Forschungsergebnisse (englisch)

Overview of Project Results


The Familien-Fideikommissbibliothek of Habsburg-Lorraine


Transitions of a Library


Subsidised by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF), the project entitled ‘The Familien-Fideikommissbibliothek of Habsburg-Lorraine 1835–1921’ (P26943) had set itself the task of using available source material in order to analyse the cultural, social, and political history of this unique collection from 1835 until 1921. With the project running from September 2014, research is now nearly being brought to its conclusion. The following serves to give an overview of the goals, work process, and results entailed in that research.


Project Goals in Light of the 2013 Proposal:


  • Reconstruction and Collection Development of the Fideikommissbibliothek (1835 –1918)

  • The Habsburg Family Library as a Cultural Memory Space of Supranational and Dynastic Identity

  • The Fideikommissbibliothek and the Habsburg Legacy in the Republican Era


Current Results


Reconstruction and Collection Development of the Fideikommissbibliothek (1835 –1918)


The primary focus was the transformation of the private library of Emperor Franz I into a Fideikommissbibliothek, followed by its amalgamation with other imperial private libraries (those of Ferdinand I and Franz Joseph I). In addition, during this project an attempt has been made to identify the nature and purpose of the collection in the hands of the directors and officials of the Fideikommissbibliothek during the Fin de Siècle against the backdrop of increasing public interest. Last but not least, the situation during the First World War and its effect on the library personnel was examined, along with the acquisitions that were made during this period. 


The private library of Emperor Ferdinand I

A second collection of books and works of art developed concurrently with the private library of Franz I – that of his eldest son and successor, Ferdinand (1793–1875). Ferdinand’s library not only developed in a similar way to his father’s, it also had similar functions. After he came to the throne, Ferdinand’s collection of books took over the role of the Franciscan private library, since from this time onwards all the works that were presented to the emperor by authors, artists, publishers etc. were added to his library for safekeeping. The emperor, who was deemed unfit to rule, also added to the collection by purchasing works that were of interest to him. From the start the library was divided amongst a number of locations in and around Ferdinand’s residential apartments. It was impossible to physically join his library with the Fideikommissbibliothek for lack of a large enough space. The events of 1848 and Ferdinand’s abdication resulted in his moving permanently to Prague and taking his library with him. In the course of a research stay at Prague (National Archives) in the autumn of 2016 two project team members were able to reconstruct the historical developments there (location, acquisitions, cataloguing, administration etc.). During their research, they gained the extremely enlightening insight that Ferdinand had not had his library integrated into the Fideikommissbibliothek after his death but had bequeathed it to his nephew, Franz Joseph I, who had it transported back to Vienna in 1875 and initially attached it to his own private library.


The private library of Emperor Franz Joseph I

Unlike his predecessor, Franz Joseph was not a bibliophile. With regard to books, Franz Joseph’s collection did not grow substantially until he became Emperor of Austria in 1848 and then only in theory, since any books given to the emperor were held by the Imperial Court Library until 1870. It was the library’s director Moritz Alois von Becker who retroactively corrected this decision, returning those works that had arrived since 1849 to Franz-Joseph’s private library, as befitted its purpose. Franz Joseph’s private library was at first housed on the top floor above the Fideikommissbibliothek and mainly comprised individually made, large ‘homages’ (Huldigungsadressen), for which the shelves there proved unsuitable. Cataloguing and maintenance work could only take place in the warmer months because the rooms were too large to heat. It was after the death of Ferdinand I in 1875 when Franz Joseph came into possession of Ferdinand’s private library that the most significant and profuse additions to his book collection were made. Under Becker’s careful management it became possible to house at least Ferdinand’s collection in the rooms of the Fideikommissbibliothek.


