Questions of dynasty and dynastic thinking were central to one of the most shattering international developments of the decades around 1800: the spectacular rise of French hegemony across large areas of western and central Europe and its ramifications. The assumption by Napoleon Bonaparte of an imperial crown (1804) as an expression of this domination prompted the emperor Francis II of the Holy Roman Empire to refashion himself as a specifically Austrian emperor (1804). Only two years later (1806) Francis lost the ancient universalist crown of the Holy Roman Empire that his ancestors had borne almost without interruption since the fifteenth century.

While these facts are well-known, our knowledge of the Habsburgs, as Europe’s most venerable imperial dynasty, in relation to the massive and continuing challenge of Revolutionary and Napoleonic France remains limited. The empire over which the Habsburgs ruled from the still-bastioned fortress of Vienna proved France’s most tenacious Continental opponent for more than two decades. Amid the domestic and foreign challenges faced by the Habsburgs during the crises of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic period, dynastic agnates proved essential to continuance of the Habsburg monarchy. The question of how the dynastic factor might have facilitated this staying power in this period of crisis has arisen only in respect of Archduchess Marie Louise’s marriage to Napoleon, a case in which Habsburg and Bonapartist dynastic interests unusually converged.

The principal research question of this project concerns the role of dynasticism in the domestic and foreign challenges faced by the Habsburgs during the crisis of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic period. An underlying assumption – to be tested in this project – is that the dynastic factor did not undergo ‘de-functionalization’ at this time, but rather a change in function. It now served primarily state interests at home and abroad, given that dynasticism was becoming less central to geopolitics, while the Habsburgs continued to regard their states as part of the family inheritance.

How did the phenomenon of dynasticism manifest itself among the members of the dynasty in the political response to the events of the years between 1792 and 1815? More specifically, how did they operate as a family-based power network to the purposes of running a complex state and defending its international interests, or even as a basic survival mechanism at a time at a time of ongoing crisis? Selected members of the main ruling line in Vienna, the subsidiary branch of Austria-Este, and the closely related Neapolitan Bourbons offer the principal research foci. Evaluating the role of these individuals requires intensive archival work focused on their rich material legacies. Fortunately, copious sources exist for each dynastic subject in Austrian and Italian repositories. Nearly all of this material represents new untapped archival sources that, up until now, have never been examined in detail by scholars.

National and International Cooperation:

Ellinor Forster (Universität Innsbruck)
Reinhard Stauber (Universität Klagenfurt)
Laurence Cole (Universität Salzburg)
Monika Wienfort (Universität Potsdam)
Fabian Persson (Linnaeus University, Sweden/University of Oxford)
Marco Meriggi (Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II)
Jonathan Spangler (Manchester Metropolitan University)
Michael Rowe (University of London)
Cinzia Recca (Università degli Studi di Catania)


William D. Godsey
(Principal Investigator)

Jonathan Singerton
(Affiliated Researcher)
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam / Faculty of Humanities, Art and Culture, History, Antiquity

Joost Welten
(Research Associate)

Stefano Poggi
(Research Associate)

Project term

November 2023 - Oktober 2026


Austrian Science Fund (FWF): P 36804 Einzelprojekte