Martina Winkelhofer

The Everyday Life of the Emperor

Francis Joseph and his Imperial Court

Translated from the German by Jeffrey McCabe


This book aims to tell a tale from history: the history of a community bound together by fate, comprising approximately 1,500 to 2,000 people ranging from His Majesty by the Grace of God all the way down to the lowliest servant, which was unique in European tradition. During my work in the archives, which form the basis of all historic research, the question of ‘how’ was the unflagging point of departure and remained the guideline throughout the writing: How did people actually live inside the walls of the Viennese court? What was expected of them? How was the overall enterprise organised and managed (which nowadays would be considered a corporation)? How was this oldest of all European courts financed?

Today, no one knows much of anything about the court under Emperor Francis Joseph, its structure, its daily agendas and processes, or about the human beings who lived and worked with the emperor and were the closest witnesses of the longest reigning emperor in the history of Austria. It sometimes seems as if there were nothing which could still be told about the smallest city inside the capital of the empire and imperial residence of Vienna. No memoirs were left behind, neither by members of the imperial family, nor by employees; there exist no photographs portraying daily life at court. And most of all, the oral tradition of handing down knowledge and experiences – the only thing which made it possible to run a court to begin with – completely disappeared after 1918. Centuries of familiarity with the processes and organisation of a court, passed down from generation to generation, sank together with the monarchy itself into oblivion. Those people who were born into the court or learned their trade or profession under its aegis would have been able to tell elaborate tales, but were never asked; and in the 21st century, they are long dead.

At the Vienna Archives, however, the historical memory of the court and its inhabitants yet dwells, its heart still beats. Distributed through more than three and a half thousand cartons, not only the entire history of the imperial court under Francis Joseph slumbers, from the files of the chancellery to the protocols of the ceremonies, but also the stories of the human beings who form part of the overall complex. Each single file, as dry as it might appear at first glance, the greater part of them opened by the author for the first time since the monarchy came to an end, tells its own little story: about highly proper court officials who recorded the file to begin with; about the wheels of court administration; about the problems of communication; about awards and warnings from higher echelons. Yet the files also include touching personal details, revealing the worries and problems of people in a long past epoch: requests and petitions to the emperor for help in emergencies, hopes and concerns in providing for children at court, ambitions to be promoted or make a career at court. Even the downfall of the court, the dissolution of a 600-year old institution and the termination of an unspoken yet omnipresent pact between the ruler and his household community was recorded in minute detail and displays upon examination how those people who lived in the immediate vicinity of the emperor experienced the change of governmental systems.

Significant source materials bearing witness to the era have also survived in a variety of private archives. In stark contrast to the prosaic, dry files of court, views of court life from an utterly personal perspective through the eyes of those who worked and lived with and around the emperor, often in positions of high authority, are provided from such sources.

Only by combining and connecting the court sources of the administration and the personal memoirs of contemporaries of the emperor does it become possible to put together a comprehensive, multi-faceted and complete picture of life at the imperial court.

A closer look at the court also brings to light hidden aspects of the historic personality of Emperor Francis Joseph, providing a number of surprising discoveries. How did the emperor deal with the weakest links of the human chain at court? What was his view of the cultural responsibilities of the court? What did he expect of the uppermost ranks of court society, the elite? How did he navigate the court household through the turbulent and volatile periods of a regency which lasted 68 years?

A scientific, historic investigation of the relationship between emperor and court unveils a completely different picture of Emperor Francis Joseph, far different from the uncontested clichées depicting a stubborn and rigid ruler. It reveals how Francis Joseph reacted to political and social cataclysms, what novel strategies a ruler had to devise to navigate the transition of Austria from an absolutist state to a constitutional one, what instruments of power were torn from his hands and what techniques he devised to replace them; as well as the difficulties which arose when a ruler who embodied tradition and continuity was suddenly thrust into a new era in political, social and personal ways.

Last but not least, this history of the court of Emperor Francis Joseph, written just under one hundred years after the end of the monarchy, also provides the launch of a re-evaluation of Austria’s longest serving ruler himself.

