November 1916: The emperor is laid to rest

On 21 November 21 1916, Emperor Franz Joseph I dies at the age of 86 at Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna. He became Emperor of Austria in 1848 and was crowned King of Hungary in 1867. Now, with his death after 68 years of rule, an era comes to an end. At his funeral on 30 November 1916, the Dual Monarchy presents itself for the last time in all its tradition, pomp and splendour. His grandnephew, Archduke Karl Franz Joseph, married to Zita of Bourbon-Parma since 1911, succeeds him to the throne as Karl I, Emperor of Austria. A few days later, on 2 December 1916, Karl I assumes High Command of the Austro-Hungarian army.

The war years 1916 to 1918 - victories and graves

When the war starts in 1914 everyone believes it will be short. These hopes are soon shattered. The initial enthusiasm ends in unprecedented ammunition warfare and in the hell of the trenches. Along a front stretching for nearly 800 kilometres from the coast of Flanders to Switzerland, the German and French troops dig themselves into trenches fighting each other throughout the rest of the war in a positional warfare and battling for a few metres of ground. It is here on the Eastern front and in the twelve battles of the Isonzo that Europe's youth is bled to death. It would take a long list to name all the battle sites and to count all the graves. This war ends the lives of almost ten million people not including the victims of the enemy combatant "hunger" and the death toll of the Spanish flu.

An assassination and a "letter affair"

On October 21, 1916, Friedrich Adler, son of Viktor Adler, the party leader of the Social Democrats, shoots Prime Minister Karl Count Stürgkh in the dining hall of the Hotel "Meißl & Schadn". With the assassination, Friedrich Adler wants to publicly express his protest against the government's war activities. On May 19, 1917, he is sentenced to death by an "emergency court". Later, however, his sentence is commuted to 18 years of severe goal. Shortly before the war ends, Friedrich Adler is pardoned.

An affair which will be forever linked to the short rule of Emperor Karl I is the so-called "Sixtus Affair". It refers to secret peace negotiations the Emperor conducted with France from February to April 1917 using his brother in law, Sixtus Prince of Bourbon-Parma, as intermediary. Karl's offer: Germany would restore Alsace Lorraine, remove her troops from Belgium and pay war reparations. Austria-Hungary would vacate Serbia granting her access to the Adriatic Sea and refraining from an offensive in Italy while Russia would be granted free passage through the Dardanelles. This offer exists in writing in the two so-called "Sixtus Letters".

This "separate peace" is never accomplished. When the affair reaches the attention of the public, the hitherto unconditional loyalty to Germany starts to vanish while the young ruler's gradual loss of authority becomes obvious. As a consequence the Austro-Hungarian Empire's sphere of influence starts to diminish.

Both events, the assassination of Count Stürgkh and the "Sixtus Affair", cause a great stir in the Dual Monarchy. People start to question the war. First steps are taken along a path which will leave the old order behind forever - the path to self-determined sovereign states.

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