The Capuchin vault - burial place of the Emperors


It all started with the spouse of Emperor Matthias I, Anna von Tirol, who in 1618 decided, that there should be a Capuchin monastery within the citywalls of Vienna. There she and her husband should be buried. The monastery was built together with the vault and Emperor Ferdinand III decreed that it should be the burial place of all the Habsburgs in the future. At the entrance of the vault there is a very old, wooden pieta.
Today you find not less than 148 coffins there, among which those of twelfe Emperors and eighteen Empresses. Naturally the vault had to be expanded a couple of times, since its foundation.
The original vault contains only the two coffins of Matthias and Anna. Today they are just visible through an open door from the Leopoldinian vault. Who were now those founders? Matthias lived between 1557 and 1619. In 1612, after the death of his brother, Rudolf II, he became emperor (of the Holy Roman Empire) and made Vienna again the capital, as Rudolf had reigned from Prague. His era of regency is remembered for the disunion between protestants and catholics. As a consequence the Thirty Year's War started in 1618.
His wife since 1611, Anna von Tirol (1585 - 1618), was also his cousin and a very pious woman. The couple died without children.
The successor of Matthias became Ferdinand II, who wanted to be buried in Graz, though. As mentioned before, it was first his son, Ferdinand III (1608 - 1657), who appointed the Capuchin vault to be the last resting place for his dynasty.
Though it was only Leopold I, son of Ferdinand III, who let expand the vault, in order to be able to bury his father and his brother, Ferdinand IV (1633 - 1654). That is, why this part today is called Leopoldian vault. In the picture to the right we can see the epitaph of Maria Anna of Austria, which decorates the front wall of this section. But it is only the urn with her heart, which is buried here.
The rest of her body lies in Lisbon - she was the Queen of Portugal from 1708 to 1754.
Immured into the same wall, there are 12 children's coffins, for descendents, who, during the last quarter of the 17th century, already died at early age, mainly children of Leopold.
Here lie also the three spouses of Ferdinand III, as well as those of Leopold I, and the latter's daughter, who was the aunt of Maria Theresa, to whom she had a very close connection.
Leopold himself (born in 1640, Emperor from 1658, died in 1705) lies in the following Charles' vault. He had no less than seventeen children together with his three wives, of which only six reached adult age. He was the counterplayer to the Sun King, Louis XIV of France, and counteracted that country's intentions to expand. Apart from that, the second siege of Vienna by the Turks fell into his time of government, with the following expansion of the Habsburgian territories towards the east .
On the other hand, during his regency came also the loss of Spain, when the Habsburg Charles II of Spain testified his country to the French and not to his family. That was also the reason of the following War of Spanish Succession. Though it were mainly the sons of Leopold, Joseph I (1678 - Emperor 1705 - 1711) and Charles VI (1685 - Emperor 1711 - 1740), who had to fight out this war. It was Charles, who let build the vault that is named after him. There are only one childcoffin, the heart-urn of Amalie Wilhelmine, the spouse of Joseph I, and six big coffins.
Those belong, as already mentioned, to Leopold I, as well as one of his daughters, Maria Elisabeth of Austria. Besides Leopold's two sons, Joseph I and Charles VI (image below to the left) lie there. Even the wife of the latter (image below to the left), Elisabeth Christine (1691 - 1750), as well as one of their daughters, Maria Anna (1718 - 1744) are buried there.

It is often said, that Charles VI is responsible for the "pragmatic sanction", mostly because it made it possible, that Maria Theresa could be his successor on the throne. But that is wrong, it was put on paper even before Maria Theresa was born. It is amazing to see how pompous the coffins look suddenly - Charles VI seems to have had a preferance for lavishness, as well as his daughter ...
In the Charlesvault would be enough space to put in more coffins - but Maria Theresa (1717 - 1740 - 1780) let the vault be further expanded. That gave her the possibility to let her own coffin, which she shares with her husband, Francis I, be made even more lavishly, as well as to have it standing in the middle of the Maria Theresian-vault.
A little sybaritic she probably was, the "Reserl", as she is called unformally, when you think about the exceeding measures of her body (and her sixteen children). In spite of that she was a good leader for her people, as she introduced many social improvements.
