Profiles in Royalty: The Habsburg Dynasty
By Tracy R. Twyman
Originally written for Dagobert’s Revenge Magazine, Copyright 1998
(Does not necessarily represent author’s current viewpoint.)
The Habsburgs are one of Europe’s oldest and most influential royal families. They provided the dukes and archdukes of Austria from 1282 on, the kings of Bohemia and Hungary from 1526 to 1918, the Holy Roman Emperors from 1438 to 1806, the kings of Spain from 1516 to 1700, and the emperors of Austria from 1804 to 1918. Their name is derived from the family castle, “Habichtsburg” (Hawk’s Castle), built on the Aare River by Bishop Wener of Strasbourg in 1020, in what is now the Swiss canton of Aargau. The legendary founder of the dynasty is Guntram the Rich, circa 950, possibly a Carolingian nobleman. Bishop Werner’s nephew, also named Werner, became their first count. The family became more prominent when his ancestor, Count Rudulf was elected the German king and the Holy Roman Emperor in 1273. Between 1308 and 1438 they married their way into the House of Bohemia and Hungary. Later that century Maximilian I married into Burgundy, and his son, Philip married into Aragon and Castile. His son, Chares V thus inherited Spain and parts of Italy, the Netherlands, Germany, and Austria. When Charles died in 1556, he left The Netherlands and the Italian portions to his son Philip II, while his other son, Ferdinand I got Austria, Bohemia and Hungary, as well as the title Holy Roman Emperor. So the empire was divided, thus the use of the double-headed eagle as a royal device. In 1700, a problem with primogeniture in the Spanish Habsburg line lead to the War of the Spanish Succession, in which Spain was given to the Bourbons, while the Netherlands and the Italian portions were given to the Austrian branch of the Habsburgs. Then in 1736, Charles VI’s daughter Maria Teresa married Duke Francis of Lorraine, who later became Holy Roman Emperor, thus creating the House of Habsburg-Lorraine. Their daughter was Marie Antoinette.
It is at this point that the Habsburgs become intertwined with the Merovingian bloodline. (In fact, the contents of Merovingian King Childeric I’s tomb, including a severed horse’s head, a golden bull’s head, a crystal ball and 300 golden bees, were later entrusted to Leopold Wilhelm von Habsburg, governor of the Austrian Netherlands and brother of Emperor Ferdinand III.) Maria Teresa lost much territory to Prussia in the War of the Austrian Succession. Her grandson, Francis I, was the last Holy Roman Emperor the world ever had. During his reign the Habsburgs played a vital role in the opposition of Napoleon, and later the French Revolution. (Some say it was only the French Revolution that prevented them from dominating all of Europe.)
In 1804, Francis declared himself the Emperor of Austria, and thus became their Francis I. His son, Francis II, was highly incompetent, and had to abdicate his throne to his nephew, Francis Joseph during the revolutions of 1848. It was in Francis Joseph’s reign that the Habsburgs were forced out of Italy and Germany. Their dynastic holdings were put back together in 1867 and the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary was declared. They finally lost most of their territory during WWI. The last Habsburg Emperor, Charles I was banished from Austria by the new Austrian Republic in 1919 for refusing to relinquish his hereditary claims. He made two abortive attempts to regain the throne in 1921, and then died in exile. His eldest son, Archduke Otto von Habsburg is the current HRH (Head of the Royal House), and has been allowed to return to Austria as a private citizen. He is now a resident of Germany, however, and is an elected representative to the European Parliament. He and his son, Karl von Habsburg, have been at the forefront of the push for a United Europe, as well as a global government. In fact, he is the President of the Society for the United States of Europe. He holds the titles “Duke of Lorraine and King of Jerusalem.” The current head of the Spanish House of Habsburg in Felipe Juan, born in 1968.
It was during their reign as the Holy Roman Emperors that the Habsburg family came into possession of the Spear of Destiny, or the Holy Lance. This is said to be the same spear with which Longinus pierced the side of Christ as he hung upon the cross, and it had a nail supposedly from the cross stuck into the blade. Later it got into the hands of another Roman centurion, Mauritius, who clasped it as the Emperor Maximian beheaded him and his legion in 285 for refusing to worship pagan gods. From there it made its way to Constantine the Great, who wielded it as a scepter, and was bearing it when he declared himself “the thirteenth Apostle.” The Spear is believed to possess magical powers, and whoever possesses it can rule the world (or at least significant portions of it). When Charles Martel (“Carl the Hammer”) took over Dagobert II’s position as King of the Franks, thus beginning the Carolingian dynasty, he used the Spear as a symbol of his power, and so did his grandson, Charlemagne, who became Holy Roman Emperor in 800. The Lance supposedly gave him clairvoyant powers through which he discovered the grave of St. James in Spain, and predicted events. He slept with it near him every day of his life. For the next thousand, until the Holy Roman Empire’s collapse in 1806, the Spear of Destiny was its royal insignia. In that year, Napoleon abolished the throne of the HRE, but he made a point of marrying into the Habsburg family via Marie Louise of Austria, and frantically sought the Spear of Destiny for years, but never found it. It is believed that it was purposely hidden from him by conscientious Habsburgs. He did, however, manage to get his hands on Childeric’s golden bees, which he had affixed to his coronation robe, as well as that of his wife. (He also commissioned a compilation of Merovingian genealogies, to determine whether or not the bloodline had survived the fall of the dynasty.)
In 1913, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany tried to obtain the Spear before launching a war. He sent a letter to Habsburg Emperor Franz Joseph in Vienna, asking to borrow it, as well as the Crown of the Holy Roman Emperor, for an exhibition in Germany. His request was wisely denied. One year later, Franz Joseph’s nephew, Archduke Francis Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated on June 28, 1914. Franz Joseph declared WWI to avenge the death. He died in the middle of the war and Charles I took over. It was him who was forced to abdicate the throne in 1918, having lost the war.
Like the Kaiser before him, Adolf Hitler was also obsessed with the Spear of Destiny, and sought it for both it’s magical and symbolic power: Its symbolic power as the sign of the Holy Roman Empire, which he hoped to resurrect, and its magical powers, enabling it’s possessor to conquer the world. There are even rumors that he saw himself as a reincarnation of Klingsor, the antagonist in Richard Wagner’s Parzival who uses the Lance for evil intent. Some say that Hitler would spend hours at the Habsburg’s Hofburg Museum in Vienna, meditating on the Spear. On Oct. 13, 1938 (the same date that Philip la Belle pf France began his persecution of the Templars), after invading Austria, Hitler took the Spear and the Crown of the Holy Roman Empire back home to Nuremberg. They were both eventually found by the Allies in a tunnel beneath Nuremberg Fortress on April 30 1945 (Walpurgisnacht), in the very same hour that Hitler took his own life. They were both soon returned to the Habsburgs, to whom they belonged. Today the Spear of Destiny and the Crown of the Holy Roman Empire are back on display at the Hofburg Museum.