An Introductory Overview of the Habsburg Dynasty
Please note that this is not meant to be a biography of any one person but a brief overview of the dynasty to show the impact that the House of Habsburg had for many centuries in Europe.
It all began with a castle. Just past the banks of the River Aar, set high on a hill, Count Radbot built what would later be known as Habsburg (thought to be translated to ‘Hawks Castle’). The castle was built in 1020 in the Empire of the Romans and can still be seen today in modern day Habsburg, Switzerland.
Radbot was born around 985 and died in 1045 but after him in the lineage there were some pretty unremarkable men who didn’t really do much, or at least what they did had not been recorded. It is known though that the title of Count of Habsburg (or Hapsburg) was used for the first time in 1108 by Otto II, Count of Habsburg, who took the title directly from the castle that his grandfather built.
It was the year of 1273 that marked the changing point for the Habsburgs when Count Rudolf IV(or Rudolph) was elected King of the Germans (formally known as King of the Romans) as Rudolf I of Germany. Although Rudolf was not formally crowned (some documents support the theory that traveling to be crowned by the pope was too dangerous), he was the first King of the Habsburg line until his death in 1291.
The election of Rudolf as king did not come without its price, Otakar II of Bohemia felt he was better suited to the job and made his opinion known. After a failed attempt by Rudolf to handle the matter with diplomacy, he gathered his imperial army and invaded Austria in 1278. King Otakar was defeated and the Treaty of Vienna was signed stating that Otakar gave up his claim to Austria but was still able to keep the rest of his dynasty. This was important, for the first time a Habsburg also became Duke of Austria, a title they would continue to hold, in some form, until 2011 when Otto Von Habsburg, Archduke of Austria, died.
Now, Rudolf I held for the Habsburgs the kingdom of Germany, Austria and Styria; for a short time he was also Duke of Carinthia but he gave it to his son’s father-in-law before he died.
The next descendant was Albert I (or Albrecht), who was also elected King of the Germans, a title that would not be held by a Habsburg again for nearly a century and a half. There were some kings of Bohemia but all were still holding the Duke of Austria title.
Some interesting stuff started happening with two of Albert I’s sons, Leopold I, Duke of Austria and Albert II, Duke of Austria; the family line split. This created a similar situation to the Wars of the Roses between the Lancaster and York families in England. Unlike the Wars of the Roses, the Leopoldians and Albertinians did not fight over full control (some did try to gain full control without full zeal that ended with no change in land or control), the land was divided among the two factions, until all the lines died except one from the Leopoldian side. Surprisingly this didn’t take long as there were only 4 successors on the Albertian line and 3 on the Leopoldian side. The Leopoldians only included 3 brothers, all dying heirless; at least the Albertian line made it 3 generations, with one being Albert II of Germany who was king-elect of the Germans, King of Hungary, Croatia and Bohemia, too bad his son died young with no heirs.
Who was the winner? His name was Ernest the Iron, Leopold and Albert’s younger brother. Ernest is important because he fathered a little boy named Frederick who would later become Frederick V, Archduke of Austria, Fredereick III, King of Germany and the Holy Roman Emperor. He is also known by the name of Frederick the Friar. Before Frederick found himself to be the first Habsburg Holy Roman Emperor, it was the House of Luxembourg who formally received the title. After Frederick, the Habsburgs would continue to be the next 11 Holy Roman Emperors (making 12 in total) for the next 181 years.
There is a ton of area to cover during the reign of all those emperors (which lasted from 1519 until 1740), much too much for an introduction, so the following is intended to be brief and general (with future posts to come detailing more). Titles that were held during this time were Holy Roman Emperor, King of Germany, King of Italy, King of Bohemia, King of Hungary, King of Croatia, King of Spain, Lord of the Netherlands, Duke of Burgundy, and of course the Archduke of Austria.
There were of course wars to be fought during 181 years of ruling. Even different branches of the family fought one another (the Spanish Habsburgs and the Austrian Habsburgs). Land was lost and other land was gained, more land was lost and more land was gained. Treaties were signed, marriage alliances sealed, murders, plots, and much more.
It should be noted that Charles V was the most powerful of all the Habsburg Holy Roman Emperors; he ruled from June 28, 1519 until August 27, 1556. He abdicated all of his titles before his death in September of 1557, ensuring that all the land he ruled would be in the hands of the ones he wanted in control. Ferdinand I was chosen at Charles V’s request to succeed as the Holy Roman Emperor but was not accepted officially until 1558.
Charles V came to an empire that was broke and even though Charles held vast lands within his power, he ended up losing even more money. The biggest problem that faced the empire was that there was no money coming in as there were no taxes within the empire. Lands that Charles ruled over included much of central, southern and western Europe, and the Spanish colonies in the Americas and Asia. While it is all well and good to have so much land expansion, Charles had found it difficult to rule such a vast amount of area successfully, which resulted in a failed empire.
The last of the Habsburg Holy Roman Emperors was Charles VI, the father of Maria Theresa. Maria Theresa married into the House of Lorraine with Francis I: Holy Roman Emperor, King of Germany, Archduke of Austria, Grand Duke of Tuscany and the Duke of Lorraine. The couple, when they married, founded the House of Habsburg-Lorraine, there would never again be a true House of Habsburg. Maria Theresa ended up giving birth to 17 children, including the infamous Marie Antoinette, as well as two Holy Roman Emperors.
Charles VI was the last surviving Habsburg in the male line and when he died in 1740, so did the male line and ultimately the entirety of the Habsburg dynasty. The last female, Maria Theresa, died in 1780 ending the true line forever. Some of the family of Habsburg-Lorraine had changed their name to Habsburg but the last true member of the family was Maria Theresa.
It is an impressive list showing how influential the House of Habsburg was to all of Europe for a great many years, but the family name eventually died out. Some claim that inbreeding within the house caused the line to end, and more people believe that the famous Habsburg lip (it’s really the giant, over-pronounced jaw) is also a result of so much inbreeding over time. But that is pure conjecture. What is not conjecture is the fact that the Habsburg married within their own family much of the time. It was almost always a political move. For quite some time the choice to marry within the family was to secure the Holy Roman Empire and protect it from the papal rule. It was always to keep the family money and land from leaving the Habsburg name.