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(Portrait at top: Maria Teresa)

A majority of the most pronounced diplomatic triumphs of the dynasty occurred in the later half of their reign. The perseverance of Maria Teresa, the politicking of Prince Metternich, the reforms of Josef II and the Ausgleich of 1867 which created the dual monarchy, are later examples of the Hapsburg tendency to preserve the status quo or to negotiate their way out of extermination. Even today, Carl-Ludwig and Felix Habsburg-Lothringen, the descendants the last Austrian Emperor Karl I, are bargaining, using all legal resources and their traditional appeal, to lay claim to their ancestral inheritance. However, this sagacity by no means eluded the earlier Hapsburgs. It was they, the founding Hapsburgs, who finagled their way into the foray of European affairs in the first place.

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generals.jpg (22618 bytes) (Photograph at right: Hall of Generals of the House of Austria)

As we have examined, Rudolf I’s successful posturing against the German electors and the pope, along with his patience in dealing with Ottokar with whom he was competing for the succession of the Erblander, proved to be essential in establishing the Hapsburgs as a powerful dynastic force. Later emperors exhibited a similar skill by being prudent in their rule but unrelenting in their ambitions. Rudolf IV’s official exhortation that Hapsburg Austria was "the shield and heart of the Holy Roman Empire," which propelled the Hapsburgs to the vanguard of Holy Roman Empire, may have been arrogant, and certainly without warrant, but it was proclaimed at a time when few could challenge its preponderance. And as such it advanced the Hapsburg cause in the long run while invoking ineffectual admonishment in the short run. The Hapsburgs created their dynasty when no one was prepared stop them.

However, not all went well for the Hapsburgs on the negotiating front as is exemplified by the rejection of Albert V as Holy Roman Emperor. He was rejected, at least for a long while, for the very same reason that Ottokar was: the electors were intimidated by his thirst for power. Further, rulers like Leopold I assumed a more subtle amelioration of the dynasty's situation, preferring to slowly consolidate administrative areas by creating the Hofkriegsrat, or war council which presided over a standing army, and the Hofkammer, which was in charge of Hapsburg finances. These advancements were important because they helped entrench the dynasty as an institution. Further, they were accomplished with a certain vision, and considering their role in undermining traditional institutions, without much resistance. Hapsburg political authority was more provincial than imperial in the early days and it took numerous rulers, and years of patient management, for the Hapsburgs to centralize their power. If they unwisely attempted such a consolidation in one stroke, they would have most surely been deposed.

Not all the Hapsburg rulers were noted for their efficacy in these areas. Chiefly a result of his seclusion, Frederick III was notorious for his incompetence in affairs of state. Yet even his reign had some remarkable consequences largely because he married his son, Maximilian, to Mary of Bourgogne in 1477. The tool of marriage was for the Hapsburgs a hallmark above all others. Their unofficial motto, "Bella gerunt alii, tu, felix Austria, nubes!", may have brought laughter and even scorn from other sovereigns, but what the strategy brought was vast wealth and dominions. If the Ottomans and other empires gained their lands by military success, the Hapsburgs more often gained theirs by the highly dynastic device of fortunate marriage. It was the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian who perfected the marriage palaver, turning wedlock into a long-term political device of expansion. He was so anxious to marry his children that he did not even wait for them to be born. Although alliance through marriage was standard practice among the monarchs of the time, Maximilian’s policies were ones of long term vision and prolificacy. His perspective was singularly the embodiment of the Hapsburg tendency to defend and, in this case, advance the dynasty. Even though the policies did not produce immediate gain, in fact Maximilian would be long dead before they came to fruition, they singularly established the Hapsburg Empire as a truly international power.

The flourishing marriage policies of Maximilian brought for his grandson Charles V a situation where the universalistic pretensions of the title of Holy Roman Emperor were at last matched by corresponding property and collateral. Charles inherited the rich Benelux countries of the Dukes of Burgundy, the Spain of Ferdinand and Isabella, and all the riches of the Spanish New World won by Cortes. Further, Ferdinand, who was Charles’s brother and eventual successor of the Austrian branch of the Hapsburgs, was married to Anne, the daughter of Vladislav II, King of Hungary and Bohemia. At the same time, Ferdinand's sister Mary married Vladislav's son Louis II, King of Hungary. Since Louis II, who was slain at the battle of Moh« cs in 1526, was without a male heir and his sister Anne could not assume the throne under the laws of succession, her husband Ferdinand I added the unoccupied parts Hungary, and Bohemia to his realms.

carlos2.jpg (13313 bytes)Even though the Hapsburg Empire was divided into cadet, Austrian, and senior, Spanish, branches after the abdication of Charles V, they still maintained close contact, chiefly through marriage. The irony of the situation is that the very forces of union that brought the Hapsburgs such great possessions would eventually threaten their very existence. The Hapsburg jaw, so notorious it prevented Charles II, the Bewitched, from chewing his food, would become a fantastic case study for future geneticists. The inbreeding that occurred among the Hapsburgs during this period had vicious consequences:

Since the late nineteenth century, the marriages of the Habsburgs in the period form 1550 to 1700 have been considered a genetic disaster, with cousins and even closer relatives marrying and then replicating the same incestuous patterns generation after generation.

(Pictured at left: Charles II, the Bewitched)

The degenerate state of Charles II of Spain was so severe he was considered a complete invalid, mentally and physically, and, what is more important, he could not father any future children. His death brought on the extinction of the Spanish Hapsburgs and the onset of the War of the Spanish Succession. The marriage policies of Maximilian I had come full circle, finally metastasizing into genetic pool of irrelevance. Fortunately, the Austrian Hapsburgs escaped the fate of their Spanish cousins mainly due to the pragmatic sanction of Charles VI, which ensured that his lands were an ‘indivisible and inseparable whole’, only to be inherited by Maria Teresa when he passed away. Dynastic marriage proved to be a double edged sword, just as easily destroying as creating.