Otto von Habsburg (20 November 1912 – 4 July 2011), also known by his traditional royal title of Archduke Otto of Austria, was the last Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary from 1916 until the dissolution of the empire in 1919, a realm which comprised modern-day Austria, Hungary, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, and parts of Italy, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia and Ukraine. He became the pretender to the former thrones, Head of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine, and Sovereign of the Order of the Golden Fleece in 1922, upon the death of his father. He resigned as Sovereign of the Golden Fleece in 2000 and as head of the Imperial House in 2007.
The eldest son of Charles I and IV, the last Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary, and his wife, Zita of Bourbon-Parma, Otto was born as third in line to the thrones, as Archduke Otto of Austria, Royal Prince of Hungary, Bohemia, and Croatia. With his father’s accession to the thrones in 1916, he was likely to become emperor and king. As his father never abdicated, Otto was considered by himself, his family and Austro-Hungarian legitimists to be the rightful emperor-king from 1922.
Otto was active on the Austrian and European political stage from the 1930s, both by promoting the cause of Habsburg restoration and as an early proponent of European integration—being thoroughly disgusted with nationalism—and a fierce opponent of Nazismand communism. He has been described as one of the leaders of the Austrian Resistance. After the 1938 Anschluss, where monarchists were severely persecuted in Austria and sentenced to death by the Nazis, Otto fled Europe to the United States.
Otto von Habsburg was Vice President (1957–1973) and President (1973–2004) of the International Paneuropean Union, and served as a Member of the European Parliament for the Christian Social Union of Bavaria (CSU) from 1979 to 1999. As a newly elected Member of the European Parliament in 1979, Otto had an empty chair set up for the countries on the other side of the Iron Curtain in the European Parliament, and took a strong interest in the countries behind the Iron Curtain. Otto von Habsburg played a notable role in the revolutions of 1989, as a co-initiator of the Pan-European Picnic. Later he was a strong supporter of the EU membership of central and eastern European countries. A noted intellectual, he published several books on historical and political affairs. Otto has been described as one of the „architects of the European idea and of European integration” together with Robert Schuman, Konrad Adenauer, and Alcide De Gasperi.
Otto was exiled in 1918 and grew up mostly in Spain. His devout Catholic mother raised him according to the old curriculum of Austria-Hungary, preparing him to become a Catholicmonarch. During his life in exile, he lived in Switzerland, Madeira, Spain, Belgium, France, the United States, and from 1954 until his death, finally in Bavaria (Germany), in the residence Villa Austria. At the time of his death, he was a citizen of Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Croatia, having earlier been stateless de jure and de facto, and possessed passports of Monaco, the Order of Malta, and Spain. In 1961, he was offered the crown of Spain by Francisco Franco. He refused, and Juan Carlos of the House of Bourbon was made Franco’s successor instead.
Otto was born at Villa Wartholz in Reichenau an der Rax, Austria-Hungary. He was baptised Franz Joseph Otto Robert Maria Anton Karl Max Heinrich Sixtus Xavier Felix Renatus Ludwig Gaetan Pius Ignatius on 25 November 1912 at Villa Wartholz by the Prince-Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Franz Xaver Nagl. This name was named to promote as Franz Joseph II in the future. His godfather was the Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria (represented by Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria); his godmother was his grandmother Infanta Maria Antonia of Portugal.
In November 1916, Otto became Crown Prince of Austria, Hungary, Bohemia and Croatia when his father, Archduke Charles, acceded to the throne. However, in 1918, at the end of the First World War, the monarchies were abolished, the republics of Austria and Hungary were founded in their place, and the family was forced into exile in Madeira. Hungary did become a kingdom again, but Charles was never to regain the throne. Instead, Miklós Horthy ruled as regent until 1944, in a kingdom without a king.
Otto spoke German, Hungarian, Croatian, English, Spanish, French and Latin fluently. In later life, he would write some forty books in German, Hungarian, French and Spanish. His mother made him learn many languages because she believed he one day might rule over many lands.
Years in exile
Otto’s family spent the subsequent years in Switzerland, and on the Portuguese island of Madeira, where Charles died prematurely in 1922, leaving the nine-year-old Otto pretender to the throne. On his father’s deathbed, his mother, Empress Dowager Zita, told Otto, „your father is now sleeping the eternal sleep—you are now Emperor and King”. The family eventually relocated to the Basque town of Lekeitio, where forty Spanish grandees bought them a villa.
