Point of Divergence.
Point of Divergence: Successful assassination of Franz Joseph in February 1853 by János Libényi. His brother, Archduke Maximilian assumes the throne of Austria.
The Black Sea War
Maximillian's first challenge as Emperor was the growing rift between Russia and the western powers for influence in the Ottoman Empire. While observers believed that he would support Russia over the suppression of the 1848 revolutions, he supported France and Britain over Russia, hoping to win their favour as a liberal emperor. Austria and the Ottoman Empire declared war on Russia in the fall of 1853. While making advances against the Russians in the Danube Principalities and laying siege to the city of Jassy in December, the Austrians suffered from numerous setbacks, including poor logistics, incompetent leadership and non-existent planning led to high casualties during the siege and the lack of reinforcements to replace them. Meanwhile, heavy fighting occured around Galicia and Poland, making the conflict known in Poland as the Brothers' War. 30 000 Austrian troops were able to advance into the region of Lesser Poland, taking Sandomierz by the winter of 1853, though not further due to harsh conditions and poor logistics.
The Spring of 1854, however, saw the declaration of war on Russia by Britain and France, and the joint assaults on the Ukrainian coasts carried out by the British and French forced the Russians to pull troops away from Galicia and the Danube Principalities. An Austro-Ottoman force was able to take Jassy in the May of 1854, and in the summer of that year Field Marshal Radetzsky launched a major offensive in Poland that was able to successfully take the city of Lublin and began the march on Warsaw. The Anglo-French forces were also able to take advantage of the stretched out Russian army and began an all-out assault Sevastopol. Faced with little choice, the Russians sued for peace in the October of 1854, and in January 1855, the Treaty of Paris confirmed the independence of the Danube Principalities as the Kingdom of Rumania under the rule of Prince Francesco of Sicily, Count of Trapani, who became King Francis I (Sicily being neutral throughout the war), which would also annex Bessarabia according to the Treaty terms. The most important development of the Treaty, However, was the re-establishment of the Kingdom of Poland, which was detached from Russia and joined in personal union to Austria, but was not allowed to be directly integrated into the Habsburg Empire.
The rest of the 1850s was a time of major economic expansion and the beginning of the great restructuring of Austrian society. During this period, the industrialisation that began in the 1830s and 40s took off, encouraged by Maximilian's free market reforms. Furthermore, with the conclusion of the Danube War, Maximilian officially launched an investigation into the Army into the many difficulties faced during the conflict, which resulted in the creation of a meritocratic general's staff, a permanent logistical corps and the adaptation of repeating, breechloading rifles similar to what was wielded by the Austrians during the Napoleonic Wars. The national currency was redefined as 2165.67 Florins = 1 kg of gold in 1856 (the Metric System was adopted the previous year; bimetallism was eventually abandoned in 1873 and Austria became solely backed on gold), with a conversion rate of 16:1 and was decimalised to ease transactions, increasing trade with Germany (through the silver-backed Vereinsthaler which continued to be legal tender), the United Kingdom (and its gold-backed pound) and the United States, with its bimetallic Dollar (the Maria Theresa Thaler continued to be circulated at a value of 2 Florins). Princess Charlotte of Belgium ("Lotte"), whom Maximilian married in 1855, gave birth to a son in 1856, Archduke Franz. Most importantly, the Constitution of 1858 guaranteed limited autonomy and representation for all the provinces of the Empire in an Imperial Reichstag. It was also during this period that relations between their rivals collapsed, and a new alliance system would replace the Congress System. Austria's ties with the British and French were strengthened, while the Russians, seeking to avenge the loss of the Danube War, struck an alliance with Prussia to curb Austrian influence in Central Europe and to re-annex the lost regions of Bessarabia and Poland.
Great War II
1862 marked the year that the Congress System would collapse. Russia, arguing that the Austrian annexation of Poland was a violation of the Congress of Vienna, declared war on Austria. In turn, Britain and France declared war on the Prussians and Russians in support of Austria. The conflict would be known as the Second Great War, with the First Great War being the collective name for the Napoleonic Wars at the beginning of the century.
