The Austrian Habsburgs and Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna

In the previous post I wrote an overview of the Austrian Empire and Austria-Hungary that was centred around the city of Vienna. Most of this was shaped by a single extremely powerful family, the Habsburgs, a family that traces their roots to Switzerland and once held sway as monarchs from Spain all the way to Hungary.

The Habsburgs have been an illustrious family for more than a millennium, although they were not called the Habsburgs initially. Although their history of nobility goes back much further, the most notable early progenitor of the family was Adalrich, Duke of Alsace in (the easternmost state of modern day France), he was the founder of the Etchonid family in the late 7th century. As with nobles of the time, branches of the family moved around territory to set up more territory, and in 1020 Radot of Klettgau, a descendant of Adalrich built a fortress in the the Aargau near Zurich and not too far from Alsace. He named the fortress, Habicht (or Habsburg) after a hawk he saw flying overhead. His son Otto adopted the name von Habsburg after taking over his father’s position. This was the start of the start of the Habsburg line. The Habsburgs grew in importance within the Holy Roman Empire, an elective monarch with a king elected by his fellow princes (not unlike how the Vatican chooses a new pope). Holy Roman Empire is really a bit of a misnomer since at no time did the Holy Roman Empire every control Rome. It was founded by Charlemagne a Frankish King who took over a large amount of land and obtained legitimacy via recognition from the Pope. The word Roman was meant to refer to the idea that these German princes were the legitimate successors of the Western Roman Emperor from the actual Roman Empire, and Holy-ness referred to the religious recognition that was given by the Pope (and by extension God).

In 1273 Count Rudolph became the first Habsburg to be elected King of Germany and de facto ruler of the Holy Roman Empire (although he was never crowned).

The Habsburgs remained in their fortress lands until 1276 when the Count Rudolph of Habsburg, now King of Germany moved the family’s power base from Habsburg Castle to the Duchy of Austria. The family then established themselves as Dukes of Austria followed by Archdukes and later Emperors of Austria until 1908. In the meantime, the family also collected other titles including – King of Bohemia, King of Hungary & Croatia, King of Spain, King of Portugal, King of Galicia & Lodomeria, Grand Price of Transylvania as well as Holy Roman Emperors.

Basically they were movers and shakers in Europe. The Habsburgs were so dominant that almost all the royal families in Europe had Habsburg blood and since nobles need to marry noble blood, the Habsburgs were a tragedy of inbreeding – leading to strange things such as the Habsburg Jaw and abnormal descendants, most notoriously Charles II of Spain

In fact so important was the family, that the death of Charles II of Spain that led to the War of Spanish Succession where the Netherlands and Belgium gained their independence from Spain;

the death of Charles VI of Austria led to the War of Austrian Succession which invovled almost all the kingdoms of Europe and their American colonies;

and most recently, the death of Archduke Franz Ferdinand led to World War I.

Moral of the Story: Dead inbred Habsburg Kings are a bad thing…

The Habsburg line continues to exist as the House of Habsburg-Lorraine and there still remains a Count of Habsburg, currently Karl who retains the titles of Archduke of Austria, Royal Prince of Hungary, Bohemia and Croatia. Karl may not be a real king but he’s not doing too badly for himself as a politician, who happens to be a shareholder in a Dutch media company, co-founder of a Vienna-based investment company and the former owner of two Bulgarian newspapers.

His son and heir apparent Ferdinand is a racing driver (he is not the only royal sportsman, the Prince of Brunei, Faiq Bolkiah, is a professional footballer).

The Habsburgs have left a massive legacy all over Vienna particularly the grand palaces that they lived in such as the Schonbrunn. Schonnbrun Palace was the main summer retreat of the Habsburg rulers in Austria. Located a short distance away from Vienna (which was then covered in walls), Schonnbrunn is a 1441 room palace built in the Baroque style that encompasses both a palace and a massive enclosed garden.

The Habsburg ruler Maximillian purchased the area in 1569 which already had a manson and fence a large space around it filling it with pheasants, ducks, deer and boar so that he could go hunting whenever he wanted.

Successive Habsburg monarchs added and added to the place turning it from a grand mansion into a bespoke golden palace that leaves practically any visitor in awe.


And there are a lot of visitors.

There was more to the Palace after World War I and the Habsburg Dynasty came to an end. The palace was acquired by the British to house their garrison in Vienna as well as the diplomatic office within the Allied Commisson for Austria. It was the site of the Vienna Summit between Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev and US president John F Kennedy.

The palace and gardens is today a musuem and a UNESCO world heritage site as well as home to other tourist attractions such as the Vienna Zoo and a Botanical Gardens.

After a few centuries of keeping the place to themselves, its quite nice that the common everymen gets to explore these amazing products of culture and architecture.


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