Vienna, October 2008

I A Day in the Life of the Old Emperor

Emperor Francis Joseph was awakened by his First Valet every morning at 3:30 am. Following his morning prayers, a rubber bathtub was dragged into the room and His Majesty’s First Bath Attendant – tauntingly called ‘Washcloth’ by the courtiers – began his daily period of service. His undemanding duties consisted of soaping up the emperor and rinsing him off. His task was made more difficult by the fact that he invariably came to work inebriated. Often reprimanded by his superior, Washcloth invariably protested that he was the victim of his early hour of service. He had to start the day so early that he couldn’t get out of bed; so he simply didn’t go to bed, and stayed up all night at a local inn. And in order to keep awake until 3:30, he treated himself to a glass or two of wine. That was the sole cause for his staggering to work each day, redolent with alcohol, to perform his duties.

The emperor was always lenient with Washcloth. Occasionally, Francis Joseph remarked that the bath attendant really did reek of alcohol, but was always reluctant to fire him. It was not until Washcloth one time appeared for work so drunk that he couldn’t even stand up straight, and had to hold himself upright by grabbing onto the neck and shoulders of the soaped-up emperor with all his strength to keep from toppling over, thereby nearly overturning emperor and bathtub alike, that the limits of patience were exceeded. The bath attendant had to be relieved of his arduous duties. However, he was not dismissed, merely transferred to a different court job which did not entail getting up so early in the morning.

The story of Emperor Francis Joseph and his bath attendant is symptomatic of the relations between the emperor and those in his employ at court. Francis Joseph was indulgent, he shied away from harsh penalties and above all refused to dismiss servants, much to the despair of his leading officials. He lived utterly in the aura and unspoken terms of patriarchal traditions of providing for those beneath him, seeing himself as father of his court servants. They were his children whom he had to take care of. They were not to be dismissed, even if they performed their duties poorly.

After his bath, valet Eugen Ketterl helped the emperor put on his uniform. Then followed breakfast: the identical breakfast served to officials and servants was brought to him at his desk. Apart from coffee and milk, he had breakfast rolls, butter and ham. And in the meantime, the court slowly lumbered to life. By 5:00 am at latest, a buzz of activity filled the halls of the court of Vienna. The first coaches delivered firewood, groceries and stationery needs for the officials. The wood carriers wheezed beneath the burdens of their bundles, trudging up and down every staircase of the Hofburg to supply each living and working section with the requisite fuel to last through the day. The cleaning staff ran back and forth across the inner yard carrying buckets full of water to commence the daily cleaning labours. In the court kitchen, more than 500 breakfasts were prepared, since only those servants who began their period of duty at 4:30 am had already had breakfast. The huge ovens in the court kitchen were fired up and the kitchen staff began to wash, scrub and slice the ingredients for the day’s pre-planned menu. As on every other day, hundreds of breakfasts, lunches and suppers had to be prepared. Throngs of livery servants, doormen and chamber servants scampered across the inner courtyards to their respective places of work, while night watchmen and supervisory staff retired to their rooms after a long night of service to finally rest their weary heads.

By 7:30 am, the entire court was awake and humming. The court officials started their shift. They bade their wives farewell, left their court apartments impeccably dressed in the official uniforms of which they were so proud, clearly distinguishing each official from simple servants, and went to the court chancellery and office chambers. Another day of studying files, reports and correspondence began anew.

When the officials took their place at their desks, the emperor already had three and a half hours of work behind him. Francis Joseph began his work with the first labourers who appeared at court and didn’t terminate it until the last shift of servants had retired to their quarters. In the interim, life at court ran like a strictly regulated precision clock, day in and day out. It was a mechanism which employed more than 1,500 people, each with his or her own specific working place and list of tasks, trimmed to each individual yet intertwined in many ways. Not even large-scale ceremonial events like court balls or state visits could disturb or impede the perfect operations. The microcosm of the court was based, after all, on 600 years of experience.

Visitors walking through the courtyards of the imperial residence nowadays feel an aura of cool serenity. The windows are closed and one assumes that there is not much going on behind the walls, with the possible exception of the gala rooms of state. The attic abodes appear to have been unlived in for a century. Nothing about this tranquil, stately silence at the Hofburg recalls the bustling little city within the city of Vienna which once thrived. In Emperor Francis Joseph’s day, the court radiated the hustle and bustle of a beehive. The residence was crammed to the roof with people. Whoever worked at court also lived there. All the living units in the vast tracts, from the cellar rooms to the attic lodgings, were occupied. Depending on one’s societal rank, court ladies, officials and servants residing in the countless apartments spent not only their working days but also their entire lives at court. People were born here, worked here, served their emperor here and died here. For generations of employees, court was not only the lustrous center of the Habsburg Empire, it was also space to live in, one’s home and place of origin. A majority of the officials and servants lived with their entire family in the innumerable apartments; sometimes married couples and their children lived no more than a few hundred meters distant from the imperial family, all of them under the selfsame roof. A greater degree of social intermingling could not be found anywhere in the empire.

