Friday, August 27, 2010

The Sixtus Affair

Above is a picture of Prince Xavier of Bourbon-Parma, Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians and Prince Sixtus of Bourbon-Parma. These two Bourbon princes naturally wished to rush to defend France when World War I started but because the French republic is prejudiced against royalty they were not allowed to join up. Instead, they joined the Belgian army and served with distinction. The two Bourbon-Parma princes were brothers to the Empress Zita of Austria and so when her husband, Charles I, became Emperor of Austria and wanted to end the Great War peacefully it was only natural that they try to do so via Prince Sixtus and Prince Xavier who were officers in the Belgian army, led by King Albert I, who also wanted peace in Europe rather than fighting on to destroy the continent until one side had total victory and the other side total ruin. This is significant since King Albert had greater cause for anger and resentment than any other Allied leader, his country being the only truly innocent party involved. However, King Albert was very religious and Pope Benedict XV wanted a peace without victors and the only leaders who paid attention to him were King Albert and Emperor Charles of Austria.

It was the Austrian emperor who made the first move and later, very secretly, Princes Sixtus and Xavier arrived with the primary French demands for peace, namely the return of Alsace-Lorraine to France, the restoration of Belgium and Serbia and the hand-over of Constantinople to the Russians. Emperor Charles agreed to all of these demands and tried to get the Germans to do the same (though being careful not to let them know what he had done). However, the Germans refused to give up Alsace-Lorraine even when Charles offered to give up some of his own territory to compensate them. They saw victory within sight against Russia and thought that once that was done they could mass all their forces on the western front and crush the Allies in a massive offensive. The French also backed out as they and the British had made secret promises to other powers for Austrian and Hungarian territory. When the Austrians denounced the French for opposing peace they made the letters of Emperor Charles delivered to Paris by Prince Sixtus public. This effectively made Austria the hostage of Germany and ensured the war would continue until the Europe that existed before the war was destroyed forever.


  1. In a number of Catholic articles, I've noticed that people seem to remember only Charles' efforts at peace and forget about Albert's desires for a similar sort of solution to the war.

  2. I would regard it as simple anti-Belgian bias. Not only do many on the left despise the very traditional and religious royal house of Belgium but also, as you mention Catholic articles, many on the right also have prejudice against Belgium for not being a confessional state and have certain sacred freedoms. These types I have found generally admire the Hapsburg more than almost any other house (and I admire many Hapsburgs also!) but partly because of that they take the side of the Central Powers in the Great War.

    I think they see it like this: the Allied Catholic powers were mostly France, Belgium and Italy. They despise France because they despise the republican government and they despise Italy because of the "Roman Question" and do not think much of Belgium because it does not fit into their mindset. I do not disagree with everything they think but it explains to me part of why those types would not give the King of the Belgians the credit due him.

  3. Worse, there are those who see Albert as some kind of unprincipled opportunist, not really interested in peace but just too much of a self-interested coward to want to see the war through to the bitter end. (Even suggesting that he was not really interested in 'neutrality' but simply wanted to 'wait and see' who would win and then 'cash in' with them.) But this is not true, because even when the war was won, at the end, he tried to intervene for milder and more fair treatment of the defeated Central Powers.

  4. I do not think I have ever heard that said openly but I have certainly heard it implied. I do not think of it much because it seems too absurd to entertain for a moment. King Albert could not have gone to the other side because if the Central Powers won there would have been no Belgium at all; the German states were already carving up Belgian territory almost as soon as the soldiers conquered the country. There was also good reasons for the King to be suspicious of the French in particular. It is to the credit of the King and his great humanity that even though he had more reason than anyone to despise the Germans he still wanted to end the suffering for everyone.