The Habsburg Dynasty

the history of the Habsburg family and dynasty including where they came from, how their empire grew, and what caused its demise.

The Habsburg (or Hapsburg) Dynasty is the term used to categorize an influential family, named the Habsburgs, which controlled many regions within Europe beginning from the 10th Century when they owned territories in Alsace and Switzerland, and up until the early 20th century. A powerful and calculating family, they often made land alliances through marriage, which resulted in much in breeding. Because of this, the descendents of the Habsburgs typically had unique facial features including a protruding lower lip and chin.

Hapsburg family prominence was escalated when in the early 1200s, a Count named Rudolf I, was elected king of Germany. With Rudolf's election, he also became emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1278 Rudolf I expanded his power by defeating and killing the Bohemian king, Ottokar II. With Ottokar´s demise, the regions of Austria and Styria fell under the control of Rudolf I.

Rudolf I had two sons, both of whom were granted governing rule over the lands taken from Ottokar II. This inheritance was the start of a continuing expansion by the Habsburgs into other areas of Europe including Spain, Hungary, and Central Europe.

In 1453, a Habsburg descendent, Friedrich III was crowned Holy Roman Emperor. With that title and his influence, he began to raise cultural pride in Austria, claiming that Austria was a superior nation to others. In pursuit of his belief, he waged war against King Matthias Corvinus of Hungary. He defeated the Hungarian king and was able to acquire the city of Vienna, which had been under Hungarian control up until that time.

In 1477, Friedrich III was also able to promote the marriage of his son, Maximilian, to Maria of Burgundy in order to acquire additional land for the Habsburg Empire. Friedrich III was also influential in establishing the marriage of his other son, Philip, to Joan, who was the daughter of King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile, thus ensuring his families interests in the regions held by Spain. These regions included not only Spain, but also featured land in Italy, the Netherlands, and in the New Worlds, including in North America.

As time progressed, Philip and Joan had two sons: Charles I and Ferdinand I. Because of his families close ties with Spain, Charles I eventually became Spain's ruler in 1516. Then, in 1519, Charles was crowned Charles V, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.

As Charles I controlled a vast amount of land, he delegated control over Austria, Bohemia, and Hungary to his brother, Ferdinand I. All was not peaceful, however, within the Habsburg Empire, as wars began to occur between the (Christian) Habsburgs and the (Moslem) Ottoman Empire (Turks). The Turks wanted to take control of Vienna, which they viewed as both an economically viable, and strategically located, city to possess. Meanwhile, Ferdinand I had moved his court to Vienna. Thus, Ferdinand I battled with the Turks to defend his city. The result was that the Turks withdrew from the city.

Unity between Charles I and Ferdinand I prevailed until Charles I abdicated his position as Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Upon leaving the throne, Charles I gave control of Spain, Italy, and the Netherlands to his son, Philip II. Concurrently, Charles´ brother, Ferdinand I was given reign over the Central European territories. This event was to cause a split within the family as Ferdinand I, not Philip II, was also designated by Charles I to become the new Holy Roman Emperor.

During the remaining 1500's and into the 1600's, the Habsburgs were involved in internal political intrigues, external wars with the Turks, and a large bout of Bubonic plague that was ravaging the region and that prevailed extensively in Vienna in the 1680s. Because of this, it was not until the 1700s that Charles VI, the current Austrian emperor, tried to unify Habsburg control and thus guarantee the empire's continuance. Since Charles VI had no male heirs, he arranged for his daughter, Maria Theresa to marry Francis I of Lorraine. This alliance was meant to extend the Habsburg lineage into France. During the War of the Austrian Succession, which occurred from1740 to 1748, many European nations challenged Maria Theresa's rule. However, she was successful in retaining control over her lands.

During Maria Theresa's reign, a "Golden Age" existed for Austria, and the Habsburg Empire, as art and other cultural developments were encouraged. Additionally, many new civil policies were instituted. For example, a formal system of public education was established during this time. As Maria Theresa aged, her son, Joseph II, became her successor. Joseph II also agreed with his mother's established policies and tried to issue even more reforms within the region. These reforms included the tolerance, among all citizens, towards people of different religious beliefs.

When Napoleon Bonaparte came to power in France in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries, the Habsburgs faced a new enemy who sought to control their lands. In 1806, Franz II, who was the grandson of Maria Theresa and who was the king of Germany and Austria as well as the Holy Roman Emperor, was forced by Napoleon to relinquish his titles to Napoleon. Franz II compiled. Although the Habsburgs tried to appease Napoleon, even arranging the marriage of Franz II´s daughter, Marie Louise, to Napoleon, defeat over Napoleon could not be established until 1815 at the battle of Waterloo.

The 1800s saw the demise of the vast power maintained by the Habsburgs. In 1859, Habsburg control no longer existed in Italy. Then, in 1866, the same occurred in Germany. The Habsburgs were, however, still able to control Austria and Hungary, with the combined state being called the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary. During this time, the Habsburg Empire was not without problems, however. This is because the people who resided in the Central European territories began to want their own nations to be formed. Tensions rose between the Habsburgs and these peoples. Then, when the heir to the Austrian throne, Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated in Sarajevo in 1914, the Hapsburgs declared war on Serbia. This event helped to propel Europe into World War I.

The Habsburg Empire was finally dismantled in 1918 with the defeat of Austria and Hungary at the end of World War I and the founding of the Republic of Austria. The Habsburg descendents, however, were able to retain their traditional titles although as a monarchy, they would never rule again.

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