The Hofburg was a bubbling, animated bit of territory and not at all cut off from the real world, even back then. The gates of the court gardens were not ever locked. On the contrary, they opened the way to passages and paths through the imperial grounds. Every child knew which windows the emperor worked behind, and behind which windows he slept. Whoever walked through the palace grounds during the day invariably encountered an immense buzz of activity. Officials ran back and forth from one office to another with files under their arms. Livery servants rushed about, carrying buckets of water or trays across the yards. Coaches stopped and started. Delivery wagons drove up, blocking the way, prompting enraged, fist-shaking responses of passers-by and valet coaches alike. The entire spectrum of society came and went, day after day. The prime minister and his cabinet drove up once weekly, the imperial suppliers of goods came daily. Aristocratic gentlemen cantered on horseback across the palace grounds each day on their way to the racing grounds in Prater. The nannies of the rich citizens pushed their prams through the court gardens. The maidservants and hired hands of neighbouring palaces bore their groceries from the Naschmarkt or fish market stalls across the grounds on their way back to their employers.

In the epicentre of all this humming activity beat the heart of the empire. Emperor Francis Joseph personally held the reins of an empire comprising 50 million people in his hands. The court was not only his own representational stage setting, for official state receptions of new ambassadors or affairs of state in the gala halls of the Hofburg, it was also his living quarters and home. Regardless whether the emperor was in residence at the Hofburg, at Schönbrunn Palace or in Budapest, the imperial court was wherever he was. The miniature universe of the imperial court was simply unimaginable without the person of Francis Joseph. And yet, the emperor could not form, could not hold together that court without the human beings who were the backbone of its operations. Francis Joseph and his officials and servants were bonded inexorably to one another: they lived together, they interspersed and intermingled, and although they hailed from vastly different social backgrounds, they remained intimately tied to each other. The autonomy of the court was demonstrated not least by the loyalty of its members. Its officials were servants of the emperor, not of the state, even though de jure the emperor held sway over this court only as head of state. Every right and every guarantee of a safe and secure life for employees at court stemmed solely from the person of Francis Joseph. He alone guaranteed compliance with the centuries-old privileges of court officials. As long as the emperor remained in place, the work and security of every person employed there was assured.

After he finished breakfast, Emperor Francis Joseph rang for his adjutant, Count Heinrich Hoyos, who sat poised for action at his desk in the charge office adjacent to the imperial apartments, impeccably outfitted in full uniform as of 3:00 am each and every day. It was his habit to lay his head in his folded hands and try desperately to get a bit of sleep until the moment when he was called. As soon as the imperial bell rang, he sprang still half asleep to his feet, quickly combed his hair, grabbed his briefcase and rushed to the emperor. Adjutants began their shift when even the emperor himself was still sound asleep. As honourable as the position was, it was unspeakably hard for most of them to begin their working day that early. In the darkness of night, they stumbled to their offices, bumping into no one except sleepy-eyed doormen and guards, and waited until their master called for them. The first half-year of service was always the hardest. Count Hoyos, who attended to the emperor in later years, each day wrote a letter to his wife in which he complained of the punishing tiredness and the torture of getting up every single day at 2:30 am and waiting in an ice-cold office, long before the servants assigned to heat the rooms were awake.

It was a tradition that the adjutants, who fluctuated between three and six in number, performed their services for the monarch in cyclical rotation. Those ambitious individuals thought to be suitable for such work were selected from the various branches of military service and presented to the emperor for his final, personal selection. After Francis Joseph decided on four men to fill the position, they entered service for a period of two or three years, more or less at the emperor’s side uninterruptedly for that time. The adjutants were not only the constant escorts of the emperor, they were also responsible for the unending flow of files and reports between emperor and war ministry. When the emperor rang, the adjutant on duty brought the dispatch case with the latest papers and reports sent from the war office the evening before to the monarch. The adjutant then picked up the completed papers from Francis Joseph and dispatched them to the ministry.

Thereafter, the adjutant resumed his place at his desk, examined the list of visitors scheduled for that day and waited for the first to arrive. In most cases, the leadoff visitor on the agenda was the imperial doctor who came to talk to his master first thing each morning. Since the emperor enjoyed sound physical health, a short chat usually took the place of an examination.

