Conference Report

“Monarchical Succession and the Political Culture of 19th-Century Europe”

Maria-Christina Marchi, Richard Meyer Forsting and Miriam Schneider

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 nineteenth-century re-invention of monarchy, heirs to the throne have been largely neglected by systematic research.  A two-day conference organised by the AHRC-funded research project “Heirs to the throne in the constitutional monarchies of nineteenth century Europe” aimed to narrow this research 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. They were widely known, but also less visible and powerful than their sovereign relations.  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 constitutional and political contexts, dynastic frameworks and personal networks 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 examined the different relationships between Crown Prince Frederick William of Prussia and a number of agents: his father, King and later Emperor William I, who excluded him from power; the political parties of the Prussian and German parliaments, especially the liberal ”Fortschrittspartei“, which turned him into their figurehead; his chief rival, Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, who successfully stymied him as a political factor; and the wider German public, enthralled by the folksy charms of the public persona “Our Fritz”. The repercussions of Frederick’s death from laryngeal cancer in 1888 corresponded with the feelings of shock and paralysis in France that had followed the death of Ferdinand Duc d’Orléans, the eldest son of Louis-Philippe I, in 1842. HEIDI MEHRKENS 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 Citizen King Louis-Philippe, the July monarchy would never recover from the blow of Ferdinand’s premature death.

The First Panel revolved around gauging the importance of personal agency and individual charisma in a royal heir’s ability to effect changes in the surrounding political structure. ALA CRECIUN (Budapest) showed how in Russia personal leverage was consciously constructed in connection with the future Alexander III, who became heir to the throne unexpectedly upon the death of his brother. His education had not prepared him for the throne and thus an attempt was made to turn the seeming simplicity of his 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 modernization: the intra-dynastical gap between the present and future Tsar allowed each generation to identify with the monarchy and 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. It was key in allowing the Italian monarchy to keep up with the evolving society surrounding it. The image of the Italian heir to the throne, the future Victor Emmanuel III, was moulded primarily through his education, focusing on traditional scientific and military teachings. Like with Alexander III, efforts were made to create a strong persona out of a supposedly weak prince, and this was achieved by bringing the crown closer to its people. Thus, Victor Emmanuel’s image as the ‘bourgeois King’ allowed the monarchy’s image to develop when he ascended the throne, countering a reputation of decline and degeneration. GÜNTHER KRONENBITTER (Augsburg) compared Crown Prince Rudolf and Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who became heir after Rudolf’s suicide, 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 in the nineteenth century was shown to be an important factor in renewing and ‘modernising’ the monarchy, all the while upholding its dynastic roots.

The tragic cases of Crown Prince Rudolf and Archduke Franz Ferdinand provided a link to the Second Panel which focused on the challenges that succession could pose to monarchical systems. Premature deaths, childless marriages or simply 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 in the course of the 19th century shone a bright light on the political conflicts and tensions that divided a young nation state. 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. As Møller stressed, Prince Christian (IX) of Glücksborg was chosen to succeed the childless King Frederick VII of Denmark in order to solve the famously involved Schleswig-Holstein question by guaranteeing dynastic continuity and the integrity of the state. But the culmination of the national question in the war of 1864 and subsequent loss of the duchies changed his “job description” completely necessitating a complex process of twofold “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 entourage and court of the heir to the throne – 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 last Portuguese Crown Prince Don Luis Filipe demonstrated, the appointment of tutors and courtiers for the young prince was a closely guarded prerogative of the monarchy and heavily 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 contrasts with the academic education of the King and reflects dynastic efforts in order 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 remained a key factor in the education of heirs to the throne, even if this was moderated by teaching civil elements. The harsh education of vulnerable personalities often led to generational conflict. Another intriguing 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) chose a different approach to the study of the Crown Princes’ soft power by analyzing the spatial and architectural presence of the Habsburg heirs to the throne. Using photographic evidence 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 the princes deliberately disappeared behind the façade of the “Hofburg”. Only with Archduke Franz Ferdinand, housed in Belvedere Castle, did a Crown Prince become associated with a single building enjoying high visibility. This lack of a clearly defined spatial and architectural structure surrounding the Habsburg princes was indicative of the difficulty of defining the position of the Crown Prince in the Austrian empire during this time period.

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 over politics, in particular 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 the affairs of state. A recurring theme in Hohenzollern father-son conflicts 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, due to differences in character and political attitudes. During the 19th century 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, bringing him into conflict with his father and Chancellor Bismarck. 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 and the key part played by foreign policy in father-son conflicts. He also argued that these 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) analyzed 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 identified that it made monarchical presence widely felt and increasingly popular. Against this must be seen Edward’s own struggle to embody the royal warrior ideal whilst simultaneously battling with his own humanity, which added a new dimension to the relationship between royalty and the war. Unlike Edward, who became immensely popular, the German heir to the throne, Crown Prince Wilhelm, did not enjoy the same outcome. As KATHARINE LERMAN (London) highlighted in her talk, Wilhelm’s high-profile military role did not gain the same degree of 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. Although his role in the war was similar to that of his British counterpart, 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. As Machtan explained, Max’s apolitical stance and royal lineage made him inadequate for the office of Imperial Chancellor; when appointed Chancellor in October 1918 his decisions were skilfully manipulated by military commanders Hindenburg and Ludendorff. 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.

As with any successful conference, more questions were raised than answered during the two days of thorough and open 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 political, social and cultural 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.



Conference details

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)