The Hohenzollern, a family of European rulers, originated as a family of counts in Swabia (Schwaben) in the 11th or 12th century. The Hohenzollerns ruled Prussia (Preußen) and eventually united and ruled Germany until the end of World War I. Their strong, rigidly disciplined armies gave Prussia a reputation for military excellence.
The Hohenzollerns were named for their ancestral castle, Zollern (later Hohenzollern), located near Hechingen, Swabia (now in the state of Baden-Württemberg). In 1227 the Hohenzollern count Conrad III was made burgrave of Nürnberg by Friedrich II, Holy Roman emperor, and the Hohenzollerns of Nürnberg formed a new branch of the family, called the Franconian; the original line remained in Swabia. In 1417 Burgrave Friedrich I became elector and margrave of Brandenburg. He was succeeded by 11 Hohenzollern electors, the eighth of whom, Johann Sigismund, became the first duke of Prussia. Friedrich Wilhelm, called The Great Elector, expanded and consolidated territory held by Brandenburg, and in 1701 his successor, Friedrich III, became Friedrich I, king of Prussia. During the next century and a half the Prussian throne was held by Friedrich Wilhelm I, Friedrich II, the Great (the most celebrated of the Hohenzollerns), Friedrich Wilhelm II, Friedrich Wilhelm III, and Friedrich Wilhelm IV. The Prussian king Wilhelm I became emperor of Germany in 1871. He was succeeded by Friedrich III and Wilhelm II. Hohenzollern rule came to an end in 1918, when Wilhelm II was forced to abdicate. The Swabian branch of the Hohenzollerns ruled the petty principalities of Hohenzollern-Hechingen and Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen. In 1849 Karl Anthony, prince of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, ceded his principality to the Prussian king. His son Leopold was a candidate for the throne of Spain in 1870, and his second son became Carol I, king of Romania, in 1866. Hohenzollerns retained the throne of Romania until the abdication of King Michael in 1947. The Hohenzollern-Hechingen line of the Swabian branch became extinct in 1869.
The name is derived from the family castle of Habsburg, or Habichtsburg ("Hawk's Castle"), built in 1020 on the Aare River in what is now the Swiss canton of Aargau by Bishop Werner of Strasbourg. The actual origin of the family is obscure, but Guntram the Rich, who lived about A.D. 950 and may have been a Carolingian noble, is considered the earliest traceable ancestor of the Habsburg house. Bishop Werner's nephew, also named Werner, became the first count of Habsburg; he died in 1096. With the election of Count Rudolf as the German king and Holy Roman emperor Rudolf I in 1273, the Habsburgs came into European prominence. By wresting the Babenberg inheritance the duchies of Austria, Steiermark (Styria), Kärnten (Carinthia), and Carniola from King Ottokar II of Bohemia in 1278, Rudolf greatly increased the power of his house. In 1282 he invested his successors with these duchies, which became the hereditary lands and center of the Habsburg domains, identified with Austria, which they ruled without interruption until 1918 as dukes, archdukes, and emperors. (The hereditary title of archduke was instituted by Holy Roman Emperor Friedrich III in 1453.) Rudolf's son, Holy Roman Emperor Albert I, was assassinated in 1308, after which the imperial title was denied the Habsburgs for more than a century. During this period they continued their earlier policy of acquisition through diplomacy and dynastic marriages with the houses of Bohemia and Hungary. After Albert II became Holy Roman emperor in 1438, the imperial office remained in Habsburg hands (except for the short period of 1742-1745) until its abolition by Napoleon I in 1806.
After becoming emperor in 1493, Maximilian I, through his shrewd diplomacy and marriage policy, was in a large measure responsible for the establishment of Habsburg domination of European policies during the following four centuries. His own marriage gained his family the Bourguignon inheritance in the Low Countries; his son Philip's marriage brought Aragon and Castile. His successor, Karl V, thus inherited Spain and its overseas empire, parts of Italy, the Netherlands, and the Habsburg German and Austrian possessions. This was the apex of Habsburg power. On his abdication in 1556, Karl left Spain, the Netherlands, and the Italian domains, as well as the overseas empire, to his son Philip II, while Austria was ruled by Karl's brother, Emperor Ferdinand I, who in 1526 also succeeded to the thrones of Bohemia and Hungary. Thus, on Karl's death, the house of Habsburg was divided, the Austrian branch retaining the imperial title. The extinction of the Spanish Habsburg line in 1700 led to the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714). By the Peace of Utrecht (1713) and the treaty of Rastatt (1714), Spain passed from the Habsburgs to the French Bourbons. The Austrian branch, however, received Spain's Italian possessions (except for Sicily) and also the southern Netherlands.
The male line of the Austrian Habsburgs ended with Karl VI in 1740. By the Pragmatic Sanction of 1713, Karl secured the recognition of the indivisibility of the Habsburg lands and the right of succession of his daughter Maria Theresa. By her marriage to Duke Franz of Lorraine (later Holy Roman Emperor Franz I) in 1736, she created the house of Habsburg-Lorraine. Maria Theresa lost most of Silesia to Prussia in the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748).
Maria Theresa's grandson, Franz II, was the last Holy Roman emperor. During his reign the Habsburg empire played a leading role in the defense of Europe against revolutionary and Napoleonic France. In 1804, anticipating the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire, Franz II assumed the title of emperor of Austria. His son, the sickly Ferdinand I, proved incompetent to exercise his office. During the Revolutions of 1848, which endangered the existence of the multinational Habsburg empire, Ferdinand was compelled to abdicate in favor of his nephew, Franz Joseph.
In the course of Franz Joseph's reign, Austria was forced out of Italy and expelled from Germany in 1866. The remaining domains of the Habsburgs were reconstructed in 1867 as the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary. Defeat in World War I (1914-1918) led to the final breakup of the Habsburg empire and the alienation of most of its territory. The last Habsburg, Emperor Karl I, refused to renounce his own claims and those of his dynasty to their hereditary positions. The new Austrian republic consequently banished the Habsburgs in 1919. Karl's two attempts in 1921 to regain his Hungarian throne proved unsuccessful; he died in exile.
As head of the house of Habsburg, Archduke Otto, Karl's eldest son, petitioned the Austrian government in 1961 to be allowed to return to Austria as a private citizen. Otto's request was granted in 1963 and he became a resident of West Germany (now part of the Federal Republic of Germany) and one of the elected representatives of that country to the European Parliament.
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