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The Revolutions of 1848 101: Habsburg Monarchy


The revolutions of 1848 are a separate chapter in the study of modern and contemporary European history. The “Springtime of the Peoples,” as they are called by some historians, played a decisive role in the development of the historical events of the 19th century, the 20th century, and also the present. This is the main reason why this 101 series of articles, dedicated to these revolutions, came into being. Specifically, reference will be made to the cases of many European countries and regions, such as France, the German States, the Italian States, Denmark, the territories of the Habsburg Empire, Sweden, Poland, and so on.

The Revolutions of 1848 series consist of nine main articles:

In this article of this 101 series, the revolutions of 1848 against the Habsburg Monarchy will be discussed. Τhe term “Habsburg Monarchy” refers to all the territories of the Habsburg Empire, or in other words of the Austrian Empire, whose royal house was the Habsburg House. The Habsburg Empire apparently had the most favorable conditions for a revolution compared to the rest of Europe because apart from the economic and social problems that plagued the government, the empire was essentially a mosaic of nationalities. Suffice it to say, Germans, Hungarians (Magyars), Serbs, Croats, Bosnians, Slovenes, Romanians, Ukrainians, Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Italians, and so on lived within the empire. The Austrians were not mentioned, as at that time the terms “German” and “Austrian” were not ethnically distinct yet. For example, an Austrian differed from a Prussian or a Bavarian, but all three of them were ethnic Germans. Because of this national mosaic, the revolutions were mainly national in nature, but there were liberal and socialist motives too, as in the case of the Austrian regions. Of all the peoples mentioned, the largest armed mobilizations were carried out by the Austrians and the Hungarians. For this reason, more reference will be made to these two revolutions. The outbreak of the revolutions was preceded by a few events before 1848. Initially, the depletion of food supplies was critical, the administration of the empire's problems by Minister Clemens von Metternich, a pioneer of the Vienna Congress in 1815 (more here), led the state to economic stagnation, and finally the success of February Revolution in France gave courage to the people.

Nationalities within the Habsburg Empire.
Nationalities within the Habsburg Empire (1).

Uprising Over the Austrian Lands

After the news of the February victories in Paris spread throughout Europe, an uprising occurred in Vienna. The parliament had demanded the resignation of Prince Metternich in March, the conservative State Chancellor, and Foreign Minister. Since no one supported Metternich, not even the emperor Ferdinand I, he resigned on March 13 and fled to London. Ferdinand appointed new, nominally liberal, ministers. The established order collapsed rapidly because of the weakness of the Austrian armies. The army marshal General Joseph Radetzky was unable to keep his soldiers fighting on multiple fronts and ordered the troops to retreat. Social and political conflict momentarily subsided as much of the continent rejoiced in the liberal victories. Mass political organizations and public participation in government became widespread. However, liberal ministers were unable to establish central authority. Also, a new Hungarian government in Pest announced its intentions to break away from the Empire and elect Ferdinand its king.

The initial victory of the revolution was seen as an opportunity for the lower classes to renew old conflicts with greater anger and energy. Several tax boycotts occurred in Vienna and assaults against soldiers were common. The demands of nationalism and its contradictions became apparent as new national governments began declaring power and unity. The German nationalist movement faced the question of whether Austria should be included in the united German state. The liberal ministers in Vienna were willing to allow elections for the German National Assembly of Frankfurt in some of the Habsburg lands, but it was undetermined which Habsburg territories would participate. German nationalists believed that Bohemia and Moravia rightfully belonged to a united German state, even though the majority of the people were Czechs. Czech nationalists called for a boycott of the Frankfurt Parliament elections in these areas. Tensions in Prague between German and Czech nationalists grew quickly between April and May. By early summer, conservative regimes had been overthrown, freedom of the press and freedom of association had been introduced, and multiple nationalist claims had been exerted. New parliaments quickly held elections with broad franchises to create assemblies, which would write new constitutions. These elections, however, produced unexpected results. The new voters, confused by their new political power, elected conservative or moderately liberal representatives. The radicals, the ones who supported the broadest franchise, lost under the system they advocated. The mixed results led to confrontations, as tensions arose among the citizens and the political parties. The Czechs held a Pan-Slavic congress in Prague in June 1848. The Slavs within the empire wanted greater freedom, but their status as peasants and proletarians surrounded by a German middle class doomed their demands. Czechs also disliked the prospect of the annexation of Bohemia and Moravia to the German Empire (Lindemann, 2012) (1).

