(1768–1853) commander of Austrian forces against Hungarians in 1849

Illegitimate son of the elector of the German state of Hesse, Baron von Haynau entered Austrian military service in 1801 and fought in the wars against Napoleon. He remained in service after the war and saw action during the Italian uprising against Austrian rule in 1848. In April 1849, under orders as military governor to suppress the revolt in the Lombard city of Brescia, he acted with such severity that he earned the nickname “Hyena of Brescia.” In short order his services were required on another front: the Hungarian uprising against Austria was still in full force. In April 1849 FRANCIS JOSEPH, emperor for only four months, was compelled to seek military help against the Hungarians from the Russian czar, Nicholas I. Pending the arrival of Russian forces, at the recommendation of Marshal Radetzky, who had conquered the Italian revolt, he appointed Haynau commander in chief of the Austrian forces engaged against the Hungarian rebel army. True, Haynau’s personnel file contained items that might have given the emperor pause, but then, the chief job of the general was to liquidate a stubborn revolt. A previous commander of his had this to say: “Haynau is 61 years old, but he looks in his seventies, is of ill health. He thoroughly knows the rules of military service but seeks glory in sharpening those rules so that he could proceed against men he doesn’t like. These men he torments with calculating hatred. He is well versed in strategic studies but is possessed of an avarice that offends his military honor. Because of his moral failings everybody in contact with him wishes to see him go, for no one likes to be in his company in military service. It would be best to pension him off.” Possibly though these were just the qualities the young emperor deemed useful in dealing with rebels.

On August 16, 1849, when the Hungarian forces had already surrendered to the Russians, though the news had not yet reached the capital, a council of ministers in Vienna instructed Haynau to deal with the rebels leniently, to allow political and military officers to go abroad within a fixed time period, and enlisted men to return home. But four days later, with Hungarian surrender an accomplished fact, the emperor, under the influence of his mother Sophie and his premier FELIX SCHWARZENBERG, who declared that “We must not shrink from a little blood bath,” decided to deal with the former insurgents harshly and gave Haynau full powers to carry out the retributions. Haynau prepared to have some hangings as early as August 24, days after the Hungarian army had laid down its arms, but the Russians intervened. They did not want to be witness to the retributions they themselves had helped to bring about. Also, there still were pockets of Hungarian resistance, and they might become more determined if the rebels knew what fate awaited them. But once all military action ceased and the Russians had retreated, nothing stood in the way of reprisals. The first victims were 13 military officers hanged in ARAD, and the former Hungarian minister president BATTHYÁNY, executed in Budapest. Under Haynau’s dispositions, the summary trials and condemnations continued. Just how many fell victim to them has never been established. According to Austrian statistics, during the fall and winter of 1849, 120 persons were executed following court procedures. Many more were shot “trying to escape.” About 1,200 were sentenced to prison. Thousands emigrated while 40,000 to 50,000 men were conscripted into the imperial army.

These actions occasioned vocal protests from abroad. British foreign secretary Palmerston was quoted as saying, “The Austrians are the worst beasts among those who ever called themselves cultured people; their atrocities in Galicia, Italy, Hungary and Transylvania can only be compared to the outrages of African and Haitian negroes.” Under the influence of foreign protests, and because most of the political criminals had already been dealt with, the Austrian Council of Ministers on October 26 banned further executions. But Haynau remained unimpressed and ordered further condemnations and hangings. It placed the emperor in an embarrassing position. If he dismissed Haynau he in effect impeached his own judgment. After a decent interval he bestowed on the general the dignity of baron (Freiherr) and then, largely at the instance of his new minister of the interior ALEXANDER BACH, he dismissed him in July 1850. Haynau then made several trips abroad, but his reception was so hostile, at times, as in London in 1850 and Brussels in 1852, leading to mob violence, that he had to return home. In 1853, with troubles again brewing in Italy, the emperor recalled him to active service; only his death on March 14, 1853, prevented another grimly memorable tenure as military governor.


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