Destinations Magazine

Introducing The Heavyweight Habsburgs (2)

By Linda
Introducing The Heavyweight Habsburgs (2)

photo: Yuri Yudaev-Racei

The ‘House of Austria’ , one of the most influential royal households in Europe in the Middle Ages, wasn’t originally an Austrian household at all – it was a Swiss!

Habsburg Castle

The family seat of the Habsburgs wasn’t in Austria at all in the first instance, it was in Switzerland.

Around 1020 – 1030 Count Radbot, an aristocratic nobleman, had a fortress built in an area that subsequently became what we now know as Switzerland. When the fortress was built, it stood in heavily forested land that remained unchanged until around 1500, when the area was cleared.

Although the fortress was named Habsburg Castle after a nearby township (or it might have been the other way round, not sure which!) none of Rabot’s descendents used the surname Habsburg until Ottokar ΙΙ in the 1100′s. He added the name ‘von Habsburg’ to the family title.

Otto was a bit of an adventurer and trundled off to war against Hungary for a while in 1108. No-one managed to do him any significant harm, but when he came home he met his ‘maker’. Otto was murdered in 1111.

The power and influence of the ‘von Habsburgs’ picked up a pace during the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries and in 1276 the heavyweight household was moved from Habsburg to the Archduchy of Austria.

The Austrian Household

Over the next 700 years, the ‘von Hasburg’ strong-arm grew and the landholding morphed from a border province into an mega empire centred around the Danube basin. The area is now known as the Federal state of Lower Austria (I’m not too good on the geography, but I think that’s the southwest-ish!).

Vienna became the capital of the area and geographically it was bordered by (the Duchy of) Styria, the Stemmering Pass and…. other places I can’t remember the names of!

Meanwhile – back at the ranch in Switzerland, Habsburg ownership of the castle and locale started to come under question. The castle remained the property of the Habsburgs until Duke Frederick ΙV (known as ‘Frederick of the Empty Pockets’ to the local noblemen, for reasons I haven’t been able to discern –  though I’m guessing it was something to do with being stingy!) lost control of it to the Swiss in 1415.

Now you might think this meant that the House of Austria was at last in – er- Austria. But no, that would be too obvious. Instead, it was primarily in an area known as ‘South Tyrol’ in Italy! The House of Habsburg didn’t move fully into Austria until 1420, when they set up shop in Innsbruck.

Habsburg - just remembered!

The castle wasn’t named after the township. There is some dispute as to whether it was named after a Hawk (German word Habicht) that Count Rabot saw on the castle wall ; or so named because it was near a ford (German word Hab) crossing  the river Aar.

It was the township that was named after the castle!


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