Maximilian I (March 22, 1459 – January 12, 1519).
Maximilian was the son of Friedrich III, Holy Roman Emperor, and Eleanor of Portugal, a Portuguese infanta (princess), daughter of King Duarte of Portugal and his wife Eleanor of Aragon.
He ruled jointly with his father for the last ten years of the latter’s reign, from c. 1483 until his father’s death in 1493.
Maximilian was elected King of the Romans on 16 February 16, 1486 in Frankfurt-am-Main at his father’s initiative and crowned on April 9, 1486 in Aachen. Much of th Austrian territories and Vienna were under the rule of king Matthias Corvinus of Hungary, as a result of the Austrian–Hungarian War (1477–1488). Maximilian was now a king without lands. After the death of king Matthias, from July 1490, Maximilian began a series of short sieges that reconquered cities and fortresses that his father had lost in Austria.
Maximilian was never crowned by the pope, as the journey to Rome was blocked by the Venetians.
In 1508, Maximilian, with the assent of Pope Julius II, took the title Erwählter Römischer Kaiser (“Elected Roman Emperor”), thus ending the centuries-old custom that the Holy Roman Emperor had to be crowned by the Pope.
Maximilian expanded the influence of the House of Habsburg through war and his marriage. In 1477 Maximilian married Mary of Burgundy, the only child of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, and his wife Isabella of Bourbon, she inherited the Burgundian lands at the age of 19 upon the death of her father in the Battle of Nancy on 5 January 1477. She spent most of her reign defending her birthright; in order to counter the appetite of the French king Louis XI for her lands.
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.
Maximilian lost his family’s original lands in today’s Switzerland to the Swiss Confederacy. Through marriage of his son Philipp the Handsome to eventual Queen Joanna of Castile in 1498, Maximilian helped to establish the Habsburg dynasty in Spain, which allowed his grandson Charles to hold the thrones of both Castile and Aragon, and he was the eventual successor to the Imperial Throne of the Holy Roman Empire.
The historian Thomas A. Brady Jr. describes him as “the first Holy Roman Emperor in 250 years who ruled as well as reigned” and also, the “ablest royal warlord of his generation.”
After 1517 Maximilian began to focus entirely on the question of his succession. His goal was to secure the throne for a member of his house and prevent François I of France from gaining the imperial throne.
In 1501, Maximilian fell from his horse and badly injured his leg, causing him pain for the rest of his life. Some historians have suggested that Maximilian was “morbidly” depressed: from 1514, he travelled everywhere with his coffin.
Maximilian died in Wels, Upper Austria, on January 12, 1519 at the age of 59. The death of Maximilian seemed to put the succession at risk. However, The Fugger family provided Maximilian a credit of one million gulden, which was used to bribe the prince-electors. However, the bribery claims have been challenged. At first, this policy seemed successful, and Maximilian managed to secure the votes from Mainz, Cologne, Brandenburg and Bohemia for his grandson Charles.
Maximilian’s son, Philipp the Handsome (King Felipe I of Castile by right of his wife) had died in 1506. The resulting “election campaign” was unprecedented due to the massive use of bribery. Within a few months the election of his grandson as Holy Roman Emperor Charles V was secured. Charles had also succeeded his maternal grandfather, King Fernando II-V of Aragon and Castile in 1516 and became King Carlos I of a united Spain. With his election as Emperor, Charles V ruled an empire as vast and as powerful as that of Charlemagne ‘s centuries earlier.