The Fideikommissbibliothek and its eventful fate

When Franz I died on 2 March 1835 Emperor Ferdinand stopped new acquisitions from being added to the Franciscan private library, permitting only the addition of new instalments to periodicals and the occasional purchase of a new publication. His father’s collection of books and art was in some ways seen as a self-contained entity and was thus transformed into a bibliographic memorial to its founder and his era. Financial and human resources were now invested in the refurbishing of Ferdinand’s own private library. The task, conferred on Ferdinand in the twelfth paragraph of Franz I’s testament, of transferring his father’s collections to a Primogenitur-Fideikommiss could not be fulfilled during Ferdinand’s reign. The reason for the delay was the question of whether only the inventory explicitly mentioned in the will was to be added to the Fideikommiss – taking the emperor’s last testament literally – or whether all the other items that were de facto part of Franz’s private library (including paintings, coins, sheet music etc.) should also be included.

It was Franz Joseph who first managed to settle this bureaucratic legacy. The Fideikommiss Formation Deed was drawn up in 1849, although the inventory lists in which each individual item was to be recorded were not yet completed. A special committee had been formed to deal with unresolved points. It was not until a decade later that a legal inventory could be taken using the now completed lists. At the same time the Obersthofmarschallamt was made the administrative body for the Fideikommiss and Archduke Ludwig (1784-1864), a younger brother of Emperor Franz I, became the first Fideikommiss curator.[1]

The young emperor made up for his lack of bibliophile interest not only with active measures but also by making groundbreaking decisions regarding personnel, such as appointing the tutor of Crown Prince Rudolf, Moritz Alois von Becker, as successor to the head of the library, Leopold Joseph von Khloyber, who died in 1869.

Although the Fideikommissbibliothek lost Ferdinand’s collection to Prague in 1850, a new collection was accruing as Franz Joseph’s private library continued to grow. Becker’s report, including a work programme, written by him in 1870 when he took up his position, is an impressive testimony to the condition of the collection at the time and includes his innovative visions on how the collection was to be developed and what its future purpose should be.[2]


Although as head of the imperial family and as ruler Franz Joseph made decisions concerning the library he first became the holder of the Fideikommiss (Fideikommissinhaber), according to the succession process of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine, when his father Archduke Franz Karl died in 1878. Franz Karl had held the Fideikommiss since 1875 and before him, Emperor Ferdinand I since 1849.[3] However, both Franz Joseph’s uncle and his father had allowed him extensive freedom of choice and action in this regard. 

The fact that at Becker’s suggestion the creation of a printed subject catalogue was begun – an initiative for the first presentation and publication of the collection both amongst the extensive members of the imperial house and in princely and public libraries – had far-reaching effects.[4] With regard to expanding the inventory, public libraries in particular were of great interest, mainly as exchange partners for the utilisation of duplicates. However, the catalogue project went uncompleted, since the last section covering the portrait and art collection was never really taken in hand.


The creation of the Habsburg-Lorraine Familien-Fideikommissbibliothek

After the three collections were united to form the Familien-Fideikommissbibliothek of Habsburg-Lorraine in 1878, it gradually developed into a semi-public institution. Plans to turn the collection into a kind of museum, in the sense of a ‘memorial space’, were developed and partially realised.

The first thing that became clear was that this process would require changes in the administration and in the staff. In 1886 several property and finance administration departments were joined to form a general directorate for the Habsburg-Lorraine Family Trusts (Generaldirektion der ah. Privat- und Familienfonde), which would be the managing authority responsible for making decisions in all important matters pertaining to the Fideikommissbibliothek. Between 1892 and 1910 financial politician Emil von Chertek held the position of general director. His economical leadership and controlling character would significantly influence the reorganisation of the Fideikommissbibliothek.

