More than 2,000 people worked at the Viennese Court in the 18th century – from the Obersthofmeister, comparable to a Lord Chamberlain, who supervised the entire Court household, down to the stewards, equerries, stable hands and laundresses. The staff in charge of administering the political, public and private life at Court thus had a wide-ranging and demanding variety of tasks to fulfil. “There were radically different tasks that the staff had to cope with”, explains Martin Scheutz from the University of Vienna. Led by this historian, Irene Kubiska-Scharl and Michael Pölzl undertook the first systematic investigation of the Court household across all of its social strata.
Supported by the Austrian Science Fund FWF, the researchers identified a total of 6,229 individuals in 1,085 functions and thus produced an almost complete list of the Viennese Court personnel between 1711 and 1806, including their career trajectories. “In this way we can detect significant structural changes in the Court organisation”, notes Scheutz in the interview with scilog. According to the expert, organisational changes can be gleaned, for instance, from the increasing establishment of positions that were initially conceived as being temporary and unpaid, or from the shifting of areas of responsibility within the household. Incidentally, with a women’s share amounting to roughly one percent, the court administration was an almost exclusively male domain.
Individuals interested in a position at Court submitted an application in writing – much in the same way as today – addressed to the “office head” with information about their background and qualifications. These “petitions” were collected in the Hofparteienprotokolle (handwritten registers that assembled the administrative activities of the court) which also contained data on remuneration, succession and retirements, thus representing the central “memory” of court organisation. Criteria for a career at Court included both family background and professional skills. The investigations of the Viennese research team clearly illustrate that the use of family connections for personal welfare and advancement was not restricted to the aristocracy but was also found among the middle and lower echelons of Court officials. Besides the Hofparteienprotokolle, the Hofkalender (court almanacs) were another important source of information. These printed volumes were published annually – with some exceptions – from the early 18th century onward and contained a list of the court staff. Anyone who had any dealings with the court would buy this “information brochure”.
People already in the sovereign’s employ could advance up the career ladder on the seniority principle, i.e. based on length of service, as well as on the basis of experience and loyalty, as the example of a certain Johann Christian Schillinger shows: in 1712 he started his career at Court as a blacksmith in a position called Spanischer Hofstall Schmied, was promoted in 1746 to Klepperschmied (farrier) and, in 1753, to Wagenschmied (involving ironwork on carts and coaches). “The advantage of being employed at Court was to have career prospects that were clearly defined”, explains Martin Scheutz. Court officials in the middle echelons also enjoyed the benefit of being provided with lodgings in the city. Under Joseph II, the Imperial Court also introduced a pension system. This was motivated, among other reasons, by the fact that the era of Enlightenment exposed the Court to increasing reform pressure. The pension system enabled the Court to remove long-serving staff from the payroll.
First reforms introduced by Maria Theresia were vigorously pursued and intensified after Joseph II acceded to the throne in 1765. Social entertainment items, such as music, theatre and hunting, were cut back to the benefit of stockpiling, administration and security. “Joseph II was certainly not a nice boss”, says Martin Scheutz. “He tried to downsize the Court with austerity measures, which gave rise to serious conflicts.” Unsurprisingly, the Court expanded again after his rule, since experienced teams and a great deal of know-how were needed to ensure the entire apparatus worked smoothly at all times. Organising public events involving several thousand people, for instance, took months of preparations. “Things of that kind worked like clockwork”, notes the historian, who was surprised by the high level of professionalism – which also included the fact that many things were documented in writing.
From wine to coaches and crisis situations – at the Viennese Court, every procedure was laid down, as is demonstrated by the Court’s flight from Vienna during the Coalition Wars against Napoleon: the emergency plans provided exact travel routes, loading lists and a sophisticated coach regime. “This has nothing to do with Baroque fussiness, but speaks of tough management, including rigorous organisation and staff supervision”, emphasises principal investigator Martin Scheutz. The results and data gained from this comprehensive archival research provide a valuable basis for follow-up research, particularly in the fields of organisational and social history.
Martin Scheutz is a Professor of Modern History at the University of Vienna and member of the Austrian Institute of Historical Research. His research focus areas are urban history, the investigation of self-testimonials as well as everyday life and crime. The FWF project Personnel and Organisation of the Viennese Court 1715-1806 was completed at the end of 2016.
Irene Kubiska-Scharl, Michael Pölzl: Die Karrieren des Wiener Hofpersonals 1711-1765. Eine Darstellung anhand der Hofkalender und Hofparteienprotokolle, Series: Forschungen und Beiträge zur Wiener Stadtgeschichte, Vol. 58, Studienverlag 2013
Irene Kubiska-Scharl, Michael Pölzl: Das Ringen um Reformen. Der Wiener Hof und sein Personal im Wandel 1766-1792, Mitteilungen des Österreichischen Staatsarchivs, Vol. 60, Vienna 2017 (in preparation)
Project website: www.univie.ac.at/hofpersonal