Meanwhile, the Austrian parliament had officially expelled the Habsburg dynasty and confiscated all the official property via the Habsburg Law of 3 April 1919. Charles was banned from ever returning to Austria again, while Otto and other male members could only return if they renounced all claims to the throne and accepted the status of private citizens.
In 1935, he graduated with a PhD degree in Political and Social Sciences from the University of Louvain in Belgium. His thesis was on „the right, born of usage and of the peasant law of inheritance, of the indivisibility of rural land ownership in Austria”. In 1937 he wrote,
|“||I know very well that the overwhelming majority of the Austrian population would like me to assume the heritage of the peace emperor, my beloved father, rather earlier than later. … The [Austrian] people have never cast a vote in favor of the republic. They have remained silent as long as they were exhausted from the long fight, and taken by surprise by the audacity of the revolutionaries of 1918 and 1919. They shook off their resignation when they realized that the revolution had raped their right to life and freedom. … Such trust places a heavy burden on me. I accept it readily. God willing, the hour of reunion between the Duke and the people will arrive soon.||”|
He continued to enjoy considerable public support in Austria; from 1931 to 1938, 1,603 Austrian municipalities named Otto an honorary citizen. John Gunther believed that Zita was less popular among Austrians, however, writing in 1936 that „restoration would be a good deal closer if Otto’s return would not mean also the return of his mother—to say nothing of hundreds of assorted and impoverished Habsburg cousins and aunts, who would flock to Vienna like ants to a keg of syrup”. A greater obstacle, he wrote, was the opposition of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, which feared that their people might want to rejoin a recreated monarchy.
World War II
Otto denounced Nazism, stating:
|“||I absolutely reject [Nazi] Fascism for Austria … This un-Austrian movement promises everything to everyone, but really intends the most ruthless subjugation of the Austrian people … The people of Austria will never tolerate that our beautiful fatherland should become an exploited colony, and that the Austrian should become a man of second category.||”|
He strongly opposed the Anschluss, and in 1938 requested Austrian Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg to resist Nazi Germany. He supported international intervention and offered to return from exile to take over the reins of government to repel the Nazis. According to Gerald Warner, „Austrian Jews were among the strongest supporters of a Habsburg restoration, since they believed the dynasty would give the nation sufficient resolve to stand up to the Third Reich”.
Following the German annexation of Austria, Otto was sentenced to death by the Nazi regime; Rudolf Hess ordered that Otto was to be executed immediately if caught. As ordered by Adolf Hitler, his personal property and that of the House of Habsburg were confiscated. It was not returned after the war. The so-called „Habsburg Law„, which had previously been repealed, was reintroduced by the Nazis. The leaders of the Austrian legitimist movement, i.e. supporters of Otto, were arrested by the Nazis and largely executed (Stefan Zweig‘s novella The Royal Game is based on these events). Otto’s cousins Max, Duke of Hohenberg, and Prince Ernst of Hohenberg were arrested in Vienna by the Gestapo and sent to Dachau concentration camp where they remained throughout Nazi rule. Otto was involved in helping around 15,000 Austrians, including thousands of Austrian Jews, flee the country at the beginning of the Second World War.
After the German invasion of France in 1940, the family left the French capital and fled to Portugal with a visa issued by Aristides de Sousa Mendes, the Portuguese consul in Bordeaux. For his own safety, Otto left the European continent for the United States and lived from 1940 to 1944 in Washington, D.C. In 1941, Hitler personally revoked the citizenship of Otto, his mother and his siblings, and the imperial-royal family found themselves stateless.
During his wartime exile in the United States, Otto and his younger brothers were in direct contact with President Franklin D. Rooseveltand the federal government. His efforts to create an „Austrian Battalion” in the United States Army were delayed and never implemented. However, he successfully convinced the U.S. to halt or limit the bombardment of Austrian cities, especially the capital, Vienna, which were consequently delayed by high-ranking commanding personnel; bombardments on Vienna began later in the war (1943). Otto tried hard to set symbolic steps for the will of Austria and Austrians to be free, independent and democratic; he expressed concern that after the war, Austria was in danger of becoming a Soviet satellite state. Otto was commonly known in the U.S. as „Otto of Austria”, trying to keep Austria and its neighbors in the minds of the American people via starting a series of stamps (the Overrun Countries series) containing the German-occupied nations of Europe.
