Blessed Karl I

Blessed Karl of Austria (August 17, 1887-April 1, 1922) or Karl Franz Josef Ludwig Hubert Georg Maria von Habsburg-Lothringen, was (among other titles) the last Emperor of Austria, the last King of Hungary and Bohemia, and the last monarch of the Habsburg Dynasty.

He reigned as Emperor Karl I of Austria, King Charles V of Bohemia and King Charles IV of Hungary. He was the son of Archduke Otto Franz of Austria (1865-1906) and Princess Josepha of Saxony (1867-1944). He was also a nephew of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who was assassinated along with his wife by Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb nationalist, on June 28, 1914, in Sarajevo. Their assassination triggered World War I. In 1911, Karl married Princess Zita of Bourbon-Parma (1892-1989). They had eight sons and two daughters.

His reign began in November 1916, on the death of 86-year-old Emperor Franz Josef, who had reigned for 68 years. In 1917, Karl secretly entered into peace negotiations with France. Although his foreign minister, Ottokar Czernin, was only interested in negotiating a general peace which would include Germany, Karl himself, in negotiations with the French through his brother-in-law, Prince Sixtus of Bourbon-Parma, an officer in the Belgian army, went much further in suggesting his willingness to make a separate peace.

When news of the overture leaked in April 1918, Karl denied all involvement until the French prime minister Georges Clemenceau published letters signed by him. This led to Czernin's resignation, forcing Austria-Hungary into an even more dependent position with respect to its seemingly wronged German ally.

The Austro-Hungarian Empire was wracked by inner turmoil in the final years of the war, with much tension between ethnic groups. US President Woodrow Wilson demanded that the Empire allow for the self-determination of its peoples as part of his Fourteen Points. In response, Karl agreed to reconvene the Imperial parliament and allow for the creation of a confederation with each national group exercising self-governance. However, the reforms quickly spiralled out of control, with each national government declaring complete independence.

For a while it appeared as though Karl might reign as monarch of a newly independent Austria, but Austria's new republican government ultimately vetoed this idea.

On November 11, 1918, he proclaimed: "I relinquish every participation in the administration of the State" but did not abdicate his thrones. He then fled to Switzerland and, encouraged by Hungarian nationalists, he sought twice in 1921 to reclaim the throne of Hungary but failed. Hungarian Regent Miklos Horthy's failure to support Karl's restoration attempts is often described as "treasonous" by monarchists. Critics suggest that Horthy's actions were more firmly grounded in political reality than those of the King of Hungary and his supporters.

Karl died of severe pneumonia on the Portuguese island of Madeira in 1922.

The hearts of Karl and Zita, who went on to live till the ripe old age of 97, are buried in the crypt of the Loreto Chapel of the Benedictine Monastery at Muri, Switzerland. Emperor Karl is buried in the Nossa Senhora do Monte church in Funchal on Madeira.

The cause for Karl's beatification began in 1949 when testimony of his holiness was collected in Vienna. In 1954, he was declared Venerable, the first step on the process to beatification. The Church praised Karl for putting his Christian faith first in making political decisions, and for his perceived role as a peacemaker during the war. Cardinal Schönborn of Vienna has been the Church's sponsor for his beatification.

On December 21, 2003, based on three expert medical opinions, the Congregation certified that a miracle occurred in 1960 through Karl's intercession: the scientifically inexplicable healing of a Brazilian nun with debilitating varicose veins who got out of bed after praying for his beatification.

On October 3, 2004, Emperor Karl was beatified by Pope John Paul II. The Pope also declared October 21, the date of Karl's marriage to Princess Zita, as Karl's feast day. The beatification has caused controversy because Karl is believed to have authorised his army's use of poison gas during World War I.


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