Joseph I of Habsburg

Emperor Joseph I
Emperor Joseph I
Emperor Joseph I
Painting by unknown artist
Born:26 July 1678
Emperor23 Jan. 1690
Died:17 Apr. 1711

1 Emperor in the shadows of

When a sovereign has mighty heroes like Eugen or Marlborough fighting for him at the battlefield as well in the political arena, it's not easy to get a good appraisal of his own abilities. With Emperor Joseph and Prince Eugen this is clearly the case. The fact that Joseph had such great helpers like Eugen and Wratislaw is in itself a reason to take a good look at him. The ability to choose good ministers and generals is one ability that marks the great leader, the capacity to make them perform is another. Meaning that e.g. Eugen was far more successful serving Josef than he was serving Charles IV. In these respects Josef far outshone Louis XIV.

Josef had two conspicuous passions: hunting and women. Josef was also the first Habsburg in a long time that undertook serious attempts to reform the state, and he did this in the midst of a desperate war. Reading about these reforms I would add government as his third passion. In this respect I thus agree with his biographers that Josef was the most political of the Habsburg emperors.

2 Joseph's first entry into politics

2.1 Young Court

In 1700 or early 1701 Josef was first allowed to enter Viennese politics. He soon became aware that in the Habsburg administration little was resolved and far less executed. Eager to change affairs Josef then built the 'young court', a group of young officials and soldiers eager for reform. The first goal of the 'young court' was the removal of two of the most incompetent officials in the administration: the president of the Hofkammer count Salaburg, and count Mansfeld president of the Hofskriegsrat. In June 1703 the counts were removed from their posts and replaced by Gundaker Starhemberg as president of the Hofkammer, and Eugen as president of the Hofkriegsrat. Another victory was the institution of a financial commission they manned, that had to find ways to augment the income of the state.

2.2 Joseph removed from politics

The plan that finally led to the victory of Blenheim had also been devised by its members, and it was this faction that succeeded in having Eugen appointed against Bavaria. With many of it's members fighting in these and other campaigns the young court would however soon lose almost all it's influence, culminating in Josef's removal from politics in February 1705. This was however soon followed by Leopold's death on 5 May 1705.

3 Joseph as emperor

3.1 Appoints his favorites

After becoming emperor Joseph took matters in hand. For starters he excluded the Jesuits from politics. He then made his former governor and friend Salm Obersthofmeister (kind of prime-minister), made both Seilern and Sinzendorf Austrian chancellor (with split responsibilities), and made Wratislaw Bohemian chancellor. Josef also instituted 8 councils, like there were the Spanish council, the Italian council, the Anglo-Dutch council and the financial council.

3.2 Increases the government's income

With regards to the stände Joseph succeeded in getting about 50% more money from them. His project to put the autonomous financial and military organs in Graz and Innsbruck under control of the Hofkriegsrat and Hofkammer would however only be partly accomplished by 1709. In the institutional field he was more successful in reforming the administration of the crown lands and income. All in all he would succeed in nearly doubling the income of the state. In the big war Austria found itself in this was however by far not enough to stabilize the financial situation.

3.3 Joseph founds the Wiener Stadtbank

Joseph succeeded in instituting the Wiener Stadtbank, a kind of national bank. Because of the low credit enjoyed by the government, it had to be placed under control of the city of Vienna.

4 Balance of Joseph's rule

4.1 Military achievements

In military matters Josef can be said to have been at least partly responsible for Blenheim. He could perhaps have done more to let the Moselle plan be succesful in 1705, but can be said to have done everything in his power to help Eugen succeed in Italy in 1706, gaining him Milan. Josef then conquered Naples for his brother in 1707. Meanwhile his allies had conquered the Spanish Netherlands for his brother, after which Josef sent troops to strengthen Habsburg influence there.

4.2 Lasting peace with the Hungarians

1708 saw a military victory for Joseph in Hungary, that had revolted because of Leopold's inept politics. Josef then proved himself very wise by making a peace that satisfied many Hungarians, transforming the Hungarian magnates into supporters of Maria Theresia when she acceded. With all the Spanish territory outside Spain conquered Josef then started to send troops to help Charles conquer Spain.

4.3 Carelessness with women

His passion for women would undo most of Joseph's strategy: His extramarital adventures gave his wife a venereal disease and wrecked his marriage. As a consequence he had only one son who died prematurely. When Joseph died of smallpox on 17 April 1711 his brother Charles had to succeed him as emperor. A fact that greatly diminished allied support for Charles' cause in Spain.