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Introduction; Background; The Compromise; The Height of the Dual Monarchy: 1867-1895; Crises at Home, Passivity Abroad: 1895-1906; The External Threat, 1906-1914; World War I and the End of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, 1914-1918
Austria-Hungary, also known as the dual monarchy, nation in central Europe ruled by the Habsburg monarchy from 1867 to 1918. It was established in 1867 under Francis Joseph I, the emperor of Austria and king of Hungary. Austria-Hungary extended over more than 675,000 sq km (241,491 sq mi) in central Europe, and included what are now Austria, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic, as well as parts of present-day Poland, Romania, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia and Montenegro.
Austria and Hungary were united as a result of the compromise (known in German as the Ausgleich) of March 1867. The compromise was an agreement between the Habsburg Emperor Francis Joseph and the Magyar rulers of the kingdom of Hungary. The people of Austria and the non-Magyar peoples of Hungary were not consulted. Besides a common monarch, the compromise established common ministries of foreign affairs, finance, and defense. Each kingdom had a separate parliament and was able to govern its own internal affairs. The compromise of 1867 established a large nation of about 50 million people. Located in the heart of Europe, Austria-Hungary was composed of many different language groups and nationalities. Austria-Hungary was regarded as a great European power along with France, Germany, Russia, and Britain.
The Habsburgs had ruled many parts of Europe, including Austria, as part of the Holy Roman Empire since the 1200s. Austria was formed during the Napoleonic Wars, a series of wars fought from 1799 to 1815 between France, led by Napoleon I, and a number of European nations. Napoleon dissolved the Holy Roman Empire in 1806; in anticipation of this, the Austrian Empire had been created in 1804. At the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars, Austria emerged as one of the most powerful states in what was called the German Confederation, and, as such, was one of the stronger nations in Europe. The Austrian Empire included the kingdom of Hungary, although the ruling class of Hungary, the Magyars, persistently pressed for more control in the years leading up to the compromise. For the half century after 1815, the Habsburg monarchy faced many serious internal challenges to its authority. Nationalistic groups demanded more autonomy. Political liberals were dissatisfied with the centralized Habsburg government, which promoted the idea that the emperor had absolute power to rule the Austrian nation without any interference. The Habsburg rulers managed to contain most of these threats by skillfully using the Austrian army and bureaucracy to keep restless subjects in line.
Externally, however, the Austrian Empire lost ground to rival states. Because Austria did not support Russia during the Crimean War (1853-1856), Russia refused in 1859 to support Austria against the French-supported Italian state of Piedmont (Piemonte), which drove Austria out of Lombardy (Lombardia), another state in northern Italy. Under the direction of Prince Otto von Bismarck, the minister-president of the north German state of Prussia, the Prussians began to challenge Austria for supremacy in the German Confederation. In 1866 Bismarck provoked Austria into the Seven Weeks' War. Austria lost and was expelled from the Confederation.
Shocked and humiliated by Austria's defeat, Francis Joseph compromised with the Magyars in Hungary to shore up his empire and save the Habsburg monarchy. First, Francis Joseph consolidated the monarchy's power in the German states that were part of the empire. Then, in exchange for Hungarian support of the monarchy, he agreed to surrender his control of Hungarian internal affairs, including his protection of the non-Magyar peoples. This was a key point in obtaining Magyar cooperation. This agreement was the basis of the compromise of 1867, which divided the old Austrian Empire into two parts, Austria and the kingdom of Hungary. The Habsburg monarch would be both the king of Hungary and the emperor of Austria. The new entity would be called the Austro-Hungarian Empire and would have a single foreign policy, one army, and a unified monetary system.
In the Austrian part of the new empire, the constitutional monarchy that was established in the old Austrian empire by an agreement called the February Patent of 1861 remained in force. The February Patent was the result of calls for a more democratic government. It transferred power from local legislatures that were controlled by the propertied classes and the nobility to a more centralized national government. The Magyars, who comprised the nobles and property owners in Hungary, had opposed the February Patent when it was issued in 1861, and they opposed it again when the compromise was discussed in 1867. To appease the Magyars, Francis Joseph agreed that the February Patent would apply only to Austria's half of the new empire. The compromise therefore sealed Magyar dominance of Hungary.
The compromise united two kingdoms under one head of state. Austria had its legislative branch, known as the Reichsrat, and the Hungarians had theirs, known as the Diet. The Delegations was a common legislative body that included delegates from each parliament; it served as a link between the two national governments. Each kingdom had its ruling class: the German-speaking people in Austria and the Magyars in Hungary. However, the Austro-Hungarian Empire included a significant number of Slavs, although they were a minority in both Austria and Hungary. In the entire Austro-Hungarian Empire of approximately 50 million people, about 23 million were Slavs. Since the compromise was primarily an agreement between the Habsburgs and the Magyars, the Slavic peoples were not consulted before the compromise was enacted. Consequently, most Slavs never supported the compromise and Slavic discontent later became an important issue leading to the outbreak of World War I in 1914.
For the first 20 years after 1867, Austria-Hungary enjoyed a measure of security both at home and abroad. Hungary was calm for the first time in decades. Under the guidance of Kálmán Tisza, Hungary's prime minister from 1875 to 1890, the Hungarian liberals in power were loyal to the compromise. The Magyars encountered strong resistance, however, when they tried to impose the Magyar language and Magyar culture on the non-Magyar peoples of Hungary. Austria experienced a period of reform and prosperity under German liberal governments from 1867 to 1879. After 1879, a coalition of conservative, aristocratic, clerical, and Slavic elements managed to neutralize the contending nationalities by setting one group against another so that no one group would ever become too powerful. This small group of political insiders known as the Iron Ring was controlled until 1893 by Prime Minister Count Eduard Taaffe, a childhood friend of Francis Joseph.
The Habsburg monarchy's foreign policy was simplified when it lost territory in Italy and lost the Seven Weeks' War to Prussia in 1866. It concentrated on maintaining commercial markets and keeping expansionist powers from claiming Habsburg possessions that were populated largely by Romanians and Slavic peoples. On the last point, Francis Joseph knew those territories were safe as long as he could prevent two or more great powers from uniting against Austria-Hungary. In their efforts to forestall such a combination, Austro-Hungarian statesmen showed considerable flexibility and ingenuity. They were able to achieve their foreign policy objectives peacefully by securing timely alliances with other great powers.
Austria-Hungary was most concerned about limiting Russia's expansion in the Balkan Peninsula. In 1878 the Balkan Peninsula was made up of the independent countries of Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Serbia, and Montenegro, in addition to Bosnia and Herzegovina, which still belonged to the Ottoman Empire. In that year, with Britain's support, Austria-Hungary stationed troops in Bosnia, to prevent the Russians from expanding into nearby Serbia. In another measure to keep the Russians out of the Balkans, Austria-Hungary formed an alliance, the Mediterranean Entente, with Britain and Italy in 1887 and concluded mutual defense pacts, with Germany in 1879 and with Romania in 1883, against possible Russian attack. Relations with Serbia, Italy, and Romania were improved in the early 1880s with separate alliances. Finally, Austria-Hungary worked with Russia to resolve their mutual differences peacefully through the Three Emperors' League (1873-1878) and then the Three Emperors' Alliances (1881-1887). The three emperors were Francis Joseph, William I of Germany, and Alexander II (who died in 1881) and Alexander III of Russia. These measures helped Austria-Hungary to achieve security.
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