While Charles had stopped short of a formal abdication, he “signed a carefully worded statement granting the German-Austrian people the right to form a new state” and relinquished the reins of power (as I noted in a series of posts in November on the break-up of Austria-Hungary, beginning here). But he was eventually pressured to leave. Although he returned to Hungary twice to retake power there, he died in exile on the Portuguese island of Madeira in 1922, at the age of 34. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2004.
His last moments in Austria are poignantly recorded in Stefan Zweig’s The World of Yesterday, a memoir of growing up in Austria-Hungary and witnessing its downfall, as well as seeing Europe plunged into two world wars. The author was returning from Switzerland and happened to be in that station of Feldkirch, Austria when the emperor was travelling the other direction. Some have doubted the factuality of this account, and it would have been quite a coincidence. Nonetheless, he captures the pathos of the moment.
A partial version of Zweig’s narrative of the scene is found on the English-language Wikipedia:
“Upon returning to Austria via the border station at Feldkirch an unforgettable experience stood before me. Even getting out I had noticed a strange unrest in the border guards and policemen. A bell tolled to signal the approach of a train. The policemen stood, all railway officials rushed out of their boxes. Slowly, majestically, the train rolled in, a special kind of train, a Salon train. The locomotive stopped. A motion was palpable through the ranks of those waiting, I still did not know why. Then I saw behind the mirror glass of the coach an erect Emperor Karl, the last Emperor of Austria and his black-clad wife, Empress Zita. I was startled: the last Emperor of Austria, heir to the Habsburg dynasty, which ruled the country for seven hundred years, was leaving his kingdom! As he had refused formally to abdicate, the republic had forced his departure. Now the high serious man stood at the window and saw for the last time the mountains, the houses, the people of his country.”
Zweig writes that upon seeing the banished Karl, memories of the previous emperor, Franz Joseph, came flooding back into his mind: so many of his public appearances, thousands of schoolchildren singing Haydn’s “Gott erhalte,” Austria-Hungary’s state hymn (which only later became the German national anthem), and various stately ceremonies.
The author continues, “It was only in this moment that the nearly thousand-year monarchy had truly come to an end. I knew that it was another Austria, another world, to which I was returning.”
I vaguely recall sitting in my train seat, staring out the window at the small Feldkirch station when I travelled from Vienna to Switzerland and Liechtenstein in the summer of 2000. I didn’t realize the significance of the location at the time. One of these days, I tell myself, I will make the journey again, perhaps step out in Feldkirch, and then continue to, say, Zurich. Then I’ll visit the ruins of the original Habsburg castle.
Other related travel sites:
Schloss Eckartsau in Lower Austria, where Karl spent his last four months as doubtful emperor.
Schloss Wartegg, on the Swiss edge of Lake Constance, Karl’s first place of exile.