Imperial Facts About The Habsburg Empire

November 21, 2023 | Miles Brucker

Imperial Facts About The Habsburg Empire

They may be one of history’s great empires that have flown under the radar, but the Habsburgs shaped Europe and had a lasting cultural influence over the continent. Let's find out more about them.

1. Castle Beginnings

The beginning of the Habsburgs come with the building of the Habsburg Castle in Switzerland. Built on the Aar, the largest tributary of the High Rhine river, Otto II was the first to take on the name of the castle when he created the House of Habsburg, and eventually Rudolf I moved the house to Austria in 1276 when he established the Habsburg dynasty.

habsburg empire


2. Brotherly Rule

During the early years of Habsburg rule, there was a period of time where brothers would often co-rule together.

Habsburg Empire FactsWikimedia Commons

3. Open Seat

The Great Interregnum was the period of crisis when the Holy Roman Empire and the German Kingdom did not have a king. This gap lasted for some time—until the Habsburgs rose to power.

Habsburg Empire FactsWikipedia

4. Good Timing

The rise of the Habsburg empire occurred alongside the Renaissance, and as the humanistic ideas spread to northern Europe, the Habsburg rulers embraced them. Emperor Frederick III, who was responsible for consolidating rule in Germany and expanding the empire eastward, named the Italian scholar Enea Silvio Piccolomini as not only his secretary but also the official poet laureate of the empire.

Habsburg Empire FactsWikimedia Commons

5. Imperial Poetry

Through the Habsburg Empire, Austria ascended to power by strategizing through marriages, spawning the Latin saying “Bella gerant alii, tu felix Austria nube” which translates to “While others engage in battles; you, fortunate Austria, wed".

Habsburg Empire FactsWikipedia

6. Married With Empire

The Habsburgs came to dominate Europe as a powerful empire in the 16th century, largely due to the efforts of Maximillian, who was a highly skilled matchmaker, and who was able to peacefully raise his family to the throne of Spain, Hungary, and the Holy Roman Empire.

Habsburg Empire FactsWikimedia Commons

7. Family Divided

In the 16th century, the Habsburgs would become to largest Western European Empire since Rome, but there was always a political division between the Spanish and Austrian branches, a division that would come to be a physical reality by the middle of the 16th century: The capital of the Holy Roman Empire became Vienna, technically separating the Spanish sect of the Habsburgs from the Austrian sect.

Habsburg Empire FactsShutterstock

8. Too Many Cousins

The Spanish Habsburgs persistently pursued brides from the Austrians, which over time splintered their empire during the Spanish Succession Conflict due to the excessive number of contenders for the throne.

Habsburg Empire FactsWikipedia

9. Haters Gonna Hate

After their loss in WWI, the successor state of German Austria exiled all remaining Habsburgs in what is known as the Habsburg Law. The law would be repealed in 1935, only to be reintroduced in 1938 by the Nazis. Interestingly enough, the law still remains in place, though it is considered obsolete.

Habsburg Empire FactsWikimedia Commons

10. Bourbon Neat

Following the rise of the Bourbons to power in Spain after the succession conflict, the Habsburgs were scaled down to their territories in Austria, Bohemia, and Hungary, thereby effectively converting them into the Austrian Empire.

Habsburg Empire FactsWikipedia

11. Manly Man

Nothing is more macho than hunting animals, correct?Well, that’s what the Habsburg royalty believed during the 17th century at least. One king in particular got really good at it: Leopold I. He frequently had a fox enveloped in a blanket while a group of dwarfs would pummel it with sticks until it ceased to be alive. Lovely guy, Leopold.

Habsburg Empire FactsWikimedia Commons

12. Rudolf the Red Nosed King

The last Habsburg king to hold court in Prague was Rudolf II. Rudolf II liked to release cheetahs onto the streets of Prague, and was an obsessed occultist who engaged in a deep search for the philosopher’s stone in order to gain immortality.

Habsburg Empire FactsWikimedia Commons

13. What the Future Holds

Rudolf didn’t just practice occultism, he also sought out the most prominent mystics in this region of the world. Everybody’s favorite fortune teller, Nostradamus, even wrote personal horoscopes for him.

