Monarchical Succession and the Political Culture of 19th-Century Europe. Frank Lorenz Müller / Heidi Mehrkens, project “Heirs to the throne in the constitutional monarchies of nineteenth century Europe”, 30.08.2013-31.08.2013.
Reviewed by Miriam Schneider
Published on H-Soz-u-Kult (November, 2013)
Monarchical Succession and the Political Culture of 19th-Century Europe
Recent scholarship has stressed the remarkable resilience of nineteenth-century constitutional monarchies in the face of profound political, social and cultural change. Yet to date among the many agents of success or failure involved in the re-invention of monarchy, heirs to the throne have been largely neglected by systematic research. A two-day conference organised by the AHRC-funded project “Heirs to the throne in the constitutional monarchies of nineteenth century Europe” aimed to narrow this gap. Across two keynote lectures and four thematic panels delegates from all over Europe discussed the roles and functions of crown princes within the monarchical systems and political cultures of a wide range of countries. As Frank Lorenz Müller and Heidi Mehrkens (St Andrews) outlined in their introduction, as embodiments and agents both of continuity and change heirs were crucial within monarchical systems, yet their political roles remained largely undefined. Where, if anywhere, did the political power of the heir to the throne lie? By examining and comparing individual crown princes within their dynastic, constitutional and political contexts an attempt was made to answer this complex question.
In the first keynote lecture, the project conveners sketched out on possible research themes by exploring the expectations with which various agents invested two crown princes and how these hopes were dashed by their premature deaths. FRANK LORENZ MÜLLER (St Andrews) examined the different relationships between Crown Prince Frederick William of Prussia and a number of agents: his father, William I, excluded him from power; the political parties of the Prussian and German parliaments, especially the liberal ”Fortschrittspartei“, turned him into their figurehead; his chief rival, Chancellor Bismarck, successfully stymied him as a political factor; and the wider German public was enthralled by the folksy charms of the public persona “Our Fritz”. The repercussions of Frederick’s death in 1888 corresponded with the feelings of shock and paralysis in France upon the death of Ferdinand Duc d’Orléans, the eldest son of Louis-Philippe I, in 1842. HEIDI MEHRKENS (St Andrews) highlighted how the loss of this popular figure, who had served as a screen onto which liberal virtues had been projected, deprived the July monarchy of one of its primary anchor points in national sentiment. Even though the subsequent debate of the regency bill rallied the Chambers behind the Citizen King, the July monarchy would never recover from the blow of Ferdinand’s premature death.
The First Panel revolved around the heir’s personal agency and individual charisma as important means to effect changes in the political environment. ALA CRECIUN (Budapest) showed how personal leverage was constructed in connection with the future Tsar Alexander III, who became heir to the throne unexpectedly upon the death of his brother. An attempt was made to turn his simple character and education into a strength, propagating an image of the prince as a patriot and authentic Russian man. Breaking with tradition of Western refinement offered room for change and modernisation, allowing each generation to identify with the monarchy. Alexander’s newly created public image became that of a peoples’ king. VALENTINA VILLA (Milan) also argued for the importance of a generational break between rulers. The image of the future Italian King Victor Emmanuel III was moulded primarily through his education. Like with Alexander III, efforts were made to create a strong persona out of a supposedly weak prince by bringing the crown closer to its people. Thus, Victor Emmanuel’s image as the ‘bourgeois King’ allowed the monarchy’s image to develop, countering a reputation of decline and degeneration. GÜNTHER KRONENBITTER (Augsburg) compared Crown Prince Rudolf and Archduke Franz Ferdinand in terms of their ability to bring change to the Habsburg Empire. He showed how, with their different characters and methods, both managed to gain public support. Franz Ferdinand’s ideas were closer to those of the Emperor and his respect for the institution of monarchy eventually rendered him a more reliable heir. Thus the agency of heirs was shown to be an important factor in renewing and ‘modernising’ the monarchy, all the while upholding its dynastic roots.
