* European royalty the Hapsburgs

European Royal Families: The Habsburgs

Figure 1.--This is Emperor Maximilian I and his family; with his son Philip the Fair, his wife Mary of Burgundy, his grandsons Ferdinand I and Charles V, and Louis II of Hungary (husband of his granddaughter Mary of Austria). Maximilian is often seen as the abelist of the Habsburgs. He expanded the influence of the House of Habsburg through war and marriage. He married Mary of Burgundy (477). Msry was heiress to the rich Duchy of Burgundy. He alsi arrange for the marriage of his son Philip to Queen Joanna of Castille, ecpanding the Hapsburg dynasty to Spaon. We know of no portrait that includes so many monarchs from the same family. The artists was Bernhard Strigel (c. 1461 – 4 May 1528), a German portrait and historical painter of the Swabian school.

One of the longest ruling European royal families was the Hapsburgs. The Habsburgs often dominated European history from the 16th to the 19th century. Even in their declining years of Hapsburg rule, the family played a key role in the 20th century. It was the assasination of Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand that was to lead to World War I. Like the Hohenzollerns, the Hapsburgs took their name from a family castle in Medieval Germany. This renowened family of German origins was in various periods the ruling family of Germany, as a separate family and as part of the Holy Roman Empire. It was the Hapsburgs who stopped the advance of the Ottimans into Christain Europe. The heighth of the dynasty's powers came in the 15th and 16th centuries with Philip I and Charles V who united Germany and Spain making the Hapsburgs the doiminate power in Europe. His son Philip II comanded vast armies and navies, but their blind religious faith was to lead to devestating religious wars in Germany and Spain becoming a backwater of Europe. Most European ruling families are associated primarily with one coutry. The Hapsburgs, while of German roots, ruled over many European countries. The Hapsburgs ruled Austria, Bohemia, Hungary, the Netherland, Spain, and many smaller European principalities--not to mention Mexico for a few years. The story of the Hapsburgs is in fact the history of Europe for centuries.


The Habsburg dynasty is so old that its origins are not fully established. The family is belireved to have been The actual origin of the family is obscure, but Guntram the Rich (??-950) appears to have founded the dynasty. He was a Carolingian noble.

Bishop Werner

Castles in Europe during the Mideval era were of great importance, especially before the appearance of gunpowder and cannons. A strong castle could mean survival even when faced by a feuding neigbor or invader with superior forces. The family name thus derived from the castle of Habsburg, or Habichtsburg ("Hawk's Castle"). Not suprisingly, this is the same origin of the Hohenzollern family name. Bishop Werner of Strasbourg, a descendent of Guntram, built the castle in 1020 on the Aare River in what is the present Swiss canton of Aargau. The prominance of a bishop in Hapsburg history is in part the result of the significant political role of the Church in Medieval Europe.

Count Werner I (10??-96)

Bishop Werner's nephew, also called Werner, became the first count of Habsburg. Count Werner died in 1096.

Various Hapsburg Counts

The Hapsburgs for two centuries continued to be were a relatively minor nobel family with title to lands in what is today areas of Austria and Switzerland. The independent Swiss chafed under Hapsburg rule. The famous tale of William Tell is an example of Swiss resistance to Hapsburg rule. The Swiss territories were to be some of the few territories that the Hapsburgs relinqinished once in their hands.

Count Albert the Rich (11??-99)

Albert was a greatgrandson of Werner I. He added Swiss domains to the family estates in Alsace.

Count Rudolf the Old (??-1232)

Rudolf, Albert's son, acquired the countships oif Laufenberg and Aargau

Count Albert the Wise

On Rudolf's death, his sons Albert and Rudolf, divided the family possessions. Rudolf the Youngervobtained Laufenberg and founded the house of Ha[sburg-Laufenberg. When the male line became extinct in 1415, the possessions reverted to the senior Hapsburg line whichb had been continued by Albert who became known as Albert the Wise.

Emperor Rudolf I (1218-91)

The Hapsburg fortunes were changed dramtically when Rudolf became count. Rudolf was the son of Albert the Wise. The Habsburgs were a still relatively minor German nobel family with land located mostly in northern Switzerland when Count Rudolf came to the throne. Rudolf was elected both King of Germany and Holy Roman Emperor (1273-91). His choice was in part because he was a relatively minor German nobel and was not seen as threatening. He was, however, responsible for seizing control of the Austrian territory that was to serveas the basis of Hapsburg power for over 8 centuries. Rudolf seized the Babenberg inheritance (the duchies of Austria, Styria, Carinthia, and Carniola) from King Ottokar II of Bohemia (1278). Rudolf invested his successors, his sons Albert and Rudolf, with these duchies as their heriditary patrimony (1278). The Hapsburgs were to rule here without interuption until deposed in the aftermath of World War I (1918).

Emperor Albert I (1291-1308)

Albert, Rudolf's son, became Duke of Austria (1282). He was elected German King and Holy Roman Emperor (1273). It was undr hiscrule that the Hapsburgs attempted to expand their territoiry in Switzerland to gain control over lucrative transalpine trade riutes tht were develooing. The William Tell incident reportedly occured (1307). Resistance would lead to the establishment of the Old Swiss Confederation. Albert was assassinated (1308). He was the last Hapsburg emperor for more 100 years. The family, however, continued to add to its territory, primarily through diplomacy and dynastic marriages rather than military force. It was during this time that the Hapsburgs acquired Bohemia and Hungary.

Emperor Albert II (??-1439)

Albert II became Holy Roman emperor in 1438. Reflectuing the Hapsburg dominant position in Germany, the family retainede imperial title (except for 1742-1745) until the it was abolished by Napoleon I in 1806.

