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Like many junior members of royal families, Archduke Joseph Karl entered the military. He became a Major General in the Austrian Army in 1860. In 1867, he became Palatine of Hungary after the death of his childless half-brother Stephen, though the post by that time was symbolic only.
The archduke had an interest in Romani language and occasionally wrote on this topic to Albert Thomas Sinclair, an American lawyer who shared this interest. A bio of Sinclair notes that the archduke sent a copy of his work, “a large octavo volume handsomely bound It is a most important and valuable philological work comparing the gypsy words with Sanskrit, Hindustani Persian, etc.”