1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Taaffe, Eduard Franz Joseph von, Count

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1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 26
Taaffe, Eduard Franz Joseph von, Count by James Wycliffe Headlam

TAAFFE, EDUARD FRANZ JOSEPH VON, Count [11th Viscount Taaffe and Baron of Ballymote, in the peerage of Ireland] (1833–1895), Austrian statesman, was born at Vienna on 24th February 1833. He was the second son of Count Ludwig Patrick Taaffe (1791–1855), a distinguished public man who was minister of justice in 1848 and president of the court of appeal. As a child Taaffe was one of the chosen companions of the young archduke, afterwards emperor, Francis Joseph. In 1852 he entered the public service; in 1867 he was Statthalter of Upper Austria, and the emperor offered him the post of minister of the interior in Beust’s administration. In time he became vice-president of the ministry, and at the end of the year he entered the first ministry of the newly organized Austrian portion of the monarchy. For the next three years he took a very important part in the confused political changes, and probably more than any other politician represented the wishes of the emperor. He had entered the ministry as a German Liberal, but he soon took an intermediate position between the Liberal majority of the Berger ministry and the party which desired a federalistic amendment of the constitution and which was strongly supported at court. From September 1868 to January 1870, after the retirement of Auersperg, he was president of the cabinet. In 1870 the government broke up on the question of the revision of the constitution: Taaffe with Potocki and Berger wished to make some concessions to the Federalists; the Liberal majority wished to preserve undiminished the authority of the Reichsrath. The two parties presented memoranda to the emperor, each defending their view, and offering their resignation: after some hesitation the emperor accepted the policy of the majority, and Taaffe with his friends resigned. The Liberals, however, failed to carry on the government, as the representatives of most of the territories refused to appear in the Reichsrath: they resigned, and in the month of April Potocki and Taaffe returned to office. The latter failed, however, in the attempt to come to some understanding with the Czechs, and in their turn had to make way for the Clerical and Federalist cabinet of Hohenwart. Taaffe now became Statthalter of Tirol, but once more on the breakdown of the Liberal government in 1879 he was called to office. At first he attempted to carry on the government without change of principles, but he soon found it necessary to come to an understanding with the Feudal and Federal parties, and he was responsible for the conduct of the negotiations which in the elections of this year gave a majority to the different groups of the National and Clerical opposition. In July he became minister president: at first he still continued to govern with the Liberals, but this was soon made impossible, and he was obliged to turn for support to the Conservatives. It was his great achievement that he persuaded the Czechs to abandon the policy of abstention and to take part in the parliament. It was on the support of them, the Poles, and the Clericals that his majority depended. His avowed intention was to unite the nationalities of Austria: Germans and Slavs were, as he said, equally integral parts of Austria; neither must be oppressed; both must unite to form an Austrian parliament. Notwithstanding the growing opposition of the German Liberals, who refused to accept the equality of the nationalities, he kept his position for thirteen years. Not a great creative statesman, he had singular capacity for managing men; a very poor orator, he had in private intercourse an urbanity and quickness of humour which showed his Irish ancestry. 'For the history of his administration see Austria-Hungary, History (Sec. II. “Austria Proper”). Beneath an apparent cynicism and frivolity Taaffe hid a strong feeling of patriotism to his country and loyalty to the emperor. It was no small service to both that for so long, during very critical years in European history, he maintained harmony between the two parts of the monarchy and preserved constitutional government in Austria. The necessities of the parliamentary situation compelled him sometimes to go farther in meeting the demands of the Conservatives and Czechs than he would probably have wished, but he was essentially an opportunist: in no way a party man, he recognized that the government must be carried on, and he cared little by the aid of what party the necessary majority was maintained. In 1893 he was defeated on a proposal for the revision of the franchise, and resigned. He retired into private life, and died two years later at his country residence, Ellerschau, in Bohemia, on 29th November 1895.

By the death of his elder brother Charles (1823–1873), a colonel in the Austrian army, Taaffe succeeded to the Austrian and Irish titles. He married in 1862 Countess Irma Tsaky, by whom he left four daughters and one son, Henry. The family history presents points of unusual interest. From the 13th century the Taaffes had been one of the leading families in the north of Ireland. In 1628 Sir John Taaffe was raised to the peerage as Baron Ballymote and Viscount Taaffe of Corven. He left fifteen children, of whom the eldest, Theobald, took a prominent part in the Civil War, accompanied Charles II. in exile, and on the Restoration was created earl of Carlingford. He was sent on missions to the duke of Lorraine and to the emperor, by which was established the connexion of his family with the house of Habsburg and Lorraine, which has continued to this day. His eldest son was killed in the Turkish wars. He was succeeded in the title by his second son Nicholas, who had served in the Spanish wars and was killed at the Boyne. The next brother, Francis, the third earl, was one of the most celebrated men of his time: he was brought up at Olmütz, at the imperial court, and in the service of Duke Charles of Lorraine, whose most intimate friend he became. He rose to the highest rank in the Austrian army, having greatly distinguished himself at the siege of Vienna and in the other Turkish campaigns, and was a member of the Order of the Golden Fleece. He was sent on many important diplomatic missions, and at the end of his life was chancellor and chief minister to the duke of Lorraine. Notwithstanding the Jacobite connexions of his family, his title to the earldom of Carlingford was confirmed by William III., and the attainder and forfeiture of the estates incurred by his brother was repealed. This favour he owed to his position at the court of the emperor, William's most important ally. On his death the title and estates went to his nephew Theobald, whose father had fallen during the siege of Derry, and who himself had served with distinction in the Austrian army. On his death the title of earl of Carlingford became extinct; both the Austrian and Irish estates as well as the Irish viscountcy went to a cousin Nicholas (1677–1769). Like so many of his family, he was brought up in Lorraine and passed into the Austrian army; he fought in the Silesian war, rose to be field-marshal, and was made a count of the Empire. His Irish estates were, however, claimed under the Act of 1703 by a Protestant heir: a lawsuit followed, which was ended by a compromise embodied in a private act of parliament, by which the estates were sold and one-third of the value given to him. With the money he acquired the castle of Ellerschau, in Bohemia; he had also inherited other property in the Austrian dominions. He was naturalized in Bohemia, and left on record that the reason for this step was that he did not wish his descendants to be exposed to the temptation of becoming Protestants so as to avoid the operation of the penal laws. His great-grandson was the father of the subject of this article. A Committee of Privileges of the House of Lords in 1860 recognized the right of the family to hold the Irish title.

See Wurzbach, Biographisches Lexicon Oesterreichs. Memoirs of the Family of Taaffe (Vienna, 1856), privately printed; article in the Contemporary Review (1893), by E. B. Lanin. The Prague Politik published in December 1904 contains some interesting correspondence collected from Taaffe's papers.  (J. W. He.)