1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Francis II. (emperor)
FRANCIS II. (1768–1835), the last Roman emperor, and, as Francis I., first emperor of Austria, was the son of Leopold II., grand-duke of Tuscany, afterwards emperor, and of his wife Maria Louisa, daughter of Charles III. of Spain. He was born at Florence on the 12th of February 1768. In 1784 he was brought to Vienna to complete his education under the eye of his uncle the emperor Joseph II., who was childless. Joseph was repelled by the frigid and retiring character of his nephew, and is said to have treated him with an impatient contempt which confirmed his natural timidity; but after the marriage of Francis to Elizabeth of Württemberg (1788) their relations improved. At the close of his uncle’s reign he saw some service in the ill-conducted war with Turkey, and kept a careful diary of his experiences. The death of his wife in childbirth on the 18th of February 1790 was followed by the death of his uncle on the 20th; and Francis acted as regent with Prince Kaunitz until his father came from Florence. On the 19th of September he married his first cousin Maria Theresa, daughter of Ferdinand, king of Naples, by whom he was the father of his successor Ferdinand I., of Maria Louisa, wife of Napoleon, and of the archduke Francis, father of the emperor Francis Joseph. After her death (1807) he married Maria Ludovica Beatrix of Este (1808), and when she died he made a fourth marriage with Carolina Augusta of Bavaria (1816).
He succeeded to the Austrian dominions and the empire on the death of his father on the 1st of March 1792. The position was a trying one for a young prince twenty-four years of age. The dominions of the house of Austria, widely scattered in the Low Countries, Germany and Italy, were exposed to the attacks of the French revolutionary governments and of Napoleon. He was dragged into all the coalitions against France, and in the early days of his reign he had to guard against the ambition of Prussia, and the aggressions of Russia in Poland and Turkey. For long he had no adviser save such diplomatists as Prince Kaunitz and Thugut, who had been trained in the old Austrian diplomacy. His own best quality was an invincible patience supported by reliance on the loyalty of his subjects, and a sense of his duty to the state. (For the general events of this reign till 1815 see Europe, Austria, Napoleon, French Revolutionary Wars, &c.) The emperor’s firmness averted what would have been an irreparable loss of position. Seeing that the Empire was in the last stage of dissolution, and that, even were it to survive, it would pass from the house of Habsburg to that of Bonaparte, he in 1804 assumed the title of hereditary emperor of Austria. The object of this prudent measure was double. In the first place, he guarded against the danger that his house should sink to a lower rank than the Russian or the French. In the second place, he gave some semblance of unity to his complex dominions in Germany, Bohemia, Hungary and Italy, by providing a common title for the supreme ruler. His action was justified when, in 1806, the establishment of the Confederation of the Rhine forced him to abdicate the empty title of Holy Roman emperor.
In 1805 he made an important change in the working of his administration. He had hitherto been assisted by a cabinet minister who was in direct relation with all the “chanceries” and boards which formed the executive government, and who acted as the channel of communication between them and the emperor, and was in fact a prime minister. In 1805 Napoleon insisted on the removal of Count Colloredo, who held the post. From that time forward the emperor Francis acted as his own prime minister, superintending every detail of his administration. In foreign affairs after 1809 he reposed full confidence in Prince Metternich. But Metternich himself declared at the close of his life that he had sometimes held Europe in the palm of his hand, but never Austria. Francis was sole master, and is entitled to whatever praise is due to his government. It follows that he must bear the blame for its errors. The history of the Austrian empire under his rule and since his death bears testimony to both his merits and his limitations. His indomitable patience and loyalty to his inherited task enabled him to triumph over Napoleon. By consenting to the marriage of his daughter, Marie Louise, to Napoleon in 1810, he gained a respite which he turned to good account. By following the guidance of Metternich in foreign affairs he was able to intervene with decisive effect in 1813. The settlement of Europe in 1815 left Austria stronger and more compact than she had been in 1792, and that this was the case was largely due to the emperor.
During the twenty years which preceded his death in 1835, Francis continued to oppose the revolutionary spirit. He had none of the mystical tendencies of the tsar Alexander I., and only adhered to the half fantastic Holy Alliance of 1815 out of pure politeness. But he was wholly in sympathy with the policy of “repression” which came, in popular view, to be identified with the Holy Alliance; and though Metternich was primarily responsible for the part played by Austria in the “policing” of Europe, Francis cannot but be held personally responsible for the cruel and impolitic severities, associated especially with the sinister name of the fortress prison of the Spielberg, which made so many martyrs to freedom. It is not surprising that Francis was denounced by Liberals throughout Europe as a tyrant and an obscurantist. But though at home, as abroad, he met all suggestions of innovation by a steady refusal to depart from old ways, he was always popular among the mass of his subjects, who called him “our good Kaiser Franz.” In truth, if in the spirit of the traditional Landesvater he chastised his disobedient children mercilessly, he was essentially a well-meaning ruler who forwarded the material and moral good of his subjects according to his lights. But he held that, by the will of God, the whole sovereign authority resided in his person, and could not be shared with others without a dereliction of duty on his part and disastrous consequences; and his capital error as a ruler of Austria was that he persisted in maintaining a system of administration which depended upon the indefatigable industry of a single man, and was entirely outgrown by the modern development of his subjects. Before his death, government in Austria was almost choked, and it broke down under a successor who had not his capacity for work. Like his ancestor Philip II. of Spain, Francis carried caution, and a disposition to sleep upon every possible proposal, to a great length. He died on the 2nd of March 1835.
See Baron J. A. Helfert, Kaiser Franz und die österreichischen Befreiungs-Kriege (Vienna, 1867). Ample bibliographies will be found in Krones von Marchland’s Grundriss der österreichischen Geschichte (Berlin, 1882).