For example, on the initiative of Chertek, after the death of Director Joseph von Zhishman in 1894 – like his predecessor a tutor to Crown Prince Rudolf – no one was appointed to fill the position. Alois Karpf, the first curator of the Fideikommissbibliothek, was commissioned to run the administration but he was clearly not equipped for the job. Research into the internal correspondence of the Fideikommissbibliothek, scattered throughout numerous different archival sources, has shown that in some cases the Fideikommissbibliothek officials worked under anarchistic conditions. The relationship between Chertek and Karpf was extremely tense and Karpf was insecure and unable to make his mark. Instead, the scriptor Franz Schnürer, who was able to develop a close relationship with the general director, influenced the decision-making process by initiating various procedures. For example, a regulation directing acquisition policies towards works connected with the House of Habsburg-Lorraine, which was presumably drawn up at Chernek’s wish in 1900, originated with Schnürer. This was however only the explicit formulation of an existing acquisition tendency regarding the focus of the collection: up to this point, inventory had continually arrived at the Fideikommissbibliothek from the estates of members of the dynasty, from Habsburg palaces and from the highest court authorities, the main additions to the library being volumes dedicated to the emperor, including the so-called ‘Huldigungsaddressen’ – written homages to the monarch or other dynastic members – that were presented on ceremonial occasions.



The movements of the Fideikommissbibliothek from its original accommodation, which no longer exists, up to the space it still occupies today within the Neue Hofburg have been exactly retraced for the first time during this project. To do this, not only were the records available in the on-site archives used, but also comprehensive sources from the archives of the General Directorate of the Habsburg-Lorraine Family Trusts (Vienna, State Archives), which provided important insights into the background negotiations and decision-making processes of the highest authorities at court. The question of where to house the collection was linked not only to the conversion and rebuilding of the imperial Hofburg, but also to the discourse emerging in the 1890s on the intended purpose of the Fideikommissbibliothek. The latter had a significant effect in that during the preparations for the move, various new forms of installation (storage library) as well as its public utilisation (reading room) and use as a museum (Habsburgermuseum) were discussed.


The evolvement of the Fideikommissbibliothek into a semi-public institution

It became clear during the work on this project that one element in the development of the Fideikommissbibliothek that should not be underestimated was the fact that starting in the last quarter of the 19th century it drew an increasing amount of public attention and that this interest led to many new uses and forms of presentation for items in the collection: items lent for exhibitions, photographic reproduction for book illustrations, original portraits used as the basis for sculptures, monuments and portrait galleries, the use of the collection for research, determining the subjects of portraits, providing information etc. This aspect, the significance and extent of which was not clear at the beginning of the project, was due initially to the issue of the printed catalogue initiated by Moritz Alois von Becker but it soon developed its own dynamic due to the increasing public use of the Fideikommissbibliothek. However, the position of the collection has always been ambivalent: until the end of the monarchy it was defined as a non-public institution but it always supported academic and artistic ventures with no commercial purpose, this attitude becoming more liberal over time. This gave the Fideikommissbibliothek not only new fields of activity but also a new self-image as an institute serving the general public. This in turn was decisive to the discourse on the intended purpose of the collection that began before the turn of the 20th century. As it turned out, the imperial family itself was not particularly interested in the Fideikommissbibliothek and hardly used it. In line with the Zeitgeist, this paved the way for the creation of concepts for the future use of the collection: as an institution that has an impact on the public and whose inventory can be used by the public.


Attempts to create a supranational memorial space for the dynasty

The content focus resulting from this new purpose was certainly determined by the origins and nature of the items already in the collection and in particular by their interpretation.

In 1893/94, after the library’s first move, an exhibition with public access was set up in the new location, with the ‘Huldigungsaddressen’ as its central attraction. Their artistically decorated covers and cases were seen as key works of the Austrian arts and crafts and as such were considered the most important class of items, more important even than the portraits, and were lent by the Fideikommissbibliothek to other exhibitions in all parts of the monarchy. Two causal links for this have been reconstructed: public interest in the ‘Huldigungsaddressen’ was the actual source of inspiration for their exhibition, while at the same time, as typical artefacts of the Francisco-Josephian era and as declarations of allegiance to the emperor and the dynasty, they were items that could serve particularly well to transform the library into a museum in the sense of a supranational ‘Habsburg memorial space’.

