Reigning Empress and Queen (1916-1918)


An empress who tends to serve her peoples


       They came to power on November 21, 1916, after the reign of 68 years by Franz Josef (sic), in the middle of an atrocious warKarl and Zita ascended to the throne in the worst of times. They only lived a short moment of glory before a long Way of the Cross.  The moment of glory was their crowning as King and Queen of Hungary, in Budapest, on December 23, 1916. The Crown of Saint Stephen was not set on her head, but the Servant of God was crowned with the jewel made for the queens of Hungary (the crown made for Elisabeth (Sissi) who preceded her)However, the National Hungarian Crown was set on her right shoulder, by the Bishop of Veszprem as a symbol that she was called to help her husband carry out his heavy duty. The words of the ritual are profound in their meaning: « Receive the Crown of Sovereignty, so that you may know that as the spouse of the King, you must always care for the people of God.  The higher you are placed, the more humble you must remain in Jesus Christ».           

On the other hand, she let her husband run the Empire, even though she followed the affairs of the State through the reports of the ministers. The Emperor was the man who made all the decisions in the end, even sometimes in spite of the disagreement with his wife (such as for the amnesty in July 1917). The following statement from Franz Josef to his daughter, Archduchess Valerie, shows how he appreciated the complementary quality of the couple and how fond he really was of his successor: « He was very happy to see the way in which Zita helped her husband. She was able to develop and grow in him all his excellent qualities and allow them to blossom into maturity». 

« Guardian Angel of all the suffering » (Card. Piffl, archbishop of Vienna)

      Zita focused on the social issues of her days.  In times of war, the activities related to social calls and representations were canceled and Zita devoted most of her time to charitable work. She created the Work for the Child which raised funds for the poorest. As early as December 26, 1916, her financial manager delivered to the President of the Council of Austria a check of 650,000 Crowns and the detailed list of the collected donations : 15 tons of chocolate, 30,000 doses of condensed milk, a wagon full of clothes and 75,000 pairs of shoes. Fifteen days later, she inquired on the efficiency and speed of the distribution of the items.  She also reduced the living expenses of the royal family, by eliminating certain items such as chocolate and white bread, so as to share more closely in the deprivation of the less fortunate.  The Empress never hesitated to remind belligerents such as German Admiral Henning von Holtzendorff, of her concerns for peace, which prompted his criticism of her ‘being anti-war’ in general :
« -I am against the war, as every woman who loves nothing more than to see the human race in happiness rather than tears.
- Sorrow and pain, what of it?  I never work better than on an empty stomach; it is all about tightening one’s belt and hanging in there.

- I cannot bear to hear one talk of hanging in there, while one is sitting in front of an abundant meal. ».

         However, the most important service that the imperial couple tried to render to its subjects was to bring them peace.  The old emperor Franz Josef in order to prepare for the future, had refused to include his heir in any way into the declaration of war with Serbia which sparked the worldwide conflict.  Emperor Karl is known as being the « only honest man» involved in the First World War, because he sincerely wanted and tried his best to reach peace under honorable conditions for all. These separate peace offers (made secretly, unbeknownst to his German allies who were stubborn and a nuisance) were dealt with by Zita’s two brothers, the princes Xavier and Sixtus of Bourbon-Parma, but the initiative came from Karl, and not from the Empress who followed and approved of them.