Sándor Kerekes: A Hundred Years Later–Today

Franz Joseph, the iconic (also “apostolic”) emperor-king of Austria-Hungary, passed away in November 1916 and because of a war, a terrible war was going on full tilt, the empire had to have an emperor as soon as possible.

Franz Joseph didn’t have much luck when it came to successors. His only son, Rudolf, committed suicide in 1899. He died without an issue. Franz Joseph’s younger brother Maximilian was murdered earlier in 1867 as self-declared Emperor of Mexico. His second younger brother, Karl Ludwig, was already dead by 1899 but he had several sons, the oldest of whom was Franz Ferdinand whose sons couldn’t inherit the throne because of their father morganatic marriage.

Next in line, therefore, was the son of Franz Ferdinand’s younger brother, Otto Franz (1865-1906), Karl or Károly in Hungarian. After his father’s death in 1906, he was next-in-line to Franz Ferdinand, his uncle, and was treated accordingly.

After the death of Franz Joseph, his great uncle, he ruled in Austria as Emperor Karl I and in Hungary as Karl IV or as a contemporary document called him “the forth by this name.”  He had very little experience in statecraft because Franz Joseph didn’t share his knowledge of the politics of his realm with either Franz Ferdinand or after his death, with Karl. Like his father, he became a military officer who spent most of his military duties in Vienna and Prague where he also studied law and political science.

He was crowned king of Hungary on the 30th day of December 1916. One hundred years ago today!

This anniversary has been noted officially to such an extent by the Hungarian government that the National Museum of Hungary organized an exhibition in remembrance of the times and of the event.

I also wanted to commemorate it, so I went to the Museum to see what has been left to us from that day. Those were highly unusual times. Not only because of the rampaging war but because it was the accelerated dawn of the technological age. The coronation cortege and its horses provided a copious supply of horse manure for the streets of the Castle District, where the event took place, but at the same time, the royal couple arrived from Vienna to Budapest by train. They were chauffeured around in automobiles and journalists were standing on street corners with telephone hand pieces that could be plugged into any public phone station and were reporting practically every minute of the royals to their newspapers. Often, a new special issue of some newspaper was released just half an hour after the event, as the royal couple was completing their daily program, and the newspapers were mounting a murderously fierce competition to report the fullest and the fastest account of the royals’ doings.

When I arrived at the exhibition, I was stunned to find that making photographs is strictly forbidden. I tried to bargain about that but failed. I have no picture of my own making to offer.

The royal couple arrived by train; at the station, enormous hoopla and a lot of horse-drawn carriages waited and then ferried them to the royal castle to stay. The timing of the coronation was only a short month after the burial of the emperor, and there was very little time to decorate and prepare the district for the momentous event. However, the very able intendant of the Opera, Count Bánffy, did a splendid job of it, decorating the coronation church as well as part of the streets where the procession went. The ceremony itself was not going to be too elaborate, they surmised, because of the war and because of the economy drive that was in effect in the country. Nevertheless, the march from the castle to the coronation temple (the distance could hardly be more than 700-800 meters) took a good couple of hours as the horse-drawn carriages, filled with the courtiers, aristocrats and assorted hangers-on, with their spouses, all decked out in their historical costumes, dripping with jewels, furs and exotic feathers, made the stately possession amidst the corps of hussar units, guards of the personnel and the crown jewels, and, of course, there were the members of Parliament (upper and lower house, naturally), members of the aristocracy, the military brass; Austrian and Hungarian, all represented in brotherly unison, former, present and future members of cabinets, and not to forget the mayor and entire council of the city of Budapest. Everyone dressed in the historical, ceremonial finery. Karl IV, the “coronatus,” was riding a horse in the middle of the procession, so it took some time until his turn came to arrive and enter the Coronation Church. But enter he did, with his queen and son. The medieval church was splendidly draped inside with dark red velvet, embroidered with the double cross of the Lothringian House, tightly connected to the Habsburgs on several counts going back almost to the twelfth century. (Later the crowd ripped off and took home these crosses for souvenirs.) The coronation ceremony was open only to the invited lucky few; only by invitation. So much so, that even the prince-primate of the Catholic Church, who actually conducted the ceremony, received a written invitation.

