In the west a strong France and in the north a finely tuned system of small German states – so the Habsburgs only had the way to extend their possessions to the south or east. The countries in the east were the easiest prey, and in the course of time such different countries as Bohemia, Moravia or the Kingdom of Hungary came under Habsburg rule.
After the peoples had accepted for centuries to be ruled by foreign monarchs and to be pushed around on a game board like figures, the idea of the peoples’ right to self-determination began to take hold in the wake of the French Revolution.
Some empires, such as the French or the English, had little problem with this, because within their borders lived a relatively homogeneous ethnic population.
The Habsburg Empire, on the other hand, was a special case. Under his rule there was a colourful people of various nationalities, including German Austrians, Hungarians, Poles, Czechs, Italians, Croats, Ruthenians and Slovenes.
After the Congress of Vienna, the call for freedom and independence was suppressed for the time being, but in 1848 the pressure was too high and another storm of revolution swept across the continent.
To save his rule, Austria’s ruler Franz I invoked the “holy alliance” and once again, with the help of the Russian army, he succeeded in suppressing the uprisings.
But after Franz Joseph I’s defeat in the German War of 1866, the monarchy was too weak to insist on absolute Habsburg rule. Therefore, representatives of the emperor and the Hungarian parliament met for negotiations.
In order to prevent the dissolution of the monarchy into five kingdoms and the rule of the Slavs, it was decided to divide the empire into two halves, the so-called “dualism”, in which the Germans and the Magyars respectively had the supremacy.
In the course of these negotiations the Hungarian Reichstag was restored, a royal Hungarian government was elected and finally Emperor Franz Joseph I was crowned King of the Magyars with the St Stephen’s Crown.
This marked the end of the Austrian Empire and the beginning of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy.