Archduke Otto turns 97

  November 20, 2009 at 2:12 pm by

Archduke Otto of Austria, Royal Prince of Hungary and Bohemia, former Head of the Austrian Imperial Family from 1922 until his abdication in 2007, turns 97 years old today.

He was born on 20 November 1912 at Villa Wartholtz in Reichenau, the eldest child of Archduke Karl and Archduchess Zita.

Archduke Otto - see bigger at his official website

View the image at the Archduke's official website

Archduke Karl (1887-1922) was the eldest son of Archduke Otto (1865-1906, nephew of Emperor Franz Josef) and Archduchess Maria Josepha (1867-1944, daughter of Georg I of Saxony); Archduchess Zita (1892-1989) was a daughter of Duke Roberto I of Parma (1848-1907, the last reigning Duke) and Duchess Maria Antonia (1862-1959, youngest daughter of King Miguel I of Portugal).

Several tragic and premature deaths made Otto the third in the Line of Succession to the Throne, after his great-uncle Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Este ( whose morganatic marriage meant that his children were not in the Line of Succession) and his father Karl.

On 28 June 1914 Franz Ferdinand and his wife were killed in Sarajevo: this murder was the casus belli of the breaking out of the World War I. Two years later on 21 November 1916 Emperor Franz Josef died, after 68 years of reign; therefore Karl became Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary and Bohemia, and Otto the new Crown Prince.

After the end of World War I, Austria and Hungary became republics and the Imperial Family was forced into exile, firstly in Switzerland and then in Madeira. Because of the 1919 “Habsburg Law”, all the properties belonging to the Habsburg Family were confiscated and the exiled Imperial Family was left destitute.

On 1 April 1922, when Otto was only 9, Emperor Karl I died of pneumonia, aged 34, leaving Zita, pregnant with their eight child Elisabeth, to raise their children Otto, Adelheid, Robert, Felix, Carl Ludwig, Rudolph and Charlotte; according to the rules of the Imperial Family, Otto was the new Emperor.

After the death of Emperor Karl, his family moved to Spain and in 1930 to Belgium, where they lived in the castle of Ham, Bruxelles; from 1930 to 1935 Otto attended the University in Louvain, where he graduated in political and social sciences.

Archduke Otto in the 1930s - see bigger at his official website

See bigger at his official website

In the 1930s the chances of a monarchical restoration in Austria were improving, and Otto started showing interest in politic; in 1935 Habsburg Family was allowed to re-enter in Austria. The prospect of restoration, helped and supported by Chancellor Schuschnigg, was shattered by the Anschluss in 1938; Otto and family were forbidden entry to Austria and Germany, and Hitler ordered to arrest and execute Otto and his brothers for high treason against the Reich.

After the Anschluss Otto returned in Belgium, where he escaped from at the begin of the World War II, moving in Paris, then in Portugal when Paris was occupied by the Germans, and finally in the USA, where he lived from 1940 to 1944.

There Otto met several times President Roosevelt; they worked to the project of creating a Mitteleuropean Confederation, made by former lands of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and ruled by Otto; Roosevelt agreed with this project, since a Mitteleuropean Confederation would have been a bulwark against the nazi Germany on a side and the communist USSR on the other side. However the plans didn’t come true. During the war, Otto worked also to organize the resistance against the Germans in Austria and Hungary, together with his brothers.

After the war Otto returned in France, living in Paris until 1954; in this period, he kept in touch with the US President Truman, working to avoid the Sovietic invasion of Austria. In this decade Otto mainly worked as a lecturer and wrote several books about the European political situation.

On 10 May 1951 Otto married in Nancy Princess Regina of Saxe-Meiningen (born on 6 January 1925), the daughter of Duke Georg of Saxe-Meiningen (1892-1946) and Duchess Klara-Maria, née Countess von Korff (1895-1992); they have seven children:

Archduke Otto and Archduchess Regina on their wedding day - see bigger at his official website

See bigger at his official website

  • Andrea, born in 1953, married in 1977 to Hereditary Count Karl Eugen von Neipperg; they have five children
  • Monika, born in 1954, married in 1980 to Don Luis Gonzaga de Casanova-Cardenas y Baron, Duke of Santangelo and Grandee of Spain; they have four children
  • Michaela, twin sister of Monika, married firstly in 1984 to Eric Alba Teran d’Antin and secondly to Count Hubertus von Kageneck (son of Princess Maria Elisabeth of Bavaria); she divorced from both her husband, and has three children from the first marriage
  • Gabriela, born in 1956, married in 1978 to Christian Meister, from whom she divorced in 1997; they have three children; Gabriela has recently been appointed as Georgian Ambassador in Berlin
  • Walburga, born in 1958, married in 1994 to Count Archibald Douglas, with whom she has a son; she is a member of the Swedish Parliament since 2006
  • Karl, present Head of the Imperial Family, born in 1961, married in 1993 to Baroness Francesca von Thyssen-Bornemizsa; they have three children
  • Georg, born in 1964, married in 1997 to Duchess Eilika of Oldenburg; they have three children; Georg is the President of the Hungarian Red Cross.

