VERITAS Research Institute for History and Archives

190 years ago, on August 18th, 1830, the penultimate king of Hungary and defining figure of an era of Hungarian history, Franz Joseph I, was born. There is nearly consensus in the professional literature that in the operation of the political machinery of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, Franz Joseph played a privileged role. Time and again, general historians and legal historians alike have emphasized that thanks to his broad royal prerogative, irrespective of whatever constitutional counterbalances may have existed, at the heart of it all, the Emperor remained the preeminent political authority in Austria and Hungary, not to mention the common foreign and military policy areas in which the function of checks and balances of the legislative bodies (delegations) was even less effective. Thus, anyone who undertakes research into the Era of the Dual Monarchy will, sooner or later, come across Franz Joseph in some form. Research into who he was as a person is therefore more than justified and the sources below are a tremendous asset.

As a rule, summaries of the era describe well his broad sovereign rights, empathizing Franz Joseph’s role in various political situations while also drawing attention to his best known characteristics. Nonetheless, Hungarian historiography has heretofore neglected to undertake comprehensive research focusing specifically on Franz Joseph the person. In the past one hundred years, numerous biographies in German, English and French have been published about him, but only two in Hungarian, which were admittedly more popular history – albeit excellently written – than biographies based on fundamental research on our longest-reigning ruler. (Éva Somogyi’s and András Gerő’s books were published in 1989 and 1988, respectively, Gerő’s having been reissued several times, most recently in 2016.) Since we already know so much about him, the question arises if it is even worth commencing new research with regard to Franz Joseph? Historiographical experience clearly shows that a topic can be further nuanced by including new sources of information. This equally applies in Franz Joseph's case, especially with regard to Hungary-specific research. The diaries of the Emperor and King’s aide-de-camps kept in the Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv in Vienna are such new sources.

There were usually four aid-de-camps (adjutants) assigned by the various branches of the military to report directly to the Supreme Commander, two of whom were always on duty. Although in the strictest sense the young and talented officers performed military functions, they were not only Franz Joseph’s armed entourage, but also a kind of factotum at his disposal. Their tasks were coordinated by Chief Adjutant Eduard von Paar, one of Franz Joseph’s closest associates. The aid-de-camps had to take their stations at the entrance of Franz Joseph’s living quarters at 3 AM, and until he retired for the evening, they were at his service. They were responsible for letting in visiting officials, politicians and on occasion family members. Likewise, the aid-de-camps accompanied the Emperor throughout the Monarchy wherever he made public appearances. Among Hungarian adjuncts, Miklós Horthy, who served Franz Joseph directly between 1909 and 1914, was the most well-known. In his memoir, Horthy wrote with deep respect for the late king, which surely explains why as Regent he had considered Franz Joseph as an example to emulate (for example, in organizationally structuring his Cabinet Office and Military Office). In addition to Horthy, Béla Spányik, who was well liked by Franz Joseph and also one of his last adjuncts, deserves a mention.

As per internal orders, diaries were kept in handwritten gothic script as of January 1st, 1895. Unfortunately, only fourteen volumes from 1895–1904 and 1908–1916 have survived. Every day the aid-de-camp on duty would record in chronological order when the Emperor woke up, dined, went somewhere, took part in meetings or sat down with his council of ministers, whom he received, the duration of the encounter and finally, when he retired for the evening. Of course, the diaries do not provide transcripts of the conversations Franz Joseph had with, for example, the Hungarian prime minister, but there is in fact informational value in knowing how often a given official met with the Emperor and for how long. (Indubitably, a 50-minute session with the Emperor in his office carried more weight than a 5-minute one.) The diaries also verify the not particularly surprising fact that Franz Joseph, who spent most of his time in Vienna, met with Austrian politicians more often than with their Hungarian counterparts, which was counterbalanced by the Minister besides the King, the liaison of the Hungarian government, who, during tense political times, could be granted an audience with the Emperor several times per day.

As one would expect, the diaries also show how much time Franz Joseph spent in Hungary, which averaged sixty to seventy days annually in the years sandwiching the turn of the century. The protocol of Imperial and Royal programs, e.g., royal ceremonies, official travel (both within and without the Monarchy) and hunting in Gödöllő and Ischl can be thoroughly reconstructed via the diaries. Based on what we have read, we can clearly see that Franz Joseph would live for the most part in Schönbrunn, take a carriage to the Hofburg in the morning, take care of his endeavors and then return to Schönbrunn, which politicians could visit only in case of a serious issue. Whenever the Emperor resided in Hungary, we observe that he would spend his evenings and nights in Gödöllő and take a carriage (or train) to his quasi-workplace at the Royal Palace in Buda during the day. Of course the diaries do not shed light on everything. Since there were places where even the aid-de-camps could not follow the Emperor, one will find no mention of Katharina Schratt in the diaries…

Although the diaries were first introduced in a relatively short dissertation defended at the University of Vienna in 1969 (Ingrid Zellner: Die Tagebücher der Flügeladjutanten Kaiser Franz Josephs I.), the work has remained unpublished. Moreover, to the best of our knowledge, neither Austrian nor Hungarian researchers have made use of the diaries in their Franz Joseph-related research.  

Exact location: Österreichisches Staatsarchiv, Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv (Vienna) Kabinettsarchiv, Kabinettskanzlei, Direktionsakten, Tagebuch der Flügeladjutanten Seiner Majestät. (Band 49–62.)

by Ádám Schwarczwölder