Habsburg Monarchy

Habsburg Monarchy

The Habsburg Monarchy in 1789
The Habsburg Monarchy in 1789
Status Part of the Holy Roman Empire (partly)
Personal union
Roman Catholic (official)
Reformed, Lutheran, Eastern Orthodox, Utraquista, Jewish, Abrahamite
Government Feudal Monarchy
• 1282–1308
Albert I of Germany and Rudolph II of Austria
• 1916–1918
Charles I of Austria-Hungary
State Chancellor  
• 1753–1793
Wenzel Anton
Historical era Early modern/Napoleonic
December 1282
14 July 1683
4 August 1791
•  Austrian Empire declared
11 August 1804
•  Ausgleich
29 May 1867
31 October 1918
^a Main religion of the Czech people, in the Kingdom of Bohemia recognized until 1627 when it was forbidden.
^b German replaced Latin as the official language of the Empire in 1784. [1]

Habsburg Monarchy (German: Habsburgermonarchie), or Danubian Monarchy (German: Donaumonarchie), or Habsburg Empire is a modern umbrella term coined by historians to denote the numerous lands and kingdoms of the Habsburg dynasty, especially for those of the Austrian line. Although from 1438 to 1806 (with the exception of 1742 to 1745), a member of the House of Habsburg was also Holy Roman Emperor, the Holy Roman Empire itself (over which the emperor exercised only very limited authority) was not considered to be part of the Habsburg Monarchy.

The formation of the Habsburg Monarchy began with the election of Rudolf I as King of Germany in 1273 and his acquisition of the Duchy of Austria for his house in 1282. In 1482, Maximilian I acquired the Netherlands through marriage. Both territories lay within the empire and passed to his grandson and successor, Charles V, who also inherited Spain and its colonies and ruled the Habsburg Empire at its greatest territorial extent. The abdication of Charles V in 1556 led to a broad division of the Habsburg holdings between his brother Ferdinand I, who had been his deputy in the Austrian lands since 1521, and the elected king of Hungary and Bohemia since 1526, and his son Philip II of Spain. The Spanish branch (which held all of Iberia, the Netherlands, Burgundy, and lands in Italy) went extinct in 1700. The Austrian branch (which also had the imperial throne and ruled Hungary, Bohemia and all the crowns entailed to them) was itself divided between different branches of the family from 1564 to 1665 but thereafter it remained a single personal union.

The Habsburg monarchy was thus a union of crowns, with no single constitution or shared institutions other than the Habsburg court itself, with territories inside and outside the Holy Roman Empire that were united only in the person of the monarch. The composite state became the most common dominant form of monarchies in the European continent during the early modern era.[2][3] The unification of the Habsburg monarchy took place in the early 19th century. The Habsburg Monarchy was formally unified from 1804 to 1867 as the Austrian Empire and from 1867 to 1918 as the Austro-Hungarian Empire.[4][5] It collapsed following defeat in the First World War.

In historiography, the Habsburg Monarchy (of the Austrian branch) is often called "Austria" by metonymy. Around 1700, the Latin term monarchia austriaca came into use as a term of convenience.[6] Within the empire alone, the vast monarchy included the original hereditary lands, the Erblande, from before 1526; the lands of the Bohemian crown; the formerly Spanish Netherlands from 1714 until 1794; and some fiefs in Imperial Italy. Outside the empire, it encompassed all the lands of the crown of Hungary as well as conquests made at the expense of the Ottoman Empire. The dynastic capital was Vienna except from 1583 to 1611, when it was in Prague.[7]

Origins and expansion

Silver medal by Scharff commemorating the 600th anniversary of the Habsburg Monarchy in 1882 (obverse)

The first Habsburg who can be reliably traced was a certain Kanzelin, who died in the late 10th century; legend has the family name originating with the Habsburg Castle in modern Switzerland.[8] After 1279, they came to rule in Austria. The Duchy of Austria was part of the elective Kingdom of Germany within the Holy Roman Empire. King Rudolf I of Germany of the Habsburg family assigned the Duchy of Austria to his sons at the Diet of Augsburg (1282), thus establishing the "Austrian hereditary lands". From that moment, the Habsburg dynasty was also known as the House of Austria. Between 1438 and 1806, with few exceptions, the Habsburg Archduke of Austria was elected Holy Roman Emperor.

The Habsburgs grew to European prominence as a result of the dynastic policy pursued by Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor. Maximilian I married Mary of Burgundy, thus bringing the Burgundian Netherlands into the Habsburg inheritance. Their son, Philip the Handsome, married Joanna the Mad of Spain (daughter of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella of Castile). Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor (son of Philip and Joanna) inherited the Habsburg Netherlands in 1506, Habsburg Spain and its territories in 1516, and Habsburg Austria in 1519.

At this point, the Habsburg Empire was so vast that Charles V was constantly travelling throughout his dominions and therefore needed deputies and regents, such as Isabella of Portugal in Spain and Margaret of Austria in the Low Countries, to govern his various realms. At the Diet of Worms in 1521, Emperor Charles V came to terms with his younger brother Ferdinand. According to the Habsburg compact of Worms (1521), confirmed a year later in Brussels, Ferdinand was made Archduke, as a regent of Charles V in the Austrian hereditary lands.[9][10]

Following the death of Louis II of Hungary in the Battle of Mohács against the Ottoman Turks, Archduke Ferdinand (who was his brother-in-law by virtue of an adoption treaty signed by Maximilian and Louis at the First Congress of Vienna) was also elected the next King of Bohemia and Hungary in 1526.[11][7] Bohemia and Hungary became hereditary Habsburg domains only in the 17th century: Following victory in the Battle of White Mountain (1620) over the Bohemian rebels, Ferdinand II promulgated a Renewed Constitution (1627) that established hereditary succession over Bohemia. Following the Battle of Mohács (1687), in which Leopold I reconquered almost all of Hungary from the Ottoman Turks, the emperor held a diet in Pressburg to establish hereditary succession in the Hungarian kingdom.

Charles V divided the House in 1556 by ceding Austria along with the Imperial crown to Ferdinand (as decided at the Imperial election, 1531), and the Spanish empire to his son Philip. The Spanish branch (which also held the Netherlands, the Kingdom of Portugal between 1580 and 1640, and the Mezzogiorno of Italy) went extinct in 1700. The Austrian branch (which also ruled the Holy Roman Empire, Hungary and Bohemia) was itself divided between different branches of the family from 1564 until 1665, but thereafter it remained a single personal union.

Austrian monarchy

Around 1700 the term monarchia austriaca came into use as a term of convenience for the Habsburg territories.[6]


  • Habsburg Monarchy (German Habsburgermonarchie): This was an unofficial umbrella term, but very frequent, name even during that time. The entity had no official name. It was also known as "Danubian Monarchy" (German Donaumonarchie)
  • Austrian Empire (1804–1867): This was the official name. Note that the German version is Kaisertum Österreich, i.e. the English translation empire refers to a territory ruled by an emperor, not just to a "widespreading domain".
  • Austria-Hungary (1867–1918): This name was commonly used in the international relations, though the official name (translated to English) was Austro-Hungarian Monarchy.[12][13][14][15] An unofficial popular name was the Danubian Monarchy (German: Donaumonarchie) also often used was the term Doppel-Monarchie ("Dual Monarchy") meaning two states under one crowned ruler.
  • Crownlands or crown lands (Kronländer) (1849–1918): This is the name of all the individual parts of the Austrian Empire (1849–1867), and then of Austria-Hungary from 1867 on. The Kingdom of Hungary (more exactly the Lands of the Hungarian Crown) was not considered a "crownland" after the establishment of Austria-Hungary 1867, so that the "crownlands" became identical with what was called the Kingdoms and Lands represented in the Imperial Council (Die im Reichsrate vertretenen Königreiche und Länder).

The Hungarian parts of the Empire were called "Lands of the Crown of Saint Stephen" or "Lands of Holy (St.) Stephen's Crown" (Länder der Heiligen Stephans Krone). The Bohemian (Czech) Lands were called "Lands of the St. Wenceslaus' Crown" (Länder der Wenzels-Krone).

Names of some smaller territories:

  • Austrian lands (Österreichische Länder) or "Archduchies of Austria" (Erzherzogtümer von Österreich) – Lands up and below the Enns (ober und unter der Enns) (996–1918): This is the historical name of the parts of the Archduchy of Austria that became the present-day Republic of Austria (Republik Österreich) on 12 November 1918 (after Emperor Charles I had abdicated the throne). Modern day Austria is a semi-federal republic of nine states (Bundesländer) that are: Lower Austria, Upper Austria, Tyrol, Styria, Salzburg, Carinthia, Vorarlberg and Burgenland and the Capital of Vienna that is a state of its own. Burgenland came to Austria in 1921 from Hungary. Salzburg finally became Austrian in 1816 after the Napoleonic wars (before it was ruled by prince-archbishops of Salzburg as a sovereign territory).
Vienna, Austria's capital became a state 1 January 1922, after being residence and capital of the Austrian Empire ( Reichshaupt und Residenzstadt Wien) for the Habsburg monarchs for centuries. Upper and Lower Austria, historically, were split into "Austria above the Enns" and "Austria below the Enns" (the Enns river is the state-border between Upper- and Lower Austria). Upper Austria was enlarged after the Treaty of Teschen (1779) following the "War of the Bavarian Succession" by the so-called Innviertel (" Inn Quarter"), formerly part of Bavaria.
  • Hereditary Lands (Erblande or Erbländer; mostly used Österreichische Erblande) or German Hereditary Lands (in the Austrian monarchy) or Austrian Hereditary Lands (Middle Ages – 1849/1918): In a narrower sense these were the "original" Habsburg Austrian territories, i.e. basically the Austrian lands and Carniola (not Galicia, Italian territories or the Austrian Netherlands).
    In a wider sense the Lands of the Bohemian Crown were also included in (from 1526; definitely from 1620/27) the Hereditary lands. The term was replaced by the term "Crownlands" (see above) in the 1849 March Constitution, but it was also used afterwards.
    The Erblande also included many small territories that were principalities, duchies or counties etc. some of them can namely be found in the reigning titles of the Habsburg monarchs like Graf (Earl/Count of) von Tyrol, etc.


