“The hanged man” who became Prime Minister
Gyula Andrássy was born in Northern Hungary (now Slovakia) in 1823 into one of the leading Hungarian landowning families. Originally from Transylvania, the family had been prominent in Hungarian politics since the 16th Century. The political life of Gyula Andrássy began with his election as a Member of Parliament for Zemplén county in 1847. In 1848 after the outbreak of revolution in Austria, Andrássy supported the petition in Parliament of Lajos Kossuth of 13th March for Hungarian Independence and in April was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Zemplén county. From September on Andrássy was involved as an officer in the defensive campaign against Austria, playing a prominent role at the battle of Pákozd in September, then as a battalion commander in the battle of Schwechat in October and in 1849 at Isaszeg and Nagysallo. In May Andrássy was appointed commissioner of the Hungarian government to Istanbul and colonel of the 5th Hussar regiment. His mission was to involve the Turkish government in disarming the Imperial-Royal Austrian forces that had fled from the Bánát to Wallachia. The following month he travelled to Serbia to attempt to convince the Serbian government to order back Serbian volunteers fighting in Hungary on the Austrian side. Andrássy was in Istanbul again by July, to which Kossuth fled a month later after the collapse of the Hungarian army against the combined Austrian and Russian forces. Attempts by the Austrians to extradite Hungarian emigrants from Turkey failed and in November, fearing internment, Andrássy travelled to Paris to begin 10 years in exile.
Between the years 1849 – 58 Andrassy was an active member of the Hungarian émigré community in Paris and also spent much time in London. During this period he is believed to have considered a Hungarian compromise with Austria, opposing the independence policy of Kossuth. In 1851 he was sentenced to death in absentia in Hungary for his role in the Revolution and hung in effigy. For this reason he was known in Paris society as “Le beau pendu.” In 1856 he married the Transylvanian Countess Katalin Kendeffy in Paris, their first son Tivadar being born there in 1857. The same year he was finally granted an amnesty returning to Hungary in September to embark on two decades of active politics which were to mark his career as a statesman.
In the early 1860s a gradual rapprochement developed between
Vienna and Pest-Buda. The move towards compromise is generally credited
as the work of Ferenc Deák. However Deák realised that the diplomatic
and political skills of Andrássy and his acceptance at Court in Vienna
were necessary to obtain flexibility on the side of the Emperor. The
bond between the Empress and Andrássy was also instrumental in progress
towards this goal. In fact there was such mutual respect between Deák
and Andrássy that Deák proposed Andrássy to chair the committees tasked
with drafting the new constitution and proposed him as first Prime
Minister ahead of himself, describing Andrássy as being providential:
sent by God for the task. Andrássy was appointed first Prime Minister of
Hungary in the Dual Monarchy in 1867.
Together with Archbishop Simor he placed the crown on the new monarch’s head. He acquired the palace at Gödöllő on behalf of the State as a coronation present for the King and Queen.
The structure of the dual monarchy restored to Hungary her own laws as agreed between King and Parliament in all areas except those designated “common affairs” covering War, Foreign Affairs and Finance. These aspects of The Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy‘s policies were therefore administered by “common” ministers for Defence, Foreign Affairs and Finance not responsible to the Austrian or Hungarian legislatures but to two delegations of 60 members each elected by their respective Parliaments. The appointment of Andrássy to the common, Imperial & Royal, Foreign Ministry in 1871 ensured that for the first time the foreign policies of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy would take account of specifically Hungarian interests but without being subordinated to them. By 1871 Andrássy had tired of his administrative duties as Prime Minister. His appointment as Foreign Minister of the Dual Monarchy gave him the opportunity to use his exceptional talents and wide-ranging knowledge of Europe on a wider stage.
Andrássy believed that Hungary could only survive within the Dual Monarchy and consequently the security of the Dual Monarchy was a primary Hungarian as well as an imperial interest. He viewed the greatest threats to its security to be Russian expansionism and pan-Slavism, which would incite the Slav peoples of the Dual Monarchy to tear it apart. The eight year tenure of Andrássy at the Foreign Ministry could be characterised as always aimed at constraining these threats. Shortly after his appointment the League of Three Emperors ( Driekaiserbund ) was formed following the proclamation of the German Empire in defeated France. In 1873 Andrássy succeeded in negotiating an Austro-Russian commitment to the status quo in the Balkans. Two years later when Bosnia Herzegovina rose up against the Turks Andrássy eventually succeeded in restraining both the Russians and Austro-Hungary from entering into a Balkan carve up. In 1877 a secret agreement was concluded in Budapest providing that Austria-Hungary would remain neutral in a Russo-Turkish war and could occupy Bosnia Herzegovina. Romania. Serbia, Bulgaria and Montenegro would be granted independence provided that they did not combine into a single southern Slav state. Three months later the Russian army marched into the Balkans. This war was brought to an end in March 1878 with the Treaty of San Stefano. This undermined Andrássy’s standing as it provided for a greatly enlarged Bulgaria occupied by Russian forces for two years which in turn would place the newly independent states of Romania and Serbia under Russian tutelage. But at the Congress of Berlin in June 1878, which was initiated by Andrássy, Russia was isolated and obliged to agree to a substantial reduction in the size of Bulgaria and an earlier withdrawal of its troops.
Andrássy concluded that the logical sequel to the Congress of Berlin should be an alliance between the Dual Monarchy and Prussia which would counter attempts at further expansion in Europe by the Russians. In this he built on the relationship developed with Bismarck during the Congress. Bismarck had been thinking along similar lines and in 1879 the Dual Alliance was concluded in Vienna. Andrássy considered the Dual Alliance the crowning achievement of his career and already in bad health, he resigned. When she heard of his death in 1890 Queen Elizabeth remarked that she had lost her best friend.
Andrássy as considered by his contemporaries: Tsar Alexander II judged that he was “too proud to deceive”. The British Ambassador in Saint Petersburg assessed him as being “gifted with great perspicacity, large minded and liberal views, and the decision of character so necessary to be a ruler of men …he was ever governed by a feeling of justice and honour in the performance of his duty.”
Mark Odescalchi for the
Andrássy Gyula Foundation, 2011