Habsburg, House of

   Of Alemannic origins, the Habsburgs take their name from the castle of Havisberch, or “Habichtsburg,” in the Swiss canton of Aargau. The structure probably dates from 1020, but the dynasty is said to have begun to take shape a half-century earlier. Serving as counts in various regions of southwestern Germany and Alsatia, the Habsburgs were close to the Hohenstaufen emperors. They became a central European political force when Count Rudolph IV (1218–1291) was elected German king in 1273. Though not among the prominent dynasties of the Holy Roman Empire, the Habsburgs were by this time well endowed with both feudal and allodial properties and with protective rights over ecclesiastical establishments (Kirchenvogteien). It was the hope of those who elected Rudolph, who was never actually crowned Holy Roman Emperor by the pope, that he would check the expansionist ambitions of Ottokar II, the king of Bohemia, without threatening their own independence. Indeed, Rudolph would never be crowned Holy Roman Emperor by the pope. However, when he defeated Ottokar in 1278, the Habsburg took the opportunity to improve the territorial standing of his house considerably in central Europe. He enfeoffed himself with the thenvacant Austrian lands ruled until the middle of the 13th century by the Babenbergs. He also conferred titles to Styria, Carinthia, Carniola, and the Wendish March on his two sons, Albrecht I (1255–1308) and Rudolph II (1270–1290).
   Like all German princes of the day, the Habsburgs observed partible inheritance, though their territories were considered as one. The arrangement led to episodic quarreling among the male members of the house, which seriously undermined the advantageous position that Rudolph had created for his family. By 1406, there were actually three lines of the house. It was not until 1493 that all of the Austrian lands were once again held by a single Habsburg, Maximilian I. His grandson, Ferdinand I, would redivide them among his three sons in the second half of the 16th century.
   It was under Maximilian that the Habsburgs rose to pan-European eminence. Married by his father, Frederick III, to Mary, the Duchess of Burgundy (1457–1482) and the heiress to the rich agglomeration of territories loosely known by that name, Maximilian was a canny nuptial engineer himself. It was he who arranged the wedding of his son, Philip I (the Handsome 1478–1506), and Princess Juana of Castile (1479–1555), which led to Habsburg control of the Iberian kingdom until that branch of the house died out in 1700. Though both the Spanish and German lines of the dynasty frequently disagreed on religious, political, and military matters, they supported one another as well. Spanish money and troops went to central Europe to fight both Protestantism and the Ottoman Empire, and Habsburg German emperors permitted Spanish recruiting in Germany and access through the southwestern part of the empire to the Netherlands. Parts of the latter were held by Spain until the 18th century. Neither branch of the house ever fully renounced its rights of succession to the holdings of the other, a policy that the repeated intermarriage between them generally reinforced.
   A series of dynastic crises at the beginning of the 17th century ended with the recognition of the Styrian branch of the house, founded by Archduke Charles (1540–1590), the youngest son of Ferdinand I, as the leading line of the Austrian Habsburgs. With Ferdinand II making primogeniture the rule of the house in 1635, the line continued through unbroken male succession until the death of Emperor Charles VI in 1740. He was the last in the direct male descent of the line. With only two daughters, Charles had assured the succession of the eldest of them, Archduchess Maria Theresa, to the Habsburg patrimony in central and east central Europe without challenge. The outcome of his efforts, the Pragmatic Sanction of 1713, would remain one of the basic legal documents defining the relationship of the dynasty to its lands until the end of the Habsburg Empire in 1918. The marriage of Maria Theresa to Duke Francis Stephen of Lorraine (1708–1765) forever changed the name of the dynasty as well, as the house of Habsburg became the house of Habsburg–Lorraine. Though the union was initially unfruitful, the couple eventually generated 12 children, whose offspring and succeeding progeny played the roles accorded to the dynasty in the various governments of the Habsburg Empire until the end of World War I. Their heirs also generated cadet lines, which were especially important in Italian affairs. The branch of the house that produced Franz Ferdinand, the victim of the assassination at Sarajevo, was descended from Leopold II’s (1747–1792) son, Duke Ferdinand III (1769–1824) of the line of Habsburg–Tuscany.
   The last Habsburg ruler of Austria–Hungary, Charles I (Charles IV of Hungary) (1887–1922), had eight offspring. The eldest, Archduke Otto (1912–), has long been involved in the politics of the European Parliament. Through the Pan-European Union founded in 1923 to promote, among other things, a Habsburg restoration, he has also been very active in conservative and Catholic movements. His father was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2004 for alleged Christian humanitarianism during World War I, a move heavily criticized among progressive and national circles in Austria itself.

Historical dictionary of Austria. . 2014.

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