Charles I of Austria's Attempts To Retake The Throne of Hungary - Easter Crisis

Easter Crisis

The former king's first coup attempt began on March 26, 1921. This was Holy Saturday that year: the diet was not in session, the diplomatic corps was away in the country, and Regent Horthy planned a quiet holiday with his family in the royal palace. Charles, prompted by suggestions from his immediate Swiss entourage and trusting in the promises of certain European royalist circles, took advantage of this quiet. Despite warnings by many of his supporters and by Horthy himself that the time was not right to return to the throne, he was optimistic, believing that the mere news of his reappearance and Horthy's willingness to hand over power would revive Hungarians' love for their king. His secret negotiations with French Prime Minister Aristide Briand led him to expect French support if he succeeded, and no armed intervention from Hungary's neighbours.

At the time, the Hungarian diet was dominated by two right-wing monarchist parties, the Christian Union and the Smallholders. The difference was that most Christian Union members were legitimists, seeing Charles IV as Hungary’s legitimate king and favouring his restoration to power. Most Smallholders were free-electors and held that Hungarians were now free to choose as king anyone they wished.

Shorn of his moustache and armed with a forged Spanish passport, Charles left his Swiss villa and arrived undetected at Szombathely on March 26. There he made his way to the palace of Count János Mikes, a prominent legitimist; the news spread quickly among local legitimists and by the early hours of March 27 Charles had a small privy council, including József Vass, Horthy's Minister of Education, and Colonel Antal Lehár. The latter placed himself and his soldiers at Charles' disposal but warned of significant military risks. Charles agreed to summon Prime Minister Count Pál Teleki (who was staying nearby) for negotiations. Teleki, roused from his sleep at 2:00 am, muttered "too soon, too soon" before Charles and urged him to return, averring that otherwise civil war would break out and the Little Entente would intervene. Eventually it was agreed that Charles must meet Horthy; Teleki left by car for Budapest at 6:30 am, with Charles following an hour later. Teleki's car arrived much later in the day, having taken a wrong turn; some suspect that the "wrong turn" was a pretext by Teleki to remain uninvolved, as the Szombathely-Budapest road is a straight one.

Charles arrived at the palace totally unannounced early on the afternoon of the 27th, just as Horthy was sitting down to an Easter dinner with his wife. Horthy's aide-de-camp tried to draw him away from the table, but Horthy's wife Magdolna insisted her husband should at least be allowed to finish his soup in peace. Horthy then withdrew and, having no time to phone his advisers, had to grapple with the situation himself. Within minutes he was embracing Charles and leading him into the Regent's (formerly the King's) office. There followed an emotional two-hour discussion that Horthy would later describe as "the most difficult moments in my entire life" and a "thoroughly odious" experience. Charles thanked Horthy for his service as regent but said the time had come to "hand over power to me"; Horthy replied, "This is a disaster. In the name of God, Your Majesty must leave at once and return to Switzerland, before it's too late and the Powers learn of your presence in Budapest". Charles said he had "burned his bridges", and, speaking in German, spent the rest of the meeting using numerous arguments to break down the flustered Horthy's resistance. He reminded Horthy of his tearful pledge of loyalty made at Schönbrunn Palace in November 1918, and of the sworn oath of obedience to the Habsburg monarch from which he had never been released. Horthy reminded him that he had more recently sworn an oath to the Hungarian nation. Shocked by Horthy's recalcitrance, Charles eventually said: "I stick by my position. I'll give you five minutes to think it over". During this break Horthy composed himself (Charles seemed exhausted), reiterated his fear of civil war, and was sceptical about Charles' claim to have assurances of support from Briand.

A tentative three-week truce was reached that both men interpreted differently. Horthy expected Charles to leave Hungary and either march on Vienna or retire to Switzerland. Charles assumed that, whether or not he invaded Austria, Horthy would strive to facilitate his restoration within three weeks. Leaving by a back door and catching cold (he was given no overcoat), Charles was driven to Szombathely while Horthy spent the evening recounting the meeting in ever more dramatic fashion. Over the next few days, both men remained firm, but Charles' position began to suffer. On March 28, Czechoslovak and Yugoslavians envoys declared a restoration would be a casus belli; on April 1 the diet (with legitimists abstaining) passed a unanimous resolution praising Horthy's conduct and endorsing the status quo, and calls for Charles' arrest grew (Horthy adamantly refused this); by April 3 Briand publicly denied any deal had been made. With the army still loyal to Horthy, Charles reluctantly left by train on April 5, reaching Hertenstein Palace the next day. A proclamation of his that he was Hungary’s rightful ruler appeared in Hungarian newspapers on April 7. The Swiss government placed stricter limits on his political activity.

Charles left Hungary with a deep antipathy toward Horthy, persisting in his belief that the great powers would not oppose a restoration and that (notwithstanding the vote in Parliament), the Hungarian people truly yearned for his return. In fact, no demonstrations of support occurred in Hungary during the "Easter Crisis", except on a small scale in the traditionally royalist western counties, and while he was treated respectfully at Szombathely, officers wavered in their support and the people generally treated him with indifference. A shaken and badly damaged Teleki resigned on April 6 and Horthy appointed Count István Bethlen in his stead eight days later.

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Other articles related to "easter crisis":

Easter Crisis

The Easter Crisis can refer to two important incidents in the history of Denmark:

  • The Easter Crisis of 1920, when King Christian X dismissed Prime Minister Carl Theodor Zahle and his cabinet.
  • The Easter Crisis of 1948, when the government believed that the Soviet Union or Soviet-aligned Communists were planning an invasion or coup d'état in Denmark.

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