Heavy fighting on all fronts was the norm, and this combined with the proliferation of breechloading rifles on many sides of the war meant that casualties ran high. Russia invaded Poland with some Prussian assistance; as France had begun a costly invasion of the Rhineland as French attack columns faced Prussian needleguns, resulting in a bloody war of attrition on both sides. At the same time, Austria faced dual invasions, with the Russians invading Galicia and Rumania (though the Austrians were heavily supported by the Ottomans) and the Prussians launching an (again, limited) invasion of Bohemia. Britain assisted the French in the Rhineland Offensive and sank commercial ships from enemy states. Landings in Ukraine placed additional strains on the Russian lines. Additionally, the United States in return for British supplies in the Civil War would cease all imports to Russia and Prussia.
By 1864, however, economic sanctions and attrition took their toll on Russia and Prussia, as supplies and troops began to run low. In the Bohemian front, which Prussia had previously held large swathes of, an Austrian offensive was successful in overrunning Prussian defences, with Prague being liberated after the Battle of Beneschau. An Ottoman offensive in Wallachia was once against successful in pushing Russia out of the region, with Austro-Turkish troops defending Moldavia, while the Russian defeat at the Battle of Sambor led to the end of their advance into Austrian territory.
1865 marked the beginning of the end as the Austrians finally were able to drive Prussia out of Bohemia, while French troops were successful in occupying the Rhineland, and in the north, Austrian troops began an invasion of Silesia which cumulated in the Battle of Kattowitz in July 17. In the Eastern Front, Austro-Ottoman-British troops were able to defeat the last of the Russian occupiers at the Battle of Kishinev on October 22-25, ending Russian occupation of Rumania. The last battles of the war began in 1866, with an Austrian defeat of Russian forces in Poland in the Battle of Kielce in February 18th. On March 1st, Russian and Prussian troops issued a statement of surrender, and in June 18, the Congress of London would be drawn up to determine the future of Europe.
The changes in the map of Europe were dramatic. Russia and Prussia were forced to accept the Habsburg-ruled Polish state; furthermore Prussia was forced to cede West Prussia, Warmia and Posen to Poland. Silesia was annexed by Austria, and Rhineland by France. Finland and Ukraine were granted independence, while most of Russia's possession on the Black Sea were annexed by the Ottoman Empire. Germany became a loose confederation under supervision of Austria and France to maintain what was left of a balance of power in Central Europe, while Italy was also confederated under the presidency of the Pope.
Most importantly, Austria was to be dramatically re-divided. The provinces of Austria were re-drawn so that each area corresponded to the dominant ethnic group in that region; although the traditional kingdoms and duchies of the Austrian Empire still remained on paper, they for all intents and purposes ceased to exist (though some, like the Lands of the Crown of St Stephen continued to remain important ceremonially). Austria was from this point onward officially known as the Union of Kingdoms and Lands Represented in the Imperial Diet; however, the short form was still the Austrian Empire or Austria, and historians refer to Austria from 1866 onwards as the Federated States of Austria.
Cultural and economic boon for Europe. Geniuses like Freud, Tesla, Mendel, etc. liven Austrian cultural landscape. Economic boom in Austria improves standards of life. Congo claimed for Austria. Expansion of Austrian influence in Balkans leads to Austro-Russian ties and renewal of Holy Alliance against Britain, France and Ottomans (League of Vichy). Maximilian dies in 1922.
The years between 1866 and 1926 would go down in European history as the Belle Époque, the Age of Beauty, and Austria was no exception to this age of prosperity. Maximilian being an enthusiastic patron of the arts and sciences, Vienna became a powerhouse of culture and learning. A Moravian clergyman, Gregor Mendel discovered colleagues in the army stationed in the province interested in his research on heredity during the war, and in 1866 he was able to present his theories to the Charles-Ferdinand University in Prague and the Graz Polytechnic Institute. Biologists connected his Faktoren to Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection, and soon Mendel's theory of inheritance was applied to agriculture, creating new, more bountiful yields of crops and dramatically increasing the population. Later on, in the late 19th century, thinkers like Sigmund Freud and Karl Jung revolutionised the way people thought about the mind with their theories of the unconscious and of archetypes. The Count von Tesla, a Croatian inventor worked closely with architects to build new electric grids using wireless electricity in cities across the Empire, becoming a noble in 1912 for his accomplishments and dazzling audiences across Europe with his public experiments in electricity.
Great War III
Trivial incident leads to Great War III between League of Vichy and Holy Alliance in 1925. War ends in favour of Holy Alliance in 1931. World Congress established to prevent future wars.