Albrecht III: a teenager as ruler

Duke Albrecht III, 16th century

The life of Duke Albrecht III was initially marked by the crisis within the family and the lack of political orientation following the early death of Duke Rudolf IV.

Duke Albrecht III, 16th century

Duke Albrecht III was the third son of Duke Albrecht II and Joan of Ferrette. After his father’s death in 1358 the young boy came under the authority of his eldest brother, Duke Rudolf IV, who involved him in his ambitious plans. In 1362 – Albrecht was then twelve years old at the most – he was betrothed to Elizabeth of Anjou, the niece of King Louis I of Hungary. The reason behind this proposed union was the hope of rapprochement with the House of Anjou, which had ruled Hungary from 1308. The Anjous were here in competition with the Luxembourg dynasty, who had been kings of Bohemia since 1311 and were also launching attempts to gain the Hungarian crown.

Emperor Charles IV of the Luxembourg dynasty thus forced the dissolution of this betrothal following the death of Rudolf IV in 1365, and instead married his eight-year-old daughter Elizabeth to Albrecht in 1366. Charles made this the condition for the proper enfeoffment of Rudolf’s younger brothers with the Austrian lands. The sudden death of Rudolf was a setback for the House of Habsburg: the regency was now in the hands of the teenage brothers Albrecht and Leopold, who needed the protection of Charles IV as their authority was weak.

This showed itself in the threat of losing dominion over Tyrol, a territory gained only  a short while previously in 1365. Exploiting a local revolt against the Habsburg overlords by a number of nobles in Carinthia, Bavarian troops invaded Tyrol in support of Wittelsbach claims: the second marriage of the heiress to the Tyrol branch of the Meinhardin dynasty, Margarete Maultasch (Margaret, Countess of Tyrol), had been to a member of the House of Wittelsbach, Margrave Louis of Brandenburg. The marriage had also resulted in a son, but like his father he had died before Margaret. The widow had subsequently contracted Tyrol to the Habsburg Rudolf IV during her own lifetime in 1365.

With the support from the bishop of Brixen (Bressanone), the conflict over Tyrol between the Habsburgs and the Wittelsbachs was brought to a conclusion in the Peace of Schärding in 1369. The Habsburgs successfully defended their claim against ceding territory to Bavaria.

Albrecht’s quest for a suitable bride following the death of his first wife, Elizabeth of Bohemia, in 1373 was also conducted with a view to gaining allies in order to consolidate Habsburg rule in the eastern Alpine region. Albrecht’s suit to win the hand of Violante Visconti, whose family ruled over Milan and Lombardy (she was a cousin of Viridis, later wife of Albrecht’s brother Leopold), was unsuccessful, as was his bid to marry one of the daughters of the Hungarian king. In 1375 Duke Albrecht eventually chose Beatrice of Zollern (1360–1414), the daughter of Frederick V, burgrave of Nuremberg. The marriage resulted in a child, Albrecht IV, born in 1377. 

Martin Mutschlechner