Following the doctor, the first adjutant general appeared: Count Eduard Paar, who had served his emperor for decades. He was the immediate superior officer of the adjutant escorts, but apart from that was the personal confidential advisor of the emperor. As active general, he still worked for the war office, thus, on paper was not a member of the court; nonetheless he was in integral part of the daily life of the emperor and of his court. Although Count Paar had no readily discernible responsibilities, except for the smooth and precise functioning of the adjutants, the emperor refused to dispense with his daily visits.

Count Paar possessed a serene, well balanced personality. He accompanied the emperor on all his trips, on his daily coach rides and to all festivities. Francis Joseph was the axis of his life, he grew old alongside his emperor and gradually became a fatherly confidante of the younger officers at court. He was one of the very few at court about whom his contemporaries had not a single bad thing to say. He was always calm, lenient in his judgments, radiated a stoic serenity and remained utterly impartial even with the emperor. He was known to go about his business whistling quietly to himself, something generally prohibited in the vicinity of the emperor, but tolerated by Francis Joseph. Such was the emperor’s longstanding closeness to Paar that he didn’t even take note of it. As a further proof of indulgence, the adjutant general also smoked quite heavily while with the emperor; he was notorious for creating a cloud of smoke on their train trips, often so thick that the servants entering the train compartment couldn’t distinguish between the emperor and the adjutant. It disturbed the emperor not a whit. As long as he didn’t have to go without the presence of old Paar, neither whistling nor pipe smoking were a problem. Paar’s daily visit to the emperor was invariably short. Immediately thereafter, the Chancellor of the Exchequer appeared. Prince Alfred Montenuovo entered the imperial apartment in his uniform dangling with medals and ribbons.

The Chancellor (Obersthofmeister) was the pre-eminent personality at court who directed all its operations. He was master of the ceremonies, organising all external entries and appearances of the emperor, and his top ranking manager. He supervised everything, with a power of observation which missed nothing, court expenses, governed the entire staff, was in charge of security at court and was the only person allowed to stand in for the person of the emperor. Only descendants of princely families were permitted to assume this mantle, which gave its bearer the pre-eminent office at court. Every aristocrat in the monarchy had to follow in his wake in the retinue accompanying the emperor. Any lesser ranking dynastic personality would have hopelessly roiled the hierarchical status system, and Emperor Francis Joseph liked nothing less than unnecessarily complicating tried-and-tested systems.

Prince Montenuovo conferred with Francis Joseph only for a short time, since he didn’t have to review all the points on the daily agenda at the morning audience. He, and he alone, had the right to enter the imperial apartments unannounced. Whenever he wished to confer with the emperor, he simply appeared before the Doorman of the Chamber, something no one except Francis Joseph’s closest family was permitted to do (and even they didn’t dare to exercise that privilege except in emergencies). In practice, the emperor’s family usually asked Montenuovo whether or not they might come and see the emperor.

Chancellor Montenuovo was the fourth person to perform the duties of that office under Francis Joseph, something attributable to the very long life and reign the emperor enjoyed, since it was an appointment for life. The emperor outlived three earlier chancellors, even though two of them were younger than he was. In the course of a reign lasting 68 years, Francis Joseph outlived most of his court officials. He accustomed himself to new personnel quickly, but the loss of certain of them weighed heavily on him. His first Chancellor, Prince Karl Liechtenstein, had to go into retirement more than 50 years earlier. Liechtenstein was the most fatherly chancellor. He scored no crowning achievements during his period of office, but is considered to have been an important conciliatory figure, striking a balance between the requirements of the menial court servants and the severe rigours of thrift which the court demanded.

His successor, Prince Konstantin zu Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst, was easily the most notable figure in the office of Lord Chancellor. No one knew just why the emperor chose this small adjutant who had no experience in court and was, apart from that, not even Austrian, but a German aristocrat; it seemed an ironic choice to make a German the top man at court immediately after the Austrian defeat by Prussia. Was the emperor trying to send a political signal? Under pressure from Prussia, Austria had been ousted from the German Confederation after Königgrätz. One of the most boisterous Prussians voting Austria out was Hohenlohe’s brother, who was President of Bavaria at the time. Whether the emperor wished to demonstrate that he still considered himself embedded in the traditions of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, in spite of everything, or simply followed his instincts in selecting someone of such extraordinary abilities as Hohenlohe, the new chancellor was a good catch for the imperial court and for the entire era of Emperor Francis Joseph.

