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Maximilian I (March 22, 1459 – January 12, 1519) was King of the Romans from 1486 and Holy Roman Emperor from 1508 until his death.

Archduke Maximilian of Austria was born at Wiener Neustadt on March 22, 1459, the only surviving son of Friedrich III, Holy Roman Emperor, and Infanta Eleanor of Portugal, daughter of King Duarte of Portugal and his wife Infanta Eleanor of Aragon, daughter of King Fernando I of Aragon and Eleanor of Alburquerque.

Emperor Maximilian I

His father named him for an obscure saint, Maximilian of Tebessa, who Friedrich believed had once warned him of imminent peril in a dream.

Habsburg Rivalries

In his childhood Maximilian and his parents were besieged in Vienna by Archduke Albrecht VI of Austria, younger brother of Emperor Friedrich III. As a scion of the Leopoldian line, Archduke Albrecht VI ruled over the Inner Austrian duchies of Styria, Carinthia and Carniola from 1424, from 1457 also over the entire Archduchy of Austria until his death, rivalling with his elder brother Emperor Frederick III.

Friedrich III, Holy Roman Emperor, and Infanta Eleanor of Portugal

In 1439 both Duke Friedrich IV of Further Austria and King Albrecht II of Germany (King of the Romans) Duke of Austria died. As heir of Inner Austria and regent of Further Austria, Tyrol and the Austria proper, Albrecht VI then ruled over all the dynasty’s hereditary lands. At that stage, Albrecht began quarreling with his brother Emperor Friedrich III (then known as Duke Friedrich V) and in 1446 claimed the lands of Further Austria from him.

The conflict between the brothers escalated when Duke Ladislaus Posthumous of Austria died childless in 1457 and Emperor Friedrich III, came into his inheritance. Albrecht VI rose up and in 1458 occupied the western part of the Austrian archduchy “above the Enns” (later known as Upper Austria), which he ruled at Linz as a separate principality (Fürstentum Österreich ob der Enns) and, quite small, his portion of Habsburg patrimony.

After laying siege to Friedrich in the Vienna Hofburg, he also took over the reign of Austria below the Enns (now Lower Austria) in 1462. Albrecht VI however died childless the next year and all his lands fell back to his elder brother.

One source relates that, during the siege’s bleakest days, the young prince Maximilian wandered about the castle garrison, begging the servants and men-at-arms for bits of bread.

Father and Mother

Maximilian’s father was elected and crowned King of the Romans in 1440. In 1452, at the age of 37, King Friedrich III travelled to Italy to receive his bride and to be crowned Holy Roman Emperor. Friedrich III’s reign of 53 years is the longest in the history of the Holy Roman Empire or the German monarchy.

Maximilian was the favourite child of his mother, whose personality was a contrast to his father (although there seemed to be communication problems between mother and son, as she spoke Portuguese). Reportedly she told Maximilian that, “If I had known, my son, that you would become like your father, I would have regretted having born you for the throne.” Her early death pushed him even more towards a man’s world, where one grew up first as a warrior rather than a politician.

First Marriage

The meeting of Maximilian and Mary of Burgundy

The Duke of Burgundy, Charles the Bold, was the chief political opponent of Maximilian’s father. Emperor Friedrich III was concerned about Burgundy’s expansionist tendencies on the western border of his Holy Roman Empire, and, to forestall military conflict, he attempted to secure the marriage of Charles’ 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.

Perhaps as preparation for his task in the Netherlands, in 1476, at the age of 17, in the name of his father, apparently Maximilian commanded a military campaign against Hungary – the first actual battlefield experience in his life (command responsibility was likely shared with more experienced generals though).

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. Much of the Austrian territories and Vienna were under the rule of King Matthias Corvinus of Hungary, as a result of the Austrian–Hungarian War (1477–1488). Since his coronation as King of the Romans he ran a double government, or Doppelregierung (with a separate court), with his father until Friedrich’s death in 1493.

