Sic Transit Gloria Mundi: An Imperial Funeral During the First World War

Today’s post, a reflection on the anniversary of the funeral of Austro-Hungarian Emperor, Franz Joseph, comes to you courtesy of Associate Librarian, Nicolae Harsanyi, Dr. Harsanyi is the Wolfsonian library’s resident expert on European history and culture and is fluent in many of the languages spoken in Eastern Europe. Here is his report: 

Franz Joseph, the emperor of Austria and king of Hungary, died on November 21, 1916, at the age of 86. After having watched his wife’s assassination and 1898, his son’s suicide a year later, and his designated heir’s assassination in 1914, the emperor died as powers across Europe and the world were engaged in one of the most brutal and globalized conflict in human history. The funeral of the emperor took place on November 30.

The Wolfsonian–FIU Library has a portfolio published by the Association of Silver Cross of the returning Austrian reserve military, which contains 48 photographic plates presenting various moments of the funeral.




The Austro-Hungarian bodyguard wearing ceremonial uniform was one of the several military units that preceded the imperial hearse in the procession that headed to St. Stephen’s Cathedral for the funeral service.





Here, the casket is carried inside the church. In a dispatch from December 1, 1916, The New York Times reported that the church was “crammed in every corner with a brilliant congregation of Kings, Crown Princes, Archdukes, diplomats, prelates, statesmen and other personnages [sic].” However, the article fails to mention that representatives of many countries, namely those against which Austria-Hungary and Germany were currently waging war, did not attend the funeral.


From St. Stephen’s, the procession moved on foot through the streets for four blocks to the church of the Capuchins, the traditional burial place of the Habsburgs.




Shown here are Emperor Charles, Empress Zita, Crown Prince Otto, and the Kings of Saxony, Bavaria, and Bulgaria in the funeral procession of the Emperor Franz Joseph.  Charles, the successor of the late emperor, reigned only for two years. At the end of the First World War he and his family were banished from all the successor states of the empire. After the Second World War, Otto von Habsburg became an advocate of European unification and was a member of the European Parliament until his death in 2011.

XB1994.315.2 Plate42a

In this photograph is the final resting place of Franz Joseph’s coffin, at the Capuchin church in Vienna, surrounded by the remains of his wife, Elisabeth, and his son, Rudolf. This last image appears in a brochure describing the Capuchin church, dating from 1933, also in our library’s collection.

~ by "The Chief" on November 30, 2017.

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