The ceremony was relatively simple: after some prayers and propitiations, the coronandus rose from his throne, kneeled at the top step leading to the altar, and there the prince-primate and the prime minister (István Tisza) jointly placed the crown on the head of the new king. At this moment, rang out the joyful cry: long live the king! Then came the summary crowning of the queen too, her separate crown used, but her shoulder was ceremonially touched with the “holy” crown too to make the association clear.

King Charles IV taking the Royal Oath

After some more, but short prayers, the royal party exited the cathedral to the middle of the square, where a trinity statue has stood since the 1720s and there, standing on the base of the statue, four of the highest catholic priests of the country administered to him the royal oath, swearing loyalty to the Hungarian nation. The king recited the oath and on he went to the next station. For that, he mounted a lovely horse and in the middle of the procession he started back towards the castle. But just before reaching it, there was a large mound of earth, an artificial hill, paths leading to its top from four directions. The king on his horse charged and mounted this hill. Having arrived at the top, he drew his sword and made a cut towards each of the four directions of the compass, symbolizing his commitment defending the nation against any threat whatever direction it may come from.

Off the mound, he came, onto the next station. The spectators rushed in and collected the artificial flowers that decorated the mound on this wintry day as souvenirs, of course. The king then took off to the state luncheon. This was the most bizarre part of the ceremony. His majesties were sitting at a “u” shaped table, two bishops on their right and the prime minister with another political notability on their left. Now the top echelon of the nobility came forward with large vessels of exquisite dishes, eighteen courses in all, plus garnishing and the pickles; but none of that was served to be eaten. Oh no. It was only meant to show off the riches of the land and the prowess of the kitchen staff. Then it was taken out to be distributed amongst the worthy. At the same time, large quantities of gulyás soup were also distributed amongst the poor at several points in the city. With this last act, the coronation came to its conclusion; Hungary had a king again.

The exhibition presented a rich selection of drawings, paintings, and photographs. No other than hand-made depictions are available of the coronation from the interior of the church; because of the lighting conditions photographs could not be made. But at the same, time two enterprising newsreel companies filmed all the events outdoors; and a more than half hour long, restored newsreel is available for anyone to see.

Looking at the pageantry and the incredible profligacy and waste, it is hard to think of anything else but the reckoning that these are the death throes of this empire, these people, and these institutions altogether. Perhaps this is why it is so fascinating to see in the last hall of the exhibition the fate and the afterlife of all the participants and the artifacts. All the cheaply produced coins, the ersatz porcelain souvenirs, post cards and countless paraphernalia that survived well into the fifties, here and there. The people who participated, many of whom survived the Second World War, fell victim to the Communist government’s atrocities, and interestingly, some of the descendants of those people were identified as the makers, curators, and creators of this very exhibition I was watching.

Karl and his large family left Austria in May 1919 and settled in Switzerland. During 1921 he twice returned to Hungary in order to regain the throne but first time Horthy and the Hungarian politicians persuaded him to leave. The second time around he was forcibly moved later to the Portuguese island of Madeira. During one evening caught a cold that developed into pneumonia, and he died in 1922. Queen Zita, his wife, outlived him by an astounding 67 years.

But the most storied fate was accorded the little charming four-year-old boy, Otto, who became an ardent, conservative European politician, living to 98 years of age; and by the time he died, having seen the change of regime had resuscitated his Hungarian citizenship, and became a highly respected elder statesman. When he died in 2011, he was the last and only remaining witness of the coronation.

December 30, 2016
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Thanks Eva for your fascinating, informative and timely post.

It has never been clear to me why the King was not acceptable to Horthy. His presence might have given historical continuity to his regime and might have clothed his rule in a veneer of respectability.
But probably more sinister forces were at work.
Portuguese exile seemed to have been in vogue at that time. Horthy himself ended up there instead of at Spandau or on the gallows.


I read somewhere that because of inbreeding many members of the Austrian kingdom were ill and “intellectually challenged”, but don’t know how bad this was really.
Those were crazy days – I’m so glad that we got rid of those aristocrats, though they still are “rich” people in Germany.

