Antoni Boys (called Anton Waiss): Cymburgis of Masovia, historicizing painting, between 1579 and 1587

Duke Ernest and Cimburgis of Masovia

Antoni Boys (called Anton Waiss): Cymburgis of Masovia, historicizing painting, between 1579 and 1587

Ernest has an important place in the history of the dynasty for two reasons: in 1414 Ernest first refers to himself as archduke in a document. He is thus the first member of the family to bear this title, which had been usurped by his uncle Rudolf IV. The Early Modern Habsburg rulers descend from Ernest and his Polish wife Cimburgis.

Antoni Boys (called Anton Waiss): Cymburgis of Masovia, historicizing painting, between 1579 and 1587

He used this new title to demonstrate his strengthened position following the death of his two elder brothers and keenest rivals, William and Leopold. While he was the first Habsburg with this title that was reserved for the dynasty, Ernest was also the last ruler to be installed in an archaic ceremony on the Fürstenstein (Princes’ Stone) on the Zollfeld in Carinthia which was held in the Windic language – a precursor of modern Slovenian.

Ernest managed to consolidate his circumstances: his rule in Styria, Carinthia and Carniola progressed satisfactorily. He chose Wiener Neustadt, which at that time was part of Styria, as his residence, making extensive alterations to the city fortress in Late Gothic style.

His first marriage in 1392 to Margaret of Pomerania-Stolp ended with her death in 1410 and remained without issue.

His second wife, Cimburgis of Masovia (b. between 1394 and 1397), left more of a mark on history. On her father’s side she came from the Masovian cadet branch of the Polish royal Piast dynasty. Her mother was a sister of Jagiello, the grand duke of Lithuania, who ascended the Polish throne as King Ladislaus I and founded the Grand Duchy of Lithuania-Poland.

The marriage was celebrated in Cracow in 1412, but the rest of the family objected to the union: the humiliating circumstances in which Ernest’s elder brother William, under pressure from the Polish nobility, had lost his bride Hedwig (Jadwiga) in 1386 to Cimburgis’s uncle Jagiello, had not been forgotten.

The Polish king’s daughter was a beautiful and imposing woman of great physical strength: it was said of her that she could break horseshoes with her bare hands. Some historians think that she was the source of the so-called Habsburg lip, an anomaly of the lower jaw characterized by prognathism, an over-large chin and a fleshy underlip. However, this is disputed, as the trait is said to have already occurred in previous generations.

The robust archduchess gave birth to nine children:

The first-born son Frederick (1415–1493; as Duke of Austria Frederick V) continued the main dynastic lineage after the extinction of the Albertine line. Due more to his tenacity than the pursuit of any grand political aims, he succeeded in strengthening the position of the Habsburgs and winning back the crown of the Holy Roman Empire for the dynasty. As emperor he bore the title Frederick III.

The couple’s eldest daughter Margaret (b. 1416 or 1417–1486) was married to Elector Frederick II of Saxony in 1431. Gifted with a sure political instinct, at the side of her husband she became an influential figure and was a reliable support to her brother in the Empire.

The second son Albrecht VI (1418–1463) entangled himself in inheritance disputes with his elder brother which were only resolved in the latter’s favour when Albrecht died suddenly.

Catherine (1420–1493) was married to Margrave Charles of Baden, thus becoming the progenitrix of the later princely House of Baden.

Three children who died shortly after birth were followed by Ernest (1420–1432) and Anne (1422–1429), neither of whom, however, survived into adulthood.

When Archduke Ernest the Iron died in 1424 his children were still minors. They became wards of his youngest brother Frederick IV of Tyrol. Ernest was buried in the Cistercian abbey of Rein in Styria. His wife Cimburgis died in 1429 while undertaking a pilgrimage to Mariazell, and is buried in the church of the Cistercian abbey at Lilienfeld in Lower Austria.

Martin Mutschlechner