Otto von Habsburg: Last Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary who later championed European unification

Otto von Habsburg was the eldest son of Austria-Hungary's last emperor and former heir to the imperial throne. He witnessed the dismantling of the empire his family had ruled for centuries, but emerged to carve out a career in politics and became a strong proponent of a united and democratic Europe.

Although Habsburg struggled in vain, while in exile, to make a stand against the Nazis annexing Austria before the Second World War and later fought against Communism, it was as president of the Pan-European League that he perhaps had his greatest impact on European events. Along with his Hungarian counterpart, Imre Pozsgay, he organised a peace protest, the Pan-European Picnic, near St Margarethen, Austria, and the town of Sopron in western Hungary on 19 August 1989. In a symbolic gesture agreed to by both countries, the border was opened for three hours and more than 600 East Germans fled to the West. This momentary penetration of the Iron Curtain became one of the events that hastened the fall of the Berlin Wall and the demise of Communism. Less than a month later, Hungary officially opened its western border for East Germans seeking to leave.

Habsburg was born in the Villa Wartholz in Reichenau an der Rax, Lower Austria, to Archduke Charles and Maria, former Princess Zita of Bourbon-Parma, during the 67-year reign of Emperor Franz Josef I, his great uncle. He was christened Franz Josef Otto Robert Maria Anton Karl Max Heinrich Sixtus Xavier Felix Renatus Ludwig Gaetan Pius Ignatius; it was suggested that the string of names was to illustrate that the blood of all the European Roman Catholic royal families ran through his veins.

With the assassination by a Serbian separatist of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, and heir apparent, in Sarajevo in June 1914, Habsburg's father became first in line to the throne. Weeks later, Europe entered a war that would see the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In November 1916, after ruling for almost 68 years, Franz Joseph died and Charles ascended to the throne with the toddler Otto becoming Crown Prince. Following defeat in the Great War, the Empire, with its diverse number of ethnic groups and languages, was broken up into smaller states, including Czechoslovakia and Hungary, with Austria becoming a republic.

In November 1918, Emperor Charles I, though not formally abdicating, "renounced participation in the affairs of state". In March 1919, the Habsburgs left for Switzerland escorted by the commander of a small British guard detachment, Lt. Col. Edward Strutt. The Austrian Parliament passed the Habsburg Law, which permanently barred Charles and Maria from returning to Austria, although they kept their personal fortune. After two failed attempts by Charles to regain his Hungarian crown, the family was exiled by the Allied powers to the Madeira, where Charles died in April 1922 – whereupon Habsburg, who was not yet 10, became the official head of the Habsburg family and pretender to four former thrones.

The family moved to the Basque country under the protection of King Alfonso XIII of Spain, where Habsburg studied hard, before uprooting again to attend the University of Louvain in Belgium, where he earned a doctorate in political and social sciences. Habsburg tried to negotiate his return to Austria in 1935 and again in 1938, when he sought to become chancellor to fight the expected Anschluss. However, he could not gather enough support and the pro-monarchist Austrian Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg prevaricated before rejecting the plan. As a consequence of his opposition to Hitler, Habsburg was sentenced to death and placed high on the Gestapo's wanted list. Shortly before the Germans' arrival in Paris in May 1940, the family fled Portugal before arriving, with the help of President Roosevelt, in Washington DC, where they spent most of the Second World War. Habsburg worked with the White House in a vain attempt to persuade Hungary to join the Allies.

With the end of hostilities in Europe, the Habsburgs returned to Europe but were effectively stateless. Habsburg himself eventually secured a Spanish diplomatic passport and embarked upon a journalistic and lecturing career. In 1950, on a visit to Bavaria, he met Princess Regina of Sachsen-Meiningen, also a refugee who was working as a nurse. The couple married a year later and moved to Pöcking near Lake Starnberg in Bavaria. They had seven children, although it was not until their sixth, Karl Thomas, in January 1961, that the line of direct succession was guaranteed.

This seemed to be the catalyst Habsburg needed. In May, he renounced his own claims to the Austrian throne and announced that he was a loyal subject of the republic. This resulted in an Austrian court lifting the ban on him visiting the land of his birth. The decision proved unpopular in some quarters, particularly with the Socialists, and precipitated a crisis of state, later referred to as the "Habsburg crisis". He was eventually issued with an Austrian passport in October 1966, following elections in June which saw the People's Party win an outright majority.

