Banishment to Switzerland and Restoration Attempts in Hungary (1919-1922)

        After the failed separate peace attempts, the Central Powers’ fate grew grimmer. Certainly, Karl had always been eager to reform his Empire, which he knew to be gravely threatened by Nationalism. However, he hoped to make these reforms in peacetime, which was his primary focus. In a Manifesto to his peoples on October 16, 1918, he invited them to organize national councils which would decide on the means to create a Danubian Confederation, at least for the Austrian part of the Empire (where Czechs, Poles, Ruthenians or Ukrainians, Germans, Slovenes and Italians lived). His hands were tied in the Hungarian kingdom, because the coronation oath he was required to take in order to rule there granted Magyars rights that were not granted to Croats, Serbs, Rumanians and Slovaks living within the kingdom. But rather than implementing reforms towards more autonomy within the Empire, these national councils instead chose independence.

       On November 11, 1918, Karl withdrew from the affairs of State without abdicating, in spite of protests made by Zita. They then left for their private home, Villa Eckartsau, east of Vienna, where they lived exposed to danger from marauders, cold, malnutrition and illness. The British Colonel Strutt was an invaluable help to them.  He was put in charge of improving their living conditions by the British government, which worried that Karl and Zita might experience the same fate as the Russian Imperial Family. He testified: “She [Zita] is very simply dressed in black and wears her splendid pearls… My first impression of her is that she emanates extraordinary strength of character which is tempered by her astonishing charm. Determination can be read in the lines of her small square chin; intelligence sparkles in her brown eyes; the intellectual woman shines through her broad forehead, half hidden by a mass of dark hair. Never did I hear her complain.
         Karl and Zita were expelled from their country on March 24, 1919 [1]. On the train, she explained to Colonel Strutt: “My family has been exiled from France, Italy and Portugal. By marriage I became an Austrian, and now I am being exiled from Austria. Please tell me, Colonel Strutt: to what country do I now belong?” Their exile started in Switzerland, first at Wartegg (in Rorscharerberg, Canton of St. Gall), at the home of her mother the Duchess of Parma; then they moved to the Villa Prangins (Vaud), and they finally settled in Hertenstein (Luzern).
       Twice (March-April and October 1921), the Emperor tried to regain his throne, with the blessing of the pope [2]. But, on the one hand, he refused to shed his people’s blood; on the other hand, he suffered from the betrayal of Admiral Horthy. Officially Regent of the Kingdom, Admiral Horthy should have stepped down in favor of his sovereign, to whom he had sworn fidelity. Both attempts aborted. Zita only participated in the second attempt. They were kept prisoners at the Benedictine monastery of Tihany, on the lake of Balaton. Then a British boat, the Glowworm, took them down the Danube to Romania. There, they boarded another ship, the Cardiff, bound for a destination unknown to them and which finally proved to be the Island of Madeira – a kind of Elba Island or Saint Helena, but they, however, were legitimate sovereigns working for peace.
      They reached the Harbor of Funchal on November 19, 1921. They lived in Madeira owing to the charity of the local Portuguese, because they were absolutely destitute. Since they were not able to pay their hotel bill, a man offered them the use of his summer residence which was completely unsuitable for a household of thirty people during the winter already upon them, because of its damp and foggy conditions high on the mountain above Funchal. Here is a description written by the Empress’ maid: “We had only three beautiful days: other than that, it is always foggy, rainy and damp. Up in these mountains, we are constantly cold. We have no electrical light; only one lavoratory in the whole house; running water only on the first floor and down in the kitchen… To get warm, we only have green wood which always smokes. We can only wash the laundry with cold water and soap… The house is exceedingly damp: everywhere it smells of things going moldy, and everyone can see his own breath. The only means of transportation are oxen,which we cannot afford; besides that there is a funicular railway, but it does not run every day. We cannot go down to town by foot, because it takes a whole day to come back up. The poor Emperor cannot have meat in the evening, only vegetables and a small dish; that is what pains us the most. For us, it matters little and we have enough, but for them, they have not even enough to eat…. The worst of it all is that Her Majesty is due to give birth in May and that they want no nurse or doctor. Here there is only a maid for the children, but she has no experience. So we will not even have a real midwife. I am truly distressed.
I am writing unbeknownst to Her Majesty, but I cannot endure to see these two innocent creatures left here for long, in a house that is completely inadequate. We must protest. Their Majesties will not do anything; they would rather say nothing and let themselves be locked up in a hole in a cellar and living on bread and water, if that was demanded of them. In the chapel, mushrooms grow on the walls; and we could never stay in the bedrooms if we did not keep fires burning constantly in the hearths there. We are naturally all working together in order to help as much as possible, but sometimes we can’t help but despair. When we see how patient Their Majesties are in these trials, we find the strength to keep going on.”
It is no surprise that the Emperor, who went out to purchase a gift for Karl-Ludwig on his birthday, caught a cold on March 9. Despite a fever, they waited a week before sending for a doctor. The doctor, finally called in on March 21, measured his temperature at 40° (Celsius). Zita, kept constantly busy by her children who were also ill with the flu, had very little sleep. She took care of her husband and had plenty to do trying to respond to his needs. On Sunday March 26, she joined a procession offered for the Emperor’s recovery, but he was already receiving Extreme Unction. Paul Morand writes in his book La Dame Blanche des Habsbourg: “There only remained a great calm marital love, that neither misery nor death could alter.” She prayed first that he may be given back to his peoples, and only afterwards to his family. Entering his agony on Good Friday, he died as a Christian prince. For one instant, Zita let her sorrow show: “Karl, what will I do all alone?” then checking herself “Lord, Thy Will be done.” Karl I, Emperor of Austria, King Karl IV of Hungary died of cold, in poverty and a destitute on Holy Saturday, April 1, 1922. He was barely older than Christ on the cross: 34 years of age. Zita was barely 30, expecting their 8th child, and would continue mourning for the next 67 years!

[1] Stephan Zweig, in his autobiography Le Monde d’hier, describes thus the crossing of the Swiss border near Feldkirch : “I recognized behind the train car window, the straight and tall figure of Emperor Karl, the last Emperor of Austria, and his wife in black clothes, Empress Zita. I shivered thinking: the last Emperor of Austria, the heir to the dynasty that has governed the country for seven hundred years, was leaving his empire! Now, this tall and serious man was standing at the window and saw for the last time the mountains, the houses, the people of his country…. ‘The Emperor,’ to us this word meant all the power, wealth and permanence of Austria and, since our childhood, we had been taught to pronounce these syllables with veneration. And now I saw the heir, the last Emperor of Austria, leaving his country in exile. All those around us could feel history, universal history, in this tragic scene.”

[2] Sévillia, pp. 181-182 (but it is also found in Informatio of the process of Karl’s beatification, p. 248, et Summ. Test., p. 215-126, § 216) mentions a Father Cœlestin Schweighofer an emissary of the pope sent in early October 1921 to the Villa of Hertenstein, in order to encourage him to try to save Hungary from the Bolshevik threat (the communist Bela Kun had established a Soviet republic between March 21 and August 1, 1921). Furthermore, after the failed attempt and right before boarding the boat, the imperial couple received the blessing of Pope Benedict XV from his nuncio, Msgr. Shioppa, to whom Karl promised to keep for himself the encouragement given by the sovereign pontiff in favor of the attempt; Karl begged for his intervention to prevent the implementation of the death penalty against any of his Hungarian supporters.