Emperor Maximilian I of the Holy Roman Empire (1459–1519) was the first great Habsburg emperor. The son of Emperor Frederick III and Eleanor of Portugal, Maximilian succeeded his father in 1495 and was a gifted warrior and an ambitious politician who wanted as much power and international influence as he could get for himself and his royal dynasty. His own marriage to Duchess Mary of Burgundy made him rich. His son Duke Philip of Burgundy’s marriage to Princess Juana of Castile linked Austria to Spain, which were then joined under one ruler in the person of Philip and Juana’s son Emperor Charles V. Maximilian’s other grandson, the future Emperor Ferdinand I, also became king of Hungary and Bohemia due to his grandfather’s ambitions.
The Marriage of Emperor Maximilian I and Duchess Mary of Burgundy
Duchess Mary of Burgundy was the sole heir of the richest and most powerful state in Europe. After much negotiation, Maximilian and Mary were married in 1477 when he was eighteen and she nineteen. They got along very well and had a happy marriage, living mostly in Ghent in her territory and pursuing their interests in art and literature. They only had two surviving children, Philip of Burgundy and Margaret, and after Mary died in 1482, Maximilian deeply grieved for her. Although he married twice more, to Anne of Brittany and the rich Bianca Sforza, he never had any more children.
The Children of Emperor Maximilian I and Duchess Mary of Burgundy
Maximilian used his children’s marriages to help him in diplomatic negotiations and increase Habsburg power and influence. His daughter Margaret had three such diplomatic marriages. In 1482, Maximilian had been forced to sign the Treaty of Arras, in which he agreed to allow France to keep all the Burgundian land it had invaded and also gave the young Princess Margaret to the French dauphin. Years later, however, the French rejected her for a better diplomatic marriage and she was sent home.
She was next involved in a 1495 double betrothal, in which she and her brother Philip were promised to Juan and Juana, the children of the great Spanish monarchs King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile. Margaret’s marriage ended soon with the early death of her husband, but Philip and Juana’s marriage produced many children and introduced the Habsburg dynasty to Spain.
Margaret was thirdly given to Prince Philibert of Savoy, but he soon left her a widow again. She spent the rest of her life in the Burgundian territory of Flanders where she was regent of the Netherlands.
The Habsburg Grandchildren of Emperor Maximilian I of the Holy Roman Empire
The marriage of Philip of Burgundy and Princess Juana of Castile (also known as Juana la Loca) introduced the Habsburg dynasty to Spain. Philip died young and Juana went crazy, so Maximilian was essential in the upbringing of his grandchildren.
Emperor Maximilian I wanted his eldest grandson Charles to succeed him as Holy Roman Emperor, and spent the last years of his reign campaigning to get him elected. Charles eventually became both Emperor Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire and King Carlos I of Spain, ruling a vast empire that spanned the globe.
Emperor Maximilian was also interested in peace with neighboring Hungary, and used his grandchildren Ferdinand and Mary for that. In a 1491 peace treaty, Maximilian and King Ladislaus II of Hungary agreed that if Ladislaus had no surviving male heir then the Habsburgs would inherit his land. Maximilian then arranged a double marriage in 1515 between Ferdinand and Mary and Ladislaus’s children Louis and Anna. After Ladislaus’s early death, Maximilian adopted Louis, and when Louis died with no heirs, Ferdinand inherited Hungary and Bohemia.
The Legacy of Emperor Maximilian I of the Holy Roman Empire
Emperor Maximilian I of the Holy Roman Empire was one of the most ambitious and influential Austrian rulers. He strengthened the power of the Habsburg dynasty mostly through marriage alliances. His own marriage to Duchess Mary of Burgundy gave the Habsburgs wealth and land. His son Philip of Burgundy’s marriage to Princess Juana of Castile established the Habsburgs in Spain, and their son Charles inherited both lands as Emperor Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire and King Carlos I of Spain. Maximilian’s grandchildren’s marriages to Hungarian royals linked Austria with the neighboring land, and his grandson Ferdinand eventually ascended as King Ferdinand of Hungary and Bohemia and later became Emperor Ferdinand I of the Holy Roman Empire. Because of Emperor Maximilian I’s ambition and strategic alliances, the Habsburgs began to grow in international power and eventually became one of the most powerful royal familes in Europe.
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- Wandruszka, Adam. House of Habsburg: Six Hundred Years of a European Dynasty. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1964.
- Wheatcroft, Andrew. Habsburgs: Embodying Empire. London: Viking, 1995.