A bit OT:

Otto came regularly to the Hévíz spa and a friend of my wife “worked” on him as a masseuse – she told us that he was very nice and friendly, you might call him courtious …


Such a magnificent event would draw enormous crowds in Budapest even today. Orban can count on it.


Thank you Éva. I always wondered how the Hungarian monarchy just petered out, and now I know.

But I don’t agree with Wolfi about the aristocracy. Whatever their faults,, look what we have in Hungary instead – a crude low-life, with no manners or courtesy, who uses whatever education he had to evil ends, rather than for the good of the country.

It doesn’t bother me how much money someone else has, and it seems to me that inherited wealth is often used to good ends, if only because they already have it and often use it for philanthropic purposes.

Whereas Orbán, as a greedy, selfish and uncouth nonentity with grandiose pretentions, has created a political mechanism to steal funds which do not belong to him, and by doing so exposes his lack of “breeding” and lack of moral fibre.

If he cannot be embarrassed for himself, then I am embarrassed for him, and embarrassed for the Hungarian nation, a large proportion of whom seem to be incapable of distinguishing right from wrong, at whatever level of society.

Give me the aristocracy any day, rather than and uncultured megalomaniac like Orbán.


I am sorry but time4change has got a bit carried away, maybe a few moments of reflection will let him have second thoughts.
Historically most aristocratic ancestry is mired in crime and/infamy. In England most were originally successful sheep thieves. Some titles are rooted in sexual services to the monarch.
These guys were not circus characters robed in ermin and following a Gilbertian pastiche.
Victor Hugo’s “le Roi s’amuse” also known as Verdi’s Rigoletto shows shows the King or in the opera the sex mad Duke as the master of life and death at his pernicious whim.
wolfi is right but he has understated the case. Later, when deprived by revolutions and or the progress of civiliasation of society their numbers and power diminished and became often rather cuddly layabouts, subject to some honourable exceptions where they chose to devote their energies, status and wealth to the service of others as well as to their own families.


If you had to live in the 19th Century (or even in Horthy times …) as a peasant depending for everything on the good will of your local Grof or whatever – even if you wanted to marry or just move to another village – you might think differently!

And I’m not talking about the jus primae noctis yet …


OT: Polls made for Vasárnap Hirek a left-leaning weekly.

Contrary to all the doom and gloom and corruption 63% said that for them personally the year 2016 was successful and people are also very optimistic about 2017.

Fideszniks are beaming with optimism and happiness: 81% of them said that for them 2016 was successful and 84 say that for them 2017 will be better than what 2016 was. You can be sure they will be voting Fidesz again and for the leftists.

47% said that for the nation as a whole 2016 was unsuccessful vs. 45% who claimed it was successful for the nation as a whole which is pretty balanced.

But 67% of people are expecting a better 2017 for them personally than what 2016 was and 58% are expecting a better 2017 for the nation as a whole which shows people are pretty optimistic.

If the trajectory is good enough (if 2018 will be an improvement on 2017 which may be an improvement on 2016 and if you look at the state budget there will be an improvement) people will be happy to reelect Fidesz. Readers should dismiss this outcome like they dismissed Trump’s chances.



Just wait until the EU money runs out …

Btw even in Germany there are now many pessimists who fear the the right wing populists like Wilders might win the next elections and that this might signal the end of the idea iof a United Europe – then it would be evryone for himself again!

In that case the stronger and wealthier nations like Germany however would feel no more obligation to finance their weaker brothers – the Eastern European Visegrad might return to the level they had in Socialist times:

Being the workbenches for dirty jobs that no German etc would accept.

There’s an article on the end of the EU and new economic wars (anyone remember the depression in the 1930s?) in German here:

Wolfi, I’m afraid that the EU money can’t run out. The weak and unprincipled EU politicians will come to the conclusion that this isn’t an option politically for them (they’re wrong). With all the wobbly EU members (including Hungary and some other CEE nations) the EU feels it can’t allow the leaving of these members and the EU will fear that only money keeps such members in. I think this is a bluff, for example the Hungarian economy simply could not function outside the EU – as long as there is an EU in its neighborhood (if the EU falls apart for good, that’s another issue). Hungary is one of the most open economies in the world. Personally I think that the EU should allow any members to leave, if this is really what they want, but the EU will be afraid that it is going down (the officials losing their cushy jobs etc.) so it will do anything to keep them in fold. They simply are unable to negotiate in a tough manner. They are the quintessential pushovers (which is why Orban is so successful in having all his corrupt deals approved by the EU). Which means – as… Read more »

Things aren’t looking too good in the EU generally and even in Germany – if the right wing populists come to power the money flow might dry up, and then what?

