Maximilian I (Holy Roman Empire)

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MAXIMILIAN I (HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE) (14591519; ruled 14931519)

MAXIMILIAN I (HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE) (14591519; ruled 14931519), Holy Roman emperor. Maximilian I was a member of the Habsburg Dynasty. Elected king of Romans in 1486, he declared himself elected Holy Roman emperor in 1508. In 1477 Maximilian married Mary, Duchess of Burgundy (14571482). In 1490 he married Anne, Duchess of Brittany (14771514), by proxy, but that marriage was annulled in 1491. In 1494 he married Bianca Maria Sforza (14721510). He had three legitimate children, including Philip the Fair (14781506), duke of Burgundy and king of Castile (ruled 1506), and Margaret (14801530), regent of the Netherlands. Maximilian also had at least eleven acknowledged illegitimate children.

Possibly named after the third-century martyr Saint Maximilian of Celeia, Maximilian was the son of Holy Roman emperor Frederick III (ruled 14401493) of the House of Habsburg and Empress Eleonor (14361467) of the Portuguese royal house of Avis, who were married in Rome in 1452 by Pope Nicholas V (reigned 14471455). Maximilian was born on 22 March 1459 in his parents' residence city of Wiener Neustadt in Lower Austria, and he and his mother are buried there. His life was tied to building the power and reputation of his family through shrewd marriage alliances for himself, his children, and his grandchildren and through various artistic projects and sponsorships, including an important relationship with the artist Albrecht Dürer (14711528). When Maximilian died on 12 January 1519 in the archducal castle located along the walls of the Upper Austrian city of Wels, his family had claims over territories stretching across Europe and overseas into the Americas.

Maximilian is often referred to as "the Last Knight" and has been seen as a transitional figure on the cusp of early modern history. His constant lack of money did not deter him from imagining magnificent schemes, many relating to projecting an image of himself and his rule to posterity. The most famous examples of these undertakings are the elaborate funerary monuments he planned for himself in the court chapel at Innsbruck. These monuments reveal a combination of imagined ties among his dynasty, medieval antecedents, and classical Rome (inspired by humanist interests in antiquity). His court has been seen as an important mediator for the spread of Italianate forms and ideas across the Alps into the rest of the Holy Roman Empire, particularly after his marriage in 1494 to one of the richest heiresses of his day, Bianca Maria Sforza, from Milan.

In the history of the Habsburg Dynasty, Maximilian built on his father's acquisition of the imperial crown, which remained in Habsburg hands with one brief exception until they declared the end of the empire in 1806. Maximilian's marriage to the heiress of the great late-medieval Burgundian inheritance, Mary, brought those rich lands under the control of the Habsburgs. While he was unsuccessful in his campaigns against the Swiss towns and cantons that wrested control of parts of the Habsburg patrimony from the dynasty, Maximilian is credited with engineering the marriage in 1496 of his son Philip to the Spanish heiress Joan I (queen of Castile 15041555; queen of Aragón 15161555). This marriage more than made up for the Swiss losses through the gain of the Iberian kingdoms of Castile and Aragon together with their overseas possessions in Italy, the western Mediterranean, and the Americas.

After the death in 1490 of Matthias I Corvinus (ruled 14581490), king of Hungary, who had taken the city of Vienna and made it his residence, Maximilian turned his attentions back from the west of Europe to the Habsburgs' hereditary Danubian holdings and the enticing kingdoms of Bohemia and Hungary. He captured Vienna and again employed marriage negotiations, this time with representatives of the important ruling dynasty of those kingdoms, the Jagiellonians (who also controlled Poland). Through a double marriage of Jagiellonians and Habsburgs negotiated in Vienna in 1515, Maximilian set up the situation in which his grandson Ferdinand I (ruled 15581564) claimed the Bohemian and Hungarian thrones after the death of the Jagiellonian king Louis II (ruled 15161526) on the battlefield at Mohács, fighting the Ottoman army, in 1526.

In the constitutional history of the Holy Roman Empire, Maximilian is known for the role he played in the reorganization of institutions beginning in the 1490s. This reorganization has been interpreted variously by historians of the empire, but it established a more active imperial judiciary and regional governing mechanisms, among other modifications.

When Maximilian died in the castle at Wels, he left to his Burgundian-raised grandson (who as Emperor Charles V ruled 15191556), an array of claims, titles, challenges, and opportunities vastly different from those he had inherited. The Habsburgs were well on their way to world significance.

