|Habsburg dynasty/empire. The great dynastic House founded by Albert in Swabia in 1153 that expanded into—as often by dynastic marriage as by war—and ruled large parts of, Europe from 1282 to 1918, including most of southern Europe and Germany as well for more than four centuries, and for a time also Imperial Spain. The original family lands were absorbed by the Swiss confederation, 1386–1474. The dynasty thereafter was clearly centered on its holdings in Austria, reigning also over the Holy Roman Empire, 1438–1740 and 1745–1806. The marriage of Maximilian to Mary of Burgundy connected rich lands in northwestern Europe with the Austrian heartland, which their son, Charles V, and his descendants then governed along with Imperial Spain and its vast empire from 1519 to 1700. The other major Habsburg kings of the Wars of Religion were Philip II (r. 1556–1598), Ferdinand II (r. 1619–1637), and Philip IV (r. 1621–1665), all religious zealots convinced that Habsburgs had an imperial and a Catholic mission. The Habsburgs were intricately involved with the great banking house of Fugger. From their empire in Austria and Spain they fought the Valois and Bourbons of France, the Ottoman sultans, and various princes supporting the Protestant Reformation in Germany and north Europe. When Charles abdicated in 1555 the House divided into Austrian and Spanish branches, representing the two great centers of Catholic power in Europe. For another 150 years this family alliance—which did not always cooperate closely or well—faced a shifting but core coalition that included German Protestant princes, the kings of France, the Ottomans, and—despite Habsburg championship of Catholicism—sometimes also the popes, who recalled that an army under Charles V had sacked Rome in 1527 and that the Habsburgs starved the Papal States into submission, 1556–1557. Little linked these vast lands except a union of the crowns: they shared no single army or navy, no common language or economy or currency, no uniform code of law, and, after 1517 and the Protestant Reformation, no common faith either. For those reasons and others, an anti-Habsburg coalition thus won the Thirty Years’ War, and the Dutch “Beggars” won the Eighty Years’ War, both by 1648. Spain subsequently accepted defeat at French hands in the Treaty of the Pyrenees (1660). |
The Habsburg drive for dominance failed principally as a result of: (1) the workings of the balance of power, which arrayed most non-Habsburg Europe, and the Ottomans, against them; (2) the rise of Atlantic economies beyond their reach, which soon surpassed their own; and (3) Habsburg misunderstanding and mismanagement of the economies of Austria and Spain—the Spanish Habsburgs declared bankruptcy in 1557, 1575, 1596, 1607, 1647, 1653, and 1680, and largely provoked the price revolution of the seventeenth century. All that occurred at a time when a revolution in military affairs dramatically raised the costs and expanded the scale of war. Spain was lost by the Habsburgs to the Bourbons in 1700. Maria Theresa fought doggedly against a new threat to the Habsburg position in Germany, Frederick the Great’s Prussia. In the end, she lost Silesia to Frederick, as a result of the War of the Austrian Succession and the Seven Years’ War. The Habsburgs eagerly joined in the partitions of Poland, even as Joseph II attempted reforms at home. These were fatally interrupted by the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, which finished off the old Holy Roman Empire in 1806, and thereafter the Habsburgs ruled in Austria alone. Napoleon occupied Vienna after several major victories, but he also took a Habsburg daughter as his second wife, seeking legitimacy by union with Europe’s greatest dynastic house. Austria recovered slowly from its initial defeat, but saw a final victory over the upstart enshrined at the Congress of Vienna. It was never the same: after 1815 Austria was a wholly reactionary power in foreign policy, seeking under Metternich merely to hold what it had, not to expand. For half a century it fended off challenges from Piedmont in north Italy, Russia in the Balkans, and especially Prussia within Germany. The Habsburgs were shaken by the revolutions of 1848 and could no longer prevent either Italian or German unification. Defeat at Prussian hands in the Seven Weeks’ War ushered in the Dual Monarchy of 1867, signaling a final, downward turning in Austrian and dynastic fortunes. Emperor Francis Joseph (r. 1848–1916) was the penultimate and enfeebled ruler of the Austrian Habsburg line, which ended with defeat in World War I. A post–World War II proposal by Pius XII to revive a Habsburg-ruled, Catholic state in central Europe failed. In 1996 Austria permitted even those Habsburgs who maintained a claim to the throne to return from exile abroad—a sure sign, if one was needed, that the dynasty posed no threat to the republic and could be treated as a living reliquary of a once glorious and imperial past.