Barricades outside of the University in May 26, 1848, Vienna.
Barricades outside of the University in May 26, 1848, Vienna (2).

Counter-Revolution by Habsburgs

Because of these setbacks, insurgents were quickly defeated by King Ferdinand's troops led by General Radetzky, prompting several liberal government ministers to resign. Ferdinand, now restored to power in Vienna, appointed conservatives in their places. In Bohemia, the leaders of both the German and Czech nationalist movements were both constitutional monarchists, loyal to the Habsburg Emperor. The Habsburg troops crushed the insurgents and their barricades. Martial law was imposed, and the Prague National Committee was dissolved. These events were applauded by German nationalists who failed to understand that the Habsburg military would crush their own national movement as well. Prague was the first victory of counter-revolution in the Austrian Empire. Attention then turned to Hungary. The war in Hungary threatened the imperial rule again and prompted Emperor Ferdinand and his court to flee Vienna once more. Viennese radicals welcomed the arrival of Hungarian troops as the only force able to stand up against the court and ministry. However, the radicals took control of the city for only a short period of time. Soldiers came from Prussia to quickly defeat the insurgents and imperial authority was restored to the city. The reconquering of Vienna was seen as a defeat over German nationalism. At this point, Ferdinand I was thinking of abdicating the throne to his 18-year-old nephew, Franz Joseph (Berstein and Milza, 1992) (2).

The Hungarian Parliament in Pest.
The Hungarian Parliament in Pest (3).

The Revolution of Hungarians

In 1848, news of the outbreak of the revolution in Paris arrived in Hungary, when a new national cabinet took power and the parliament approved sweeping reforms. These reforms changed almost every aspect of Hungary's economic, social, and political life. First of all, freedom of the press was established. Accountable ministries were elected in Buda and Pest, and a national bank of Hungary was founded. An annual parliamentary session was set in Pest and civil and religious equality before the law was enacted. Separate laws for the common people and the legal privileges of the nobility were abolished. A Hungarian national guard was formed in order to keep the law and order during the transition of the system. This guard swore not to be sent abroad and to support the constitution. Tax burdens were equally shared between all the classes and the obligation of the peasantry to provide military services to its lords, a remnant of feudalism, was abolished. All people were able to be elected as juries at the legal courts and to be officials even on the highest levels of the public administration and judicature if they had the prescribed education. Finally, all political prisoners were released. These demands were not easy for the imperial court to accept, however, its weak position provided little choice. One of the first tasks of the parliament was abolishing serfdom (Goldstein, 2004) (3).

The Hungarian government set limits on the political activity of all the ethnic groups under Hungarian revolutionary control. Consequently, armed clashes ensued between the Hungarians and the Croats, Romanians, Serbs, Slovaks. The Habsburg Kingdoms of Croatia and Slavonia severed their relations with the new Hungarian government in Pest and devoted themselves to the imperial cause. Aware that they were on the path to full-scale war in mid-1848, the Hungarian government ministers attempted to gain the support of Habsburgs by offering to send troops to northern Italy. By the end of August, the imperial government in Vienna officially ordered the Hungarian government in Pest to end plans for a Hungarian army. The national assembly of the Serbs in the Austrian Empire was held between May 1 and May 3, 1848, during which the Serbs proclaimed an autonomous Habsburg-Serbian crownland. The war started and clashes occurred between Hungarians and Serbs. The Serbs defended themselves strongly and the war was raging on many fronts against Romanians, Croatians, and Serbs. Therefore, the Hungarian army was forced to retreat. Hungarian radicals in Pest saw this as an opportunity. The parliament made concessions to the radicals in September rather than letting the events erupt into violent confrontations. Shortly thereafter, the final break between Vienna and Pest occurred when Field Marshal Count Franz Philipp von Lamberg was given control of all armies in Hungary. The imperial court ordered the Hungarian parliament, and the government dissolved. The war between Austria and Hungary had officially begun.