Habsburg Empire FactsWikimedia Commons

14. Karma From A firearm

Franz Ferdinand is renowned today due to the circumstances of his untimely demise, which catapulted the world into WWI. Back in his day, however, he was renowned for hunting animals. During his lifetime, it is estimated that he shot and caused the demise of approximately 300,000 animals. Over 100,000 deer "trophies" adorned his estate. His personal best is reputed to be the elimination of 2,140 animals in a single day.

Franz Ferdinand FactsWikimedia Commons

15. Desperation Stinks

The Habsburgs were so weak during WWI that their emperor Karl I attempted to make a deal with France where he would give the country practically anything they wanted in order to not have his Austro-Hungarian Empire split up after the conflict. Instead of playing ball with the emperor, French prime minister Georges Clemenceau didn’t even answer. Instead, he published the offer publicly, in effect putting out the last flames of Karl’s empire.

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16. End Of Empire

Karl only lasted two years as emperor to the Habsburg Empire, as it disintegrated after WWI, but that didn’t stop him from pursuing his dreams. The last reigning monarch of the Austro-Hungarian Empire spent the rest of his life, which only lasted until 1922, attempting to restore the monarchy. Well, what else did he have going for him? At least he tried.

Habsburg Empire FactsWikimedia Commons

17. Existence Beyond Life's End

Famous for putting his Catholic faith first, Karl was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2004, and in recent years he has been considered as a candidate for sainthood. Because nothing exemplifies sainthood like utilizing chemical devices during global conflicts.

Habsburg Empire FactsGetty Images

18. Marriage Plans Backfire

In 1835, Ferdinand I came to power even though he was extremely mentally impaired. Though he was able to rule for over a decade, he eventually fell to a coup in the year 1848.

Habsburg Empire FactsWikimedia Commons

19. Charles V As The First

By being the first king to rule over the regions of Castile, León, and Aragon all at once, Charles V was the first King of Spain. Let’s just say some people still aren’t happy about this—I’m looking at you Catalunya.

Habsburg Empire FactsWikimedia Commons

20. Making Of An Empire

Charles V sought control over Central and South America, and colonized much of the continent, making him responsible for putting together the massive empire during the 16th century, as his reign stretched from Eastern Europe to the Americas.

Habsburg Empire FactsWikipedia

21. Colonization Of The World

Charles V was the king who decided to sponsor Ferdinand Magellan’s trip around the world, and gave the navigator five ships on his voyage to become the first to circumnavigate the Earth. This wasn’t just for navigational purposes, of course, as the journey set the foundation for European colonization of the South Pacific ocean and Spanish control in the Philippines.

Habsburg Empire FactsFlickr

22. Religious Unity

Spain’s financial woes aren’t something belonging solely to modern times. They can be traced back centuries, and the Inquisition had a large effect on the country's coffers. The inquisition was a method of policing beliefs and behaviors, and the Spanish drove huge numbers of Jews and Muslims from their land. And by saying drove, I didn’t mean like a friendly car ride.

Habsburg Empire FactsWikimedia Commons


23. Bad Blood

While Archduke Franz Ferdinand was the heir to the Habsburg throne, his relationship with reigning Emperor Franz Joseph grew tense over the years, and after Ferdinand married a woman without any royal blood, the emperor set the conditions that any children they may have had could not be heirs to the throne. Franz Joseph was absent at the funeral of Ferdinand or Ferdinand's wife following their premature demise by Gavrilo Princip's actions.

Franz Ferdinand FactsWikimedia Commons

Franz Joseph and Franz Ferdinand – a tense relationship

24. Spanish Art

The Habsburg years of empire in Spain led to the Spanish Golden Age, which saw culture flourish and saw work from many of the founders of modern art, from Miguel de Cervantes to El Greco.

Habsburg Empire FactsWikipedia

25. Apple Shot

The legendary William Tell rose to prominence as a figure who represented the struggle between farmers and their feudal overlords. His overlords? The Habsburgs.

Habsburg Empire FactsGetty Images

26. Meet The Fuggers

After the Medicis fell, the Fuggers—yes, that’s their real name—took over control as Europe's major banking family. They took over many of the Medici’s assets, held a monopoly over Europe’s copper, and were closely associated with the Habsburgs as their main financial backing.

Habsburg Empire FactsWikipedia

27. Free Falling

If you had a good history teacher in high school, one of the best moments was learning about the Defenestration of Prague, when a group of Protestants threw Catholic regents out of a window in an act of Bohemian resistance towards Habsburg authorities. However, the victims of the tossing would survive, and being true Catholics, turned the story around to say they were saved by angels.

