Gregory Brown
513 Agnes Arnold Hall
Department of Philosophy
University of Houston
Houston, TX 77204-3004

Karl VI.
(Charles VI.)

Holy Roman Emperor (1711-1740)

Karl VI. was born in Vienna on the 1st of October 1685.  He was the second son of the emperor Leopold I. (1640-1705) by his third marriage with Eleanore, daughter of Philip William of Neuburg, elector palatine of the Rhine.  When the Spanish branch of the House of Habsburg became extinct in 1700, he was put forward as the lawful heir in opposition to Philip V. (1683-1746), the Bourbon to whom the Spanish dominions had been left by the will of Charles II. (1661-1700) of Spain.  He was proclaimed at Vienna on the 19th of September 1703, and made his way to Spain by the Low Countries, England and Lisbon, remaining in Spain until 1711, mostly in Catalonia, where the Habsburg party was strong.  Although he had a certain tenacity of purpose, which he showed in later life, he displayed none of the qualities required in a prince who had gained his throne through military force in the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714).  He was so afraid of appearing to be ruled by a favorite that he would not take good advice, but was easily swayed by flatterers who played on his weakness for appearing independent.  In 1708 he was married in Barcelona to the granddaughter of duke Anton Ulrich (1633-1714), Elisabeth Christine (1691-1750) of Brunswick - Wolfenbüttel, a Lutheran princess who was persuaded to accept Roman Catholicism by the assurances of Protestant theologians and the philosopher G. W. Leibniz (1646-1716) that she could always give an Evangelical meaning to Catholic ceremonies.  On the death of his elder brother Joseph I. (1678-1711) on the 17th of April 1711, Karl inherited the hereditary possessions of the house of Habsburg and their claims on the Empire.  The death of Joseph I. without male heirs had been foreseen, and Karl had at one time been prepared to give up Spain and the Indies on condition that he was allowed to retain Naples, Sicily, and the Milanese.  But when the case arose, his natural obstinacy led him to declare that he would not think of surrendering any of the rights of his family.  It was with great difficulty that he was persuaded to leave Spain, months after the death of his brother (on the 27th of September 1711).  Only the emphatic refusal of the European powers to tolerate the reconstruction of the empire of Karl V. (1500-1558) forced him to capitulate.   He abandoned Spain and was crowned emperor in December 1711, but he did not recognize Philip V. for a long time.  He was very reluctant to desert the Catalans who had fought for his cause, and some of their chiefs followed to Vienna.  There they almost succeeded in arousing his suspicions of the loyalty of prince Eugène of Savoy (1663-1736) at the very time when the prince's impressive victories over the Turks had led to the Peace of Passarowitz on the 28th of July 1718, and a great extension of the Austrian dominions eastward.  Karl showed an enlightened, though not always successful, interest in the commercial prosperity of his subjects, but from the date of his return to Germany until his death his ruling passion was to secure his inheritance against dismemberment.  As early as 1713 he had begun to prepare the "Pragmatic Sanction" which was to regulate the succession.  An only son, born on the 13th of April 1716, died in infancy, and it became the object of his policy to obtain the recognition of his daughter Maria Theresa (1717-1780) as his heiress.  He made great concessions to obtain his aim, and embarked on complicated diplomatic negotiations.  His last days were embittered by a disastrous war with Turkey, in which he lost almost all he had gained by the peace of Passarowitz.  He died in Vienna on the 20th of October 1740, and the male line of his house thus ended.  Karl VI. was an admirable representative of the tenacious ambition of the Habsburgs, and of their belief in their own "august greatness" and boundless rights.


  • The Encyclopædia Britannica, 13th edition. New York: The Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 1926.
  • Harry Judge, ed.  Oxford Illustrated Encyclopedia.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.