Also many politicians in the “core EU” don’t like the way money is throown around.

German companies are much more interested now in the new Asian markets – all of East Europe together is peanuts compared to that!

Just remember the past 30 years:

Production of many things was moved to the East (textile eg) but when wages rose in Hungary, the production was moved to Romania etc – and later to China and Bangladesh …
The same could easily happen with the automobile production. Volkswagen already sells more cars in China than in Germany and also produces cars and components everywhere – it’s just a question of volume, prices and logistics.

Again my favourite example:

When I open a package of food for our sweet little tomcat I see the description on it in 18 languages – one of them is Hungarian …


Interesting bit of history, thanks for sharing it with us!

Totally OT: I noticed in the store today with some amusement that Katinka Hosszú and Shane Tusup have their own superhero comic book! They’re both the editors of the comic as well as serving as the main characters. Apparently it started back in July. Here’s the site: http://ironlady-arcanum.hu/

Happy New Year/BÚÉK everyone!


Having just finished reading “Danubia, A personal History of Habsburg Europe” by Simon Winder, Picador, to my wife, it was a pleasure to read the additional information in today’s post. It was also my wife’s opinion that Mr. Horthy had gotten used to the idea of being “Regent” and was not going to give up his role to any would-be king. The Habsburgs had a remarkable track record of survival on a grand scale over the centuries in Europe but Franz Josef lost the continuity in a big way well before his declaration of war on Serbia. Certainly the “Hungary” bit of Austria-Hungary was an artificial construct and contained all the seeds of its own destruction which duly followed in the Great War and its aftermath.


That “artificial construct” was however the tail that wagged the dog of the Dual Monarchy for fifty long years after the Compromise of 1867, a historic agreement between the Austrian and Hungarian leaderships which itself could only come about as a direct consequence of the weakness of Austria after their loss of the war against Prussia in 1866. The delusional Hungarian leadership, gentry and the emerging Hungarian middle classes could not imagine that they would not ultimately be able to force Hungarianization on the non-Hungarian nationalities in the Greater Kingdom of Hungary, which by then included Transylvania as well. Many parallels with the delusions of Jewish Israelis today, and the Arabs under their control.


A few years ago my wife and I spent a Christmas vacation on Madeira. Having nothing better to do we decided to visit the church in Monte where emperor Karl rests in his sarcophagus. We went up there on Christmas day and found the church closed. A passer by told us that obviously the church was closed because the priest had left for his Christmas holidays. We did not give it a second try.


I now realize that this was not my closest brush with the emperor.

I had met a Hungarian girl and we decided to get married in her home country. When we arrived in Budapest my mother-in-law-to-be had arranged for us to be married in the Coronation Church, nothing less. We went and saw the priest who was going to marry us and he told us about the practical details of the ceremony. When he came to the point that we were supposed to kneel I objected. I said that I have a Lutheran upbringing and we only kneel at the communion. Then the sly fellow showed us two read velvet pillows and told us that we were going to kneel on the pillows that Karl and Zita had knelt on at their coronation. Then my cause was lost. My Hungarian bride no longer supported my objection, and we were married kneeling on the coronation pillows.


Considering all that, how did the marriage worked out? I know it is not quite contagious, but Karl and Zita’s marriage was exemplary. Do you think some of that may have rubbed off on you?


I have never knelt again. We are still together after more than fifty years – not due to a pillow miracle but due to mutual patience.


Let’s hope Jean is not dominated by his wife as Karl (severely intellectually challenged imho) was by his wife Zita – a real rabid Catholic that believed in the god given superiority of the aristocracy!


So now you’re a Catholic too, Jean?