From The Mad Monarchist (14 December 2016)
The history of the Germans has been one of a disparate people organized into small states interspersed by relatively short periods of three major empires or, as the Germans would call them, the First Reich, Second Reich and, the most short-lived of all, the Third Reich. Each were quite different though the first and second obviously had more in common with each other than the third. Prior to the First Reich the Germans had been a primitive, though fierce, collection of warring tribes. A taste of Roman civilization and conversion to Christianity culminated in the establishment of the First German Empire, officially known as the “Holy Roman Empire of the German Peoples”. This represented the longest period of time that all the German people were at least nominally united under one Crown. However, it was, in a way, an intermittent empire. For most of its history it was more of a confederacy of loosely associated autonomous states that generally went their own way. It was only occasionally, under such monarchs as Otto the Great, Frederick Barbarossa or Frederick II a united and powerful empire.
|The First Reich|
Born in 1782 in Florence, Italy, the thirteenth child of the very prolific Habsburg Grand Duke of Tuscany, later the Emperor Leopold II, Archduke Johann was given command of the Austrian Imperial Army at the start of the wars with Napoleon. He did not think he was up to the job and was ultimately proven correct. Though personally brave and intelligent, he was no great commander and his forces were soundly beaten. Afterwards, he was put in charge of overseeing military fortifications and later the military academy which were jobs more suited to his particular skill-set. Called back into service by the outbreak of the War of the Third Coalition, he proved much more capable as a defensive commander in the mountainous Tyrol region, fighting the French and their Bavarian allies. When the Austrian Emperor was forced to cede this territory, Archduke Johann supported the resistance of the Austrian population in the Tyrol led by the famous Tyrolean hero Andreas Hofer. In the War of the Fifth Coalition, he was once again given command of an army and did have some success but was ultimately defeated by the Franco-Italian army of Napoleon’s stepson Eugene, Viceroy of the Kingdom of Italy.
When the Austrian statesman Metternich determined to make peace with Napoleonic France, Archduke Johann was shoved aside because of his continued support for resistance and encouraging irregular warfare in the Austrian territory ceded to the French allied states. He left the military and devoted himself to intellectual pursuits, becoming very popular with the Styrians, founded a number of institutions of higher learning, climbed mountains and got married in 1829. As it was an unequal marriage, his brother Emperor Francis I excluded him from the Habsburg succession. This, naturally, caused some tension at court and, his wife being from a rather upper-middle class background, his promotion of modernization in Styria, all probably came together to give Archduke Johann a reputation for being more liberal than he really was.
Doubtless though it was that very reputation which was at least somewhat responsible for him becoming Imperial Regent of the short-lived German Empire of 1848. At the height of the March Revolution of that year, which in the German-speaking lands had started in Austria and quickly spread to Baden, the Palatinate, Prussia, Saxony, the Rhineland and Bavaria, leading German revolutionary nationalists got together in Heidelberg and organized an elected pan-German parliament that met in May in Frankfurt. All the German states had agreed to this elected assembly and all sent representatives. This National Assembly, known as the Frankfurt Assembly today, tried to come to a consensus for the creation of a new pan-German Reich that would include all German-speaking peoples. The first question was what form it would take. The most liberal proposed a federal republic similar to that of the United States of America but they lost to the more moderate majority that favored a constitutional monarchy.
The president of this assembly was Baron Heinrich von Gagern but they needed someone to occupy the position of Head of State, at least temporarily while this new German Reich established itself. So it was that the position of regent, or officially, “Imperial Vicar” was established and given to Archduke Johann of Austria. Baron von Gagern pushed for his election but this itself was something that was argued over. For many, the idea of a German Reich with a Habsburg in the highest position of leadership was only natural given how the Austrian Imperial Family had become, effectively, the Imperial Family of the First German Reich (the elections having long become a mere formality). However, there were those who thought that the Austrian lands, united with so many non-Germans such as Slavs and Hungarians, should be excluded from the new Reich whereas the adherents of the “Greater Germany” ideal, argued for their inclusion.
|King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia|
The King of Prussia further undercut the liberal nationalist movement by enacting his own constitution for Prussia, one that would keep power in the hands he trusted most. For the Imperial Vicar, Archduke Johann, he took this in stride, asserting that he could carry on exercising executive authority, however, with the Austrians removing themselves from the movement and the Prussians also rejecting it, the refusal of the King of Prussia really spelled the end for the whole concept. Some states enacted liberal changes, others did not but the Revolutionary movement ultimately ground to a halt and rendered the Frankfurt Assembly powerless, ignored by all. Archduke Johann officially resigned his position on December 20, 1849 and the effort at a new German Reich came to an end with the German Confederation remaining the only pan-German government organization. He later became the only member of the Imperial Family to ever be elected mayor. The Archduke died ten years later in 1859.
|Reichsflotte / Imperial Fleet|
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