Habsburg Empire FactsFlickr

28. Emperor Wears New Robes

In an effort to prevent Napoleon Bonaparte from capturing his throne, Francis II abdicated, and brought an end to the Holy Roman Empire, which had lasted for over 1,000 years. That didn’t stop Napoleon from claiming himself the Emperor of the French, but Francis had pulled an old switcheroo and created the title Emperor of Austria for himself at that point anyway.

Napoleon Bonaparte LithoFranz Eybl, Wikimedia Commons

Meeting between Napoleon I and Francis II of Austria, 1805

29. Not My Aunt

Francis II's aunt was Marie Antoinette. After her guillotine, Francis was understandably wary of France for the rest of his reign.

Madame du Barry FactsFlickr,Yann Caradec

30. Self Harm

Due to continual conflicts during the 19th century, the Habsburgs hindered their economy and effectively kept themselves a few steps behind while their European neighbors began expanding at unprecedented rates.

Habsburg Empire FactsGetty Images

31. Keeping Mouths Full

The Habsburgs were able to stay afloat during the 19th century by building the largest river shipping company in the world, the Danube Steamboat Shipping Company, or, if you’d rather it in the efficient German usage of compound words, Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaft.

Habsburg Empire FactsWikimedia Commons

32. Follow The Art

The story of modern European art can be seen through the Habsburgs' art sponsorships and in their portraits, as they often employed and gave a platform to artists who were pushing the imaginations of the art world forward: from Titian to Giuseppe Arcimboldo to Gustav Klimt.

Habsburg Empire FactsWikimedia Commons

Titian: The Aldobrandini Madonna, c 1530

33. Blitz!

Unfortunately for the Habsburgs, they endured the first blitzkrieg led by the Germans—then known as Prussians—during the Seven Weeks' Conflict of 1866.

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34. Naivety

Not every Habsburg was the brightest bulb, and Ferdinand Maximilian is a prime example. In 1864, Napoleon tricked Maximilian into believing he was elected as Mexico's new leader, prompting him to travel to Mexico, ready to take control of a nation teetering on the brink of internal conflict. In reality, it was all a way for the French to push out Mexican President Juarez, and after Juarez fought back and drove the French out, Maximilian was executed.

Old engraved portrait of Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian of AustriaMarzolino, Shutterstock

Execution of Ferdinand Maximilian

35. Many Deaths

Franz Ferdinand and Maximilian weren’t the only early deaths that the Habsburgs saw during the second half of the 19th century. Franz Joseph himself narrowly avoided a fatal incident, while his wife was taken from him by an Italian anarchist. That's not all: Franz Joseph's son entered into a fatal pact with his lover, ending both their lives, and two other family members voluntarily ended their own lives.

Habsburg Empire FactsWikimedia Commons

36. Cursed

Many of the tragedies that afflicted the Habsburg family in the late 19th century may be seen as simply the decline of an imperial family...or some blame it on the fact that the family was cursed by an enemy in 1848.

Habsburg Empire FactsWikimedia Commons

37. Trademarked Diversity

Because they controlled such a vast region of lands that represented a wide range of various ethnic groups, the Habsburg trademark became incorporating ethnic and religious minorities into their administration.

Habsburg Empire FactsWikipedia


38. Deformed Dynasty

The Habsburg line was heavily inbred, resulting in many severe deformities.  One famous deformity is known as the Habsburg Jaw, which can be seen in many portraits of the royal family and was characterized by a huge underbite. Charles V was so self conscious about his jaw that he refused to even eat in public. But, at least the men could grow beards…

Habsburg Empire FactsWikimedia Commons

39. Mayerling

In 1889, the Crown Prince of Austria and his companion were discovered lifeless under circumstances suggesting a mutual decision to end their own lives. However, private correspondence from the lady, later uncovered in a safe deposit box, disclosed her intentions of taking her own life for the sake of her affection for the prince. The incident, now referred to as the Mayerling incident (named after the hunting lodge where the bodies were discovered), was in fact a pact between the two lovers, where the prince willingly fired at her before turning the weapon on himself. The incident caused destabilized the monarchy and contributed to the beginnings of what would become WWI.

Habsburg Empire FactsWikimedia Commons

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21

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