World War I: the Ministerial Council

Erika Papp Faber

World War I:  the Ministerial Council

Top: Leon Ritter v. Bilinsky, Count Karl v. Stürgkh;Bottom: Count Leopold Berchtold, Alexander Ritter v. Krobatin

Nine days after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, on July 7th, 1914, the five-member Ministerial Council (sometimes also called the Crown Council) held a meeting in Vienna, presided over by the Austro-Hungarian Imperial Minister of Foreign Affairs, Count  Leopold Berchtold. The other members in attendance were Count Karl von Stürgkh, Austrian Prime Minister; Count István Tisza, Hungarian Prime Minister; Leon Ritter von Bilinski, Joint Minister for Finance; and Alexander Ritter von Krobatin, Minister for War. Response to the assassination was the topic on the agenda.  The following information is culled from the minutes of that meeting.

With the exception of Count Tisza, the other members of the Council were itching to go to war with Serbia in order to rein in its expansionary tendencies.  Because Serbia had expanded its territory considerably in the course of two recent Balkan wars, it was becoming a revolutionary force to be reckoned with.  They therefore favored presenting Serbia with such a severe ultimatum that it would be impossible for that country to accept.

Although Count Tisza agreed  that Austria-Hungary should formulate demands for Serbia, he insisted that those demands should be hard but not impossible.  If they did accept them, it would be a great diplomatic victory for the Dual Monarchy.  Should they not accept,  he too would favor some kind of military action, but only with the aim of the reduction of Serbia, NOT its annihilation.  He certainly could never consent to the annexation of part of Serbia to the Monarchy.

Although Germany had expressed its full support for any Austro-Hungarian war effort against Serbia, Count Tisza considered this German pressure as meddling (”It was not Germany’s place to judge whether we should now deal a blow at Serbia or not.”)  His personal opinion was that ”it was not absolutely necessary to go to war at this moment.”  He pointed out that anti-Austro-Hungarian sentiment was also strong in Romania, and that an attack from that quarter might also be possible if war broke out. 

Finally, the Hungarian Prime Minister specified that the text of the Note addressed to Serbia would have to be formulated most carefully, and that it was most important to see the Note before its dispatch.

Count Berchtold  summed up the upshot of the meeting by stating that while there was still a difference of opinion between the members and Count Tisza, ”yet they had come nearer an agreement, inasmuch as the Hungarian Premier’s own proposals would in all probability lead up to that armed conflict with Serbia, which he and the others at the meeting held to be necessary.”

Before drawing up a communiqué for the press, Count Berchtold told the attendees that he was traveling to Ischl the following day, to inform His Imperial Apostolic Majesty.  Count Tisza requested that Berchtold also submit to Emperor Franz Josef a humble memorandum of his view of the situation, which he would draw up. 

The minutes were signed by Count A. Hoyos, Councillor of Legation, as well as by Count Berchtold.  On the bottom are the following remarks: ”I have noted the contents of these Minutes, Vienna, August 16th, 1914.  Franz Josef (signature)” 

It is obvious from these minutes that Hungary, as represented by Count Tisza, did NOT want to enter into war.  He was the ONLY member of the Imperial Council to oppose military action.  Nevertheless, it was Hungary which was punished more severely than any other participant in the conflict!