II dissolved the Holy Roman Empire and abdicated his throne in 1806. After this, he ruled as Francis I of Austria. Thus, the ancient régime or old order system came to an end as it had done in France.
Austria saw a chance to attack France again in 1809. France was caught up in a war in Spain and the emperor hoped that they could use the conflict to their advantage. Nevertheless, he was defeated yet again.
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After this defeat, Austria had to cede its territories to Napoleon. With this, Austria effectively became a vassal state. Francis now had to ally himself with Napoleon. Though he thought of Napoleon as an upstart, he was unable to refuse when Napoleon asked for his daughter Marie-Louise’s hand. They were married in 1810.
In 1813, Austria, Britain, Russia and Prussia came together in their fourth war against Napoleon. Francis fought many battles in this war between 1814 and 1815. This was to be the final war, and Austria was instrumental in the defeat of Napoleon.
Post Napoleonic Wars Era
In 1815 a Congress was held in Vienna that was presided by Prince Klemens von Metternich, the chief minister under Francis. The German Confederation was formed by reorganizing the remaining states of the Holy Empire.
The ‘Holy Alliance’ was formed in 1818. Much of the power of the Roman Catholic Church was reinstated. Francis had always been against liberalism and therefore, he backed Metternich’s conservative policies which came to be known as the “Metternich System.”
Francis also chose to follow his uncle Joseph II’s policies. Known as “Josephism,” it was a system that suppressed democratic tendencies, stressed on censorship, and gave more power to the police.
As A Monarch
Francis II was deeply affected by the French Revolution and the downfall of the monarchy. Throughout his reign, he remained suspicious of any radical movement. He established a network of spies. He did not trust even his family members and even had his brothers Archdukes Charles and Johann spied upon.
To his subjects, Francis II was a monarch who was approachable. Twice a week, his subjects could meet their king by appointment. The emperor would listen to their issues and converse with them in their own language.
Francis II was a patron of the arts. He was also interested in scientific innovations like the development of the rail. It was during his time that steamships were introduced on the Danube.
During the war with France, Francis commissioned an anthem to raise patriotic spirits. The song “Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser” was written by Lorenz Leopold Haschka and composed by Joseph Haydn for the monarch’s birthday. The lyrics of the song were adapted later but the music lives on in the German anthem ‘Deutschlandlied’.
After he became the emperor of Austria, Francis left foreign affairs to his minister Metternich. He himself took charge of the administration and internal affairs of his empire.
Family & Personal Life
Francis II married Elisabeth of Württemberg in 1788. He then married his first cousin Maria Teresa of the Two Sicilies in 1790. Another cousin, Maria Ludovika of Austria-Este, became his wife in 1808. He finally married Caroline Charlotte Auguste of Bavaria in 1816.
He had one daughter from his first wife. Maria Teresa bore him eight daughters and four sons, but only seven children survived. He did not have any children from his other wives. Family meant a great deal to him and he is depicted in many portraits lovingly surrounded by his children and grandchildren.
Francis II died of fever at the age of 67 on March 2, 1835, in Vienna, Austria. His coffin was kept in the chapel of Hofburg Palace for three days for his subjects to come and pay their last respects. He was later interred in the Kapuziner Imperial Crypt in Vienna, the traditional resting place of the Habsburg monarchs.
Ferdinand I, the emperor’s eldest son, was his successor. As Ferdinand I suffered from diminished mental abilities, Francis II had made a will stating that the new emperor was to consult his paternal uncle Archduke Louis on all internal matters and also follow the advice of Prince Metternich.