Simanaitis Says

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I KNEW VERY little about the Habsburg royals, other than Emperor Joseph II being Mozart’s Amadeus patron and Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s 1913 assassination precipitating World War I. Mixed fame, I admit. However, I learned rather more from Ferdinand Mount’s “The Dwarves and the Onion Domes,” his review in London Review of Books of Martyn Rady’s The Habsburgs: The Rise and Fall of a World Power.

Articles in the London Review of Books are often fascinating. They seem to encourage my Internet sleuthing as well. For instance, I recall learning about the Hapsburgs, though this is only the alternative English spelling of Habsburg. 

Here, in Parts 1 and 2 today and tomorrow, are other tidbits about the Habsburg’s 1000-year dynasty. It extends from a fellow named Radbot building a castle around the year 1020 to Karl Thomas Robert Maria Franziskus Georg Bahnam von Habsburg, a current advocate of the Pan-European movement and whose family played a role in the fall of the Iron Curtain.

The Habsburgs: To Rule the World, by Martyn Rady, Basic Books, 2020.

Radbot’s Castle. LRB reviewer Mount writes, “The family began in the Aargau, a corner of Switzerland just over the border from Swabia. A smallish landowner named Radbot built himself a castle overlooking the river Aare and called it Habichtsburg—hawk’s fortress—though the family were curiously slow to adopt the name.”

Radbot of Klettgau, c. 985 to 1045, Graf (Count) of Klettgau county on the High Rhine.

Philip Habsburg—England’s Unknown King. Mount recounts, “Philip Habsburg landed at Southampton on 20 July 1554 and married Mary Tudor [Henry VIII’s daughter; “Bloody Mary,” Elizabeth I’s half-sister] five days later at Winchester Cathedral, where he was declared king ‘de jure uxoris’ [roughly, “king-in-law”], though Parliament refused to let him be crowned, to his considerable annoyance.”

To others, namely those in Spain, Portugal, Naples, and Sicily, Philip Habsburg was known as King Philip II, I, or just plain King. He was also Duke of Milan and Lord of the Seventeen Provinces of the Netherlands. 

Philip II of Spain, 1527–1598, reigned there 1556–1598. Portrait by Sofonisba Anguissola.

According to Wikipedia, “Philip led a highly debt-leveraged regime, seeing state bankruptcies in 1557, 1560, 1569, 1575, and 1596.” Wikipedia notes he was “called Filipe el Prudente (‘Philip the Prudent’).” Maybe this lost something in translation. 

Observes Mount, “All dynasties have sought to gain territory by negotiating advantageous marriages, but none was pushier than the Habsburgs. The match between Philip and Mary was made by the Emperor Charles V, his father and her first cousin.”

“The trouble,” Mount writes, “was that these strategic marriages, often between cousins or partners of unequal ages—Philip was 27, Mary 38—were often childless or produced severely handicapped heirs. The Spanish Habsburg line expired on the death of the hermaphrodite Charles II. Ferdinand I of Austria suffered from hydrocephalus and crippling epilepsy, which prevented him from reigning effectively—he was forced to abdicate in the revolution of 1848. If you were a member of this increasingly inbred family, you were lucky to escape with only a Habsburg jaw.”

Tomorrow, we’ll learn about that jaw, Mozart’s patron Joseph II, and Joseph’s mother, a real piece of work. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2020

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