Hohenlohe led the court into a brand new era. He modernised it, placed it on a sound financial footing and broke with outdated, anachronistic traditions. Whoever wished to make a career at court under his directorship had to do good work, and a lot of it. Venerable, decorated officials who showed little aptitude and less ardour were sent into retirement or simply skipped over when they were scheduled for promotions. In their place, he hired and advanced simple but well educated and industrious citizens at court. Under Hohenlohe, even farmer’s sons were able to work their way into key positions at court, for the first time in history. He combed the aristocratic families he was befriended with, such as Schwarzenberg, Liechtenstein or Wilczek, for young candidates who had enjoyed an outstanding education based on their intrinsic abilities (and whose parents often still worked in the fields) for the court chancellery. He brought a lot of fresh blood to court functions, introducing a meritocracy to replace traditional family connections. In other ways, too, Hohenlohe carried out his programme and his ideals without compromise: his agenda of thrift brooked no excuses, and all the complaints of courtiers, officials and servants which crossed his desk on the way to the emperor left him utterly unmoved. He did not desire to be loved, but rather to turn the ship of state into an economically viable operation.

Hohenlohe was the primary support of the emperor for more than 30 years. Francis Joseph trusted him unhesitatingly. He gave him the sole responsibility for composing the tenders and ultimately, signing the contracts for the great buildings along the new Ringstrasse. He left the most important court appointments in his hands, from the director of the Burgtheater all the way to the head accountant for the imperial family’s private fund. Hohen­lohe’s greatest achievement, overshadowing all the administrative tasks, was after the tragedy of Mayerling: not one word leaked outside the court precincts, no gritty or pathetic stories were fed to the newspapers. Whatever stories were spread about Mayerling while Francis Joseph was still alive did not have their source at court. The emperor lavished favour on Hohenlohe, decorated him repeatedly and was utterly shocked when Hohenlohe’s life-threatening heart disease forced him to hand on his duties to his chosen successor.

Chancellor Hohenlohe’s grave illness and death which followed shortly after his withdrawal plunged the court into a crisis. It soon became evident just how relentlessly he had held all the reins in his hands. Criticism of corruption soon flowed: in the financial office of court, which was responsible for all the luxurious purchases, cries of waste and mismanagement were presently heard. The First Chef (Oberstküchenmeister), Count Wolken­stein, was fired; and the shame which covered him was so great that he hanged himself. Scandal reigned. The fact that a respected court official committed suicide due to accusations of corruption was something that had never happened before. Even among the directors of the imperial theater, morale plummeted rapidly; the General Artistic Director was convicted of criminal assault in a litigated case, the rumours of corruption and nepotism in assigning stage roles were rampant, and many other departments of court life bubbled with dissatisfaction and influence trafficking. The interregnum went on for too long, every department suffered from the loss of Hohenlohe’s strong and steady hand.

His successor, Prince Rudolf Liechtenstein, slowly managed to straighten out the corruption, with the assistance of Hohenlohe’s trusted appointments, but the heyday of precision and correctness at court was over. The appointment of Liechtenstein was an act of pure friendship on the part of the emperor. “Handsome Rudi” was a favourite of the deceased empress, he was devoted to the imper­ial family and was considered to be a trusted aide of the emperor himself, particularly because of his cheerful personality. But any understanding of business administration was alien to him; nor did ceremonials arouse his interest in the slightest. Before long, the aristocracy was complaining bitterly. “No, no, Prince Rudolf is anything but a good Chancellor!”

Yet Emperor Francis Joseph even outlived his Rudi, as he was known at court. He was followed by Prince Alfred Montenuovo, his grand nephew and the grandson of Marie Louise, former Empress of France. Montenuovo was not as brilliant as Hohenlohe but assertive and impartial. He performed the duties of his office conscientiously, and as a result remained utterly unloved throughout the court. The aristocrats, of whom he himself was rather suspicious, hailing as he did from the Habsburg family, despised his sharp tongued cynicism. Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne, hated him profoundly. Montenuovo let him feel too blatently that his reign had not yet commenced. Every attempt on the part of Franz Ferd­inand to speak his mind at court and to make his personal desires felt was cooly undercut by Montenuovo.


Chancellor Rudolf Liechtenstein’s morning visit to the emperor

After the Chancellor took his leave from the emperor’s side, Francis Joseph prepared himself for his daily audiences. Several times each week, ordinary citizens were permitted to speak their minds to him personally. Most wanted to thank the emperor for an appointment or a distinction awarded them. There was never a surprise, since each and every subject to be raised, regardless whether a petition for assistance or application for a post, was first reviewed and filtered in the ministry and then submitted to the emperor for approval.