See also Austria ; Charles V (Holy Roman Empire) ; Ferdinand I (Holy Roman Empire) ; Habsburg Dynasty ; Holy Roman Empire Institutions ; Jagiellon Dynasty (Poland-Lithuania) ; Vienna .


Primary Sources

Burgkmair, Hans. The Triumph of Maximilian I: 137 Woodcuts by Hans Burgkmair and Others. Edited and translated by Stanley Appelbaum. New York, 1964.

Freydal: Des Kaisers Maximilian I: Turniere und Mummereien (Freydal: The tournaments and costumes of Emperor Maximilian I). Edited by Franz, Graf Folliot de Crenneville. 2 vols. Vienna, 18801882. Attributed to Maximilian.

Kaiser Maximilians Theuerdank. 2 vols. Facsimile. Plochingen, 1968. Attributed to Maximilian; originally published 1517.

Maximilian I, Holy Roman emperor. Kaiser Maximilians I Weisskunig. Edited by H. T. Musper. 2 vols. Stuttgart, 1956.

Secondary Sources

Benecke, Gerhard. Maximilian I (14591519): An Analytical Biography. Boston, 1982.

Scholz-Williams, Gerhild. The Literary World of Maximilian I: An Annotated Bibliography. Sixteenth Century Bibliography, vol. 21. St. Louis, 1982.

Wiesflecker, Hermann. Kaiser Maximilian I: Das Reich, Österreich und Europa an der Wende zur Neuzeit (Emperor Maximilian I: The empire, Austria, and Europe on the eve of modernity). 5 vols. Munich, 19711986. The standard biography.

Joseph F. Patrouch

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Maximilian I, 1459–1519, Holy Roman emperor and German king (1493–1519), son and successor of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III. As emperor, he aspired to restore forceful imperial leadership and inaugurate much-needed administrative reforms in the increasingly decentralized empire. In both domestic and foreign policy, however, he sacrificed the interests of Germany as a whole to the aggrandizement of the Hapsburg possessions.

Expansion via War and Marriage

Maximilian's marriage (1477) to Mary of Burgundy involved him in defense of her inheritance—including Burgundy, the Netherland provinces, and Luxembourg—against the designs of King Louis XI of France. By Mary's death (1482), Maximilian had secured Franche-Comté, the county of Artois, and the Low Countries, but he yielded a sizable part of French-speaking Burgundy in the Treaty of Arras of 1483 (see Arras, Treaty of). In 1486 he was elected king of the Romans (i.e., emperor-elect) and assumed an increasing share of the imperial duties until his father's death.

Louis XI's successor, Charles VIII, repudiated the treaty; moreover, instead of marrying Maximilian's daughter Margaret of Austria, he forced Anne of Brittany into marrying him (1491), disregarding her marriage by proxy to the widowed Maximilian the preceding year. Renewed warfare with France was settled temporarily by the Treaty of Senlis (1493), which basically retained the status quo; but the Burgundian question remained a key issue in Hapsburg relations with the French crown.

Maximilian became embroiled in the Italian Wars in order to regain the rest of the Burgundian inheritance and also to expand Hapsburg dominions and check any extension of French power. His Italian campaigns also afforded him an opportunity to aid Ludovico Sforza, whose niece he had married (1493) and whom, in exchange for a dowry, he had invested with the duchy of Milan (also claimed by Louis XII of France). His involvement in Italy led him to join the League of Cambrai (see Cambrai, League of) and later the Holy League. Both alliances cost him money, of which he was chronically short, and forced him to borrow heavily from the Fugger family. Moreover, his interference in Italy encouraged the French to exert pressure on the Swiss to turn a jurisdictional dispute with imperial authorities into an open war (1499), which resulted in an imperial defeat.

Despite these difficulties, Maximilian made the Hapsburgs into a powerful dynasty through his astute marriage diplomacy. The marriage of his son Philip (see Philip I of Castile) to Joanna, the heiress of Ferdinand and Isabella, eventually gave his grandson, the future Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, one of the largest territorial inheritances in history. The double marriage of Maximilian's grandson and granddaughter to the daughter and son of King Uladislaus II of Hungary (1516) ultimately assured Hapsburg succession to the Hungarian and Bohemian thrones and ascendancy in central Europe.

