Joseph II and His Court

Author: Luise Mühlbach

Chapter CLXVI. The Deputation from Hungary.

In the great reception-room of the imperial palace, a deputation of the most illustrious magnates of Hungary awaited an interview with the emperor. For one whole year the Hungarian nobles had withdrawn from court; but now, in the interest of their fatherland, they stood once more within the walls of the palace; and in their magnificent state-uniforms, as the representatives of all Hungary, they were assembled to demand redress for their national grievances.

When the emperor entered the reception-room, he came alone, in a plain uniform. He greeted the deputies with a smile which they returned by profound and silent inclinations of their aristocratic heads. Joseph looked slowly around at the brilliant assemblage of magnates before him.

"A stately deputation of my loyal Hungarians," observed he. "I see all the proudest families of the kingdom represented here to-day. Count Palfy, for example, the son of him whom the empress was accustomed to call her champion and father. Count Batthiany, the heir of my favorite tutor. I rejoice to see you, and hope that you are here to-day to greet me as ever, in the character of loyal subjects."

There was a short pause, after which, Count Palfy, stepping a little in advance of the others, addressed the emperor.

"Sire, we are sent by the kingdom of Hungary to lay our wrongs before your majesty, and request redress."

"Does the count represent your sentiments?" asked the emperor, addressing the delegates. A unanimous affirmative was the reply, and Joseph then continued: "Speak on. I will hear your complaints and reply to them."

Count Palfy bowed and resumed. "We have come to remind your majesty that when, in November, 1780, you ascended the throne of Austria, we received a written declaration from your imperial hand, guaranteeing our rights under the national constitution of Hungary. Nevertheless, these rights have been invaded, and we come before your majesty’s throne in the hope that our just remonstrances may not appear offensive in the eyes of our king." [Footnote: These are the words of the Hungarian protest.—See Hubner, ii., p. 265.]

"But, what if they do appear offensive?" cried the emperor, chafed." What if I should refuse to hear those complaints which are nothing but the fermentation of your own pride and arrogance?"

"If your majesty refuses to hear us to-day," said Count Palfy, with firmness, "we shall return to-morrow, and every day; for we have sworn to present the grievances of the states to your notice, and must keep our oath."

"I am quite as well acquainted with the grievances as you, and to prove it to you, I will state them myself. First, you are aggrieved because I have not gone to Hungary to be crowned, and to take the constitutional oath."

"Yes, sire, we are; and this grievance leads us to the second one. We venture to ask if, secretly and without the consent of the states, the crown of St. Stephen has been removed to Vienna?"

"Yes, it has been removed," cried Joseph, with increasing irritation. "It has been brought to me, to whom it belongs; but I shall return it to Ofen, when the structure which is to receive it is completed."

"That is an unconstitutional act," said Count Palfy. "Is it not, my friends?"

"It is," cried a chorus of Magyars.

"I have never taken the oath to the constitution," was Joseph’s reply. "Hungary would have to undergo signal changes before I ever go there to be crowned as your king. You are not content with reigning over your vassals; you desire, in your ambitious presumption, to reign over me also. But I tell you that I am no royal puppet in the hands of a republic of aristocrats. I am lord and king of all my provinces. Hungary has no claim to a separate nationality, and, once for all, I shall no more take the coronation oath there, than I shall do it in Tyrol, Bohemia, Galicia, or Lombardy. All your crowns are fused into the imperial crown of Austria, and it is proper that I, who own them all, should preserve them with my regalia at Vienna. All strife and jealousy between the provinces composing my empire must cease. [Footnote: The Emperor’s own words.—"Letters of Joseph II."] Provincial interests must disappear before national exigencies. This is all that I have to say to the states; but I will say to yourselves, that when I find myself absolute lord of Hungary, as well as of Austria, I will go thither to be crowned. And now, Lord Chancellor of Hungary, what other grievance have you to present?"

"Our second grievance, sire, is, that to the great humiliation of all Hungary, our native tongue and the Latin language have been superseded by the German. This, too, is unconstitutional, for it has shut out all Hungarians, in a measure, from public office, and has placed the administration of our laws in the hands of Austrians, perfectly ignorant of our constitution." [Footnote: The words of the Hungarian protest.—Hubner. ii, p. 267]

"To this I have to say that German shall be the language of all my subjects. Why should you enjoy the privilege of a national language? I am Emperor of Germany, and any tongue shall be that of my provinces. If Hungary were the most important portion of the empire, its language, doubtless, would be Hungarian; but it is not, and, therefore, shall you speak German. [Footnote: The emperor’s own words.—See "Letters of Joseph II.," p. 76.] I will now pass on to your third grievance, for you see that I am well posted on the subject of your sufferings. I have numbered and taxed your property, and that, too, in spite of your constitution, which exempts you from taxation. In my opinion, the privileges of an aristocracy do not consist in evading their share of the national burdens; on the contrary, they should assume it voluntarily, and, for the weal of the nation, place themselves on an equality with the people, each class striving with the other as to who shall best promote the prosperity of the government. [Footnote: The emperor’s own words.—See "Letters of Joseph II.," p. 76.] I cannot exempt you, therefore, from paying taxes."

"But, sire, this tax violates our rights and our constitution," replied Count Palfy.

