Precariously close

J. J. Reiner: The attempted assassination of Emperor Franz Joseph I on 18 February 1853, oil painting, 1853

Publication commemorating the deliverance of Franz Joseph, print, paper, 1853

‘On Simmering Heath, a tailor was hanged. / Serves him right for making such a bad stab at it’. This satirical song commemorates the dangerous encounter between Franz Joseph I and the tailor Johann Libényi.

On Simmering Heath a tailor was hanged / Serves him right for making such a bad stab at it. / On Simmering Heath a tailor was hanged / With needle and eye, with scissors and thread. / On Simmering Heath a tailor was hanged / A lesson for all, he’s no longer alive. / And, people, listen, the wind is dropping, / If it had gone on blowing, the tailor wouldn’t be there any more.

Satirical song in Viennese dialect on the execution of Libényi.

J. J. Reiner: The attempted assassination of Emperor Franz Joseph I on 18 February 1853, oil painting, 1853

Publication commemorating the deliverance of Franz Joseph, print, paper, 1853

“On 18 February 1853, I, Imperial Adjutant Count Maximilian O’Donell, was escorting the Emperor on a walk along the Kärtnertor Bastion, as on so many occasions. A small number of passers-by were also making use of the day and promenading along this bastion. At a short distance ahead of me I also saw Emperor Franz Joseph leaning against a balustrade. I was about to approach him when suddenly, from behind, a man with a knife in his hand rushed at him. After initial confusion I realised that the target of this man was the Emperor himself. I immediately ran to the Emperor and seized the attacker by the hand. But the dagger sped on downwards inexorably. Blood stained my glove. Another passer-by, the butcher Josef Ettenreich, as we later learned, prevented the attacker from stabbing the Emperor again. Whilst I held the miscreant at bay with my sabre, fortunately the Emperor straightened up again without having suffered any serious injury.”

Thus might Count Maximilian O’Donell’s eyewitness account of the attack on Emperor Franz Joseph have sounded.

The journeyman tailor Johann Libényi came precariously close to the Emperor on this particular day. The intervention of Count Maximilian O’Donell and Josef Ettenreich averted a fatal outcome. The motives for the attempted murder are still unclear. Conjecture as to the motive for the attack has ranged from the nationalities conflict (Libényi was Hungarian), to jealousy because of the attention the Emperor is alleged to have paid Libényi’s wife. The assassin was executed on Simmering Heath, as the following satirical song relates. The butcher Josef Ettenreich was given the title of nobility ‘von Ettenreich’. The emperor’s two saviours are immortalized in busts on the Heldenberg. To commemorate this fateful day the Votivkirche was erected in Vienna, paid for by donations given by citizens. The composer Johann Strauss the Younger also paid tribute to the failed attack with his opus 126, the ‘Kaiser-Franz-Joseph I.-Rettungs- Jubelmarsch’  (Jubilation March for the Deliverance of Emperor Franz Joseph I).

Anita Winkler