Council of Advisors to Habsburg Emperor discuss economic improvement, serfdom

Charles VI reacts to a remark made by one of his advisors.


With the Habsburg Empire’s economic decline and the increase of dissent amongst the serfs of the Habsburg lands, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI summoned his Council of Advisors for the next few days to formulate a plan to create a stronger empire. The advisors, representing various lands and regions, met in Vienna to deliberate the issues plaguing the Habsburg Empire.

Various methods to boost the economy were highly discussed during the first of the advisors’ meetings, though there was dissent among many of the advisors regarding some of the proposals.  Prince Paul Anton Esterhazy, the Field Marshal-Lieutenant, brought up the idea of reestablishing trade routes and pursuing maritime trade to boost the empire’s economy.

“The primary concern that plagues Austria today is that we are isolationist,” Esterhazy said. “While empires such as Britain and France are engaging in trade, we are not.”

Friedrich Wilhelm von Haugwitz, the Chancellor of the United Court Chancery, disagreed with opening the empire up to maritime trade. Von Haugwitz reminded Esterhazy that the Habsburg Empire had only one port in existence, and offered up his own economic solutions.

“Instead of opening ourselves up to maritime trade, we need to develop Hungary and Bohemia,” von Haugwitz said. “We also need to treat our minorities better–Jews, Hungarians, Bohemians–we are stunting our own growth with our backwards and archaic policies.”

Other advisors brought up increasing the agricultural and industrial sectors to advance the economy. Charles Alexander of Lorraine, the Governor of the Austrian Netherlands, sought to increase the textile mills in the Austrian Netherlands through protectionist tariffs, while Johann Fritz Dietrichstein, the President of the Hofkammer Council, suggested moving people out of agriculture and into production.

Dietrichstein also advocated for the increase of taxes on the wealthy, presenting the idea of using the small taxes on the nobility to invest in the economy. Phillip Kinsky, the Chancellor of Bohemia, argued against the increase of taxes on the nobility or on wealthy regions.

“Bohemia is a high-profit region,” Kinsky said. “If taxes were mildly lowered in higher-profit regions, those profits might be able to be invested, instead of increasing taxes on the nobility.”

While expanding the economy was an important topic for the advisors, the council’s discussion quickly moved to dealing with the dissatisfied serfs in many of the regions. Advisors were divided on the issue of uprooting the current social order of serfdom within the Habsburg Empire, which Charles VI warned could have disastrous results.

“There will be chaos if serfdom is eliminated,” Wenzel Anton von Kauwitz, the State Chancellor of the Habsburg Empire, said. “We need to implement a new kind of industrial and agricultural system and let serfs work in the industrial factories, just under a different name.”

Esterhazy advocated for a different change in approaching the issue of serfdom.

“Why not allow some serfs to be in the military? It could create more unity within our empire,” Esterhazy said. “Upheaving laborers isn’t going to have the positive impact that we want.”

Rather than having serfs join the military, Kinsky proposed employing and offering freedom for serfs to create roads and routes connecting the different kingdoms within the empire, and taxing the roads to further the economy, an idea that several of the advisors seemed agreeable to.

As his colleagues proposed various solutions for the economy and serfdom, Field Marshal Ludwig Andreas Khevennhuller reminded the council that any actions or solutions proposed and implemented by the advisors could have drastic effects on the empire.

“Any action we take as a council must be gradual, or it could lead to chaos,” Khevennhuller said. “I urge you all to be careful–we must make sure that we do not move too quickly.”

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