Blick auf den Volksgarten © Wien Tourismus Christian Stemper

The Late Middle Ages

The Late Middle Ages

The Habsburg Danube monarchy: A.E.I.O.U.

Rudolph I’s ascension to the throne in 1273 marked the beginning of the series of Romano-Germanic kings and emperors from the family which determined the fate of the Danube area until 1918: the Habsburgs. From Frederick III’s election to the position in 1440 until 1806, the House of Habsburg was regularly entrusted with the honour of ruling the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. And it was under Emperor Frederick III that the contours of a Habsburg Danube monarchy became for the first time discernible. Frederick’s legendarily phlegmatic temperament – he was known as the “Empire’s arch-sleepyhead” – resulted in his enjoying an extraordinarily long life (1415–1493), which enabled him to quite simply outlive his rivals and opponents. He was thus able to bequeath to his successors the Habsburg possessions, which had at the beginning of his reign been fragmented and imperilled, in an undivided, well-appointed state.

Above the Friedrichsportal of the Linzer Schloss, or Linz Castle, we read the monogram A.E.I.O.U. The mysterious letters appear to refer to Frederick III, and can be found in other places too, such as St. Rupert’s Church, in Vienna. Speculation as to their meaning continues up to the present day: perhaps Austria Erit In Orbe Ultima (Austria will be the highest on the globe) or Austriae Est Imperare Omne Universum (Austria has the rulership of the entire world)? Alles Erdreich Ist Österreich Untertan (All Earth is Austria’s subject) seems to be a later German explanation.

And as if all that wasn’t enough, the marriage policy engineered by Emperor Frederick III really did make the House of Habsburg into a world power. Reference is made to this in these two lines: Bella gerant Alii, Tu felix Austria nube / nam quae Mars Aliis, dat tibi regna Venus (Let others wage wars – you, happy Austria, marry / For the riches which Mars gives those others shall be bestowed upon you by Venus). There were four clever and far-sighted arranged dynastic marriages which produced that result: namely, the marriage of the heir to the throne, Maximilian I, to Maria of Burgundy, the Spanish marriage of Maximilian’s son Philip the Handsome to Joan the Mad, and the two marriages into the ruling Polish dynasty, which would subsequently also bring the Habsburgs the Bohemian Crown of St. Wenceslas and the Hungarian Crown of St. Stephen. In around 1500, the Danube and Alpine region to the west was united under the Habsburgs. The dynastic name of Habsburg and the country name Austria, Österreich, merged into one synonymous concept.

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