And all that, while she was attacked by other nations again and again, probably because they thought that it would be easier to cut off a little territory from a woman's inheritance.
Among those, the most outstanding was that unscrupulous blackmailer and treaty breaking King in Prussia, Friedrich II.
The very pious Maria Theresa also put moral criteria for her people. For example this can be seen by the invention of the police of orderliness, who were supposed to act against unmoral behaviour of the general public.
Probably Maria Theresa had overdone it, as well with her religion, as with her boasting of riches. One can judge that from the very simple coffin of her son, Joseph II (1741 - 1765 - 1790). It stands as a silent protest against all that imperial abundance right in front of the overwhelming coffin of his parents. The big problem, that Joseph II had to face, was that he was decades ahead of his time, something that easily can happen to intelligent people. His reforms were totally misunderstood by the population, in spite of them being in their favour. Of course he also got enemies among the cleric, when he closed monasteries and in many ways bridled the church and the clergy.
In the following Francis' vault there are only five coffins. They are from the last Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Francis II (1768 - 1792 - 1835), who dissolved that Empire and became Francis I of Austria in 1804. Apart from him all four of his wives lie there.
Francis II (I) was the son of Leopold II (1747 - 1790 - 1792), the brother of Joseph II. Leopold himself had been Emperor for two years, but his government passed without stirring up too much dust.
Francis was a romantic dreamer, who for instance let build the artificial castle of Laxenburg.
In his government he was very unprogressive, which of course was due to the French Revolution. He was afraid that the revolution could spread to Austria as well, if he didn't reign with enough strength. On the other hand, it were rough times for Francis as well. France declared war on Austria immediately after the death of his father, that is to say even three months before his coronation. That war kept going on for five years and was later continued by the Napoleonic Wars.
In the Francis' vault one turns to the left in order to get into the Toscanian vault. There one finds Emperor Leopold II with his spouse, Maria Ludovica, as well as mainly in Italy born or married Habsburgs. Some of the children of Maria Theresa lie there as well, not at least here favorite daughter, Marie Christine with her husband, Albert von Sachsen-Teschen, after whom the gallery of the Albertina in Vienna is named. The coffins of those two (in the image to the left) are very simple. Marie Christine had been the only one of Maria Theresa's children who had been allowed to marry out of love.
She got other advantages from her mother, that her siblings were not given, which finally made her being avoided by the others. She and her husband adopted Archduke Charles (Ludwig), who was the first to win against Napoleon in a battle - at Aspern in 1809. Charles was a son of Leopold II and thus a nephew of Marie Christine.
From the Toscanian vault one continues to the Ferdinandvault, where there are only two coffins to be found. Those are the ones of the Emperor and his wife, Ferdinand  (1793 - 1835 - 1848 resigned - 1875) and Maria Anna, daughter of King Victor Emanuel I of Sardinia-Piemont. The rest of the graves - a little short of forty - have been immured into the walls, in order to save space.
Ferdinand I was the eldest son of Francis II (I), but since birth weak and mentally handicapped. That was no reason though, not to make him Emperor. His uncle, Ludwig Joseph (1784 - 1864), ran the government under his entire reign. In 1848 Ferdinand I resigned in favour of his nephew, Francis Joseph.
From the Ferdinandvault one comes to the New vault. There stand another thirty coffins. This part was only erected in 1960-1962 by the architect Karl Schwanzer. It is situated under the garden of the monastery. In that way a big problem of space was solved and the continuation of the timeline could be followed better. Sure, there are people from three centuries in this part, but most of them lived in the 19th century.
Here lies for instance Marie Louise (1791 - 1847), Empress of France, a daughter of Francis II (I), who was married to Napoleon, in spite of her abhorring him.
Another one of those better known persons, who rest here, is the brother of Emperor Francis Joseph, Maximilian I (1832 - 1864 - 1867), who became Emperor of Mexico in 1864. He was only three years on that throne, though, as already in 1867 he was taken of power and sentenced to death. Two months later, on June 19th, at the age of only 35, he was executed upon the orders of President Juárez. The night before, Maximilian had had an opportunity to escape. He didn't take it and in the morning he ensured the firing squad, that they only were doing their duty. The only wish, that he uttered, was, that they shouldn't aim at his face, so that his mother would be able to identify him later.
