In the last days of October 1918 events followed in rapid succession. Having existed for nearly 640 years, Habsburg dominion in Austria collapsed within just a few days.
‘Filled with an unalterable love for all my peoples I do not wish to make my person a hindrance to their free development. I accept in advance the decision that is taken by German-Austria concerning its future form of state. The people has taken charge of government through its representatives. I relinquish every participation in the affairs of state. At the same time I release the Government of Austria from its office.’
Quoted from Bihl, Wolfdieter: Der Erste Weltkrieg 1914–1918. Chronik – Daten – Fakten, Wien/Köln/Weimar 2010. p. 237
On 23 October 1918 the imperial family travelled to Hungary, where the situation was still somewhat more stable, in order to assure themselves of the continued loyalty of the Hungarian government. They took up quarters at Gödöllö, as the situation in Budapest was already too dangerous. On the 26 October the imperial couple made a hasty return to Vienna, having received the news that the army was disbanding. As a sign that they were not simply taking flight, they initially left their children behind in Hungary.
On the same day Emperor Karl revoked the military alliance with Germany, and on 27 October appointed a new government with Heinrich Lammasch as prime minister. This last imperial government had de facto lost the Empire, as the newly formed national councils had already taken over local power, even in German Austria: after all the other national representatives had revoked their affiliation with the Habsburg Monarchy, on 30 October the representatives of German Austria also disassociated themselves.
Thus in the days following the collapse of power, two governments were active in Vienna: the imperial government under the leadership of Lammasch, which was virtually powerless to act, and the government of German Austria, a political entity without a constitution and with borders that had yet to be defined.
When the end of the war and the subsequent demobilization of troops were officially announced on 3 November 1918 the collapse of Austria-Hungary was inevitable. As Karl persistently refused to abdicate, he was persuaded by the imperial ‘government of liquidation’ under Lammasch to sign a document at Schönbrunn on 11 November 1918 declaring his renunciation of all further participation in the affairs of state. This formally marked the end of Habsburg rule.
Karl and Zita spent the final few days of the Monarchy at Schönbrunn Palace, which was seen as the last bastion of Habsburg power. The palace was also the scene of negotiations for the transfer of power. After Karl had signed the relinquishment of participation in the affairs of state in the Blue Chinese Salon, the imperial couple took their leave of their last faithful supporters. Cars were waiting in the courtyard below. In order to attract as little attention as possible, the motorcade left the park through a side gate rather than the main entrance to the palace.
Translation: Sophie Kidd
Brook-Shepherd, Gordon: Um Krone und Reich. Die Tragödie des letzten Habsburgerkaisers, Wien 1968
Broucek, Peter: Karl I. (IV.). Der politische Weg des letzten Herrschers der Donaumonarchie, Wien 1997
Gottsmann, Andreas (Hrsg.): Karl I. (IV.), der Erste Weltkrieg und das Ende der Donaumonarchie, Wien 2007
Leidinger, Hannes/Moritz, Verena/Schippler, Bernd: Schwarzbuch der Habsburger. Die unrühmliche Geschichte eines Herrscherhauses (2. Auflage, ungekürzte Taschenbuchausgabe), Innsbruck [u.a.] 2010
Rauchensteiner, Manfried: Der Erste Weltkrieg und das Ende der Habsburgermonarchie 1914–1918, Wien u. a. 2013
- The course of the war 1917–1918: Face-to-face with imminent downfall
- The situation in the hinterland
- Apathy and resistance – The mood of the people
- The Sixtus Affair: A major diplomatic débacle
- A programme for world peace – President Wilson’s Fourteen Points
- ‘To My faithful Austrian peoples’ – Emperor Karl’s manifesto
- The collapse
- The disintegration of the Habsburg Monarchy – Part I: On the road to self-determination
- The disintegration of the Habsburg Monarchy – Part II: The situation in Vienna and Budapest
- The last days of the Monarchy
- Franz Joseph: the ageing emperor
- The problem of the succession
- Franz Joseph and Franz Ferdinand – a tense relationship
- Franz Ferdinand and his political programme
- Kaiser Wilhelm II: The Beloved Enemy
- “Archduke Bumbsti”
- Karl as successor to the throne
- The New Emperor
- Karl I and the collapse of the Monarchy
- The last days of the Monarchy
- Emperor Karl on his way into exile