Deposing the Habsburgs – Four Times

Students at the Budaörs combat. Photo from Origo

Deposing the Habsburgs – Four Times

viola vonfi 

After the disastrous battle of Mohács (1526), in which King Louis II died fleeing from the battlefield,  Zápolyai János, Prince of Transylvania, was elected and duly crowned King of Hungary.  He was Hungarian, and was the richest man in the country.

The widow of King Louis had a brother, Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria.  Through her machinations, he too was crowned King (so the Magyars had two of them for a while!)   And therewith began Habsburg rule in Hungary.   

First Deposing or Dethronement – 1620

By the early 17th century, Hungary was divided into three parts: the center of the country was under Turkish rule, western and northern Hungary was Hungarian (but under Habsburg rule), and Transylvania was still independent.

Bethlen Gábor, then Prince of Transylvania, led the combined Hungarian-Transylvanian forces against the Austrians in the 30 Years’ War. His military successes brought him to the outskirts of Vienna and fueled the enthusiasm of the Hungarian National Assembly.  On August 25th,   1620, at Besztercebánya, it elected Bethlen Gábor to be king (”King Gábor I”), and declared the Habsburgs deposed. 

However, Bethlen was much more shrewd politically than to accept this honor.  He realized that allowing himself to be crowned would bring him into conflict with both the Austrian Emperor and the Turkish Sultan, which was more than he and his troops could handle successfully.  He therefore refused to accept the crown, and returned it to the Habsburg Ferdinand II.

Second Deposing or Dethronement – 1707

II. Rákóczi Ferenc led the Freedom Fight against Austria between 1703 and 1711. His successes were such that the National Assembly, which met at Ónod, declared King Joseph I deposed on June 13th, 1707.  It was on that occasion that Bercsényi Miklós, one of the military leaders of the Rákóczi Freedom Fight, uttered the famous words (introduced by an expression considered at the time to be a crude profanity):  ”Emperor Joseph is not our king!”

Since Rákóczi was unable to carry out both functions as Prince of Transylvania and King of Hungary, Count Bercsényi Miklós was chosen to be his deputy until a king could be elected. But By 1711, Rákóczi was defeated, and had to go into exile.  The Habsburgs could continue their rule of Hungary in peace.

Third Deposing or Dethronement – 1849

By the second year of the Freedom Fight of 1848-49 against Austria, Hungarian troops achieved notable victories in the course of their spring campaign. Consequently, the National Assembly, meeting at Debrecen under the leadership of Kossuth Lajos,  issued a Proclamation of Independence,  and on April 14th, 1849 once again declared the deposition of the House of Habsburg. 

Since the Freedom Fight was crushed with Russian help in August of that year, the Proclamation became null and void.

Fourth Deposing or Dethronement – 1921

After the death of Franz Joseph in November of 1916, Habsburg King Charles IV  had been crowned King of Hungary on December 30th of that same year. 

On October 15th, 1918, he declared the transformation of Austria into a federal state.  On November 13th, he issued a proclamation, relinquishing his right to take part in Hungarian affairs of state.   Charles named his cousin, Archduke Joseph August to be King of Hungary, a position Joseph held for two weeks in August 1919, during which time he named Horthy Miklós, who had been the last Admiral of the Austro-Hungarian navy, to be Commander-in-Chief of the Hungarian Army.  Then Joseph was forced to resign due to pressure from the French.

Despite his proclamation of non-involvement in Hungarian affairs of state,  Charles attempted to return to Hungary twice.  On March 26th, 1921, Holy Saturday, when the National Assembly was not in session, he arrived incognito and unannounced at Szombathely in the middle of the night. Roused from sleep at 2 am, Prime Minister Count Teleki Pál tried to dissuade Charles from his disastrous plan. Because Teleki clearly foresaw that if Charles returned, civil war would break out and the recently formed Little Entente (Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia) would intervene. (On March 28th, they actually declared that they would consider Charles’ return a casus belli, a reason for war.)  

For the same reason, Regent Horthy Miklós was adamant in refusing to hand over the government to Charles, and the National Assembly passed a resolution praising Horthy’s stance and endorsing the status quo.  Charles left Hungary reluctantly on April 5th, returning to Switzerland.  Nevertheless, a proclamation by Charles, stating that he was Hungary’s rightful ruler, appeared in Hungarian newspapers on April 7th. 

In October 1921, Charles IV tried again!!! His plane landed in western Hungary on October 20th, and some army officers (called legitimists) joined him in his march on Budapest. The country was divided – with some diehards loyal to the old ruling house.  His return brought Hungary to the verge of civil war. 

The Treaty of Trianon had restricted the size of the Hungarian army to a laughably small size, and the troops were of questionable loyalty.  The Hungarian government called upon the university students’ reserve battalion and stationed some of it in the Vár. (Our Editor’s father was among them, deployed in the Castle – Vár – district.)  Troops clashed at Budaörs, with ten university students and 60 Hungarian legitimists being killed, and many wounded.  A stray shot that hit Charles’ railroad car finally convinced him to call off the fight. He reluctantly agreed to an armistice, and dictated a surrender order, but did not abdicate the throne!  He was arrested together with his wife Zita, and they were taken by the British warship Glowworm to exile on the island of Madeira, where he died seven months later. 

On November 6th, 1921, the National Assembly passed Law XLVII, dethroning the House of Habsburg for the final time, while maintaining kingship as the ancient form of government. Election of a new king was to be postponed to a later (undetermined) time. (It has never taken place.) 

Despite all this, both Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia continued to deploy their armies along Hungary’s borders.  The departure of Charles and Zita, assurances by Regent Horthy that the Habsburgs would be dethroned, and stern warnings on the part of the British and the French to the Czech leader finally defused the crisis. 

According to the Foreign Minister, Bánffy Miklós, ”the mad adventure of king Charles ... utterly ruined our relationships with the Successor States, foreign policy-wise, and cut off any path to reconciliation.  It was as a result of the royal coup d’état that the Little Entente was created ... aimed exclusively against us...” (from The Fate of Western Hungary 1918-1921, by József Botlik).

viola vonfi is our correspondent from Stamford, CT.  She finds it amusing that one of her ancestors was knighted by Wallenstein during the Thirty Years’ War.