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Otto I
Emperor of Austria (more...)
Reign 1 April 1922 – 13 March 1941
Coronation 23 November 1932
Predecessor Charles I
Successor Empire disbanded
Regent Maximilian (1922–32)
Spouse Princess Regina of Saxe-Meiningen
  • Archduchess Andrea
  • Archduchess Monika
  • Archduchess Michaela
  • Archduchess Gabriela
  • Countess Douglas
  • Crown Prince Karl
  • Archduke Georg
House House of Habsburg-Lorraine
Father Charles I of Austria
Mother Zita of Bourbon-Parma
Born 20 November 1912
Reichenau an der Rax, Austria-Hungary Flag of Austria-Hungary (1869-1918).svg
Died 4 July 2011 (aged 98)
Pöcking, Bavaria, Germany Flag of Germany.svg
Burial 16 July 2011 (body); 17 July 2011 (heart)
Religion Roman Catholicism

Otto I of Austria (Franz Joseph Otto Robert Maria Anton Karl Max Heinrich Sixtus Xavier Felix Renatus Ludwig Gaetan Pius Ignatius; 20 November 1912 – 4 July 2011), was the last Emperor of Greater Austria from 1922 until 1941, when he "renounced participation" in state affairs, but did not abdicate, a realm which comprised modern-day Austria, Hungary, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the Czechoslovakia, Slovenia, and parts of Italy, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia and Ukraine. In the beginning of the Anschluss, fearing he would be arrested by the Germans, fled Austria to neighboring Switzerland. He resigned as head of the Imperial House in 2007.

Early life

Crown Prince Otto in Budapest in 1916

Otto was born at Villa Wartholz in Reichenau an der Rax, Austria-Hungary. He was baptised Franz Joseph Otto Robert Maria Anton Karl Max Heinrich Sixtus Xavier Felix Renatus Ludwig Gaetan Pius Ignatius on 25 November 1912 at Villa Wartholz by the Prince-Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Franz Xaver Nagl. His godfather was the Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria (represented by Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria); his godmother was his grandmother Infanta Maria Antonia of Portugal.

In November 1916, Otto became Crown Prince of Austria, Hungary and Bohemia when his father, Archduke Charles, acceded to the throne. In 1918, at the end of the First World War, the monarchies were transformed into a federation of equal states under the Habsburg crown. He spoke German, Hungarian, Croatian, English, Spanish, French and Latin fluently. In later life, he would write some 40 books in German, Hungarian, French and Spanish. His parents made him learn many languages because the wanted him to become a monarch of all the people not just the Austrian Germans.

Years on the throne

Otto's family spent a spring time holiday on the Portuguese island of Madeira, upon returning to Vienna his father died prematurely in 1922, leaving the 9-year-old Otto emperor. On his father's deathbed, his mother, Empress Dowager Zita, told the 9-year-old, "your father is now sleeping the eternal sleep—you are now Emperor and King". Meanwhile, the Austrian parliament had officially installed his uncle, Archduke Maximilian, as regent until November 1930 when Otto came of age.

Emperor Otto I upon coming of age, 1930

Otto did not intervene, when on 4 March 1933 after a heated discussion in the Reichsrat parliament over a strike of imperial railways employees Speaker Karl Renner as well as his deputies Rudolf Ramek and Sepp Straffner resigned their offices. The assembly was no longer capable for actions and decisions, which gave Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss the pretext to declare the parliament's "self-elimination". The government obstructed any resumption of the session by massive presence of police forces as well as of paramilitary Heimwehr troops led by Emil Fey — a self-coup which enabled Dollfuss to rule by "emergency decress" following the Article 48 example set by German Emperor Wilhelm II.

The emperor remained passive, when on 20 May the government established the Fatherland's Front as a prospective single-party, followed by the ban of the Communist Party, the Austrian branch of the Nazi Party, as well as the Social Democratic Republikanischer Schutzbund paramilitary organisation. The prohibition of the Arbeiter-Zeitung (Worker's Newspaper) and the measures against the Austrian labour movement led to the outbreak of the February Uprising on 12 February 1934. As a result also the Social Democratic Party was banned and the Austrofascist ideology finally realized. The authoritarian measures had no effect on the monarchy. In his private records, Otto clearly condemned the violation of the constitution by Dollfuss and his successor Kurt Schuschnigg, however, he did not openly criticise the government's policies.