Emperor Maximilian I

Maximilian was now a king without lands. Matthias Corvinus offered Emperor Friedrich and his son Archduke Maximilian, the return of Austrian provinces and Vienna, if they would renounce the treaty of 1463 and accept Matthias as Friedrich’s designated heir and favoured successor as Holy Roman Emperor. Before this was settled though, Matthias died in Vienna in 1490. However, after Matthias Corvinus died from a stroke on April 9, 1490, civil war broke out in Hungary between the supporters of John Corvinus and the supporters of king Vladislaus of Bohemia.


Upon Emperor Friedrich III’s death in 1493 he was succeeded by his son Maximilian who was never crowned by the Pope, as the journey to Rome was blocked by the Venetians. He proclaimed himself Elected Emperor in 1508 (Pope Julius II later recognized this) at Trent, thus breaking the long tradition of requiring a papal coronation for the adoption of the Imperial title.

Maximilian expanded the influence of the House of Habsburg through war and his marriage in 1477 to Mary of Burgundy, the ruler of the Burgundian State, heir of Charles the Bold, though he also lost his family’s original lands in today’s Switzerland to the Swiss Confederacy.

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.

The Duchy of Burgundy was also claimed by the French crown under Salic law, with King Louis XI of France vigorously asserting his claim through military force. Maximilian at once undertook the defence of his wife’s dominions. Without support from the Empire and with an empty treasury left by Charles the Bold’s campaigns (Mary had to pawn her jewels to obtain loans), he carried out a campaign against the French during 1478–1479 and reconquered Le Quesnoy, Conde and Antoing. He defeated the French forces at the Battle of Guinegate, in modern Enguinegatte, on August 7, 1479.

Philipp the Handsome, Duke of Burgundy, King of Castile

His son, Philipp the Handsome of Austria, was ruler of the Burgundian Netherlands and titular Duke of Burgundy from 1482 to 1506. Through Philipp’s marriage to eventual Queen Joanna of Castile in 1496, he was the first Habsburg King of Castile (as Felipe I) for a brief time in 1506.

This helped Maximilian to establish the Habsburg dynasty in Spain, which allowed his grandson Charles of Burgundy to hold the thrones of both Castile and Aragon as King Carlos I of a united Spain.


The historian Thomas A. Brady Jr. describes Emperor Maximilian I as “the first Holy Roman Emperor in 250 years who ruled as well as reigned” and also, the “ablest royal warlord of his generation.”

According to historian Joachim Whaley, if Maximilian ever saw the Empire as a source of income and soldiers only, he failed miserably in extracting both. His hereditary lands and other sources always contributed much more. On the other hand, the attempts he demonstrated in building the imperial system alone shows that he did consider the German lands “a real sphere of government in which aspirations to royal rule were actively and purposefully pursued.”

Emperor Maximilian I

Whaley notes that, despite struggles, what emerged at the end of Maximilian’s rule was a strengthened monarchy and not an oligarchy of princes. If he was usually weak when trying to act as a monarch and using imperial instituations like the Reichstag, Maximilian’s position was often strong when acting as a neutral overlord and relying on regional leagues of weaker principalities such as the Swabian league, as shown in his ability to call on money and soldiers to mediate the Bavaria dispute in 1504, after which he gained significant territories in Alsace, Swabia and Tyrol. His fiscal reform in his hereditary lands provided a model for other German princes.

When Maximilian I died on January 12, 1519 he was succeeded by his grandson, Charles, who became one of Europe’s most powerful Emperors who had inherited a greatly expanded Habsburg empire.

Emperor Charles V

Charles V (February 24, 1500 – September 21, 1558) was Holy Roman Emperor and Archduke of Austria from 1519 to 1556, King of Spain (Castile and Aragon) from 1515 to 1555, as King Carlos I, and Lord of the Netherlands as titular Duke of Burgundy from 1506 to 1555. Charles V was head of the rising House of Habsburg during the first half of the 16th century. His dominions in Europe included the Holy Roman Empire, extending from Germany to northern Italy with direct rule over the Austrian hereditary lands and the Burgundian Low Countries, and Spain with its possessions of the southern Italian kingdoms of Naples and Sicily and Sardinia.