Austria ~ Hereditary Lands


AUSTRIA ~ Hereditary Lands   Die ERBLANDE.

English: Rudolf I of Habsburg. Oil, canvas.

English: Rudolf I of Habsburg. Oil, canvas. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The lands of the House of Habsburg which were held by hereditary right.   Until the 17th century these consisted of lands in the south of the Holy Roman Empire, extending from Alsace to Carinthia, Styria and Austria.   The Crowns of Hungary and Bohemia, acquired by the Habsburgs in 1526, were both of them elective at that time.   The Crown of Bohemia became hereditary in 1627-8, that of Hungary in 1687, and officially were counted among the hereditary lands, as were all the various Habsburg acquisitions in Poland, Italy and the Netherlands.   But in common historical usage the term Erblande is usually confined to the lands in the German Kingdom from Alsace to Carinthia.

These lands consisted of the Danubian, Alpine, Swiss, Swabian and Alsatian territories of the House.  The last significant Swiss territories, the Aargau and the Thurgau, were lost in 1415 and 1460;  the lands in Alsace in 1648;  those in Swabia, other than the Vorarlberg, in 1802-6.

The hereditary lands of German princes were normally shared when a prince left more than one heir.   This often, though not necessarily, meant partition.   The first Habsburg partition of great moment occurred during the adolescence of the prince who was to lift the Habsburgs to greatness.   When his grandfather, Count Rudolf II, died in 1232, the family lands in northern Switzerland and Alsace and on the edge of the Black Forest, were divided between his sons, Albert IV and Rudolf III, whose mutual antipathy reduced the family’s influence.   Albert’s son, Rudolf IV, enjoyed much better relations with his cousins after his uncle’s death, and was able by exchanges of territory with them to make his own principality more compact.

His election as King Rudolf I in 1273 gave him the opportunity to raise his own family higher.   We remember him for his securing the Duchies of Austria and Styria for his family by investing his two surviving sons with the Duchies of Austria and Styria in 1282, but he also worked throughout his reign to increase Habsburg territory and influence in the Duchy of Swabia, which bordered on his Alsatian and Swiss possessions.   His intention was that his elder son, Albert I, should be the effective ruler of the eastern lands, while Rudolf II, the younger son, would be titular Duke of Austria and functioning Duke of a revived Swabia.

It proved more difficult to restore the Swabian Duchy than Rudolf I hoped, and his plans came to nothing when Rudolf II died in 1290 before his father, leaving a very young son.   The result was that Albert I took over the entire inheritance of his father in 1291, though Rudolf II’s son had his revenge for what he saw as his disinheritance when he reached manhood:  he murdered his uncle in 1308.

Albert I left five sons, three of them under the age of eleven.   The two eldest operated one of the alternatives to partition:  they shared in the government, but the elder, Frederick I, resided in the Austrian lands, and the younger, Leopold I, in the western.   When Leopold died in 1326, the third brother, Albert II, took his place in the western lands.   By 1339 all Albert’s brothers were dead.   The last of them to die was the youngest, Otto, who had resented the way his elders had parcelled up the territory and caused trouble for several years.

Albert II – the Wise – was a conciliatory man.   In 1355 he issued a family edict that his four sons should act together in brotherly love and he enjoined his nobles not to side with one brother against another.   Albert decreed that the eldest brother should be as the youngest, but when he died in 1358, only Rudolf IV, the eldest son, was mature.   He therefore took all the power, a strong-willed and able man.   The day of reckoning, as the siblings grew up and insisted on the share of power their father had laid down for them, never came.   Rudolf IV, who would have found it difficult to surrender power, gave up life instead, a victim of the plague at the age of 25.

His two surviving brothers shared power, Albert III resident in Austria and Leopold III in the western lands, but after fourteen years of mutual antipathy they abandoned the brotherly sharing of power and partitioned the Habsburg lands in 1379, Austria above and below the Enns for Albert, Styria, Tirol and the western lands for Leopold.  By 1411 Leopold’s share was partitioned between his two surviving sons, the elder in Styria, Carinthia and Carniola, the younger in Tirol and the west.

This particular way of dividing the Habsburg lands was repeated in 1564, when Ferdinand I died.   Maximilian II, the eldest son, took Austria above and below the Enns (NiederösterreichLower Austria), Ferdinand II Tirol and the Vorlande (Vorderösterreich – called in English Anterior or Further or Hither or Outer Austria), and Charles II Styria, Carinthia and Carniola (Innenösterreich –  Inner Austria).   This too was a partition, each brother ruling his own share, though each of the different territories that composed the share had its own customs, laws and institutions.   The Lower, Inner and Outer Austrias were not unities.

Even when all the lands were under one prince, the differences in practice among them made some administrative division seem sensible.   The Emperor Maximilian I completed the reunion of the lands partitioned in 1379 when he succeeded his father, Frederick III, in 1493.  He divided them into two groups.   Niederösterreich (Lower Austria), consisted of Styria, Carinthia and Carniola (the lands Frederick III had inherited from his father) and Austria above and below the Enns (inherited by Frederick III after the extinction of the senior Habsburg line in 1457).   Oberösterreich (Upper Austria), consisted of the Tirol and the Vorlande (parts of the present Vorarlberg, plus the Swabian and Alsatian lands), in which Maximilian had succeeded the Archduke Sigismund on his abdication in 1490.   To them were added Austrian Istria, from his father’s Styrian inheritance, and Görz, acquired by Maximilian in 1500.

Charles V, already the ruler of Spain, Naples and the Netherlands when he inherited Maximilian’s lands in 1519, perpetuated this arrangement when he handed over Maximilian’s Niederösterreich to his brother, Ferdinand I, in 1521, keeping Maximilian’s Oberösterreich in his own hands.   Tirol lay across the best route between Germany and Italy, Trieste gave Charles a port in northern Italy, the lands in Alsace were not too distant from the Franche-Comté, part of his Burgundian inheritance, some of the lands of Alsace and Swabia lay on routes between Italy and the Netherlands.   Ferdinand was not happy with the arrangement, and in the following year Charles transferred the remainder of the hereditary lands to him.

The partition of 1564 ended when Ferdinand III, ruler of Inner Austria since 1590, succeeded as the Emperor Ferdinand II in 1619, when the Austrian and Tirolese lands became his.   In 1621 he drew up a testament which provided for the indivisibility of his inheritance.   His two brothers, the other remaining Austrian Habsburgs, were both Bishops, and therefore apparently unaffected by the decision.   This was to reckon without one of them, the Archduke Leopold, Bishop of Passau and Strasbourg and governor of Tirol.   He objected, and in 1625 received the Tirol and the Vorlande in full government.   In the following year he was released from his religious vows and married.

Primogeniture was then applied to the remaining hereditary lands, and to Tirol and the Vorlande from 1665, when Leopold of Tirol’s male line was extinguished with the death of his second son.

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