Otto was highly unpopular among Austrian Nazis, as he refused to commute the death sentences imposed on assassins of Chancellor Dollfuss after the failed July Putsch in 1934. In view of the rising pressure by Nazi Germany, the Austrofascist state approached the Kingdom of Italy under Duce Benito Mussolini.

After Chancellor Schuschnigg on 12 February 1938 had been summoned to the Berghof by Adolf Hitler to receive German demands, Otto offered amnesty to jailed Nazi members, but initially refused to turn over the national police force to their leader Arthur Seyss-Inquart. However, when Germany ordered operations along the border, the emperor was forced to give in and installed Seyss-Inquart as Austrian Minister of the Interior. In 1939, after the Soviet invasion of Ukraine, he was reluctant to go to war, but he did so on 27 August 1939, ordering the Austrian army into Ukraine. In December 1939 and January 1940, Otto's repeated refusal to allow their withdrawal during the Korsun–Shevchenkovsky Offensive led to the collapse of the Austro-Ukrainian defensive lines. By late 1940, both the Red Army was advancing into Austria. In turn, on 11 March Hermann Göring demanded that Seyss-Inquart replace Schuschnigg as chancellor; otherwise, German forces would overrun Austria the following day. While a Nazi mob invaded the chancellery, Schuschnigg declared his resignation ("yielding to force"). Otto again refused to appoint Seyss-Inquart, but was not able to present a non-Nazi candidate. After Hitler received the confirmation from Mussolini that Italy would help secure the Adriatic region, he gave orders that German troops would invade at dawn the following day (Unternehmen Otto).

Otto capitulated at midnight, announcing that he had instated Seyss-Inquart as new chancellor. Seyss-Inquart hectically spoke on the phone with the Nazi authorities in Berlin, but it was too late. When German troops rolled over the border at dawn the next day, they met with no resistance by the Austrian forces and were largely greeted as heroes. Otto for his initial refusal ended up under house arrest, protected from Nazi mistreatment by a commander of the Leibgarde at Eckartsau, Oberleutnant Otto Skorzeny during the occupation.

The empire was wracked by inner turmoil in the years of the war, with much tension between ethnic groups. Parts of Austria were annexed by Italy and Serbia, other parts of the empire, Croatia and Montenegro, two Nazi-puppet governments were installed. Otto's political future became uncertain. Nothing remained of Otto's realm except the predominantly German-speaking Danubian and Alpine provinces, and he was challenged even there by the German Austrian State Council. Seyss-Inquart, kept him informed of the situation, and that his best course was to temporarily give up his right to exercise sovereign power.

Proclamation of 24 March

On 24 March 1941, Otto issued a carefully worded proclamation in which he recognized the Austrian people's right to determine the form of the state and "relinquish(ed) every participation in the administration of the State." He also released his officials from their oath of loyalty to him. On the same day the Imperial Family left Schönbrunn Palace and moved to Castle Eckartsau, east of Vienna. From 25 to 30 March, following a visits of officials from the various staates of the empire, Otto issued a similar proclamations for them.

Although it has widely been cited as an "abdication", that word was never mentioned in any of the proclamations. Indeed, he deliberately avoided using the word abdication in the hope that the people of any state would vote to recall him. Privately, Otto left no doubt that he believed himself to be the rightful emperor. Instead, on 25 March, the day after he issued his proclamation, the independent Archduchy of German-Austria was proclaimed, followed by the declaration of the uion between Germany and Austria on 26 March. An uneasy truce-like situation ensued and persisted until 23–24 July 1941, when Otto left for Switzerland, escorted by the commander of the small German guard detachment at Eckartsau, Major Kurt von Plettenberg. As the Imperial Train left Austria on 24 July, Otto issued another proclamation in which he confirmed his claim of sovereignty, declaring that "whatever the Nazi's have resolved with respect to these matters since 24 March is null and void for me and my House."

Although the newly established government of Austria was not aware of this "Manifesto of Feldkirch" at this time, the politicians now in power were extremely irritated by the Emperor's departure without an explicit abdication. The Austrian Parliament passed the Habsburg Law on 3 August 1941, which permanently barred Otto from returning to Austria. Other Habsburgs were permitted to remain in Austrian, later German, territory so long as they accepted the status of subnational royals.


In Switzerland, Otto and his immediate family briefly took residence at Castle Wartegg near Rorschach at Lake Constance and later moved to Château de Prangins at Lake Geneva on 20 September 1941. He remained hopeful that the British would pressure the Germans and Italians into allowing the Austrian nation to continue. When he learned of the Paris Peace Confedernce was beginning and that he was not permitted to attend he was outraged.

