King of Hungary
Charles of Austria was born on 17 August 1887 in the Castle of Persenbeug, located in Lower Austria. His parents were the Archduke Otto and Princess Maria Josephine of Saxony, daughter of the last King of Saxony. Emperor Francis Joseph I was Charles' great uncle.
Prophesy and prayer
Charles received a strong Catholic education and was sustained in his upbringing by the prayers of a group of persons who accompanied him from childhood, ever since a stigmatic nun first prophesied that he would undergo great suffering and that attacks would be made against him.
This is how the "League of Prayer of the Emperor Charles for the Peace of the Peoples" originated after his death; it became a prayer community ecclesiastically recognized in 1963.
Charles was personally devoted to the Holy Eucharist and to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and he cultivated the exemplary habit, following the example of his Master, of turning to prayer before making any important decision.
Happy marriage, King of Hungary
On 21 October 1911, Charles married Princess Zita of Bourbon and Parma. During their 10 years of outstanding Christian marriage, the couple was blessed with eight children. Even on his wife's deathbed, Charles declared to Zita: "I will love you for ever".
Charles became heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire on 28 June 1914 following the assassination of the Archduke Francis Ferdinand, an event which triggered the First World War. On 21 November 1916 he became Emperor of Austria upon the death of Emperor Francis Joseph. On 30 December of that year he was crowned apostolic King of Hungary.
Charles of Austria believed that his role as monarch and the office that he assumed was truly God's will for him, his path in order to follow Christ and to love and care for those under his reign, dedicating his very life to them.
Commitment to peace
As a result, he deliberately placed a commitment to peace, traditionally believed to be the most sacred duty of a king, at the centre of his preoccupations during the course of World War I.
As a noteworthy fact, he was the only political leader to support Pope Benedict XV's peace efforts during that war.
As far as domestic politics are concerned, despite the extremely difficult times, Emperor Charles initiated sweeping social legislation inspired by social Christian teaching.
Thanks to his personal life and convictions, the transition to a new order at the end of the conflict was made possible without a civil war; he was, however, sent into exile.
The Pope, who feared the rise of communist power in central Europe, expressed the wish that Charles of Austria re-establish the authority of his Government in Hungary; but two attempts failed, and Charles wished above all to avoid the outbreak of a civil war.
A king in exile
Charles was thus exiled to the island of Madeira. Since he considered his duty to be a mandate from God, he could not and would not abdicate his office.
Reduced to poverty, he lived with his family in a very old house that was reportedly constantly damp. Due to this fact, Charles became gravely ill, but accepted this as a sacrifice for peace and the unity of his peoples.
The exiled King endured his suffering without complaint. In a true example of Christian commitment, Charles forgave all those who had conspired against him, dying on 1 April 1922 with his eyes fixed on the Blessed Sacrament.
On his death bed he repeated the motto of his life: "I strive always in all things to understand, as clearly as possible, and follow the will of God, and this in the most perfect way".
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