Tuesday 6 August 2013

The Fall of the Holy Roman Empire

A little more dynastic wrangling today, as Napoleon continues his campaign across the continent and this time, brings down the Holy Roman Empire.

Portrait of Francis I, 1816
Francis I, 1816

Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor, had never really been a fan of the French. A nephew of Marie Antoinette, as he watched Napoleon's seemingly unstoppable rise he took a dim view of the new political landscape as the French Empire crept up on the borders of his own Holy Roman Empire. A fierce defender of his country, Francis had led Austria in the French Revolutionary Wars and saw his forces fall to Napoleon in Flanders. This first defeat would cost him dearly in territory and morale under the terms of the Treaty of Campo Formio, hobbling Austria's military might.

Portrait of The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries by Jacques-Louis David 1812
The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries by Jacques-Louis David 1812

Undeterred, Francis forged on as part of the Third Coalition, eventually facing Napoleon again at the Battle of Austerlitz. After a gruelling nine hour battle the Russo-Austrian army fell, crushed beneath the might and strategy of Napoleon's campaign. Already weakened by earlier defeats, Austria faced further catastrophic financial and territorial sanctions under the terms of the Treaty of Pressburg. With the signing of the treaty there was little Holy Roman Empire left to speak of and Francis abdicated on 6th August 1806, dissolving the Holy Roman Empire. 

He founded the Austrian Empire and was henceforth known as Francis I of Austria, the loss of the imperial throne a humiliation that he would not soon forget.

Painting of Napoleon at the Battle of Austerlitz by François Gérard, 1810
Napoleon at the Battle of Austerlitz by François Gérard, 1810

Fired with new optimism by France's struggles in the Peninsular War, Francis had another tilt at Napoleon in 1809 and, perhaps unsurprisingly, found his armies defeated once again. This time the stakes were personal as Francis' daughter, Marie-Louise went on to marry Napoleon and for a while at least, all was peaceful in France and Austria.

This bliss couldn't lost though and soon Francis was sharpening his sword again, this time as a member of the sixth coalition  alongside Prussia, Russia, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Sweden and Spain. This time the outcome was to be very different as, after a series of battles across Europe, Napoleon's forces were slowly driven back towards France. By the end of the War of the Sixth Coalition over two million people were dead and Napoleon was in exile, his Empire in tatters. 

In honour of their part in the victory, Francis was given the honour of presiding over the Congress of Vienna but his country would never again know the might it had once enjoyed, forever weakened by its disastrous conflicts with the French.

Life in the Georgian Court, true tales of 18th century royalty, is available at the links below.

Pen and Sword
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Book Depository (free worldwide shipping)

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