Friday, August 27, 2010

The Sixtus Affair

Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians with Princes Xavier and Sixtus of Bourbon-Parma
A doomed peace feeler during World War I.
The two Bourbon-Parma princes were brothers to the Empress Zita of Austria and so when her husband, Charles I, became Emperor of Austria and wanted to end the Great War peacefully it was only natural that they try to do so via Prince Sixtus and Prince Xavier who were officers in the Belgian army, led by King Albert I, who also wanted peace in Europe rather than fighting on to destroy the continent until one side had total victory and the other side total ruin. This is significant since King Albert had greater cause for anger and resentment than any other Allied leader, his country being the only truly innocent party involved. However, King Albert was very religious and Pope Benedict XV wanted a peace without victors and the only leaders who paid attention to him were King Albert and Emperor Charles of Austria.


Jorge said...

Interesting. Frequently it's said that only Emperor Karl wanted peace in Europe (apart from the Pope, obviously). I did not know that King Albert was also eager to find peace. Empress Zita was a first cousin to Queen Elisabeth (their mothers were sisters).

I've heard to bad things about King Albert. One is that his government (maybe not him exactly) made use of Grand Duchess Marie Adelaide of Luxembourg's unpopularity because they wanted to annex Luxembourg (Marie Adelaide was also an extremely religious woman, who was terribly vilified; she was also a first cousin to Queen Elisabeth). The other wrong thing is that King Albert claimed the headship of the Order of the Golden Fleece, because the Order's treasures were located in Brussels. The Order has two branches, a Spanish one (whose head is the King of Spain) and the Austrian one (whose head was until 2007 Archduke Otto, but he "abdicated" on his eldest son and heir, Karl). Those are two things I find very inappropriate from a Catholic monarch.

May said...

I wouldn't be so quick to blame him- although there were a number of "Greater Belgium" types in the government he was not one of them. I don't know enough about his attitude to the Luxembourg case but I do know he poured alot of scorn, in his diaries, upon many of the dreams of expansion of certain groups.

As for the Golden Fleece, there were those in Belgium arguing that the headship of the Austrian Order ought to come to the Belgian king because he was the ruler of the area of the Burgundian lands where it originated. This was judged as an invalid claim by the Treaty of Versailles, but I wouldn't assume that Albert was trying to be treacherous or unjust. He may have been simply trying to maintain and revive the order, since, with the overthrow of the Habsburgs, it was in danger of becoming a mere relic of the past. As I recall, he was urged to try to get the headship of the order in order to restore it to its former glory. I know that he was a hardheaded, pragmatic realist, so he may have seen it as better for the Fleece, such a strong Catholic symbol, to be in the hands of a functioning, working Catholic monarchy, rather than fading away in the hands of a fallen one.

In any case, he definitely wanted a "peace without victors" in Europe, and disapproved of the war aims of both sides. At the Paris Peace Conference, he tried to intervene for milder treatment of defeated Germany. He also tried to hint to Clemenceau that abolishing all the monarchies of Central Europe would prove a permanent threat to the peace. He regretted the loss of the Habsburg Empire. But his views did not prevail in the decisions of the Peace Conference.