Habsburg joined the Christian Social Union (CSU), the right-wing Bavarian sister party of the Christian Democratic Union party (CDU). In 1979, he was elected to the European Parliament, where he sat for 20 years, eventually becoming its oldest serving member, seen as "Father of the House". Perhaps, though, he always had one foot in the past: he was in parliament when someone mentioned a forthcoming football international – "Austria-Hungary", he was told. "Oh, who are they playing?" was his reply.

Fluent in seven languages, Habsburg proved a talented debater, but it appeared that his raison d'être was political union, bridging the East-West division and the eastward expansion of the EU to countries once ruled by his ancestors. His presidency of the International Pan-European Union, from 1973-2004, gave him a platform from which to further the cause.

Otto stopped appearing in public after the death of his wife, Regina, last year. He is survived by his younger brother, Felix, as well as seven children, 22 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. His eldest son, Karl, ascends to head of the house of Habsburg.

Martin Childs

Franz Joseph Otto Robert Maria Anton Karl Max Heinrich Sixtus Xavier Felix Renatus Ludwig Gaetan Pius Ignatius von Habsburg, politician: born Reichenau an der Rax, Lower Austria 20 November 1912; married 1951 Princess Regina of Saxe-Meiningen (died 2010; five daughters, two sons); died Pöcking, Germany 4 July 2011.

News
peopleTop Gear presenter and all-round controversialist is at it again
Life & Style
techHow a 'grey brick' took over the world of portable gaming
Sport
Aaron Ramsey celebrates after opening the scoring in Arsenal's win over Hull `
sport
News
peopleActress speaks out against historic sexual assault claims, saying things have 'gone quite far now'

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
Coren Mitchell, who is the daughter of the late broadcaster Alan Coren and is married to comedian David Mitchell, produced a hand to make poker history at the 98th EPT main event.
peopleJournalist and TV presenter becomes first ever two-time winner of the European Poker Tour
Arts & Entertainment
A stranger calls: Martin Freeman in ‘Fargo’
tvReview: New 10-part series brims with characters and stories

Life & Style
Guests enjoy food and cocktail parings by Chefs Jimmy Bannos, Jimmy Bannos Jr, Daniel Rose and Mindy Segal with mixologists Josh King and Alex Gara at Bounty & Barrel: A Jack Daniel's Single Barrel Dinner Series at Heaven on Seven on April 9, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois.
food + drinkSprinkle Palcohol 'on almost any dish' for 'an extra kick' firm says...
Arts & Entertainment
Shaun Evans as Endeavour interviews a prisoner as he tries to get to the bottom of a police cover up
tvReview: Second series comes to close with startling tale of police corruption and child abuse
Arts & Entertainment
Schwarzenegger winning Mr. Universe 1969
arts + entsCan you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
News
politicsLabour launches the 'completely hollow' Easter Clegg
Sport
Luis Suarez celebrates after scoring in Liverpool's 3-2 win over Norwich
sport Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
News
Portrait of Queen Elizabeth-II by David Bailey which has been released to mark her 88th birthday
peoplePortrait released to mark monarch's 88th birthday
Arts & Entertainment
The star of the sitcom ‘Miranda’ is hugely popular with mainstream audiences
TVMiranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
Life & Style
The writer, Gerda Saunders, with her mother, who also suffered with dementia before her death
healthGerda Saunders on the most formidable effect of her dementia
Arts & Entertainment
Last, but by no means least, is Tommy Cooper and the fez. This style of hat became a permanent trademark of his act.
comedyNot Like That, Like This centres on alleged domestic abuse
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Geography Teacher

£130 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Ilford: Secondary Geography Teacher Lo...

Do you want to work in Education?

£55 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Are you a dynamic and energeti...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: SEN TAs, LSAs and Support Workers needed...

Private Client Senior Manager - Sheffield

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Pro-Recruitment Group: The Sheffield office of this...

Day In a Page

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter: The man who could have been champion of the world - and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him

The man who could have been champion of the world

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him
Didn’t she do well?

Didn’t she do well?

Miranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

In Iraq, mafiosi already run almost the entire oil output of the south of the country
Before they were famous

Before they were famous

Can you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is genius

Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is a stroke of genius

Series is brimming with characters and stories all its own
How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players