The Sixtus Affair

In 1917, writes Charles Maechling, the new Emperor of Austria tried to extricate his country from the turmoil of the First World War with the help of Prince Sixtus.

In the pre-dawn hours of March 23rd, 1917, after a journey on unlighted roads through high winds and driving snow, three muffled-up passengers descended from a large touring car drawn up outside the baroque palace of Laxenburg, twelve miles south of Vienna, and entered through a side door.

The leader of the small party was a Bourbon Prince in the Belgian service and unofficial peace emissary of the President of France and the Prime Minister of Great Britain. The owner of the palace was his brother-in-law, the last Emperor of Austria-Hungary. Their meeting was the climax of the secret negotiations to take Austria-Hungary out of the first World War which has come down in history as the Sixtus affair.

The Emperor Karl and his consort Empress Zita succeeded to the thrones of the Dual Monarchy on November 21st, 1916 upon the death of Karl’s grand-uncle, the venerable Emperor Franz Joseph. The succession occurred in full wartime, with Austrian armies locked in combat on a thousand-mile front. Yet the young Emperor’s coronation proclamation contained the following unusual sentence, inserted at his express command:

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