Emperor Charles had always been rather wary of the Germans and though he realized Austria-Hungary would be crushed without them he also saw them as dragging his empire down to ruin in a war that no one, winners or losers, would emerge from intact. Pope Benedict XV had called for a peaceful end to the war with no winners or losers but a return to the status quo, for which he was either ignored or ridiculed. The deeply Catholic Charles, now Emperor, was willing to give the papal idea a chance. However, he had to proceed very carefully as any talk of peace on his part would immediately arouse the suspicion and possible retaliation of the Germans. Emperor Charles used the family connections of his wife, Empress Zita, who had been a Bourbon princess and whose brothers, Prince Sixtus and Prince Xavier, were serving in the Belgian army on the western front. This seemed a possible way forward as the Belgian King Albert I was also favorable toward a peaceful end to the war. Using Prince Sixtus and Prince Xavier as their go-between Emperor Charles sent a proposal of peace to the Allies.Share
Unfortunately, things did not go well. The Allies demanded concessions from Germany and Turkey that the Emperor of Austria-Hungary certainly had no power to deliver. Furthermore, the French and British had made any peace with the Hapsburgs rather impossible through the secret treaties they had already made with the Italians, Serbs and others wherein they had promised vast tracts of Hapsburg territory to these various peoples in return for supporting the Allied side. The effort at peace came to nothing and to make matters worse news of the peace proposal leaked out. Naturally the Germans were furious and when Emperor Charles denied the Allied claims French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau made the Sixtus letters public. This doomed any effort by the Austro-Hungarians to achieve a separate peace and effectively made them hostages of Germany for the duration of the conflict, the Germans even drawing up a contingency plan for the invasion of Austria. As the war drew to a close the ethnic nationalists, who had long been supported by the Allies, took a greater hold, encouraged by the call for ethnic self-determination on the part of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson.