Monday, May 29, 2017

History of the Habsburg Dynasty

Where did the Habsburg dynasty come from? To quote:

Guntram had a grandson named Radbot. Radbot and his brother (or brother-in-law) Werner, bishop of Strasburg and friend of emperor Henry II, decided to build a stronghold in the centre of family estates in today’s north Switzerland. It was named Habitschburg. The name was soon changed and since 1090 descendants of Radbot have been using name von Habsburg. After centuries the image of the clan did not fit into with the modest residency, which did not even have solid defensive walls. Therefore words of reprimand were put into Werner’s mouth, pointed at Radbot - that the latter had not taken care of it. The ancestor of the Habsburgs allegedly responded that he would construct fortifications even within one night. And in fact, when Werner woke up, the whole town was surrounded by footmen as if they were wall itself and beween them there were horsemen set in the shape of towers.

Through another age the Habsburgs expanded their lands at the frontier of Switzerland, France and Germany, constructed castles, towns and monasteries. They controlled communication routes in the Alps, including St Gotthard Pass where they constructed a bridge, which bolstered the importance of the said pass. This way they became very wealthy. Their subjects made money on trade and manufacturing, additionaly toll was a permanent source of income.

The wealthy lords who controlled the strategic route between Germany and Italy caught attention of the emperors. The more that in 1212 the count of Habsburg was able to gather more money for the monarch than the most powerful liege lords of German Reich. Emperor Frederick returned a favour, becoming a godfather of Rudolf Habrburg, born in 1218.

Rudolf started ruling over the county after death of his godfather during Great Interregnum in Reich. In those circumstances Rudolf proved to be ruthless warrior that was feared by everyone in the region. He took significant part of his possessions by force from other members of his clan. During conflict with bishop of Basel, he did not hesitate to attack the town at night and burn the monastery for which he was temporarily excommunicated by the pope. When in 1273 German electors gathered in order to choose the ruler, powerful clans were checking one another, not letting their competitors win. So it was agreed upon to choose someone who would not constitute a threat.

Archbishop of Mainz and count of Palatinate advocated the candidature of Rudolf of Habsburg. The electors took this suggestion up. A 55 year old Rudolf did not have enough predial support to oppose the great liege lords and his “old” age seemed to guarantee that his reign would be episodic.

The electors had contradictory desires. They wanted to have a ruler who would be weaker than them but strong enough to usher new laws and recover lands that had been taken away during the Interregnum. Austria was the most important of them all. It was legacy of the Babenbergs whose line became extinct in 1246, it had been taken by king Ottokar II of Bohemia. Being upset upon the results of the election, Ottokar wrote letters to the Curia in which he demonstrated his hostility towards Rudolf, calling him “poor count”. Allegedly he even ordered poison from Styrian witch, which he was to use to poison Rudolf. Habsburg declared war on king Ottokar. He gained support of the pope who even gave him the whole tithe that had been gathered in Germany. Through marriages Rudolf managed to win the favour of powerful noblemen of the Reich. In 1276 he took Austria basically without fight. Ottokar paid him liege homage at the gates of Vienna. The ceremony took place in a tent but when Ottokar was kneeling before Rudolf, the walls fell down.The troops could see powerful king at the feet of “poor count”. Ottokar lost the lands of the Babenbergs. When two years later he tried to recover them, he was defeated during The Battle on the Marchfeld.

Rudolf and his son Albert settled the situation in Austria and reconciled the liege lords. They expanded the privileges of Vienna and favoured economic development. In 1282 they obtained official confirmation of their rights as Dukes of Austria from the Parliament of German Reich. And so ever since Austria became a basis of the political and material power of the Habsburg clan. The family was even being identified with the land - just like in famous motto: “Leave the waging of wars to others! But you, happy Austria, marry.”

Although the Habsburgs did not have a single drop of the Babenbergs’ blood in their veins, they linked their genealogy to their own through the ages, treating the Babenbergs like their own ancestors.

Rudolf cared for his subjects’ safety. He was tall and well-built, did not like pomp, was moderate in eating and drinking. He was also kind towards people. He was an epitome of patriarch and fair judge. Any other medieval ruler (except Charlemagne) was not a protagonist of so many anecdotes and tales. One of them says that when Rudolf met a priest who was carrying Blessed Sacrament, he gave him his horse and when during the coronation there was no scepter, he took crucifix off the wall and used it. (Read more.)

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