Those who were permitted to appear for an audience had to report to the forechambers of the representational salons at the appointed time. The dress code had to be strictly adhered to. Those in the military came in uniform, civil persons appeared in swallow-tailed suits; medals were permitted, gloves were mandatory. The ladies were required to appear in neck-high dresses of restrained colours (decolleté gowns were permissible only at court balls), discreet and unobtrusive jewellery was allowed; and if the court was in mourning this had to be observed by visitors as well. In times of “deep grief” (lasting three months following the death of a high-ranking Archduke), black was compulsory; for “lesser grief” restrained colours were admissible in the weeks following the death, although any lace or feathers on dresses or hats had to be black. Citizens who had no means to purchase swallow-tailed suits or dresses were permitted to appear for their audience in their festive regional garb. No one should be impeded from his or her right to appear at court for financial reasons.

Visitors were prepped on etiquette requirements by an assistant of the chancellor: never speak to the emperor until requested; never turn your back on him. After one’s name was announced, one proceeded to a foyer where an adjutant was waiting to check the name on the list against the person before him. The name was then repeated in a loud voice at the entrance, so that the emperor was informed who was poised to appear. Only as of that moment was the person permitted to cross the threshold into the audience salon. Upon entry, ladies were required to make a deep curtsey, men a low bow. Upon prompting by the emperor, one was permitted to stand upright again. The audience itself lasted for maximum three minutes. The emperor stood at his lectern at which the audience book was opened and read aloud to the visitor the arranged purpose of the visit. Thereupon, the emperor reported his considered response with regard to aforesaid purpose, which of course was already known to the visitor. The visitor then thanked the emperor from the depths of his/her heart and edged, backwards, towards the door. In general, the audience was over before the visitor even realized what had happened. That was the only way the emperor could manage several hundred audiences each month. Longer audiences with ministers, parliamentarians, regents or governors were handled in different fashion, usually upon personal invitation by the emperor. They were nearly always held in private.


Audience visitors wait until their name is called

The emperor informed himself of all the goings on throughout the monarchy through his files and personal conversations with politicians. All reports of former deputies agree on one point: they call attention to the fact that the emperor tolerated only very brief reports, after which he posed elaborate and extremely precise questions. Politicians had to be very well informed about the fields and subject matter for which they were responsible. Francis Joseph asked unexpected and sometimes complex questions and compared the answers he was given to those of other politicians in order to piece together a composite picture. He usually questioned a number of politicians on one and the same theme in order to ferret out any possible contradictions.

When Francis Joseph didn’t grant audiences, he devoted his mornings to studying files and reports. Occasionally he summoned Court Counselor Franz von Hawerda-Wehrlandt, general director of his own personal financial assets, from which all the staff members were paid and which were kept strictly separate from those of the court, to appear in his office. The counselor had to report with minute accuracy about the personal assets of the emperor, including share transactions, purchases, revenues from leases, and also report on expenses and allowances for the emperor’s daughters and grandchildren. As long as the empress lived, she was the recipient of most of Francis Joseph’s private bounty; in the main, this comprised Elisabeth’s travel and building expenses, which exceeded the scope of everything else at court. After her death, Francis Joseph granted allowances and special gifts such as savings books especially to his ever larger brood of grandchildren.

Two to three times weekly the emperor received Lord Chamberlain Count Leopold Gudenus (Oberstkämmerer), the sixth man to hold this position under Francis Joseph, the emperor already having outlived Gudenus’s five predecessors. The chamberlain filled the second highest office at court, ranking directly beneath the Chancellor. Count Gudenus was responsible for the art collections (in today’s Kunsthistorisches Museum), the Treasury, the Arsenal, the natural history collections (today’s Natural History Museum) and Ambras Castle in Tirol. He was the one who decided upon new purchases of art works. Only when the purchase price was far above the ordinary was special permission from the emperor necessary, something which did not occur often, since Francis Joseph was never happy when asked to spend inordinate amounts of money on anything.

Contrary to the prevalent opinion that Francis Joseph was interested solely in the military, he in fact was deeply interested in the arts, and was particularly receptive to applied art. The official opening of exhibitions and Vienna’s big crafts fairs were mandatory items on his agenda. As often as possible, plans to visit such events were written onto his calendar, even if most exhibitions which were not of overriding importance and frequently had to give way in the last minute due to the pressure of events. In order to make visits to at least a few such events possible in his densely packed agenda, Chancellor Hohenlohe made great efforts in late years to map out the route of the emperor’s coach ride home so that he could at least make a 10-minute stopover at an exhibition along the way. The museum and painting gallery directors were often informed at the last minute that the emperor desired a fifteen-minute guided tour of the highlights of an exhibition.

