Vienna

Vienna

The case-study on Vienna examines the fiscal-military networks running through a city which was not only the capital and courtly residence of the Austrian Habsburg monarchy but also a major economic centre within the Holy Roman Empire. Until beyond the epoch-making Ottoman siege of 1683, Vienna also constituted a heavily fortified border city of the highest geostrategic importance. Yet far from stretching just into the territories of the Holy Roman Empire traditionally associated with the backing of the Habsburgs’ policies and the capitals of the latter’s varying western European allies, these manifold fiscal-military networks extended considerably into northern Italy, the Adriatic, the Balkans, Poland-Lithuania, and occasionally even into Russia so that this case study extends the project spatially into Southern and notably Eastern Europe.

At first, Vienna will be investigated for select parts of the Thirty Years’ War, especially its later stages which saw the Habsburgs’ continuous struggle for greater political, but also logistical control over its armed forces, finally resulting in the establishment of a small standing army administered from Vienna. In the wake of what is usually regarded as the highpoint of early modern ‘mercenary’ contracting yet quickly proofed unsustainable, the infamous imperial military enterpriser-general Wallenstein and its comparatively well-studied scheme of levying contributions serves as a ‘measuring pole’ for investigating the connections between fiscal-military transactions and the conduct of military operations which beginning after 1635 turned to be significantly smaller in size, more mobile, flexible, and thus more supportable. Likewise, the extensive, yet already well assessed credit and supply networks Wallenstein could tap with the help of Hans de Witte, his Calvinist banker in Prague, will be employed as a template to gauge the reach, structure and significance of similar, less-well known fiscal-military networks, e.g. the imperial military-enterpriser colonel and later field marshal Melchior von Hatzfeld accessed via the merchant-banker Daniel Resteau.

Vienna’s merchant bankers and military contractors figure prominently during the late 17th and 18th century, especially during the nearly continuous warfare between 1688 and 1718 when the Habsburg monarchy was part of the ‘Grand Alliance’ against Louis XIV while at the same time emerging as a European great power out of its epic struggle with the Ottomans. The Jewish ‘court factor’ Samuel Oppenheimer, Vienna’s principal banker and military contractor, will be analysed as a major facilitator of the decisive external resource mobilisation the Habsburg monarchy was able to conduct during its ‘Age of Heroes’. Yet his position vis-à-vis the Habsburg administration, considering various competing military contractors and financers, seems not to have been as monopoly-like as often presented. However, the financial crash following Oppenheimer’s death in 1703 revealed the extent to which the Habsburg monarchy’s war effort depended on credit and resources procured from outside its own jurisdictions, and prompted wide-ranging administrative reforms as well as the foundation of the Viennese banking sector.

Not only through the example of Oppenheimer, but also by tracing the paths and networks of individuals like the Swiss born Calvinist banker, manufacturer and military contractor Johann von Fries (1719-85) the study aims to investigate the role of religion alongside kinship in fiscal-military networks as well as to examine the various cultural aspects of military contracting, particularly in a major courtly residence and cultural centre like Vienna. That the Habsburg court and the monarchy’s complex bureaucracy in Vienna formed crucial entrance points into fiscal-military networks which, however, necessitated skilful brokerage to liaise with is shown by the existence of specialised ‘regimental agents’ many German princes, who recruited significant proportions of the Habsburg army while securing rank-befitting military positions for their offspring, maintained in Vienna. Focussing the development of the Austro-Prussian rivalry through the example of the regimental agent and notorious ‘power broker’ Gustav Adolf von Gotter (1692-1762) promises to reveal in how far even this often-quoted ‘structural’ competition also involved a decent amount cooperation.

Spanning over the period under research, the study traces a selection of further central aspects to the European fiscal-military system, like naval affairs exemplified by the multifarious, often underestimated, if not overlooked naval projects pursued by the Habsburgs (e.g. Wallenstein’s Baltic fleet plan, the Danube flotillas, Archduke Charles’s ‘Austro-Venetian’ navy) which were heavily related to the mobilisation of strategic resources and expertise from abroad. The logistical challenges, yet also specific opportunities of alliance warfare, the management of imperial prerogatives and jurisdictions regarding recruiting, transit and garrison rights, billeting and contributions in the Holy Roman Empire and Imperial Italy as well as generally the peculiarities of mobilising external resources at Europe’s Eastern periphery form key questions of investigation.

Finally, glancing at the implications of the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806 accompanied by the loss of imperial jurisdiction and major territorial amendments, the Habsburg monarchy’s confrontation with Revolutionary France and the Napoleonic Empire will be taken into perspective in terms of a supposed ‘Austrofication’ of fiscal-military conduct and the beginning decline of the European fiscal-military system.

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