The End of Imperial Patronage
Nothing in this world is for ever. A series of Habsburg family tragedies began in 1868 with the execution of Maximilian, the second of the “salt princes”, who had rashly accepted an offer by Napoleon III of France to make him Emperor of Mexico, but had failed to establish himself there. Then the heir to the Austro-Hungarian thrones, Crown Prince Rudolf, committed suicide in January 1889. Empress Elisabeth never recovered from the shock of Rudolf’s death; she gave away all her jewellery and wore black clothes for the rest of her life.
Elisabeth spent the first two weeks of July 1898 at the Kaiservilla before leaving for a visit to her Wittelsbach family in Bavaria and a tour to Bad Nauheim and Switzerland. Franz Josef walked round the park with his Sisi for the last time on the day of her departure, 15 July, when both were apparently in a harmonious and nostalgic mood. Their life together ended where it had begun 45 years previously – in Ischl. She was stabbed to death in Geneva on 10 September 1898 by Luigi Lucheni, a 25-year-old Italian anarchist, for no reason other than that she was royalty.
Finally, on 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the next in line to the Austro-Hungarian thrones, was shot by the Serbian assassin Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia. The Kaiservilla was now the absolute centre of world attention in a torrent of diplomatic activity. After the murder of the Crown Prince and his wife, Franz Josef signed Austria-Hungary’s ultimatum to Serbia at his desk in the Imperial Villa. It was delivered on 23 July. Since the Serbian reply to the conditions demanded was considered unsatisfactory, he broke off diplomatic relations two days later. Then, on 28 July, after having been informed that Serbian hostilities had commenced against Austro-Hungarian shipping on the Danube, and that a shooting incident had occurred at Temes-Kubin, he signed the formal declaration that a state of war existed with Serbia. This local conflict – Austria had no wider ambitions – rapidly escalated into the First World War as other powers with their own agendas intervened one after another. Franz Josef’s final act of state on 28 July 1914 was to sign the manifesto An meine Völker ("To my Peoples") at his desk in the Imperial Villa. The manifesto, explaining why he had been forced to declare war, was published on the following day. That year there was no birthday celebration. On 30 July he left by special train for Vienna accompanied by the new Crown Prince, the young Archduke Karl. He never saw his beloved Ischl again. Franz Josef's farewell to Ischl in July 1914 marked the end of an era. He died on 21 November 1916, after a reign of 68 years. Two years later, the Habsburg Monarchy itself was no more.
The end of almost a century of imperial patronage did not, however, mean the end for the town that since 1906 had been officially called Bad Ischl. There are still Habsburgs in the Imperial Villa. Although an official residence it was never state property. It was inherited by Marie Valerie, the youngest of Franz Josef’s four children. Since Marie Valerie married her cousin Franz Salvator, of the line of the Habsburg dukes of Tuscany, the Kaiservilla remains in Habsburg ownership to this day, in the direct line of descent from Franz Josef and Elisabeth. It survived the two world wars unscathed and is still largely in its original condition as they knew it.