Eyewitnesses praise Blessed Karl’s profound sense of duty. He understood the obligation of emperor given to him as a sacred trust, and saw himself as a father to his peoples. In a conversation with Count Polzer-Hoditz on April 28, 1917, the Emperor said: “It comes down, however, to simply help as much as one can help. As emperor I must set a good example. If everyone would only practice his Christian duty, there would not be so much hate and misery in the world.” His love for neighbor was exemplary. To ease the suffering of his war-weary peoples, Emperor Karl ordered that the palace horses and wagons be put into service to deliver coal to the Viennese population, donated much of his private fortune to the poor, and even gave away clothes from his own closet to the needy.
In 1914, at the beginning of the war, the future Emperor declared to a crowd which had gathered at Hetzendorff Palace in support of the war: “Everyone who knows me, knows how much I love Austria and Hungary. I cannot stand back at their hour of need. Everyone who knows me, also knows how much I am a soldier and trained as such for warfare. Nonetheless, how people can welcome this war—however just—with such jubilation, I simply cannot understand. Warfare, after all, is something appalling.”
Dr. Friedrich Funder wrote about Emperor Karl in 1938: “He was the only head-of-state to continuously seek ways to end the war… he did so using his entire being, with friend and enemy. Would it have gone according to the will and efforts of Emperor Karl, millions of lives lost in battle—and not just Austrians—would have been saved, the dreadful degradation of the German people would have been avoided, and Europe could have enjoyed a lasting peace to our day.”
Emperor Karl had the innermost conviction that God had entrusted the crown to him. Because of this certitude, the royal coronation in Hungary had great meaning for him. Fifty years after the event, Empress Zita spoke about the coronation: “The thing that impressed both of us most about the whole ceremony was the moving liturgical side of it all—especially the oaths that the King took at the altar before his anointing to preserve justice for all and strive for peace. This sacred pledge given in the cathedral was exactly the political programme he wanted to carry out from the throne. We both felt this so strongly that hardly any words were necessary between us.” (Excerpt from: Gordon Brook-Shepherd: The Last Habsburg, Weybright and Talley, New York, 1968).
The coronation rite itself is described by Dr. Maria Holbacher: “Through the sacred rite, which is liturgically administered ‘through the Grace of God’ as a sacramental, he becomes sovereign and imbued with Divine Grace for the specific station of his high calling, in order that he might govern the peoples entrusted to him in peace and prosperity for their salvation. The ceremony of the coronation takes place before the offertory of the Holy Mass, and is similar to solemn professions, the ordination of priests, the blessing of abbots and the consecration of bishops, in that the candidate lies face-down on the floor before the altar while the litany of the saints is prayed. The Primate of Hungary, the Archbishop of Esztergom, confers the coronation-rite and celebrates the Mass. After a long prayer, the coronation-candidate, who stands throughout, is anointed with sacred chrism and invested with the royal regalia and insignia while his sacred obligations are cited individually. This is so the candidate clearly understands that the standards and expectations of ethical obligations and moral actions are so high that human power alone cannot accomplish them without the help of God.”
The fidelity of Blessed Karl as an anointed monarch is distinctive. He chose to be misjudged, slandered, banished and reduced to complete poverty, rather than be disloyal to his coronation oath. It was his personal conviction that he could never abdicate because he had received the crown irrevocably from the hands of God, through the representatives of the Church.
Fr. Maurus Carnot, O.S.B., who pastorally cared for Emperor Karl while he was in exile in Switzerland, heard him emphatically state: “But I will never renounce my coronation oath. The crown of Saint Stephan is sacred to me. You can take my life, but never, never, never can you take away my oath and sacred crown.”
Empress Zita followed the example of her husband throughout her life, and was steadfast in her refusal to abdicate.
My Lord and God, I thank You for Emperor Karl’s fidelity to his vocation. Help me, that I too may faithfully fulfill my responsibilities. Hear my petitions and grant my request [mention your intention here] through the intercession of Blessed Emperor Karl.
[Hail Mary. Our Father. Glory Be.]