Whenever the Lord Marshal (Obersthofmarschall), the third highest office at court, met with the emperor more than once every two months, everyone knew that there were internal difficulties in the imperial family again which caused the emperor to call on Count Bela Cziraky to concoct a solution for the latest threatening scandal. As Marshal of the Chamber, the Hungarian Count Cziraky was legal advisor to the imperial family, his office was the exclusive legal management bureau of the Habsburgs. Ordinarily, the Lord Marshal was seldom seen at court, since he was basically responsible for legacies, marriage contracts, relinquishments, certifications or disciplinary matters. But at the turn of the century, as the number of morganatic and cross-class marriages of young archdukes increased, individual members of the Habsburg family opted out of the main trunk of the dynasty and a number of young family members caused European-wide scandals, Cziraky’s legal knowledge was in high demand, making his appearance at court a regular occurrence.


Most of the emperor’s life was spent at his desk

The fourth and last of the four highest court officials was the Master of the Stables (Oberststallmeister), Prince Ferdinand Kinsky, the court’s inordinately handsome dandy. Kinsky, nephew of Lord Chancellor Liechtenstein, received his appointment purely through family patronage, a subject for avid gossip, but was nonetheless a competent expert in his area of responsibility. As Master of the Stables, he was in charge of the Marstall, the imperial stables housing several hundred horses, the Wagenburg, the forage and fodder depot, the vehicle fleet, the Imperial Riding School and the Lipizza and Kladrub horse breeding farms. The staff under his authority was extremely costly, and thus was closely monitored by the chancellor and central financial office at court. Prince Kinsky had to report to this office daily, since the management of the imperial stables required full-time presence at court.

Each day between 11:30 am and noon, a servant brought the emperor his lunch. Francis Joseph always dined alone, and always ate lunch at his desk. It was carried up from the court kitchen, then re-heated on a burner in the foyer of the imperial apartments, and served together with a stack of files and reports. The same general menu was served each day: soup, a piece of meat with one or two side dishes, beer or wine, followed by a classic Viennese dessert.

While the emperor dined, the cooking operations down in the kitchen were stoked up to maximum output. Hundreds of people had to be fed within the time span of two hours. There was neither a cafeteria nor a large dining room at court, so lunch was eaten either at one’s place of work or in one of the countless corners and niches of the court hallways and chambers. Officials, taking their example from the emperor, were served their meal at their desks, with insulating metal dome lids; house officers and servants had to fetch their trays from the kitchen themselves and then find a quiet spot on the stairs or an unfrequented corner where they could eat in peace.


Final preparations of the emperor’s lunch in the foyer

Court servants had the option of taking a meal subscription from the court kitchen, meaning they received breakfast, lunch and dinner at the cost of producing it. This was one of the many financial attractions of working at court. They could choose from three categories of meals, the most expensive being the daily menu of the emperor, consisting of soup, main course and dessert. The other two variants were of no lesser quality, simply were less time-consuming in their preparation. Each court employee could select freely the variant he preferred. The officials usually took the “emperor menu”, whereas the servants most often selected the less expensive variant for lunch and dinner. The food was simple, but nutritious, and the portions were copious. A visitor at court who selected the basic menu recalls: “The menu was rather simple, for example, schnitzel with side dishes and a dessert omelette with applesauce, but it was prepared to perfection.” 1 The portions were so bounteous that the most expensive menus usually were finished by a second person. Many higher officials sent half of their meals to their servants and scores of lower officials shared their lunch with their wives, who in turn shared their half with a servant in their court apartment.2

With meal service as generous as that, outlandish abuse was the logical consequence. Many simple servants improved their income by secretly selling their meal tickets. Princess Nora Fugger recalls: “Half of Vienna freely admitted to living off the court kitchen and wine cellar. The expenses incurred were immeasurable. What to begin with were occasional transgressions slowly evolved to habitual fraudulence over time and came to be considered a privilege to which one was entitled … Some things changed over the years; but the mischief in the court economy remained until the very end.” 3