He obtained the support of Winston Churchill for a conservative „Danube Federation”, in effect a restoration of Austria-Hungary, but Joseph Stalin put an end to these plans. He lobbied for the recognition of an Austrian government-in-exile, for the rights of the German-speaking population of South Tyrol, against the deportation of the German-speaking inhabitants of Bohemia and eastern Europe, and against letting Stalin rule Eastern Europe.
After World War II
At the end of the war, Otto returned to Europe and lived for some years in France and Spain.
In 1949, he ennobled several people, granting them Austrian noble titles, although not recognized by the Austrian republic.As he did not possess a passport and was effectively stateless, he was given a passport of the Principality of Monaco, thanks to the intervention of Charles de Gaulle in 1946. As a Knight of Malta, the order also issued him a diplomatic passport. Later, he was also issued with a Spanish diplomatic passport.
On 8 May 1956, Otto was recognized as an Austrian citizen by the provincial government of Lower Austria. The Austrian Interior Ministry approved this declaration of Citizenship, but on the condition that he accept the name Dr. Otto Habsburg-Lothringen, on 8 February 1957. However, this only entitled him to a passport „valid in every country but Austria”. Otto had already submitted a written statement, on 21 February 1958, that he and his family would renounce all privileges to which a member of the House of Habsburg was formerly entitled, but this first declaration did not satisfy the requirements of the Habsburg Law, which stated that Otto and other descendants of Charles could only return to Austria if they renounced all royal claims and accepted the status of private citizens. In 1961, Spanish caudillo Francisco Franco offered to make him king of Spain after his own death, which Otto declined. He officially declared his loyalty to the Republic of Austria on 5 June 1961, but this statement was ruled insufficient as well.
In a declaration dated 31 May 1961, Otto renounced all claims to the Austrian throne and proclaimed himself „a loyal citizen of the republic”, „for purely practical reasons”. In a 2007 interview on the occasion of his approaching 95th birthday, Otto stated:
|“||This was such an infamy, I’d rather never have signed it. They demanded that I abstain from politics. I would not have dreamed of complying. Once you have tasted the opium of politics, you never get rid of it.||”|
The Austrian administrative court found on 24 May 1963 that Otto’s statement was sufficient to meet this requirement. His wife and he were then issued a Certified Proof of Citizenship on 20 July 1965. However, several elements in the country, particularly the Socialists, were ill-disposed to welcoming back the heir of the deposed dynasty. This touched off political infighting and civil unrest that almost precipitated a crisis of state, and later became known as the „Habsburg Crisis”. It was only on 1 June 1966, after the People’s Partywon an outright majority in the national election, that Otto was issued an Austrian passport, and was finally able to visit his home country again on 31 October 1966 for the first time in 48 years. That day, he traveled to Innsbruck to visit the grave of Archduke Eugen of Austria. Later, he visited Vienna on 5 July 1967.
An early advocate of a unified Europe, Otto was president of the International Paneuropean Union from 1973 to 2004. He served from 1979 until 1999 as a Member of the European Parliament for the conservative Christian Social Union of Bavaria (CSU) party, eventually becoming the senior member of the European Parliament. He was also a member of the Mont Pelerin Society. He was a major supporter of the expansion of the European Union from the beginning and especially of the acceptance of Hungary, Slovenia and Croatia. During his time in the European Parliament, he was involved in a fracas with fellow MEP Ian Paisley, a unionist Protestant pastor from Northern Ireland. In 1988, Pope John Paul II had just begun a speech to the Parliament when Paisley, a vehement anti-Catholic, shouted that the Pope was the Antichrist, and held up a poster reading „Pope John Paul II Antichrist”. Otto snatched Paisley’s banner and, along with other MEPs, ejected him from the chamber.
He was one of the men instrumental in organising the so-called Pan-European Picnic at the Hungary-Austria border on 19 August 1989. This event is considered a milestone in the collapse of Communist dictatorships in Europe.
He was reportedly a patron of the Three Faiths Forum, a group which aims to encourage friendship, goodwill and understanding amongst people of the three monotheistic faiths of Christianity, Judaism and Islam in the United Kingdom and elsewhere.