Growth of the Habsburg Monarchy in Central Europe
The Habsburg Monarchy at the time of Joseph II's death in 1790. The red line marks the borders of the Holy Roman Empire.

The territories ruled of the Austrian monarchy changed over the centuries, but the core always consisted of four blocs:

Europa regina, symbolizing a Habsburg-dominated Europe
Soldiers of the Military Frontier against the incursions of the Ottoman Turks, 1756

Over the course of its history, other lands were, at times, under Austrian Habsburg rule (some of these territories were secundogenitures, i.e. ruled by other lines of Habsburg dynasty):

The boundaries of some of these territories varied over the period indicated, and others were ruled by a subordinate (secundogeniture) Habsburg line. The Habsburgs also held the title of Holy Roman Emperor between 1438 and 1740, and again from 1745 to 1806.


Within the early modern Habsburg Monarchy, each entity was governed according to its own particular customs. Until the mid 17th century, not all of the provinces were even necessarily ruled by the same person—junior members of the family often ruled portions of the Hereditary Lands as private apanages. Serious attempts at centralization began under Maria Theresa and especially her son Joseph II in the mid to late 18th century, but many of these were abandoned following large scale resistance to Joseph's more radical reform attempts, although a more cautious policy of centralization continued during the revolutionary period and the Metternichian period that followed.

Another attempt at centralization began in 1849 following the suppression of the various revolutions of 1848. For the first time, ministers tried to transform the monarchy into a centralized bureaucratic state ruled from Vienna. The Kingdom of Hungary was placed under martial law, being divided into a series of military districts, the centralized neo-absolutism tried to as well to nullify Hungary's constitution and Diet. Following the Habsburg defeats in the Wars of 1859 and 1866, these policies were step by step abandoned.

After experimentation in the early 1860s, the famous Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867 was arrived at, by which the so-called Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary was set up. In this system, the Kingdom of Hungary ("Lands of the Holy Hungarian Crown of St. Stephen.") was an equal sovereign with only a personal union and a joint foreign and military policy connecting it to the other Habsburg lands. Although the non-Hungarian Habsburg lands were referred to as "Austria", received their own central parliament (the Reichsrat, or Imperial Council) and ministries, as their official name – the "Kingdoms and Lands Represented in the Imperial Council". When Bosnia and Herzegovina was annexed (after a long period of occupation and administration), it was not incorporated into either half of the monarchy. Instead, it was governed by the joint Ministry of Finance.

Austria-Hungary collapsed under the weight of the various unsolved ethnic problems that came to a head with its defeat in World War I. After its dissolution, the new republics of Austria (the German-Austrian territories of the Hereditary lands) and the First Hungarian Republic were created. In the peace settlement that followed, significant territories were ceded to Romania and Italy and the remainder of the monarchy's territory was shared out among the new states of Poland, Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (later Yugoslavia), and Czechoslovakia.

Other lines

A junior line ruled over the Grand Duchy of Tuscany between 1765 and 1801, and again from 1814 to 1859. While exiled from Tuscany, this line ruled at Salzburg from 1803 to 1805, and in Grand Duchy of Würzburg from 1805 to 1814. Another line ruled the Duchy of Modena from 1814 to 1859, while Empress Marie Louise, Napoleon's second wife and the daughter of Austrian Emperor Francis, ruled over the Duchy of Parma between 1814 and 1847. Also, the Second Mexican Empire, from 1863 to 1867, was headed by Maximilian I of Mexico, the brother of Emperor Franz Josef of Austria.

Rulers 1508–1918

The so-called "Habsburg monarchs" or "Habsburg emperors" held many different titles and ruled each kingdom with a different name and position.

Maximilian II, Holy Roman Emperor and his wife Infanta Maria of Spain with their children


  • Joseph II (1780–1790), known as "the great Reformer"
  • Leopold II (1790–1792), from 1765 to 1790 "Grandduke of Tuscany"
  • Francis II (1792–1835), correctly written "Franz" (became Emperor Francis I of Austria in 1804, at which point numbering starts anew)
  • Ferdinand I (1835–1848), known as "Ferdinand the Good" German: "Ferdinand der Gütige"
  • Francis Joseph I (1848–1916), Brother of Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico
  • Charles I (1916–1918), last reigning Monarch of Austria-Hungary
  • Otto von Habsburg, former Head of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine and MEP for Germany 1979–1999
  • Karl von Habsburg, current Head of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine and MEP for Austria 1996–1999

Family tree

In literature

The most famous memoir on the decline of the Habsburg Empire is Stefan Zweig's The World of Yesterday.[16]

See also