In the New vault we find his and Emperor Francis Joseph's parents, Francis Charles and Sophie (Friederike) of Bavaria, as well as the parents of Charles I, the last Emperor of Austria-Hungary, Otto and Maria Josepha of Saxony. Why was the last emperor called Charles the First, if there had been six Charles before him on the Habsburg throne? Well, he was the first of that name as Emperor of Austria.
All the others had been Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire.
Still in the New vault one finds a memorial tablet for the throne sucessor of Francis Joseph, Archduke Francis Ferdinand and his spouse Sophie, who were shot in Sarajevo. Here they are called the first victims of World War I.
Austria often has to face the accusation, that they started World War I by declaring war on Serbia in August 1914. What they demanded of Serbia, was only that the assassin should be transferred to Austria and that Austria would be given the right to participate in the investigation commission of the murders. That was refused. Imagine, how the United States would react today, if, let us say, their vicepresident would be shot in Iran or Northern Korea ... But probably nobody else was very interested in finding out the real background.
Else maybe one would have discovered already by then, that in February 1913 Churchill in a letter assured, that Germany would be in war against England at the latest in September 1914. That letter exists! The next question would have been, who had been putting fuel to the Serbian nationalism, in order to provoke a war. But then, maybe Churchill was only clairvoyant ...
All this are facts - but you didn't know? Well ... everybody knows that history always is written by the victors.
But let us get back to the Capuchin vault: from the New vault one comes finally into the Francis Joseph-vault, which the Emperor Francis Joseph (1830 - 1848 - 1916) let build in 1908.
Here are only three coffins. The one of the Emperor stands in the middle, a little higher on a base of stone. To the left lies his wife, Elisabeth of Bavaria (1837 - 1898), even called Sissy, who was murdered in Geneva by a maniac in 1898. To the right of Francis Joseph is the coffin of his only son, Crown Prince Rudolf, who committed suicide in the Castle of Mayerling in 1889. He was given an attest of having a mental derangement, though, so that he could get a funeral within the church.
Francis Joseph often called himself for "the first servant of his state" - and he was indeed dutiful.
His fate really didn't go easy on him, neither personally nor politically. His saying: "I am not spared anything", when he got to hear of the death of his wife, could not have been more accurate. Three violent deaths in his immediate family, a wife, who already after a couple of years had gotten enough of the empire, a son as an oppositional good-for-nothing, 68 years of government, in which he all the time had to try to avoid conflicts within the Empire as well as internationally - and finally the big war, which was the beginning of the collapse of his empire.
In the following vault a bust of Charles I (1887 - 1922) stands on the place, that is reserved for his coffin. The last Emperor of Austria died of pneumonia in exile in Funchal on the island of Madeira, at the age of only 35.
Charles is often said to have been unimpressive and mediocre. On the other hand he had to take over a big empire in the middle of a war. He was actually looking for peace, but he met deaf ears everywhere.
Anatole France said about him: "Emperor Charles was the only decent person, that appeared in a leading position in this war. He sought peace honestly - that is why he was despised by the entire world."
In June 1917 he invented the first social ministry of the world for his people, who were suffering from the war. Even the law of security for tenants, which still exists today, and a ministry for public health he called into being in that year.
He wanted to discuss many political decisions with his wife, Zita of Parma, whose coffin already stands in the chapel. When she died in 1989, her funeral became a major event in Vienna. There were litterally hundred thousands of spectators, even from the former crown countries.
The so far last coffin was put into the Emperors vault only last year. It was Otto's, the eldest son of Charles I and Zita. Even his brother Carl Ludwig has found his ultimate resting place here already earlier.

You see, dear reader, that a visit in the Capuchin vault tells a big part of Austrian history. It is not necessary to be a royalist either, to honour the deeds of some of the members of the House of Habsburg.

Bernhard Kauntz, Wolvertem 2012
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20.6.2012 by webmaster@werbeka.com