Following lunch, the emperor was visible at his window each day as he observed the changing of the guard in the courtyard. Apart from the court guards there were also the imperial bodyguards who since time immemorial had been responsible for the safety and the secure escort of the imperial family. Their management was the authority of the Chancellor, as chief of all court guards; however, as an exception they were not paid for out of the emperor’s purse, but by the War Ministry, since the guards were militarily trained personnel on active duty. Six different guard regiments were employed at court, four of which were active military sentries to ensure safety and order. The other two, which served as honour guard and security service, were manned by retired officers still capable and suitable. These retired officers received a supplement to their pensions for their service at court.4

In the afternoon, the emperor returned to his study of reports and files, occasionally interrupted by single audiences. In late afternoon, he permitted himself a stroll in the Schönbrunn gardens or, in case the daily agenda was not too densely planned, in the park at Laxenburg Palace. On the way to his coach, the emperor often encountered officials and servants who did not form part of his innermost circle. As soon as he left his apartments to cross the courtyard, all the female servants dropped into curtsies while officials and livery servants – and even the firewood carriers – bowed down deeply whenever their paths crossed. For his personal modesty and his sense of duty, which were legendary even during his lifetime, the aging emperor was held in highest esteem by one and all. Everyone at court knew that the one remaining purpose in the emperor’s life, after having been struck by so many blows of fate, was the preservation of the dynasty.

­The emperor was always kindhearted to us. He never barked orders, simply requested a given service and invariably expressed thanks, e.g. if someone brought him a glass of water.”5: “I am dead tired, my eyes are drooping. His Majesty, however, got out of bed much earlier than I did this morning, listened to reams of speeches, had to speak and perform ritual duties at every juncture, while I was but a spectator. And what patience and love was evident in everything he did! He is nearly 80, he has suffered so many disappointments; I could never have mustered such patience …6Everyone could have kissed and knelt down before His Majesty! In that heat, he stood in fur and decorated uniform for 3 hours conversing amicably. Archduke Franz said to someone standing next to him: ‘I have been to the equator twice, but I was never as hot as today7

When the emperor returned from his stroll, the last files of the day were handed to him by the adjutant on duty, after which preparations were made for the final and most demanding duty of the day. The evenings were free time only in the rarest circumstances. Three times weekly there were offical dinners, so-called ‘serial dinners’, to which just under 30 people were invited. There were military dinners with high officers and foreign attachés; diplomatic dinners to deepen relationships and connections with foreign states; and dinners for ministers, regional governors, deputies and distinguished personalities of public life as the invited guests. The highest nobility was often invited to these dinners, in revolving fashion in order to avoid anyone being insulted. Ladies were invited only seldom to the serial dinners, most of the guests hailed from the military, economic and aristocratic elite. They were invited not for pleasure, but for political or governmental tasks.

The invitation lists were arranged by the Chancellor and presented for approval to the emperor, who regularly crossed out a name or two and rearranged the seating plan at table. The emperor was informed about every single high ranking foreign visitor and structured his invitations around those individuals. Members of foreign ruling families spending time in Vienna were invited as honoured guests, bourgeois parliamentarians who had been recipients of some distinction were guests, as well as distinguished scientists. The seating plan and the written invitations were the province of the Department of Ceremonies, under the authority of the Chancellor. The dinners always took place in the Alexander apartments of the Hofburg, unless there were more than 30 guests, in which case the Ratsstube was used.


A menu proposal the emperor corrected. At upper left, Emperor Francis Joseph wrote in the dish he preferred.


For the emperor, the working day was still not over. After his guests had arrived, the emperor was given notice that all were present. Punctually, the Ceremonial Master lowered his staff three times onto the floor, signalling that the emperor was entering the salon. All the guests stood, in accordance with their rank. The emperor walked in, greeted the guests, and walked to his place at the center of the head table.


Emperor Francis Joseph greets his guests. At his left, Chancellor Rudolf Liechtenstein

per force8


The imperial dining table

1 Redwitz, Hofchronik, 79

2 GFAH Horn, correspondence, Ischl, 29. 6. 1908

3 Fugger, Kaiserzeit, 164

4 Zolger, Hofstaat, 91–104; and Luedin, Leibgarden, 69–70

5 Ketterl, Der alte Kaiser, 28

6 GFAH Horn, Fach 393, Karton 59 – NL Heinrich Hoyos, Korr. 26. 6. 1908

7 GFAH Horn, Fach 393, Karton 59 – NL Heinrich Hoyos, Korr. 26. 6. 1908

8 Haslinger, Tafeln, 33