The Hungarian Defeat Due to Foreign Aid

The war led to the October Crisis in Vienna when insurgents attacked a garrison on its way to Hungary. After Vienna was recaptured by imperial forces, the troops were sent to Hungary to crush the Hungarian revolution. As they advanced, the Hungarian government evacuated Pest. Austria asked its ally Russia for help. In May 1849, Czar Nicholas I of Russia pledged to redouble his efforts against the Hungarian government. He and Emperor Franz Joseph started to regather and rearm an army. In June 1849, Russian and Austrian troops entered Hungary, heavily outnumbering the Hungarian army. On August 13, after several bitter defeats in a hopeless situation, Hungarians surrendered to the Russians, who handed the army over to the Austrians (Marx and Engels, 1977) (4).

Capitulaton of Hungarian Army at Világos 1849.
Capitulaton of Hungarian Army at Világos 1849 (4).


It was extremely difficult from the beginning for any revolution to succeed within the territory of Habsburgs. This was not only due to the fact that the Austrian imperial powers were able to suppress the revolutions with the help of their allies such as Prussia and Russia. The main reason was the fact that the revolutionaries were extremely divided ethnically and socially. The opposing poles fighting each other within the Austrian Empire were too many. First, there were the radicals in Vienna, who rebelled against the Habsburg government. Then the German and Czech nationalists revolted, the Germans demanding the annexation of German-speaking areas to the German Empire and the Czechs to increase their liberties. Due to the strong German presence in Bohemia and Moravia, these two nationalist groups clashed. The imperial forces easily defeated the Czechs first, and then the Germans. At the same time, there were divisions within the Hungarian revolutionaries. The Hungarian revolutionaries wanted strong autonomy and increased liberties without seceding from the empire and denouncing Ferdinand, but there were also Hungarians loyal to the Habsburgs. Hungarian nationalism also suppressed other ethnic groups such as Serbs, Croats, Romanians, and Slovaks, who demanded additional rights from the Austrians but were forced to clash with the Hungarians to defend their national interests. Understandably, this social and national mosaic could not acquire uniformity. Therefore, the revolutions were suppressed. However, it exposed the weaknesses of the Austrians and made the rise of the Hungarians visible. It is no coincidence that in 1867, the Hungarians and Austrians agreed to rule the state equally and named it Austria-Hungary in order to avoid the collapse of the empire.

Image Sources

  1. Nationalities within the Habsburg Empire [Map]. Retrieved from:

  2. Werner, F. (1848). Barricade bei der Universität am 26ten Mai 1848 in Wien. [Lithography]. Prints, Drawings and Watercolors from the Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection. Brown Digital Repository. Brown University Library. Retrieved from:

  3. The Hungarian Parliament in Pest [Photograph]. © Wiki Commons. Retrieved from:

  4. Szkicsák-Klinovszky, I. (1850). Capitulaton of Hungarian Army at Világos 1849 [Painting]. Retrieved from:


  1. Lindemann, A. (2012). A History of Modern Europe: From 1815 to the Present. Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 144-147.

  2. Berstein S. and Milza P. (1992). The History of Europe: 1815-1919. Hatier, Paris. pp. 57-63.

  3. Goldstein, R. (2004). Civil Liberties and the 1848 Revolutions. Retrieved from:

  4. Marx, K. and Engels, F. (1977). Karl Marx and Frederick Engels: Collected Works. New York: International Press. pp. 618.

1 Comment

Jan 23, 2022

As a person who enjoys reading historical articles, this was a very interesting read for me. I've certainly learned a lot of new information and I'm excited for the future articles of this 101 series.

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Miltos Spiratos

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