Ultimately, the spiritual father of the Habsburg Museum was Franz Schnürer. He started developing his concept in 1899, at the time still a mere scriptor but with the support of General Director Chertek. Numerous memoranda written by Schnürer were discovered during research in the archives of the General Directorate of the Habsburg Trusts (State Archives), which made it possible to reconstruct the genesis of his intentions and plans. According to his plans, conceptually the Habsburg Museum was to be an institute that underscored the supranational and dynastic identity of the monarchy. Schnürer’s inspiration came from the Hohenzollern Museum in Berlin, which he also visited several times for study purposes. He also wished to create a complete collection of the literature on the House of Habsburg-Lorraine (in the broadest sense) separated from the Fideikommissbibliothek under the name ‘Habsburg Collection’ or ‘Bibliotheca Habsburgica’ and to make this a centre for Habsburg research, with a propagandistic orientation. Schnürer also planned to publish a Habsburg yearbook for a broad section of the population modelled on a similar publication in Berlin. We can only speculate on why these grand plans were never realised.

In the 1890s there was already a plan to transfer those items in the Fideikommissbibliothek with no contextual or factual relation to the House of Habsburg-Lorraine to the administration of the Court Library and thereby make them accessible to researchers. When the collection was moved in 1903 a pubic reading room was also planned. This was ultimately not realised but the plan was tackled again in a drastically reduced form when the collection was transferred for the last time in 1908. These steps can all be interpreted as precursors to the fate of the Fideikommissbibliothek following the end of monarchy.


The Fideikommissbibliothek and the Habsburg Legacy in the Republican Era

After the end of the Habsburg Monarchy and the absorption of the imperial art collections into public ownership, the Fideikommissbibliothek, which up to this point had been an independent institution, was integrated into the National Library of Austria. From this time onwards its archives would contain only a fraction of the documents needed to form a basis for the reconstruction of its historical progression. Important documents from these years are kept in the archives of the National Library or other institutions. In the course of her research work Dr. Nina Knieling, a member of the project team, has taken on, along with the First World War phase, this time period (the upheaval period 1918/19 and the early years of the new Republic). Approximately 300 files from this period have been catalogued in the Aleph library system and are thus available to the public. Since Nina Knieling left the project at the end of 2016 for professional reasons, her analysis is limited to files from the archives of the Fideikommissbibliothek.

However, this covers only a small part of the source material that is relevant to the takeover of the Fideikommissbibliothek by the Republic. In addition it became clear that this process can only be analysed in the context of the reorganisation of the Habsburg art collections that became the property of the Republic and the creation and development of the National Library. The topic is therefore far more complex than it appeared to be in the planning stage of the project. This ultimately led to the decision to single out this area and prepare it as a research proposal with reference to complex research questions and other related topics pertaining to the Habsburg-Lorraine cultural heritage.


Dissemination Strategies


The multi-faceted results of our three years of research have been made available to the academic community on our project homepage ( The extensive registers on library archive material we compiled during the course of our project are available to the public online at:

  • < >

    Des Kaisers alte Bücher. Forschungen zur Fideikommissbibliothek des Hauses Habsburg-Lothringen (1784–1921). In: Offen(siv)e Bibliotheken, ed: Bruno Bauer, Andreas Ferus and Josef Pauser (Graz/Feldkirch 2016) 133–140.

  • Die Habsburg-Lothringische Familien-Fideikommissbibliothek vom Tod Kaiser Franz I. 1835 bis zu ihrer Eingliederung in die Nationalbibliothek der Republik Österreich 1921. (will soon be published in ‘Bibliothek. Forschung und Praxis’).


The research and results were covered in the media: 

  • Radio station Ö1, series ‘Dimensionen’ (21.01.2016): Interview with Martin Haidinger ‘Die Ausnahmebibliothek Kaiser Franz‘ I.’