The Second Panel focused on the challenges that succession could pose to monarchical systems. Premature deaths, childless marriages or the lack of male heirs could throw dynasties and whole countries into serious crises. As CHRISTOPH DE SPIEGELEER (Brussels) pointed out, the untimely deaths of three heirs to the Belgian throne shed light on the political conflicts and tensions that divided a young nation state after 1830. Fears for Belgium’s geopolitical position and internal consolidation, long-drawn struggles between Flemish and Francophone populations, Catholic and Liberal parties, socialist criticism and sensationalism all peaked when the funeral of Prince Baudouin in 1891 was turned into a theatrical display. But times of crisis as periods of transition could also contribute to the transformation of constitutional monarchy and national identity. Thus, JES FABRICIUS MØLLER (Copenhagen) highlighted how the House of Glücksborg metamorphosed from a pretender to the throne of a conglomerate state into the epitome of a nationalized monarchy. Prince Christian (IX) of Glücksborg was chosen to succeed the childless King Frederick VII of Denmark in order to solve the Schleswig-Holstein question by guaranteeing dynastic continuity and the integrity of the state. But the war of 1864 and subsequent loss of the duchies changed his “job description” completely necessitating a twofold process of “domestication” to turn his dynasty into the first family of a nation state. MARÍA DEL CARMEN LÓPEZ SANCHEZ (Madrid) pointed out how the death in 1885 of popular King Alphonse XII of Spain and the wait for his posthumous child to be born made necessary a collaboration policy between the two main political parties and the Queen Regent. Facing the challenges of rival Carlist candidates and republican agitation, the Conservative Party handed over power to the Liberals. By thus stabilizing the constitutional monarchy, the Restoration project could be secured until the birth of the King’s son ended the period of uncertainty.
Panel Three was dedicated to the heir’s entourage and court – contexts that played a vital part in the education, tutoring and character formation of royal heirs as well as shaping their political environment. The personalities chosen to surround the heir reveal the political priorities of the monarchy and shed light on the choices of dynastic representation addressed to the people. As PEDRO URBANO’s (Lisbon) paper on the Portuguese Crown Prince Don Luis Filipe demonstrated, the appointment of tutors and courtiers for the prince was a closely guarded prerogative of the monarchy and influenced by the political preoccupations of the time. Mouzinho of Albuquerque, hero of the colonial war in Africa, was chosen to be chief tutor in order to impart a military education. This decision reflects dynastic efforts to preserve the Portuguese colonial empire at the end of the 19th century. EBERHARD FRITZ (Altshausen) similarly stressed the importance attached to the education of heirs in Württemberg in the 19th century. He showed how military drill, though moderated by teaching civil elements, remained a key factor. The harsh education of vulnerable personalities often led to conflict. Another point raised was that of conflicting aims of education: How could one foster popularity with the people and at the same time preserve the proper distance between ruler and ruled? RICHARD KURDIOVSKY (Vienna) analysed the spatial and architectural presence of the Habsburg heirs to the throne. He argued that in contrast to other ruling families distinct visibility was not an essential component of the lodgings of the Austrian Crown Princes; often they deliberately disappeared behind the façade of the”Hofburg“. Only Archduke Franz Ferdinand became associated with a single building, Belvedere Castle. This lack of a clearly defined spatial structure surrounding the Habsburgs was indicative of the difficulty of defining the Crown Prince’s position in the Austrian empire.
The second Keynote Lecture focused on recurrent conflict in father-son relations in the Hohenzollern dynasty, a phenomenon sustained by both intra-familial tensions and external factors. CHRISTOPHER CLARK (Cambridge) explained how monarchies were involved in cumulative historical projects, which in the case of the Hohenzollern dynasty entailed elements of continuity as well as trans-generational conflict. Disagreements, in particular over foreign policy, often exacerbated pre-existing tensions. Thus the conflict between George Wilhelm and his son, the future Great Elector, during the 1630s was closely intertwined with the question of rapprochement to Catholic powers and led to the Crown Prince being frozen out from state affairs. A recurring theme was the attitude of rulers that their anointed successors were not qualified to inherit the throne. The famous battles between Frederick II and his father were imbued with a particular emotional intensity. The tensions between Wilhelm I and Frederick III were over-layered by political divisions, which led to the latter being the first Crown Prince to become associated with a network of parliamentary opposition. Wilhelm II explored his room for manoeuvre, often siding with his grandfather against his father. However, his own son would eventually out-flank him on the radical right. In conclusion, Clark highlighted the recurrence of the extremes of alteration. He also argued that these father-son tensions did not feed into a broader political culture, thus impeding the development of a “loyal opposition”, as had been established in Britain.
