A royal dynasty whose members became the hereditary rulers of the Holy Roman Empire, and held authority over the largest realm in Europe during the Renaissance. The Habsburgs originated in Swabia, a duchy of southwestern Germany. In 1246 they took control of the duchy of Austria. In the late thirteenth century, Rudolf I became the first of the line to be elected as Holy Roman Emperor; he passed this title on to his son Albert I. In 1438, Albert II succeeded to the title, followed by Frederick III. A capable ruler with a wide education, Frederick consolidated Habsburg rule in Germany, expanded the domain to the east, and signed the Concordat of Vienna with Pope Nicholas V, an agreement that allowed the Habsburgs some independence from the control of the church. At this time, the ideas of the Italian humanists were starting to arrive in northern Europe. Frederick named an Italian scholar, Enea Silvio Piccolomini, as his secretary and then as official poet laureate.
The Habsburg rulers were skilled in enlarging their domains through marriage agreements. Frederick engaged his son Maximilian to Mary of Burgundy, heir to the prospering duchy of Burgundy. A well-educated man and skillful diplomat, Maximilian was a patron of the arts, literature, and scholarship at his court in Vienna. He defended Burgundy against the French and founded the Holy League, an alliance of the Holy Roman Empire with the pope, Venice, Milan, and Spain to fight the attempted French conquest of Italy. He expelled a Hungarian army from Vienna and brought Bohemia within the Habsburg lands through marriage arrangements.
Maximilian's grandson Charles inherited the throne of Spain as well as the title of Holy Roman Emperor. A devout Catholic, Charles fought against the Protestant Reformation, which was supported by German princes who sought independence from Habsburg control. In 1527, when rebellious troops sacked Rome and took Pope Clement VII as a prisoner, Charles soon restored the pope to his throne. Charles defeated a French army and King Francis I at the Battle of Pavia in 1525, and fought off an assault by the Ottoman Turks on Vienna in 1529. In 1549, he defeated the Protestant Schmalkaldic League at the Battle of Mühlberg. Unable to return the German territories to Catholicism, however, he agreed to the Peace of Augsburg in 1555, allowing the German princes to establish the religion of their choice in their own domains.
The immense empire ruled by Charles V—the largest since the time of Charlemagne—posed a serious problem regarding succession. Rivalries for land and authority within the Habsburg family were intense. Charles finally arranged for his brother Ferdinand to inherit the imperial throne, which would then pass to Philip, Charles's son. Weary of his heavy responsibilities, Charles abdicated in 1555; three years later Ferdinand was crowned emperor. Philip inherited the Netherlands, Spain (as King Philip II), the Habsburg territories in Italy, and the Spanish colonies in the Americas. On the death of Ferdinand I in 1564, the Habsburg domains were divided among his three sons: Maximilian II became Holy Roman Emperor, and also ruled Bohemia and Austria. Charles and Ferdinand shared Austria.
With an enormous sum in silver and gold arriving from the Spanish colonies, Philip set out on an ambitious campaign to expand and defend his empire. He defeated the Ottoman navy at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, and mounted assaults on the lairs of Mediterranean corsairs in North Africa. Seeking to end English support for a revolt in the Netherlands, and return England to the Catholic fold, he sent a huge armada north in 1588. The armada was turned away, however, and this defeat dealt a severe blow to Philip's power and prestige as a defender of the faith in Europe.
Philip established new academies in Spain, patronized leading artists, and built the Escorial palace, the finest example of Renaissance architecture in Spain. From the time of his reign, the Habsburg dynasty remained divided between an Austrian and a Spanish branch, with each having its own lines of succession. Philip was succeeded by his son Philip III, and Ferdinand by his son Maximilian II. Rudolf II, Maximilian's successor as Holy Roman Emperor, made Prague a center of the new astronomy, bringing Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler to his court in the capital of Bohemia. His cousin Ferdinand II, who succeeded him, was a staunch Catholic whose attempts to enforce Habsburg authority in Bohemia touched off the Thirty Years' War.
See Also: Charles V; Holy Roman Empire; Philip II; Reformation, Protestant
"Habsburg dynasty." The Renaissance. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 21, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/arts-construction-medicine-science-and-technology-magazines/habsburg-dynasty
"Habsburg dynasty." The Renaissance. . Retrieved April 21, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/arts-construction-medicine-science-and-technology-magazines/habsburg-dynasty
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"Habsburg Dynasty." Europe, 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 21, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/habsburg-dynasty
"Habsburg Dynasty." Europe, 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World. . Retrieved April 21, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/habsburg-dynasty