Austro Hungarian State institutions

Austria-Hungary Constitution in 1700
Former Böhmische Hofkanzlei
The Bohemian Chancellery was built from
1708 to 1714 to a design by Fischer von
Erlach. Photo by Bwag/Wikimedia

1 The Austro-Hungarian Government

1.1 United by a Habsburg sovereign

What is most important to note about the Austrian state is the fact that it was not a unified state like France, England and later the United Kingdom were. The only bound that united territories like the duchy of Salzburg, the county of Moravia, the kingdoms of Bohemia and Hungary and the archduchy of Austria was that Leopold I and his successors were 'sovereign' of all of them.

The Austro-Hungarian state was a personal union. This meant that all its territories had their own administration. They also still had their own 'Stände' (representative institutions) that had to agree to taxation, and thus limited the sovereignty of Leopold. (This in marked contrast to absolutist France where most Stände/états had been disbanded).

1.2 The income of the sovereign

Therefore the head of state of Austria had four sources of income:

1.3 A kind of central Government

Part of the income that the sovereign collected in each territory was forwarded to his court, a centralized institute located in Vienna. This enabled the court to direct people. In this way the personal union created by the sovereign, made that his court was the central government of the Austro-Habsburg state. The army of the sovereign listened to him, not to the representative bodies of his separate terrotories.

So there was a kind of central government, but it was only 'kind of'. As soon as it came to other things then spending money, there was no central authority. There was no real central government that could govern Austria-Hungary as a whole, nor a central representative body that could make laws for Austria-Hungary as a whole.

1.4 Financial Crisis

The income of Austro-Hungarian state was completely inadequate for the many tasks it faced. It led to state-bankruptcy in 1703. Attempts to open a credit line for the state like the Dutch had and the English had in the Bank of England of course failed because no one freely wanted to lend money to the Austrian state.

2 Departments

2.1 The Geheimer Rat (Secret Council)

The Geheimer Rat was a Supreme Council standing above the three other councils that follow and the Reichshofrat (an imperial institute). The Geheimer Rat decided on the most serious affairs of state, especially those of foreign policy. The emperor was free to bring people into this council. From 1669 there was a separate Geheime Konferenz for foreign affairs. In 1705 this was replaced by multiple Konferenzen for different ressorts. In 1709 the Geheimer Rat was reactivated.

2.2 The Hofkanzlei (Court Chancellery)

Some Austrian Hofkanzlers
1683-1693Theodor Althet Freiherr (1685 Graf) von Strattmann
1694-1705Julius Friedrich Graf Bucellini
1705-1715Johann Friedrich Freiherr (1713 Graf) von Seilern
1715-1742Philipp Ludwig Graf Sinzendorf.

The imperial Hofrat, renewed in 1527 was an institute depending from the emperor. It had a department soon known as 'Reichs(hof)kanzlei' for handling incoming and outgoing letters. A subdepartment under an Austrian Hofkanzler handled the Habsburg affairs. The Hofrat steadily lost ground in affairs of the Habsburg territories. From 1559 the Hofrat was commonly known as Reichshofrat. The Austrian Hofkanzlei (Court Chancellery) became independent from the Imperial Chancellery in 1620. From 1637 till 1679 it took over many responsibilities from the Reichskanzlei, and developed itself as the supreme government and judicial department. It prepared decisions of the Geheimer Rat.

Bohemia had its own Chancellery, headed by the Chancellor of the Kingdom of Bohemia. It was subordinate to the Austrian Chancellery. In 1620 the Böhmische Hofkanzlei was moved to Vienna. There was also a Hungarian Chancellery since 1527 led by the Archibishop of Esztergom (Gran). In 1696 a Transylvanian Chancellery was added.

2.3 The Hofkammer

Presidents of the Hofkammer
1683-1692Wolfgang Andreas Graf Orsini-Rosenberg
1692-1694Leopold Graf Kollonitsch, Kardinal, Erzbischof von Kalocsa
1694-1698Seifrid Christoph Graf Breuner
1698-1700Gundacker Thomas Graf Starhemberg
1700-1703Gotthard Graf Salburg
1703-1715Gundacker Thomas Graf Starhemberg
1716-1719Franz Anton Graf Walsegg

The Hofkammer was the institution that administrated the income and expense of the Habsburg territories. In 1527 Archduke Ferdinand made the Hofkammer an administrative department separate from the Imperial Hofrat.

The Hofkammer originally had 4 regional branches. A department (Kammer) for Lower Austria (Niederösterreich) meaning Österreich unter und ob der Enns (nowadays Upper and Lower Austria), Steiermark, Kärnten, Krain. A department (Kammer) in Innsbruck for the Oberösterreichische Ländergruppe comprising Tirol, Vorarlberg and the territories now in Switzerland and Germany. A department (Kammer) for Bohemia in Prague, and a department (Kammer) for Hungary in Preßburg (now Bratislava). In 1635 the Lower Austria kammer was united with the Hofkammer itself. The hofkammer was presided by a president.

2.4 The Hofkriegsrat

Presidents of the Hofkriegsrat
1681-1691Hermann Markgraf von Baden
1692-1701Ernst Rüdiger Graf Starhemberg
1701-1703Heinrich Graf Mansfeld, Fürst von Fondi
1703-1736Prinz Eugen von Savoyen

The Hofkriegsrat administrated the affairs of the army. It was also the supreme command of the army and a Chancellery. There were however also autonomous institutions in Graz and Linz.

3 Mismanagement

3.1 Directed by the Nobility

In 1700 the Austrian state was not only anachronistic in its structure, but also in the way it was managed. While in France and England civilians experts used to administrate the government Austria still held to having the higher nobility in charge in the government with little regard for competence. There was also an incredible amount of public servants that cost a lot (but did not always get paid), had little to do, or did not know what to do. The bureaucracy was very corrupt and always succeeded in embezzling a lot of the taxes that were brought in. The state of affairs of the Austrian administration can characterized as anachronistic, chaotic and impotent.

3.2 'Old Court' and 'Young Court'

There were people that desperately wanted to change this state of affairs. These probably did not aim for a change in the constitution of the state, which was thought to be impossible. However, they did attempt and suceeded in improving the management of the state. These men were called the 'young court'. The leader of the young court was crown prince Joseph I 'king of Romans'. Other members were: Josef's former governor Fürst Salm, Vice-president of the Hofkammer Gundaker Starhemberg, and Prinz Eugen, while it got support from the imperial supreme commander the margrave of Baden and Johann Wilhelm the Elector Palatine.

The 'Old Court' was built by the emperor Leopold I, the president of the Hofkammer Graf Salaburg, the president of the Hofkriegsrat Graf Mansfeld, 'Obersthofmeister' Graf Harrach and the Jesuits. As a consequence of the state-bankruptcy Salaburg and Mansfeld were replaced June 1703 by Gundaker Starhemberg as president of the Hofkammer and Prinz Eugen as president of the Hofkriegsrat. The old court then lost much influence to the young court but was not completely driven from the scene, Josef even being excluded from politics in February 1705. In May 1705 Leopold I died and was replaced by Josef I which finally got the reform party into power.

4 Sources

The Wien Geschichte Wiki for the difficult subjects of Geheimer Rat, Hofkanzlei and Hofkammer.

For an academic paper about financial affairs Quellen der obersten landesfürstlichen Finanzverwaltung in den habsburgischen Ländern (16. Jahrhundert) by Peter Rauscher.