"Has Hungary a Constitution? A tumultuous states-diet, privileged aristocracy, the subjection of three-fifths of the nation to the remainder—is this a constitution?"

"It is the constitution of Hungary, and we have your majesty’s written promise that you would respect it. But even had we received no solemn declaration of the sort, upon the security of our national freedom depends the Austrian right of succession to the throne of Hungary." [Footnote: The words of the Hungarian protest.—Hubner, ii., p. 263.]

"You dare threaten me?" cried Joseph, furiously.

"No, sire, we do not threaten; we are in the presence of a truth-loving monarch, and we are compelled to speak the unvarnished truth. We have already borne much from your majesty’s ancestors. But, until the death of Maria Theresa, our fundamental laws remained inviolate. True, in the last years of her life she refused to allow the states-diet to assemble; but she never laid her hand upon our constitution. She was crowned Queen of Hungary, and took the coronation oath. Charles the Sixth and Joseph the First did likewise. Each one guaranteed us the right of inheritance, and our national freedom."

"There is no such thing as national freedom in Hungary. It contains nothing but lords and vassals, and it is vassalage that I intend to abolish."

"Does your majesty think that the general freedom of the state is promoted by your conscription laws?"

"Ah! here we have grievance the fourth," exclaimed Joseph.

"Yes, the conscription is a thorn in your sensitive sides, because it claims you as the children and servants of your country, and forces you to draw your swords in her defence."

"We have never refused our blood to the country," replied Count Palfy, proudly throwing back his head, "and if her rights are intact to-day, it is because we have defended and protected them. We have fought for our fatherland, however, not as conscripts, but as freemen. Our people are unanimous in their abhorrence of the conscription act. When we weigh the motives and consequences of this act, we can draw but one inference from either: that we, who were born freemen, are to be reduced to slavery, and to be trampled under foot by every other province of Austria. Rather than submit to such indignity we will lay down our lives, for we are of one mind, and would sooner die than lose our liberty!"

"And I," cried Joseph, his eye flashing and his face scarlet with passion, "I say to you all, that you shall live, for I, your king and master, command you to do so."

An angry murmur was heard, and every eye looked defiance at the emperor. "Ah," said he, scornfully, "you would ape the Polish diet, and dispute the will of your king! You remember how the King of Poland succumbed to dictation! I am another and a different man, and I care neither for your approbation nor for your blame. It is my purpose to make Hungary prosperous, and therefore I have abolished the feudal system which is unfavorable to the development of the resources of the country. You Magyars would interfere with me. You have a constitution at variance with my laws, and for the sake of a piece of rotten parchment three hundred years old, Hungary must be suffered to remain uncivilized forever! Away with your mediaeval privileges and rusty escutcheons! A new century has dawned, and not only the nobly born shall see its light, but the people who, until now, have been thrust aside by your arrogance! If enlightenment violates your ancient privileges, they shall be swept away to give place to the victorious rights of man! And this is my answer to all your grievances. Go home, ye Magyars, assemble your peers, and tell them that my decision is unalterable; and that what I have done with deliberation I shall never revoke. Go home and tell them that the emperor has spoken, and they have nothing to do but to submit!"

With a slight inclination Joseph turned his back; and before the magnates had time to recover themselves and to reply to this haughty harangue, the emperor had disappeared and closed the door.

In speechless indignation they glanced at one another. They had expected difficulty; but such insulting rejection of their petition they had not anticipated. They remembered the day when, with this same Joseph in her arms, Maria Theresa had appealed to their fathers for succor; they remembered, too, how in the enthusiasm of their loyalty they had sworn to die for Maria Theresa, their king!

"He never revokes!" muttered Palfy, after a long silence. "You heard him, Magyars, he never revokes! Shall we suffer him to oppress us?"

"No, no!" was the unanimous reply.

"So be it," said Palfy, solemnly. "He has thrown down the gauntlet; we raise it, and strip for the fight. But for Hungary this man had been ruined. To-day he would ruin us, and we cast him off. Henceforth our cry is—’Moriamur pro rege nostro constitutione!’"

"’Moriamur pro rege nostro constitutione!’" echoed the Magyars, every man with his right hand raised to heaven.


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Chicago: Luise Mühlbach, "Chapter CLXVI. The Deputation from Hungary.," Joseph II and His Court, ed. CM01B10.Txt - 149 Kb, CM01B10.Zip - 56 Kb and trans. Coleman, Chapman, Mrs., 1813-1891 in Joseph II and His Court (New York: The Modern Library Publishers, 1918), Original Sources, accessed March 26, 2019,

MLA: Mühlbach, Luise. "Chapter CLXVI. The Deputation from Hungary." Joseph II and His Court, edited by CM01B10.Txt - 149 Kb, CM01B10.Zip - 56 Kb, and translated by Coleman, Chapman, Mrs., 1813-1891, in Joseph II and His Court, New York, The Modern Library Publishers, 1918, Original Sources. 26 Mar. 2019.

Harvard: Mühlbach, L, 'Chapter CLXVI. The Deputation from Hungary.' in Joseph II and His Court, ed. and trans. . cited in 1918, Joseph II and His Court, The Modern Library Publishers, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 26 March 2019, from