The Archduke and Aehrenthal: the origins of a hatred

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Author: Solomon Wank
Date: Annual 2002
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Document Type: Article
Length: 14,604 words

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ARCHDUKE FRANCIS FERDINAND'S AVERSION to Foreign Minister Baron (after 1909 Count) Alois Lexa von Aehrenthal is well known. The heir to the throne's biographers cite policy differences with regard to Hungary and Italy, and the worsening of relations with Russia after the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina in October 1908 as the reasons for this antipathy. (1) These policy differences certainly existed. However, the recently published private correspondence between the two men from the time when Aehrenthal was foreign minister (1906-12) provides clues to other causes of their estrangement. (2) While private, the letters are not personal in the sense of letters to family members and friends, and are therefore not as psychologically revealing. For the most part, they are about diplomatic, domestic, and ceremonial matters. They differ, however, from strictly official letters in that they allow for a more informal exchange of ideas. Consequently, the letters of Francis Ferdinand and Aehrenthal provide insight into the political attitudes and personality traits that underlay their estrangement. The archduke's letters are richer in that regard. Aehrenthal's letters to Francis Ferdinand are more guarded and restrained as one would expect of a Habsburg imperial official writing to such an august personage as the heir to the throne. (3)

The purpose of this article is to examine the correspondence between Francis Ferdinand and Aehrenthal for what it tells us about the views, political activity, and personality of the archduke and the influence of these factors on domestic developments and foreign policy, all of which pertain to why the archduke came to hate Aehrenthal. The heir to the throne's letters also bear on the often asked, even if ultimately unanswerable, question: Was Archduke Francis Ferdinand the kind of man who would have succeeded in his self-appointed task of reforming and stabilizing the Habsburg monarchy had he lived to ascend the throne?

BEFORE HE BECAME FOREIGN MINISTER in October 1906, Aehrenthal was counted among those Bohemian political personalities belonging to Archduke Francis Ferdinand's circle, although he was geographically too far removed as ambassador to Russia to be one of the archduke's intimate advisers. (4) Contact between them appears to have begun sometime after 1900. (5) In a 1902 letter, Francis Ferdinand ruefully reflected on the unstable domestic conditions in Austria-Hungary: "Everything here goes along higgledy-piggledy. No one knows what to do. Hungary becomes increasingly more audacious and arrogant, and we Austrians suffer from a lack of energetic men with strong character who would for once tell S[eine] M[ajestat] the truth and would exact [his] assent to intervene. (6)

In succeeding years, Aehrenthal corresponded with Francis Ferdinand on relations with Russia and political conditions there, especially the danger of the revolutionary upheaval in the tsarist empire spilling over into Austria-Hungary. (7) No doubt, Aehrenthal's strong monarchical-conservative outlook, imperial patriotism, centralistic political thinking, and optimism about the Habsburg Empire's ability to survive appealed to the archduke. (8) The same was true of Aehrenthal's ideas for a more energetic foreign policy, which stood in sharp contrast to the quiescent policy of...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A93611282