Last Czech monarch beatified by Vatican


On Sunday Pope John Paul II declared five Roman Catholics blessed, adding them to a list of some 1,340 people he has so far put on the road to sainthood. Pope John Paul II has declared more people blessed than all his predecessors combined and in a number of cases his choice has raised controversy. One such figure is also the newly beatified Emperor Karl I, the last monarch to rule in what is now the Czech Republic.

Pope John Paul II with Otto of the Habsburg dynasty, photo: CTKPope John Paul II with Otto of the Habsburg dynasty, photo: CTK Karl I of the Habsburg dynasty took to the throne in 1916, in the middle of the First World War. He had a reputation for being a devout Catholic and according to the Vatican he performed a miracle of curing a Brazilian nun of varicose veins. The Pope praised Karl I as a man who sought peace and was guided by his Christian faith in political decisions, adding he should "serve as an example, especially for those with political responsibilities in Europe today".

However, the beatification of Karl I has caused controversy as he is believed to have given the go-ahead for the use of deadly mustard gas during the First World War. Czech historian Jan Galandauer has written a biography of Emperor Karl I.

"The question is whether he knew it at all. And if he had known about the gas, what would he have done about it? The offensive was under the command of a German general."

Karl I attempted unsuccessfully to save the Austro-Hungarian monarchy by trying to reconcile its nations through reform. He proclaimed an Austrian federative state but instead, Hungary and Czechoslovakia declared their independence.

"He has been remembered quite well in our country. Because in 1917, he amnestied the leaders of the Czech anti-Habsburg resistance, the future Prime Minister Karel Kramar and Finance Minister Alois Rasin, who had been sentenced to death by hanging in 1916. That was his policy of reconciliation."

Some have ridiculed Karl I as "the patron saint of losers" because his empire broke up. The emperor abdicated after the war, and died in exile on the island of Madeira in 1922 at the age of just 35.

Karl I was the last emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire although some historians argue that technically he was not an emperor as he never got round to being crowned. He was delaying his coronation ceremony until after the war. For the same reason Karl I was not technically a Czech king either. The only crown he ever received was the Hungarian one in 1916.