Bella gerant alii, tu felix Austria nube – ‘Let others wage war: thou, happy Austria, marry’. This famous saying is invariably quoted when the rise of the Habsburgs is put down to the success of their dynastic marriage policy, in which young archdukes and archduchesses were frequently married off as children to members of other dynasties, or indeed to relatives of their own.
Emperor Maximilian I is credited with the greatest success in the implementation of this policy – through his own marriage and those of his son Philip the Fair and his grandson Ferdinand, the dynasty gained Burgundy, Spain, Bohemia, and Hungary. However, the famous saying ignores the many strokes of luck that contributed to the rise of the Habsburgs – and also the fact that their gains were by no means always achieved without loss of blood. Wars were an equally important element of Habsburg policy as marriages.