Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Birthday Greetings #19

Happy birthday to Francis of Lorraine, less well known as Emperor Franz I of the Holy Roman Empire. Francis was the Duke of Lorraine a territory which, although part of the Holy Roman Empire, had long been coveted by the Kings of France who periodically invaded the place. Perhaps in reaction the Dukes of Lorraine were loyal servants of the emperors and provided the Habsburgs with a succession of mediocre administrators and second rate generals.

Francis was the last of his family to be Duke as the King of France decided to give the territory to his father in law after a failed attempt to put him on the throne of Poland (why anybody would want the throne of Poland is another matter). In exchange Charles VI, the reigning emperor gave Francis the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and arranged for him to marry his eldest daughter, Maria Theresa. Charles had no sons and when he died the male line of the House of Habsburg died with him. Charles had attempted to prepare for this moment with a frantic piece of international diplomacy called the Pragmatic Sanction whereby he made concessions to pretty much everybody in return for Maria Theresa being recognised as sole heir of all his territories. His success can be measured by the fact that virtually the entire of Europe invaded her lands before his body was cold.

There was one thing that Charles couldn't give to Maria Theresa, however. The imperial title was elective and male only. With the Habsburgs out of the running (and technically extinct) the Elector of Bavaria, backed by the French, put up his hand and was duly elected; the first non Habsburg to hold the title in almost three centuries. Maria Theresa currently being invaded by Bavarians, French and Prussians was in no position to argue.

Francis wasn't much of an administrator or a general but he was very good at avoiding the limelight and letting his much more talented wife run the show. In a spectacular resurgence Maria Theresa's troops beat the French and the Bavarians, drove them out of her territory, laid waste to Bavaria and forced the hapless emperor into exile where he soon died. With her star in the ascendant Maria Theresa managed to impose her will on the electoral college and the replacement emperor was none other than her husband thus bringing the crown back within the Habsburg family. Technically it was now the House of Habsburg-Lorraine but nobody paid too much attention to that. Nobody paid too much attention to Francis either although Maria Theresa modestly refused to attend the coronation so that she wouldn't divert the lustre of her husband's big day.

Francis wore the mantle of emperor pretty lightly if only because by this time there really wasn't much for an emperor to do. His powers and authority were virtually nil and the title had little more than prestige value. In his early days Francis had turned his hand to both administration and soldiering in the service of Maria Theresa's father and had proved lousy at both. As emperor he served as an assistant to his wife, who actually ran things, and patronised the arts. His one real talent turned out to be business and his advice was always listened to on economic matters. As further evidence of this he quietly accumulated quite a fortune which he left to the imperial treasury on his death. Apart from this he managed to father sixteen children with Maria Theresa while at the same time keeping at least one and sometimes a couple of mistresses on the side. Frankly I'm amazed he found time to do anything else.

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