Guilielmo O’ Kelly: Genealogical tree of Emperor Charles VI, 18th century

The Birth of a Dynasty


The election of Rudolf I as ruler over the Holy Roman Empire propelled a family into the limelight of history whose significance had hitherto been no more than regional.

The Habsburgs assumed rule in Austria and sought to consolidate their position in the Holy Roman Empire in competition with other princely dynasties. The new dynasty had to impress its image on the contemporary scene, which during the Middle Ages was best achieved by founding monasteries and building churches or by adopting traditional symbols of power.

In the mythical conception of history prevailing in medieval times, ‘ancient origin’ was an enormous legitimizing force in asserting claims to power. Only if sovereignty could link up with time-hallowed traditions did it correspond to the ideal of the divine world order. In order to justify new claims, claimants were forced to contrive traditions by resorting to the then widespread forgery of documents and the invention of fictional ancestral lineages.

The ideological foundation of the House of Habsburg was laid in the late Middle Ages and remained its defining ethos until the end of the dynasty’s rule.

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