Emperor Frederick III

Under Frederick, Austria in 1453 became an archduchy.

Emperor Maximilian I

Maximilian I became emperor in 1493. Maximilian is considered perhaps the shrewdest of all the Hapsburgs. His diplomacy and dynastic marriage arrangements left the family in a dominant position in Europe for two centuries. His marriage brought the family the Bourguignon inheritance, the small but economically vital Low Countries (Belgium and the Netherlands). His son Philip's marriage, which he arranged, led to nrininging Aragón and Castile and a united Spain to the Hapsburg domains.

Emperor Philip I

Maximillian's son Philip married Princess Juanna daughter of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Castille and Aragon, the first Christian rukars of a united Spain in 7 centuries. Philip became king when they died in 1504.

Emperor Charles V

Charles V was the son of Philip I. He thus inherited Spain and its wealthy overseas empire, parts of Italy (Naples, Sicily. Sardinia, Milan, Mantua, Parma, and Piacenza), the Netherlands, parts of France (Burgandy and Franche-Comt�), and the Habsburg German and Austrian possessions. The Hapsburg domains dominated Continental Europe, surronding Burobon France and soon to threaten England. Vast quantities of gold and silver from the American possessions flowed into the Hapsburg coffers which combuined with their extensive possessions gave them enormous power.


Charles V made a fatefull decission. Charles abdicated in 1556. He left Spain, the Netherlands, and the Italian domains, as well as the overseas empire, to his son Philip II. Austria was left in the hands of his brother, who became Emperor Ferdinand I. Ferdinand in 1526 was elected King of Bohemia and Hungary on the basis of his marriage to Princess Anna, the daughter oif King Ladislas. When Charles died, the House of Habsburg was divided. The Austrian branch retained the imperial title and the central European territories. The Spanish line controlled Spain, the Netherlands, and large areas of Italy.


Sussession throughout Hapsburg history was through the male line. The male line of the Austrian Habsburgs, however, ended with Charles VI in 1740. When it became cleat that there would be not male heir, Charles arranged for the Pragmatic Sanction of 1713, in which he assured the recognition of the indivisibility of the Hapsburg lands and the right of succession of his daughter--Maria Theresa. She married Duke Francis of Lorraine in 1736. Francis after the marriage became Holy Roman Emperor Francis I. (A woman could not serve as Holy Roman Emperor.) The marriage created the house of Habsburg-Lorraine. Maria Theresa lost most of the valuable province of Silesia to Prussia in the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748). The Habsburg Empire played a leading role in confronting Republican France. Louis XVI's wife, Marie Antoinette, was an Austrian princess. After the rise of Napoleon, Austria was a key participant in the coalitions that eventually defeated Napoleon. Maria Theresa's grandson, Francis II, was the last Holy Roman emperor. This was not before Napoleon married, Marie Louise, the daughter of Francis II and had a child by her. Francis II realising that Napoleon was dismantling the Holy Roman Empire, declared himself Emperor of Austria to retain the imperial title. After Napoleon's defeat, Austria and Count Meternich played a key role at the Congres of Viena in restablish the Ancien Regime throughout Europe. Francis' son Ferdinand I was sickly. He proved incapable of ruling. Ferdinand during the revolution of 1848 which threatened the cointinued existaence of the multi-national Hapsburg empire, Ferdinand abdicate in favor of his nephew, Francis Joseph. With Russian help, Emperor Franz Joseph restored conservative rule in the Hapsburg domains. Blunting progress, however, had a heavy price. His rule was a steady series of reversals for the once dominant Hapsburg empire. Austria was forced out of most of Italy by Garabaldi and the King of Savoy. Prussian expelled Austria from Germany in 1866. The remaining domains of the Habsburgs were reconstructed in 1867 as the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary, reflecting the fact that the only remaining German domains were Austria itself. It was Austria's efforts to run a multi-national empire that led to the assasiation of heir apparent Franz Fedinand in 1914 and World War I (1914-18). The defeat of the Central Powes (Austria and Germany) led to the deposing of Emperor Karl I who replaced Franc Josef in 1916. Karl refused to renounce claims to the throne. The Austrian Republic a a result banished the Habsburgs in 1919. Karl unsuccessfully in 1921 attempted take power in Hungary as king. After World War II, Archduke Otto, Karl's eldest son, petitioned the Austrian government in 1961 for permission to return as a private citizen. The Government granted his request in 1963. Otto now lives in Germany and is an elected representative to the European Parliament.


Spain was, as a result of the Reconquista, the most accomplished military power in Europe. With the influx of gold and silver from its American colonies, Spain and its army and navy was a country of enormous military power--the superpower of the 16th century. Philip II with his decission to send the Armada against England waisted vast amounts of wealth. The gold and silver from the Americas proved in the end a cuurse. Spanish manufacture suffered as it was easier to purchase rather than make products. In addition the religious persucutioin led by Holy Office of the Inquisition which expelled the Jews acted to supress though as well. Thus Spain did not share in the European Renaisance which was in the 18th century to lead to the Industrial Revolution. Instead Spain became a back-water of Europe. The Spanish Hapsburg line ended in 1700 and led to the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714). Under the Peace of Utrecht (1713) and the treaty of Rastatt (1714), Spain shiften from a Hapsburg to a French Bourbon possession. In conpensation, the Austrian branch of the family obtained Spain's Italian possessions (except for Sicily) and also the southern Netherlands.


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Created: July 4, 2003
Last updated: 3:50 AM 8/13/2020