Imperial Administration

The extent and diversity of the Hapsburg territories were a liability as well as an asset, making the imperial title the essential bond of unity. At the beginning of his reign Maximilian attempted to modernize the cumbersome imperial administration, but his reform program fell victim not only to his dynastic aspirations but also to the competition between the princes and the emperor for ultimate power. Maximilian was forced in 1500 to adhere temporarily to a council of regency (see Reichsregiment), although he eventually dispensed with this restriction. Nevertheless the Diet of Worms (1495) established a supreme court of justice to adjudicate disputes among princes and to apply Roman law throughout the empire; levied a general property tax to defray military costs; and issued a ban on private warfare. The limited constitutional reforms proved inadequate, however, to cope with future problems, least of all with the political, social, and religious upheaval of the Reformation.


See biography by R. W. Seton-Watson (1902); G. E. Waas, The Legendary Character of Kaiser Maximilian (1941, repr. 1966).

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Maximilian I

Maximilian I (1459-1519), Holy Roman emperor from 1493 to 1519, began the restoration of the power of the Hapsburgs. His intense interest in the arts and in public display earned him a place in legend as well as history.

Although he was never crowned by the Pope, Maximilian became king of Germany in 1486 and emperor-elect in 1493, and he won papal approval as emperor in 1508. His talent, however, lay less in his success as emperor than in his securing the imperial title for the Hapsburg house and ensuring Hapsburg predominance in European diplomacy for the next 4 centuries. The empire had become by the end of the 15th century rather an aid to dynastic ambition than an effective form of government for Germany. Maximilian I's career was more an example of manipulating the advantages afforded by the imperial title than an actual rule of the fragmented empire. He was a better knight than he was a general, and he appears to have been far more a storybook king than a hardworking 15th-century monarch. He spent a great deal of time and money perpetuating his own memory, both in works and pictures about himself and in several romantic versions of his own life which he wrote.

Maximilian's marriage to Mary of Burgundy in 1477 plunged him into a conflict with the king of France, Louis XI, over the Burgundian territories. Holding his own against Louis, Maximilian also had to put down revolts in Flanders. His son and heir, Philip of Burgundy, was born in 1478, and his wife died in 1482. Maximilian held his Burgundian dominions, and in 1496 married Philip to Juana, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, thus linking the Hapsburg house to the most vigorous dynasty of Europe. In 1500 the future emperor Charles V was born to Juana and Philip, and by a series of dynastic accidents Charles became the heir not only of Maximilian's Hapsburg territories and claim to the imperial title but to Burgundy and Spain as well, thus laying the foundations for the power of the Spanish monarchy for the next century.

Maximilian's success in the dynastic marriage market was greater than his military and diplomatic success. He failed to defeat France on an abortive expedition to Italy in 1496 and was himself defeated by the Swiss in 1499 and outmaneuvered in Italy by Louis XII of France in 1500. Between 1500 and 1504 Maximilian was busy putting down rebellions in Germany, and after the death of his son Philip in 1506 the problems of the Netherlands regency were added to those of Germany and Italy. In 1508 Maximilian's expedition to Italy was stopped by Venetian resistance, and the Emperor retaliated by entering into the League of Cambrai with France and the papacy against Venice. In 1510, however, Pope Julius II reversed his policy and rejected the league, and from 1510 until his death Maximilian was faced with the rising power of France in Italy.

Besides external political threats, Maximilian faced the perennial administrative chaos of Germany and accomplished a number of governmental and judicial reforms, including the establishment of the Imperial Court in 1495, in which Roman law was to be used. Maximilian also urged reform of the Church, particularly in Germany. At his death in 1519 the crises which would trouble the 16th century were already evident: the rivalry between Spain and France, the use of Italy and the papacy as a battleground for the conflict, and the stirrings of anticlericalism and the questioning of ecclesiastical dogma which would usher in the Reformation. Maximilian's reputation as the "last knight" was a fitting one.

Further Reading

The most thorough work in English on Maximilian is the somewhat romanticized biography by Christopher Hare (pseudonym for Mrs. Marian Andrews), Maximilian the Dreamer (1913). An older biography is by Robert W. Seton-Watson, Maximilian I (1901). Since Maximilian's reputation is so varied, the reader should also consult Glenn E. Waas, The Legendary Character of Kaiser Maximilian (1941), which provides both a good bibliography and a survey of Maximilian's legend. Useful background works are The Cambridge Medieval History, edited by J. B. Bury and others (8 vols., 1913-1936), and The New Cambridge Modern History (14 vols., 1957-1970).

