Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press

Twilight of the Habsburgs

The Life and Times of Emperor Francis Joseph

by Alan Palmer

“Alan Palmer’s lucid and intelligent biography . . . is an evocative portrait of the empire and the old-school monarch who ruled it for nearly seven decades.” –Sunday Telegraph (London)

  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Page Count 400
  • Publication Date March 24, 1997
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8711-3665-7
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $18.00

About The Book

No ruler in modern times reigned in full sovereignty for as long as Francis Joseph, emperor of Austria and king of Hungary, Bohemia, Dalmatia, Croatia, and Slavonia.

Titular master of central Europe from 1848 until 1916, he was center stage in Europe throughout the dramatic era in which Italy and Germany emerged as united nation states. His personal decisions were vital both to the outcome of the Crimean War and to the onset of World War I, sixty years later. Although he was an autocrat who believed in the Hapsburg dynastic mission to provide eleven distinct nationalities with a cohesive unity, he was also a family man of simple tastes; and in his old age he was revered in his Austrian heartland, much as Queen Victoria was within her empire.

Francis Joseph suffered a succession of personal disasters: his brother, Maximilian, was executed by Mexican republicans; his only son, Rudolf, shot himself and his mistress at Mayerling; his empress-queen, Elizabeth, died from stab wounds in Geneva; his nephew and heir, Francis Ferdinand, was assassinated at Sarajevo. These episodes are examined anew by Alan Palmer in a biography of revelation, reassessment, and restoration.

Too often the emperor is represented as a lonely, humorless bureaucrat, lacking in human warmth, artistic sensitivity, or political perception. Alan Palmer believes that this is a false impression. From a reading of hundreds of the emperor’s letters, as well as his mother’s diaries and other papers in the Vienna archives, Alan Palmer presents a more rounded and sympathetic portrait of Francis Joseph as the head of an empire and the head of a family. He has also used Elizabeth’s curious verse journal, only recently made public, and the extensive writings of the controversial Crown Prince Rudolf in a reappraisal of the conflicting emotions that troubled the oldest of dynasties at a time of immense social, cultural, and political change for European society. Finally, Alan Palmer examines the durability of the Francis Joseph legend and its manifestation in republican Austria today.


“Just the right balance between the story of Francis Joseph’s life and the history of his times.” –The New York Times Book Review

“Excellent and absorbing . . . A compelling read.” –Evening Standard (London)

“A detailed biography that captures the vanished world of the Austro-Hungarian Empire . . . Palmer’s vivid portrait is supplemented by engaging dynastic, political, and military history.” –Kirkus Review

“Alan Palmer’s lucid and intelligent biography . . . is an evocative portrait of the empire and the old-school monarch who ruled it for nearly seven decades.” –Sunday Telegraph (London)

“Palmer’s book is noteworthy for being the first major work about the Habsburgs to appear in a post cold war context. This history not only illuminates the past but offers some cautionary notes for the future.” –European Magazine