For many years, Archduke Otto fought for the right to return to Austria and in order to be able to do so he renounced his claims to the Austrian Throne and proclaimed himself a “loyal citizen of the republic” on 31 May 1961. The renunciation was in many ways forced and most Monarchists consider it void; Otto himself admitted that he made the move after much hesitation and for “purely practical reasons”. On 24 May 1963 the Austrian court found that there was no legal ground for barring Otto’s entry to the country. The court’s decision was not welcomed by mainly pro-republican Austrian population and a lengthy period of political crisis ensued. Finally, the Archduke was issued an Austrian passport on 1 June 1966 and returned to his motherland on 31 October 1966; one of the conditions of his return was refraining from politics, but as Otto stated: “I would not have dreamed of complying. Once you have tasted the opium of politics, you can never get rid of it.” Indeed, his political career was only starting.

His first office was the Vice Presidency of the International Paneuropean Union, which he held from 1957 to 1972. In 1972, he became Interim President, and a year later, President of the Union. Since 2004 he is the Honorary President of the Union.

In 1979, Archduke Otto was elected a member of the European Parliament for the conservative CSU party; he was re-elected for 3 more terms (1984, 1989 and 1994) and became the Senior Member of the Parliament.

Throughout his political career, Archduke Otto did his best to fight against the Communists regimes and dictatorships all over the world.

In 1988, after nearly 70 years, Otto returned to the still Communist Hungary – a country the Archduke has always considered his second motherland.

In August of 1989, Otto stood as patron of The Pan-European Picnic at Sopron – one that is often said to change the face of Europe. The Pan-European Picnic was a peace demonstration held on the Austrian-Hungarian border. In a symbolic gesture, border gates were to be opened for 3 hours. More than 600 East Germans seized the opportunity presented by this brief lifting of the Iron Curtain and fled from the GDR to the West. Although the Hungarian guards had orders to shoot anyone who attempted to cross the border, they refused to obey the orders. As the first successful crossing of the border, it helped pave the way for the mass flight of East German citizens that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989. Today, many monuments commemorating the Picnic can be seen at Sopron: among them is a large artwork created by Gabriela, Otto’s daughter.

Otto was a great supporter of the expansion of the European Union and fought hard for the acceptance of Hungary, Slovenia and Croatia. He also promotes better understanding between people of different religion: he is the patron of the Three Faiths Forum – a group which encourages friendship, goodwill and understanding amongst people Christians, Judaists and Muslims; he is also a member of the Mont Pelerin Society, an international organization that favours classical liberalism.

From 1997 Otto served as Senior President of the European Parliament. Although his candidacy had a great support for the 1999 elections, in 1998 Otto announced that he will no longer be a candidate for the Parliament and on 13 June 1999 the Archduke left the European Parliament; the decision was made for health reasons: in April 1997 Otto was seriously injured in a car accident and in October-November 1998 he suffered from a life-threatening pneumonia.

Archduke Otto and family on his 95th birthday - see bigger at his official website

See bigger at his official website

Because of health issues, the Archduke resigned his position as Chief and Sovereign of the Order of the Golden Fleece in 2000 and Grandmaster of the Knights of St. Sebastian in 2008, both in favour of his eldest son Karl; on 1 January 2007, he relinquished his status as the Head of the House of Habsburg to Karl.

Archduke Otto and Archduchess Regina currently reside at the Villa Austria, near to the lake of Starnberg in Bavaria.

Aged 97, Archduke Otto is the oldest member of Habsburg Family, and the fourth oldest Royal in Europe; his longevity comes from both his families: Emperor Franz Josef died aged 86 and Empress Zita died in 1989 two months before her 97th birthday; two of his brothers are still living, Felix (93 y-o) and Rudolph (who turned 90 in September).

To learn more about Archduke Otto, please visit this thread.

Marsel & MAfan

Filed under Austrian Royals
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One Response to Archduke Otto turns 97

  1. Pingback: Otto von Habsburg at 97: A Link to the Past … and the Future « Nones Notes

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