1740–1792

More state, less private enterprise. Or: Marrying can make you rich!

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After Franz I married into the family he demonstrated his skill in financial matters and freed the Habsburgs from their chronic money problems – at least temporarily.

What We hereby reserve to Ourselves is, as mentioned in the preceding, the right to dispose freely of such funds as We determine to dedicate to the better support and maintenance in a manner appropriate to their station of Our children and issue. (…) And likewise We transfer to this fund the maintenance of Our family; thus it shall in future no more be a burden on the State other than in those cases where this is customary for the sake of a dowry or the fitting out of Our House.

Last will of Franz I

Until the second half of the eighteenth century no distinction was made between state assets and the Habsburgs’ private assets. The first Habsburg with his own private assets was Franz I, who married into the family and was able to accumulate a large fortune thanks to his economic and financial skills. Profits came above all from his agricultural estates, located, for example, in Hungary (now in Slovakia), where fruit and wine were grown, cattle bred and beer was brewed. The second area where he was economically active was in his manufactories, where, for example, cotton was processed. At his death he had a private fortune of some 18,000,000 gulden at his disposal, which he left to his wife Maria Theresa and his son Joseph II. They did not use the money to line their own pockets but to bring order to the state budget, which previously had always been ‘in the red’.

They also used part of the legacy to found a ‘family fund’, which Franz II (I) then turned into the ‘family support fund’ (Familienversorgungsfonds). It was in this family fund that the Habsburgs subsequently amassed their private fortune. Its founding charter, however, left some room for interpretation as to what the money should actually be used for.

Although this meant that the property of the state was separated from that of the family, the imperial family continued to ‘live off’ the Habsburg lands – the fund merely served to fit them out ‘better’.

Christina Linsboth