Table of Contributors   Table of Contents   Return to Encyclopedia Home Page

John Baptist Joseph Fabian Sebastian von Habsburg

John Baptist Joseph Fabian Sebastian von Habsburg, Archduke of Austria, (1782-1859) The youngest brother of Emperor Francis I, Archduke John played several key if never completely central roles in a public career extending over forty years. He was known as something of a liberal within the imperial family, and together with Archduke Charles exerted a moderating influence on affairs of state. Archduke John is best known for two posts he held in 1848, representative of Emperor Ferdinand in Vienna, and Reichsverweser (translated as "Imperial Vicar," "Imperial Administrator" or simply "Regent") of the Frankfurt parliament, charged with designing a constitutional, united Germany.

In 1808, Archduke John, as advisor to his brother Francis, drew up plans to establish a national guard (Landwehr) in the hereditary and Bohemians lands, though this did little to prevent the calamitous Austrian defeat by Napoleon at Wagram in July 1809. Archduke John considered this defeat "the fatal day for the young Austrian Empire" (proclaimed only in 1804), because it meant the failure of the main attempt to rally European and especially German resistance to Napoleon under Austrian leadership. The defeat also resulted in the political eclipse of the reformist group at the Habsburg court in favor of the more reactionary group, led by the Stadion brothers and Prince Klemens von Metternich.

Following the Wagram calamity, Archduke John retired to Styria, where in 1823 he enhanced his liberal credentials through a morganatic marriage to the daughter of a Styrian postmaster. He also established the "Johanneum" in Graz, ostensibly to raise cultural standards throughout Styria, though in the end it made the archduke a de facto patron of Slovene culture. In sporadic involvement in court affairs, Archduke John supported Count Anton Kolowrat in his rivalry with the more reactionary Metternich. On March 13, 1848, Archduke John helped engineer Metternich's downfall, during a temporary ceasefire negotiated with the revolutionary crowd in Vienna.

In a Jun e 16, 1848 imperial manifesto issued from Innsbruck (whither the imperial family had fled), Emperor Ferdinand gave his "dear uncle" Archduke John full powers to open the Vienna parliament and to look after all matters requiring the emperor's attention until such time as the emperor`s "personal health" enabled him to return to Vienna. On June 28, Archduke John was also elected Reichsverweser by the Frankfurt parliament. He was invested in Frankfurt on July 8, but returned to Vienna shortly thereafter to make the opening address to the Viennese parliament on July 22. His speech was highly conciliatory, and he observed that "the surest guarantee for the spiritual and material development of Austria lay in the calling together of the representatives of the people." He expressed a pious hope that all nationalities would work together to produce fair constitutional arrangements.

But by this time, Archduke John held two posts that were not only probably impossible in themselves, but were mutually exclusive. German-speaking Austria could hardly be incorporated into a German national state without the breakup of the Habsburg monarchy. Archduke John's duties as Reichsverweser thus had to conflict sooner of later with his duties as the Habsburg emperor's representative. The archduke himself favored a "comprehensive Austrian nationality," meaning something of a greater Habsburg multinational citizenship, a concept that found few takers in such a nationalist political climate.

As the dramas of 1848 continued, Archduke John was gradually pushed to the sidelines by political actors with more powerful means at their disposal. In the fall of 1848, counterrevolutionary armies led by Prince Alfred Windischgraetz and Baron Josip Jellacic defeated the revolutionary movement in Vienna. Thereafter, the German princes, especially Prussian King Frederick William IV, came to take the Frankfurt parliament less seriously. The defeat of the revolutionary Viennese also meant that the Habsburg army rather than the emperor's representative came to establish itself as the arbiter of the interests of the dynasty. Thus, Archduke John as the emperor's representative became more or less politically irrelevant even before Ferdinand abdicated in favor of Francis Joseph in December 1848, despite a variety of well-intentioned attempts he made to mediate between the Habsburgs and the Viennese, the Italians, and the Hungarians. The promulgation of Count Franz Stadion's octroyed constitution of March 4, 1849, which declared all Habsburg lands part of an indivisible monarchy, put an effective end to the question of Austria joining a German national state. The archduke resigned as Reichsverweser and again retired to Styria, where he died in 1859.

Leonard Smith


Arthur, James May. The Age of Metternich (New York: H. Holt & Co., 1933).

Kann, Robert A. The Multinational Empire, 2 vols. ( New York: Columbia University Press, 1950).

MacCartney, C. A. The Habsburg Empire (London: Macmillan, 1969).

Rath, Reuben John. The Viennese Revolution of 1848 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1957).

Robertson, Priscilla. Revolutions of 1848: A Social History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1952).

Sked, Alan. The Decline and Fall of the Habsburg Empire 1815-1918 (New York: Longman, 1989).

Taylor, A. J. P. The Habsburg Monarchy, 1809-1918 (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1948).

Table of Contributors   Table of Contents   Return to Encyclopedia Home Page

jgcrevised this file ( on October 2, 2004.

Please E-mail comments or suggestions to

© 1997, 2004 James Chastain.