The Medieval history is distinguished as the epoch of various empires, kingdoms and the epoch of ruling by particular dynasties. The Holy Roman Empire, the Habsburg Empire, the British Empire, the Kingdom of France, the Ottoman Empire – each of these state formations, each in its time, was a creator of history and left its trace on the modern map of Europe. This work examines some historical elements related to the establishment of Habsburg Empire which determined the direction in which the whole historical progress of Europe had been following for rather a long time.
The Habsburgs family can be traced back to the 10th century and it established a hereditary monarchy in Austria in the 13th century. In Germany at 1250 begins a period of Great Interregnum, a period of internal confusion and political disorder. During this period Count Rudolf IV of Habsburg became a figure of great importance due to his sober-minded policy. In the course of the conflict between the papacy and the empire he aimed at gaining strength and power for his house, especially in Switzerland.
He became the ruler of rather extensive demesne, with the center in Swabia, and exhibited the skills of capable, if stern ruler, thus consequently won many friends. So, Rudolf was chosen king-emperor Rudolf I at 1 October, 1273 and the Great Interregnum ended. “Towering but lean of stature, with bony cheeks and hooked nose, he was a courageous warrior, a skilled diplomat, and distinguished alike for unrelenting sternness and genial kindness. ” (Maehl, p. 79) However, Rudolf still had a mighty rival, Ottakar of Bohemia.
The dominion of this powerful king stretched from Meissen and the mountains in the north of Bohemia as far as the Adriatic, including later Austria, Styria, Carinthia, and Krain. When the conflict situation emerged between German princes and Rudolf, the latter proved himself a shrewd politician in the proceedings against Bohemia. Realizing that he was hardly able to subdue them to the position of vassals, Rudolf I used every chance to strengthen his house. With the sustainable support from the Church, Rudolf waged the war in 1276, and on the Marchfeld on 26 August, 1278, Ottakar perished.
As a result Rudolf I conquered Austria and Styria, beginning the family’s rule over Austria. One more important and beneficial feature of Rudolf’s politics was that he took much effort to create a strong central power. He believed that strong imperial government could be only safe if it is based on the consolidation, peace and stability. Rudolf was acute enough to attain his aim and at the same time avoid resistance of the territorial princes. So the solid foundation of the future powerful Habsburg Empire was laid by the first crowned representative of the Habsburgs, the king Rudolf I, due to his great talent as politician.
The year of 1526 is the year when Habsburg Empire attained European prominence. It happened due to a whole array of reasons, however, probably the most important of them was the shrewd marriage policy of Maximilian I (1459–1519), whose own marriage gained The Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Burgundy and that of his son, Philip, which brought Castile, Aragon, and the Spanish New World possessions as well as Naples, Sicily, and Sardinia. Habsburgs also ruled Hungary and Bohemia from 1526 to 1918. The son of Frederick III, Maximilian I, married in 1477 the only heiress of Burgundy, Mary.
Thanks to that marriage he received the Burgundian Netherlands and became the candidate for ruling the whole “Burgundian inheritance” that caused considerable disputes between the Habsburgs and the French dynasty. The son of Maximilian and Mary, Philip I, married infanta Juana and through that marriage became the king of Castile in 1504-1506. Their elder son Charles inherited in 1516 the Spanish throne (Charles I) and in 1519 after the death of his grandfather Maximilian I he was proclaimed the Holy Roman Emperor named Charles V (1519-1556). Thus he combined the Emperor’s authority with the resources of the huge Spanish colonial state.
Charles’s brother Ferdinand (Archduke of Austria) was married to the sister of Louis II, King of Bohemia and Hungary. After his brother-in-law (Louis II) who did not have children, had fallen in the battle against the Turks at Mohacs in 1526, he held both thrones, in Bohemia and Hungary. From this point the Empire grew to a size where at times it ruled over more than half of Europe. Very important role in the expansion of Habsburg Empire was played by the victory of Charles V over political coalitions opposing him. In the 1520s king of France Francis I and Charles V warred over control of the duchy of Milan and the Kingdom of Naples.
The Venetian Republic aspired to play the role of a great power, balancing force between France and the Habsburg Empire. However, alarmed at Habsburg power, Venice joined with France and the Papal State in the League of Cognac, the union that lasted from 1526 to 1529, to oppose Charles V. In this military conflict the Venetian Republic military policy was to avoid battlefield encounters. Venice rulers pursued their tactics in the name of Rome alone, with no obligations to inconvenient treaties, Venice, with the largest and most experienced army in Italy, made up a vital part of the Cognac coalition.
However the Coalition was unsuccessful because of unreliability of its parties. The turning event was the shameful devastation of the city of Rome by the soldiers of Charles V in May of 1527. In two years one of the Cognac allies, Francis I, signed the Peace of Cambrai with Charles V and Venice, being isolated and vulnerable, had no choice but to stretch a point for Charles V as well, thereby removing the last obstacle to Imperial domination of the peninsula. (Finlay, 2000) Thus another reason for growing of Habsburg power was the fallacious military policy of Venetian Republic.
In 1556 Charles V abdicated his throne and divided his possessions. His son Philip II obtained Spain, Netherlands, and lands in Italy, his brother Ferdinand, the king of Hungary and Czechia, received emperorship with family Austrian Duchies. In this way the first outlines of the Dual Monarchy began to show. That was also the starting point of division of the Habsburgs into two branches – Austrian and Spanish – which were in a tight political and dynastical union and had pretensions of becoming the defenders of Catholicism and political hegemony in Europe.
Therefore the year of 1556 is considered to be a year of the Habsburg Empire establishment and Ferdinand I is considered to be its first emperor. So the conclusion follows that while the formation of the Habsburg Empire can be treated both as the implications of skillful policy and military success of its rulers like Rudolf I and Charles V and as the whim of fate while just several successfully arranged marriages led to the concentration of power over the half of Europe in the hands of one dynasty.
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