Monday, 16 March 2009

The Management of the Viennese Court

by Kathryn Hadley

The Austrian Science Fund (FWF) announced, today, its latest project to research and make public information about the management of the Imperial Court in Vienna. The project, entitled ‘At Your Majesty’s Service!’, is based on the study of the ‘instruction manuals’ of the Viennese court by Institute for Austrian Historical Research at the University of Vienna. The manuals notably provided the court staff with details about the manner in which specific tasks were to be carried out and by whom. They were used for over 200 years and were kept up to date by the staff of the Obersthofmeister, who held the highest administrative office at the court. The manuals constitute four volumes, with a total of 1,400 handwritten pages.

An edition of the manuscripts is currently being prepared and the study of the volumes has provided both a fascinating insight into the organisational structures of the court and a detailed picture of the way in which it operated. In the 17th century, the court employed approximately 1,000 staff; by the 19th century, its numbers had risen to over 3,000 employees, who were each responsible for various aspects of daily life at the court, such as food, washing and the care of its horses. References to the ‘greatness’ of the Viennese court at the time thus related primarily to its size, rather than to its significance as one of the major political centres in Europe. Its organisation, on such a large scale, bore considerable similarities with that of a modern company. The manuscripts also bear witness to a form of corporate identity within the court, with repeated calls for order, efficiency and frugality, an emphasis on the importance of rank and title and, in terms of religion, a clear fear of Protestantism.

Professor Martin Scheutz, the project leader, described the content of the manauls:

‘These manuals record instructions for 80 different offices held by staff at the
Viennese Court. They instructed staff in how to carry out their duties properly
and in accordance with the customs and conventions of the Court. They also
detailed how the servants were to be supervised, the hierarchy of command and
the overall organisational structure in place at the Court.’

It is hoped that the publication of the edited volumes will further the study of the court and also enable comparisons with other courts.

In the words of Scheutz, the aim of the project is to:

‘do more than produce just a static description of the organisational structures
- we want to create a living, breathing representation of practical operations
within the Viennese Court. We plan to take a detailed look at the organisational
hierarchies, procedures, interactions and interdependencies and describe them in
depth in order to represent organisation at the Viennese Court as a dynamic

For an insight into the contemporary relevance of court history, read our article Why Court History Matters.

To understand the recent revival in the history of courts, read our article Court History

Above picture: one of the pages from the manuals (Austrian State Archives)

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