Territorial Expansion, Division, and Consolidation

Austria Table of Contents

The Habsburgs also increased their influence and power through strategic alliances ratified by marriages. Owing to premature deaths and/or childless marriages within the Burgundian and Spanish dynasties into which his grandfather, Maximilian I (r. 1493-1519), and his father had married, Emperor Charles V (r. 1519-56) inherited not only the Hereditary Lands but also the Franche-Comté and the Netherlands (both of which were French fiefs) and Spain and its empire in the Americas.

Challenged on his western borders by France and on his eastern borders by the Turkish Ottoman Empire, Charles V divided his realm geographically in 1522 to achieve more effective rule. Retaining the western half under his direct control, he entrusted the eastern half, the Hereditary Lands, to his brother, Ferdinand (r. 1522-64). Although Ferdinand did not become Holy Roman Emperor until 1556 when Charles V abdicated, this territorial division effectively created two branches of the Habsburg Dynasty: the Spanish Habsburgs, descended through Charles V, and the Austrian Habsburgs, descended through Ferdinand.

In addition to the lands he received from his brother, Ferdinand also increased his territorial reach by marrying into the Jagiellon family, the royal family of Hungary and Bohemia. When his brother-in-law, King Louis, died fighting the Turks at the Battle of Mohács in 1526, Ferdinand claimed the right of succession. Although the diets representing the nobility of Bohemia (and its dependencies of Moravia and Silesia) did not acknowledge Ferdinand's hereditary rights, they formally elected him king of Bohemia. As king of Bohemia, he also became an elector-prince of the Holy Roman Empire. In Hungary and in the subordinate Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia-Dalmatia, however, Ferdinand faced the rival claim of a Hungarian nobleman and the reality of the Turkish conquest of the country. He was able to assert authority only over the northern and western edges of the country, which became known as Royal Hungary. His Hungarian rival became a vassal of the Turks, ruling over Transylvania in eastern Hungary. The rest of Hungary became part of the Ottoman Empire in 1603.

Although Ferdinand undertook various administrative reforms in order to centralize authority and increase his power, no meaningful integration of the Hereditary Lands and the two newly acquired kingdoms occurred. In contrast to the authority of kings of Western Europe, where feudal structures were already in decline, Ferdinand's authority continued to rest on the consent of the nobles as expressed in the local diets, which successfully resisted administrative centralization.

Custom Search

Source: U.S. Library of Congress