On this date in history cam the death of Rudolf I, King of the Germans, King of the Romans..”Holy Roman Emperor,” Although technically he did not hold the imperial title he is counted as one of the Holy Roman Emperors.
In this blog entry I will examine his rise to power and title as German King.
Rudolf I (May 1, 1218 – July 15, 1291) was the first German King from the House of Habsburg. The first of the count-kings of Germany, he reigned from 1273 until his death.
Rudolf’s election marked the end of the Great Interregnum which had begun after the death of the Hohenstaufen Emperor Friedrich II in 1250. Originally a Swabian count, he was the first Habsburg to acquire the duchies of Austria and Styria in opposition to his mighty rival, the Přemyslid King Ottokar II of Bohemia, whom he defeated in the 1278 Battle on the Marchfeld. The territories remained under Habsburg rule for more than 600 years, forming the core of the Habsburg Monarchy and the present-day country of Austria. Rudolf played a vital role in raising the comital House of Habsburg to the rank of Imperial princes.
Rudolf was born on May 1, 1218 at Limburgh Castle near Sasbach am Kaiserstuhl in the Breisgau region of present-day southwestern Germany. He was the son of Count Albert IV of Habsburg and of Hedwig of Kyburg, daughter of Count Ulrich of Kyburg. Around 1232, he was given as a squire to his uncle, Rudolf I, Count of Laufenburg, to train in knightly pursuits.
Count of Habsburg
At his father’s death in 1239, Rudolf inherited from him large estates around the ancestral seat of Habsburg Castle in the Aargau region of present-day Switzerland as well as in Alsace.
The term Great Interregnum is used for the period between 1250 (the death of Friedrich II) and 1273 (the accession of Rudolf I).
After the deposition of Emperor Friedrich II by Pope Innocent IV in 1245, Heinrich Raspe, Landgrave of Thuringia was set up as anti-king to Friedrich’s son Conrad IV (d. 1254). Heinrich Raspe was killed in 1247 and succeeded as anti-king by Willem II of Holland (died 1256). After 1257, the crown was contested between Richard of Cornwall, who was supported by the Guelph party, and Alfonso X of Castile, who was recognized by the Hohenstaufen party but never set foot on German soil. Richard of Cornwall was the second son of John, King of England, and one of the wealthiest men in Europe. After Richard’s death in 1273, Rudolf I of Germany, a minor pro-Staufen count, was elected. He was the first of the Habsburgs to hold a royal title, but he was never crowned emperor. After Rudolf’s death in 1291, Adolf and Albert were two further weak kings who were never crowned emperor.
As mentioned, Rudolf was not crowned emperor, nor were his successors Adolf and Albert. The next emperor was Heinrich VII, crowned on June 29, 1312 by Pope Clement V. Not receiving the imperial title was unusual bot not unprecedented. Several rulers were crowned king of the Romans (king of Germany) but not emperor, although they styled themselves thus, and are counted among the Holy Roman Emperors, among whom were: Conrad I and Hienrich I the Fowler in the 10th century, and Conrad IV, Rudolf I, Adolf and Albert I during the aforementioned Great Interregnum of the late 13th century.
The disorder in Germany during the interregnum after the fall of the Hohenstaufen dynasty afforded an opportunity for Count Rudolf to increase his possessions. His wife was a Hohenberg heiress. Rudolf was married twice. First, in 1251, to Gertrude of Hohenberg and second, in 1284, to Isabelle of Burgundy. All children were from the first marriage.
Gertrude was born in Deilingen, Swabia to Count Burkhard V of Hohenberg (died 1253) and his wife Matilda (Mechtild), daughter of Count Palatine Rudolf II of Tübingen. The comital Hohenberg dynasty, a cadet branch of the Swabian House of Hohenzollern, then ruled over extended estates in southwestern Germany. Isabella of Burgundy (1270 – August 1323), Lady of Vieux-Château, was the second and last Queen consort of Rudolf I of Germany.
On the death of his childless maternal uncle Count Hartmann IV of Kyburg in 1264, Rudolf seized Hartmann’s valuable estates. Successful feuds with the Bishops of Strasbourg and Basel further augmented his wealth and reputation, including rights over various tracts of land that he purchased from abbots and others.
These various sources of wealth and influence rendered Rudolf the most powerful prince and noble in southwestern Germany (where the tribal Duchy of Swabia had disintegrated, enabling its vassals to become completely independent). In the autumn of 1273, the prince-electors met to choose a king after Richard of Cornwall had died in England in April 1272. Rudolf’s election in Frankfurt on October 1, 1273, when he was 55 years old, was largely due to the efforts of his brother-in-law, the Hohenzollern burgrave Friedrich III of Nuremberg. The support of Duke Albert II of Saxony and Elector Palatine Ludwig II had been purchased by betrothing them to two of Rudolf’s daughters.
As a result, within the electoral college, King Ottokar II of Bohemia (1230–1278), himself a candidate for the throne and related to the late Hohenstaufen king Philipp of Swabia (being the son of the eldest surviving daughter), was almost alone in opposing Rudolf. Other candidates were Prince Siegfried I of Anhalt and Margrave Friedrich I of Meissen (1257–1323), a young grandson of the excommunicated Emperor Friedrich II, who did not yet even have a principality of his own as his father was still alive. By the admission of Duke Hienrich XIII of Lower Bavaria instead of the King of Bohemia as the seventh Elector, Rudolf gained all seven votes.
King of the Germans
Rudolf was crowned in Aachen Cathedral on October 24, 1273. To win the approbation of the Pope, Rudolf renounced all imperial rights in Rome, the papal territory, and Sicily, and promised to lead a new crusade. Pope Gregory X, despite the protests of Ottokar II of Bohemia, not only recognised Rudolf himself, but persuaded King Alfonso X of Castile (another grandson of Philipp of Swabia), who had been chosen German (anti-)king in 1257 as the successor to Count Willem II of Holland, to do the same. Thus, Rudolf surpassed the two heirs of the Hohenstaufen dynasty whom he had earlier served so loyally.
Rudolf died in Speyer on 15 July 1291 and was buried in Speyer Cathedral. Although he had a large family, he was survived by only one son, Albert I. Most of his daughters outlived him, apart from Catherine who had died in 1282 during childbirth and Hedwig who had died in 1285/6.
Rudolf’s reign is most memorable for his establishment of the House of Habsburg as a powerful dynasty in the southeastern part of the realm. In the other territories, the centuries-long decline of Imperial authority since the days of the Investiture Controversy continued, and the princes were largely left to their own devices.
In the Divine Comedy, Dante finds Rudolf sitting outside the gates of purgatory with his contemporaries, characterizing him as “he who neglected that which he ought to have done”.