A king’s strongest castle is the hearts of his people

November 4, 2010

The paternal character of the medieval monarchy was preserved in large measure by the sovereigns of the House of Austria until the dethronement of the Hapsburgs in 1918.

The speech of Vienna’s burgomaster upon receiving the Emperor Francis I some time after the defeat at Wagram (1809) provides an expressive idea of the affection of this paternal character. For those modern readers not imbued with the spirit of class struggle, this speech will seem to be a page from a fairy tale rather than a historic document. A narrator of indisputable competence, the Austrian historian Johann Baptist Weiss (1820-1899), records this episode as follows:

Most fervent support was shown [by the people of Vienna] in the reception for the Emperor, Francis I, after a devastating war and the departure of the French from Vienna on November 20, 1809, following an oppressive stay of six months, seven days….

On November 26, the Austrian troops returned to Vienna, and on the 27th the Emperor arrived at four o’clock in the afternoon. Since daybreak thousands and thousands of people had been heading to Simmering to welcome their beloved Emperor. All of Vienna was standing by, pressing together like children awaiting their beloved father. He appeared at last, with no guards, in an open carriage and wearing the uniform of his Hussar regiment, with his chief steward, the Count of Wrbna, at his side. The air and ground virtually shook with cries of joy—“Welcome, Father!” Handkerchiefs waved incessantly.

Battle of Wagram

A painting by Emil Adam (1843–1924)

The burgomaster addressed him in these words: “Beloved Prince, when a people, amid enormous sufferings and struggling against misfortune, thinks only of the woes of its Prince, their love is deeply rooted in strong, undying feeling. We are that people. When our sons were falling on the bloody battlefield, when incandescent balls were destroying our homes, when the foundations of Vienna trembled amid the thunder of battle, our thoughts were of you. O Prince and Father, our thoughts were then of you in silent love. For you did not seek this war. The fatal course of events forced it upon you. You wanted something better. You have not been the cause of our hardships. We know that you love us. We know that our happiness is your sacred, firm wish. We have often felt the blessings of your fatherly goodness; you have marked your return by new blessings. Fatherly Prince, accept these greetings filled with unwavering love in our midst. It is true that the poor outcome of this war has taken away some of your subjects, but please forget the pain of these losses through close union with your loyal subjects. Not in numbers, but in the strong, constant wishes and the all-encompassing love are the sacred supports of the throne. And we are all filled with this spirit. We want to compensate you for your losses. We want to be worthy of our country, for no Austrian abandons his Prince where our country is concerned. Even though the walls surrounding your palace were to go to ruin, the strongest castle is the hearts of your people.”

No monarch could have encountered a warmer reception. Francis I was able to move forward only a step at a time as the people kissed his hands, his garments, and the horses. When he reached the palace, they carried him up the staircase. At night the city and the outskirts were splendidly illuminated. (Johann Baptist Weiss, Historia Universal [Barcelona: Tipografia La Educación, 1932], Vol. 21, pp. 768-769.)

Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, Nobility and Analogous Traditional Elites in the Allocutions of Pius XII: A Theme Illuminating American Social History (York: Penn.: The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property, 1993), pp. 509-510.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 22


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