Radetzky’s march into obscurity
Under the command of Josef Radetzky, the Habsburg army held its grip on Italy during a period of revolutionary unrest across Europe. Yet today his achievements are rarely celebrated. On the 250th anniversary of the field marshal’s birth, Graham Darby wonders why.
Many readers will be familiar with the tune of the ‘Radetzky March’, composed by Johann Strauss the Elder and first performed in 1848, or, perhaps, with the 1932 novel of the same name by Joseph Roth. That both works should now overshadow the man in whose honour the original piece was written is surprising. Field Marshal Josef Radetzky was probably the most significant Austrian military figure of the 19th century. His long and illustrious career spanned more than 70 years: he fought against the Turks in the 1780s, played a pivotal role against Napoleon in 1813 and crushed the 1848 risings in Italy. During the course of his career he was wounded seven times, had nine horses shot from under him, fathered a daughter at the age of 80 (not with his wife) and was 90 before he retired as governor of Lombardy and Venetia.