In December 2006, he observed that, „The catastrophe of 11 September 2001 struck the United States more profoundly than any of us, whence a certain mutual incomprehension. Until then, the United States felt itself secure, persuaded of its power to bombard any enemy, without anyone being able to strike back. That sentiment vanished in an instant. Americans understand viscerally for the first time the risks they face.” He was known as a supporter of the rights of refugeesand displaced people in Europe, notably of the ethnic Germans displaced from Bohemia where he was once the Crown Prince. He was a jury member of the Franz Werfel Human Rights Award. He also held Francisco Franco in a high regard and praised him for helping refugees, stating that he was „a dictator of the South American type, not totalitarian like Hitler or Stalin”.
On the 2008 anniversary of the Anschluss, Otto von Habsburg made a statement as part of his „1938 Remembrance Day” address before Parliament that „there is no country in Europe that has a better claim to be a victim of the Nazis than Austria”. Although his speech received an ovation, this received public protest, media criticism and disapproval voiced by Austrian politicians. Social Democratic Party Defence Minister Norbert Darabos was quoted as saying that the remarks were „unacceptable”, „a veritable democratic-political scandal” and that he had „insulted the victims of National Socialism„. Otto von Habsburg was also quoted as saying that „a discussion as to whether Austria was an accomplice or a victim is an outrage”. Austrian People’s Party military spokesman Walter Murauer defended Otto’s statement at the time. Murauer claimed that there was „another reality behind the mass of people who listened to Hitler on the Heldenplatz„, meaning the „thousands in the resistance and thousands in prison waiting to be transported to Dachau” near Munich. Murauer also recalled that Engelbert Dollfuß had been the only head of government in Europe to have been murdered by the Nazis. Murauer advised Darabos „to avoid populist pot-shots against an honourable European of the highest calibre”. Otto’s son, Karl von Habsburg, also defended his father’s words, in a 2011 statement, stating that „there were guilty parties in practically every country”.
Death and funeral
After the death of his wife, Regina, aged 85, in Pöcking on 3 February 2010, Otto stopped appearing in public. He died at the age of 98 on Monday, 4 July 2011, at his home in Pöcking, Germany. His spokeswoman reported that he died „peacefully and without pain in his sleep”.On 5 July, his body was laid in repose in the Church of St. Ulrich near his home in Pöcking, Bavaria, and a massive 13-day period of mourning started in several countries formerly part of Austria-Hungary. Otto’s coffin was draped with the Habsburg flag decorated with the imperial–royal coats of arms of Austria and Hungary in addition to the Habsburg family coat of arms. In line with the Habsburg family tradition, Otto von Habsburg was buried in the family’s crypt in Vienna, while his heart was buried in a monastery in Pannonhalma, Hungary.
He married Princess Regina of Saxe-Meiningen on 10 May 1951 at the Church of Saint-François-des-Cordeliers in Nancy, capital city of Lorraine. The wedding was attended by his mother Empress Zita. He returned there with his wife for their golden jubilee in 2001. Otto lived in retirement at the Villa Austria in Pöcking near Starnberg, upon Starnberger See, Upper Bavaria, Bavaria, Germany.
At the time of his death in 2011, the couple had had seven children, 22 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren:
- Andrea von Habsburg, born 30 May 1953 (age 65). Married Hereditary Count Karl Eugen von Neipperg. They have three sons, two daughters and three grandchildren.
- Monika von Habsburg, born on 13 September 1954 . Married Luis María Gonzaga de Casanova-Cárdenas y Barón, Duke of Santangelo and Grandee of Spain, a descendant of Infanta Luisa Teresa of Spain, Duchess of Sessa and sister of Francis, King-Consort of Spain.
- Michaela von Habsburg, born on 13 September 1954 . Monika’s twin sister. Married firstly Eric Alba Teran d’Antin, and secondly Count Hubertus of Kageneck. She has two sons Gabor and Adam from her first marriage. Twice divorced.
- Gabriela von Habsburg, born on 14 October 1956
Married Christian Meister in 1978, divorced in 1997. Has issue.
- Walburga von Habsburg, born on 5 October 1958
Married Count Carl Axel Archibald Douglas.
- Karl von Habsburg, born on 11 January 1961
Married Baroness Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza, born on 7 June 1958 Has Issue.
- Georg von Habsburg, born on 16 December 1964
Married Duchess Eilika of Oldenburg, born on 22 August 1972 Has Issue.