  • Tageszeitung ‘Die Presse’,16.09.2017 issue, p. 34 under the title ‘Büchergeschenke und kunstvolle Huldigungen’ (author Erich Witzmann)


Our project team was also able to secure the participation of the following national and international conferences:

  • 32. Österreichischer Bibliothekartag (Vienna, 15 to 18 September 2015) presentation of research results by Nina Knieling, Thomas Huber-Frischeis and Rainer Valenta

  • ‘Altösterreicherischer und deutscher Adel im Vergleich (1871–1938/1945) (University of Vienna, Prof. Dr. Marija Wakounig; 1 to 2 December 2016)

  • ‘Construction, décor et iconographie des bibliothèques au XIXe siècle’ (Budapest 6 to 8 April 2017) by Rainer Valenta (The Fideikommissbibliothek of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine – structural, decorative and functional aspects of its locations)

These conferences also gave us the opportunity to present the results achieved so far to the scientific community.


Another exciting aspect of work was the offer to take part in the following annual exhibitions of the Austrian National Library:

  • 2014 ‘An meine Völker! Der Erste Weltkrieg 1914–1918.’

  • 2015 ‘Wien wird Weltstadt. Die Ringstrasse und ihre Zeit’

  • 2016, ‘Der ewige Kaiser. Franz Joseph I. 1830-1916’

  • ‘Schatzkammer des Wissens. 650 Jahre Österreichische Nationalbibliothek’ (In preparation for 2018)

On that occasion, the project team selected various items from the Fideikommissbibliothek for these exhibitions. Not least, this was a rare opportunity for us to suggest items, which had only recently been rediscovered in the Fideikommissbibliothek due to our project efforts. The exhibitions managed to unite a broad range of monarchy-related topics.

For the exhibition in 2016, which dealt with the life of Franz Joseph on the basis of political, cultural and personal milestones, all the members of the project team wrote academic contributions for the exhibition catalogue:[5]

  • Knieling, Nina: Wissen – Macht – Souverän. Erziehung und Unterricht Erzherzog Franz Josephs 1830 bis 1848.

  • Valenta, Rainer: Der Kaiser im Porträt. Darstellungen im Spannungsfeld von Herrscherwürde und öffentlichem Image.

  • Huber-Frischeis, Thomas: Der lange Weg zur Demokratie. Verfassung und Parlament im Zeitalter Franz Josephs I.

  • Huber-Frischeis, Thomas: ‘Der Kaiser kennt sein Reich in allen Theilen’. Die offiziellen Reisen Franz Josephs I.

  • Huber-Frischeis, Thomas / Pfundner, Michaela: ‘Mein geliebtes Kind’. Briefe der Erzherzogin Sophie an ihren Sohn Franz Joseph.


Instead of the planned international conference on the subject ‘Austria-Hungary and the concept of supranational identity’, the project team was involved in the organisation of the conference held on the centennial day of Franz Joseph’s death (21.11.2016): ‘Der ewige Kaiser. Franz Joseph I. und die Erinnerung an die Habsburgermonarchie’ (The Eternal Emperor. Franz Joseph I and the Memory of the Habsburg Monarchy); Participants: Marco Bellabarba, John Boyer, Milan Hlavacka, Pieter Judson, Carlo Moos, Gunda Barth-Scalami, Brigitte Mazohl, Hans Petschar, Karl Vocelka, Oliver Rathkolb.


[1] His successor was Archduke Leopold (1823–1898, oldest son of Archduke Rainers) followed by Archduke Eugen (1863–1954, grandson of Archduke Karl, the winner of the battle of Aspern).

[2] Vienna, Austrian National Library, Picture Archives and Graphics Department, Archivs of the Fideikommissbibliothek, FKBA26135.

[3] After the drawing up of the Fideikommiss Formation Deed in 1849 Ferdinand officially became holder of the Fideikommissbibliothek; but he was, of course, owner of the library of his father since 1835.

[4] Becker, Moritz Alois von (ed.), Die Sammlungen der vereinten Familien- und Privat-Bibliothek Sr. M. des Kaisers, 3 in 4 Vol. (Vienna 1873–1882).

[5] Petschar, Hans (Ed.): Der ewige Kaiser. Franz Joseph I. 1830–1916 (Wien 2016).