Additional Sources

Benecke, Gerhard, Maximilian I (1459-1519): an analytical biography, London; Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982. □

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Maximilian I (14591519)

Holy Roman Emperor who greatly expanded the realm under the control of the powerful Habsburg dynasty. He was born in Wiener Neustadt, a suburb of Vienna, the son of Emperor Frederick III and Eleanor of Portugal. In 1477, he married Mary of Burgundy, who brought the Low Countries and Burgundy under Habsburg control. In 1482, on the death of Mary, Burgundy became a part of France while the Netherlands, which had always resisted Habsburg control, signed a treaty with King Louis XI of France. On the death of his father Frederick in 1493 he ascended to the Habsburg throne; in the next year he married Maria Sforza, daughter of the Duke of Milan. In 1493 Maximilian signed the Treaty of Senlis that surrendered Burgundy and Picardy (in northern France) in exchange for the Netherlands and the territory of Franche-Comte. He later appointed his daughter Margaret of Austria as the regent of the Netherlands.

His marriage to Maria Sforza fired Maximilian's ambitions to contest control of the wealthy cities of northern Italy. This touched off the Italian Wars with France that dragged on for a generation and embroiled nearly every major city of Italy as well as the Papacy. After the Battle of Dornach, Maximilian signed the Treaty of Basel, which granted independence to the Swiss Confederation. He arranged a marriage for his granddaughter Mary with Louis, the son of the king of Hungary and Bohemia, and his grandson Ferdinand to marry Louis' sister Anne. These betrothals eventually brought Hungary and Bohemia under Habsburg control.

See Also: Charles V; Margaret of Austria

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Maximilian I, 1573–1651, elector (1623–51) and duke (1597–1651) of Bavaria, one of the outstanding figures of the Thirty Years War and an ardent supporter of the Counter Reformation. His occupation (1607) of Donauwörth, a Protestant stronghold then under the imperial ban, aroused Protestant indignation and spurred the formation (1608) of the Protestant Union. To oppose this, Maximilian founded (1609) the Catholic League. Until 1619 he tried to maintain a moderate course in the great quarrel within the empire. Then, in return for concessions, he brought the army of the League to the support of Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II against Frederick the Winter King. Frederick, who was elector of the Palatinate, headed the Protestant Union; he had been elected king of Bohemia to replace Ferdinand. In 1620, Maximilian entered Upper Austria and, after the victory of the commander of the Catholic League, Tilly, at the White Mt., entered Prague. Maximilian then conquered the Palatinate, and in 1623 the emperor transferred Frederick's electoral vote and the Upper Palatinate to Maximilian. In 1628, Maximilian was given the Rhenish Palatinate in return for Upper Austria, which he had been holding. Maximilian protested against the ascendancy of the imperial commander Albrecht von Wallenstein and secured his dismissal (1630). Later in the war, Bavaria was ravaged by Swedish and French forces, and Maximilian was forced to conclude the truce of Ulm and to renounce his alliance with the emperor; however, he soon broke the truce. By the Peace of Westphalia (1648), Maximilian retained the electorate and the Upper Palatinate.

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Maximilian I (1459–1519) Holy Roman Emperor (1493–1519), son and successor of Frederick III. Maximilian was one of the most successful members of the Habsburg dynasty. He gained Burgundy and the Netherlands by marriage, and defended them against France. He was less successful in asserting control over the German princes, and involvement in the Italian Wars led to his defeat by the Swiss in 1499. Maximilian strengthened the Habsburg heartland in Austria and through marriage diplomacy ensured that his grandson and successor, Charles V, inherited a vast European empire.

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Maximilian I, 1756–1825, king (1806–25) and elector (1799–1806) of Bavaria as Maximilian IV Joseph. His alliance with French Emperor Napoleon I earned him the royal title and vast territorial increases at the Treaty of Pressburg (1805) and made him one of the chief members of the Confederation of the Rhine. His daughter was married to Napoleon's stepson, Eugène de Beauharnais. In 1813, after Napoleon's retreat from Russia, he joined the coalition against Napoleon a few days before the battle of Leipzig. At the Congress of Vienna (1814–15) Maximilian lost some of his territorial gains. Devoted to Bavarian independence, he opposed all moves to unite Germany. With his minister, Maximilian von Montgelas, he carried out important social reforms and abolished most of the relics of feudalism in Bavaria. In 1818 he granted a liberal constitution, and, unlike the neighboring reactionary rulers, he continued to rule as an "enlightened monarch." He was succeeded by his son, Louis I.