Otto denounced Nazism, stating:

I absolutely reject [Nazi] Fascism for Austria ... This un-Austrian movement promises everything to everyone, but really intends the most ruthless subjugation of the Austrian people ... The people of Austria will never tolerate that our beautiful fatherland should become an exploited colony, and that the Austrian should become a man of second category.

This act enraged Hitler and forbade all attempts to let Otto reign, even as a figure head, over any former parts of the empire. After the Anschluss referendum in 1947 resulted in Austria becoming a constituent of Germany Nazi officials visited him requesting a candidate for the Archducal throne of Austria. He offered himself as the legitimate candidate but was refused. His former Chancellor, Schuschnigg, advised him to accept this position until a time when the Austrian people overthrew the Nazi's. He reluctantly convinced his brother to accept the Archducal position while he retained that he was the rightful emperor of all Austria. The following year in 1949 he gave his permission for his relative Archduke Joseph August to assume the throne of Hungary.

As he did not possess a passport and was effectively stateless, he was given a diplomatic passport by the Order of Malta.


He married Princess Regina of Saxe-Meiningen on 10 May 1951 at the Church of Saint-François-des-Cordeliers in Nancy, capital city of Lorraine. The wedding was attended by his mother Dowager-Empress Zita. He returned there with his wife for their golden jubilee in 2001. At the time of his death, he left seven children, 22 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren:

  • Archduchess Andrea (born 1953). Married Hereditary Count Karl Eugen von Neipperg. They have three sons, two daughters and three grandchildren.
  • Archduchess Monika (born 1954). Married Luis María Gonzaga de Casanova-Cárdenas y Barón, Duke of Santangelo, Marquess of Elche, Count of Lodosa and Grandee of Spain, who is a descendant of Infanta Luisa Teresa of Spain, Duchess of Sessa and sister of Francis, King-Consort of Spain.
  • Archduchess Michaela (born 1954). Monika's twin sister. Married firstly Eric Alba Teran d'Antin, and secondly Count Hubertus of Kageneck. She has two sons Gabor and Adam from her first marriage. Twice divorced.
  • Archduchess Gabriela (born 1956)
    Married Christian Meister in 1978, divorced in 1997. Has issue.
  • Archduchess Walburga (born 1958)
    Married Count Carl Axel Archibald Douglas. Has Issue.
  • Crown Prince Karl (born 1961)
    Married Baroness Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza, born on  Has Issue.
  • Archduke Georg (born 1964)
    Married Duchess Eilika of Oldenburg, born on  Has Issue.

Titles and styles

Monarchical styles of
Otto I of Austria
Greater Austria CoA by SoaringAven.png
Reference style His Imperial and Royal Apostolic Majesty
Spoken style Your Imperial and Royal Apostolic Majesty
Alternative style My Lord
  • 20 November 1912 – 21 November 1916: His Imperial and Royal Highness Archduke and Imperial Prince Otto of Austria, Royal Prince of Hungary and Bohemia
  • 21 November 1916 – 1 April 1922: His Imperial and Royal Highness The Crown Prince of Austria, Hungary, and Bohemia
  • 1 April 1922 – 24 July 1941: His Imperial and Royal Apostolic Majesty The Emperor of Austria, Apostolic King of Hungary and Croatia, Bohemia and Galicia, Venetia and Lodomeria
  • 24 July 1941 – 4 July 2011: His Imperial and Royal Apostolic Majesty Emperor Otto of Austria
  • 24 July 1941 – 4 July 2011:
    • His Imperial and Royal Apostolic Majesty Emperor Otto of Austria (used outside Germany)
    • Otto Erzherzog von Österreich (used in Germany)
Otto I of Austria
House of Habsburg-Lorraine
Cadet branch of the House of Lorraine
Born: 20 November 1912 Died: 4 July 2011
Austrian royalty
Preceded by
Charles I
Emperor of Austria
Empire abolished
Title next held by
as Archduke of Austria
King of Hungary
Monarchy abolished
Title next held by
Joseph III
King of Bohemia
Monarchy abolished
creation of Czechoslovakia
King of Croatia
Succeeded by
Tomislav II
King of Galicia and Lodomeria
Kingdom annexed by Poland
King of Venetia
Kingdom annexed by Italy
King of Montenegro
Succeeded by
Titles in pretence
Titles extant before
Dissolution of Greater Austria
Emperor of Austria
Succeeded by
Crown Prince Karl