In the Fourth and Final Panel the roles played by heirs to the throne during World War I were examined through the lenses of both politics and culture. HEATHER JONES (London) analysed the future British King Edward VIII against the background of the cultural structures and ideas of monarchy that helped sustain the British war effort. She explored the meanings of the presence of the heir on the battlefields and how it made monarchical presence widely felt. Edward’s own struggle to embody the royal warrior ideal whilst simultaneously battling with his own humanity added a new dimension to the relationship between royalty and the war. Unlike Edward the German heir to the throne, Crown Prince Wilhelm, did not become particularly popular. As KATHARINE LERMAN (London) highlighted in her talk, Wilhelm’s military role failed to gain him respect. His failings as a commander, best marked by the senseless bloodbath of Verdun, and his growing detachment from military duty distanced him from his people and crippled his pursuit of glory. Wilhelm’s public figure failed to project the image of warrior king and to create a bond with his people. The power of a perceived public image was also central to LOTHAR MACHTAN’s (Bremen) research on the 37-day Imperial Chancellor and German Prince Max von Baden. The clash between his royal lineage and his desire to follow in the political footsteps of Bismarck in the aftermath of the war was an ambitious task for which the Badenese prince proved unsuited: Max’s apolitical stance and royal lineage made him inadequate for the office of Imperial Chancellor. His eventual failure to grasp the opportunity to replace the abdicated Kaiser revealed his lack of support during his short stint in power and proved him incapable of keeping Germany’s monarchy alive.
More questions were raised than answered during the two days of thorough discussion about nineteenth-century heirs to the throne. Some of the research desiderata addressed included a more detailed look into the roles of crown princes as constitutional organs, their interaction with diverse governing bodies, and the economic background of their court life. Royal education and the political influence wielded by instructors in shaping future monarchs emerged as another crucial topic. As to the central question of this conference – Where, if anywhere, did the political power of the heir to the throne lie? – no conclusive answer seems to be possible. The fact that the political role of the crown prince was not closely defined might have actually given the monarchy the room for manoeuver that facilitated its success in the face of the complex challenges of nineteenth-century change. Heirs to the throne inhabited a twilight zone between the certainty of dynastic house law and the vagueness of the constitution; gradually emerging as the “future sun”, they were blank pages to be filled with a range of political agendas or popular projections which make them a complex, under-researched, yet attractive subject of study.
Welcome/Introduction (Frank Müller/Heidi Mehrkens, St Andrews)
Keynote Lecture I:
Frank Müller/Heidi Mehrkens, “Willkommen und Abschied”. Responses to Anticipated and Thwarted Successions: Frederick William of Prussia and Ferdinand of Orléans
Panel 1: Personal agency and structural change
Ala Creciun, Budapest: Alexander III – the Making of a ‘Russian’ Tsar: Nationalism as a New Source of Legitimacy in the Late Romanov Empire
Valentina Villa, Milan: Victor Emmanuel, Prince of Naples: a suitable heir for a new century
Günther Kronenbitter, Augsburg: Emperors-in-waiting – Intra-dynastic Opposition in the late Habsburg Monarchy
Panel 2: Succession as challenge
Christoph de Spiegeleer, Brussels: Premature deaths of heirs to the throne in Belgium throughout the 19th century: crisis and scandal
Jes Fabricius Møller, Kopenhagen: The Domestication of Dynasty – the challenges of a German successor to the Danish Throne in the mid-19th Century
María del Carmen López Sanchez, Madrid: The Spanish succession crisis following the death of Alphonse XII
Panel 3: Courtly Context: Heirs, entourage and soft power
Eberhard Fritz, Altshausen: Education and the Rituals of Monarchy in the Kingdom of Wuerttemberg. Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm, Crown Prince Karl, and Prince Wilhelm in comparison
Richard Kurdiovsky, Vienna: The Spatial and Architectonical Presence of Heirs to the Throne – the Apartments of Habsburg’s Crown Princes in the Viennese Hofburg in the Long 19th Century
Pedro Urbano, Lisbon: The Royal household and the Heirs’ entourage: Portugal at the end of the constitutional monarchy
Keynote Lecture II:
Christopher Clark, Cambridge: Father-Son Relations in the Hohenzollern Dynasty
Panel 4: Heirs in the Great War
Heather Jones, London: A Prince in the Trenches? Edward VIII and the Great War
Lothar Machtan, Bremen: Claims to the throne in Baden and to the chancellorship in Berlin: The political tragedy of the two ambitions of Prince Max of Baden
Katharine Lerman, London: ‘For the greater glory of Crown Prince Wilhelm’: A Hohenzollern in Conflict 1914-1918
Round Table / Final discussion (Philip Mansel, London)
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Miriam Schneider. Review of , Monarchical Succession and the Political Culture of 19th-Century Europe.
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