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Maximilian I (March 22, 1459 – January 12, 1519) was Holy Roman Emperor from 1508 until his death. Maximilian was the son of Friedrich III, Holy Roman Emperor, and Eleanor of Portugal, daughter of King Duarte of Portugal and his wife Infanta Eleanor of Aragon. Maximilian was born at Wiener Neustadt on March 22, 1459. His father named him for an obscure saint, Maximilian of Tebessa, whom Friedrich believed had once warned him of imminent peril in a dream.

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Friedrich III, Holy Roman Emperor and Infanta Eleanor of Portugal

At the time, the dukes of Burgundy, a cadet branch of the French royal family, with their sophisticated nobility and court culture, were the rulers of substantial territories on the eastern and northern boundaries of France. The reigning duke, Charles the Bold, was the chief political opponent of Maximilian’s father Friedrich III. Friedrich was concerned about Burgundy’s expansive tendencies on the western border of his Holy Roman Empire, and, to forestall military conflict, he attempted to secure the marriage of Charles the Bold’s only daughter, Mary of Burgundy, to his son Maximilian. After the Siege of Neuss (1474–75), he was successful. The wedding between Maximilian and Mary took place on August 19, 1477.

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Mary, Duchess of Burgundy

Maximilian’s wife had inherited the large Burgundian domains in France and the Low Countries upon her father’s death in the Battle of Nancy on 5 January 1477. Already before his coronation as the King of the Romans in 1486, Maximilian decided to secure this distant and extensive Burgundian inheritance to his family, the House of Habsburg, at all costs.

The Duchy of Burgundy was also claimed by the French crown under Salic Law, with Louis XI of France vigorously contesting the Habsburg claim to the Burgundian inheritance by means of military force. Maximilian undertook the defence of his wife’s dominions from an attack by Louis XI and defeated the French forces at Guinegate, the modern Enguinegatte, on August 7, 1479.

Maximilian and Mary’s wedding contract stipulated that their children would succeed them but that the couple could not be each other’s heirs. Mary tried to bypass this rule with a promise to transfer territories as a gift in case of her death, but her plans were confounded. After Mary’s death in a riding accident on March 27, 1482 near the Wijnendale Castle, Maximilian’s aim was now to secure the inheritance to his and Mary’s son, Philipp the Handsome.

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Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor

Maximilian ruled jointly with his father for the last ten years of the latter’s reign, from c. 1483 to his father’s death in 1493. Maximilian was elected King of the Romans on February 16, 1486 in Frankfurt-am-Main at his father’s initiative and crowned on April 9, 1486 in Aachen. He became Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire upon the death of his father in 1493. He was never crowned by the pope, as the journey to Rome was always too risky. He was instead proclaimed Emperor Elect by Pope Julius II at Trent, thus breaking the long tradition of requiring a papal coronation for the adoption of the imperial title.

Part II Reign in the Holy Roman Empire