Otto von Habsburg, the one-time heir to the imperial throne of Austria-Hungary, who during a long career in European politics was a strong proponent of unifying the divided continent, died on Monday at his home in Pöcking, Germany, reports the New York Times. He was 98.
He died “peacefully and without pain in his sleep,” said his spokeswoman, Eva Demmerle.
Otto was the eldest son of Charles I, the last emperor of Austria-Hungary, who ruled for just under two years, until the end of World War I also brought an end to his multiethnic empire in the heart of Europe and sent the family into exile.
Otto did not, however, fit the part of the exiled would-be monarch waiting for his throne to be restored. He remained deeply involved in the turbulent events of the last century, opposing the Nazi annexation of Austria and later serving two decades as a member of the European Parliament.
It was as president of the Pan-European League that he had perhaps his greatest impact on European events. Along with his Hungarian counterpart, Imre Pozsgay, Otto organised a peace protest called the Pan-European Picnic near St. Margarethen, Austria, and the town of Sopron in western Hungary.
Otto was born into one of the most storied noble families in European history on November 20th, 1912, in Reichenau, Lower Austria, during the 67-year reign of Emperor Franz Josef I, his father’s great-uncle. Otto was still a toddler when Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot to death in Sarajevo in June 1914, making his father first in line for the throne, but also starting the war that would claim his empire as one of its victims.
Upon Franz Josef’s death and his father’s ascension to the throne, Otto became crown prince. His father gave up the throne in 1918 but refused to formally abdicate. Otto was not yet 10 when his father died in April 1922 and he became the official head of the Hapsburg family. He would not give up his own claim to his father’s throne until 1961.
He lived in exile in Switzerland and on the island of Madeira, and went to high school in Spain. In Belgium, he earned a doctorate in political and social sciences at the Catholic University in Louvain.
Otto, who stopped appearing in public after the death of his wife, Regina, last year, is survived by his younger brother, Felix, as well as 7 children, 22 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren.
FULL OBITUARY: Otto von Habsburg, a Would-Be Monarch, Dies at 98 (New York Times)
Otto von Habsburg has died (Independent Catholic News)
Otto von Habsburg obituary (The Guardian)
Otto von Habsburg (Wikipedia)