Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor
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Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor

Maximilian I
Albrecht Dürer - Portrait of Maximilian I - Google Art Project.jpg
Maximilian holding his personal emblem, a pomegranate. Portrait by Albrecht Dürer, 1519
Holy Roman Emperor
Reign4 February 1508 -
4 February 1508, Trento[1]
PredecessorFrederick III
SuccessorCharles V
King of the Romans
Reign16 February 1486 -
Coronation9 April 1486
PredecessorFrederick III
SuccessorCharles V
AlongsideFrederick III (1486-1493)
Archduke of Austria
Reign19 August 1493 -
PredecessorFrederick V
SuccessorCharles I
Born22 March 1459
Wiener Neustadt, Inner Austria
Died12 January 1519 (aged 59)
Wels, Upper Austria
(m. 1477; died 1482)
(m. 1490; annulled 1492)
(m. 1494; died 1510)
FatherFrederick III, Holy Roman Emperor
MotherEleanor of Portugal
ReligionRoman Catholicism

Maximilian I (22 March 1459 - 12 January 1519) was King of the Romans from 1486 and Holy Roman Emperor from 1508 until his death. He was never crowned by the pope, as the journey to Rome was blocked by the Venetians.[2] He was instead proclaimed emperor elect by Pope Julius II at Trent, thus breaking the long tradition of requiring a Papal coronation for the adoption of the Imperial title. Maximilian was the son of Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor, and Eleanor of Portugal. He ruled jointly with his father for the last ten years of the latter's reign, from c. 1483 until his father's death in 1493.

Maximilian expanded the influence of the House of Habsburg through war and his marriage in 1477 to Mary of Burgundy, the heiress to the Duchy of Burgundy, though he also lost his family's original lands in today's Switzerland to the Swiss Confederacy. Through marriage of his son Philip the Handsome to eventual queen Joanna of Castile in 1498, Maximilian helped to establish the Habsburg dynasty in Spain, which allowed his grandson Charles to hold the thrones of both Castile and Aragon.[3] The historian Thoman A.Brady Jr. describes him as "the first Holy Roman Emperor in 250 years who ruled as well as reigned".[4]

Background and childhood

Frederick III and Eleanor of Portugal.

Maximilian was born at Wiener Neustadt on 22 March 1459. His father, Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor, named him for an obscure saint, Maximilian of Tebessa, who Frederick believed had once warned him of imminent peril in a dream. In his infancy, he and his parents were besieged in Vienna by Albert of Austria. One source relates that, during the siege's bleakest days, the young prince wandered about the castle garrison, begging the servants and men-at-arms for bits of bread.[5] The young prince was an excellent hunter, his favorite hobby was hunting for birds as a horse archer.

At the time, the dukes of Burgundy, a cadet branch of the French royal family, with their sophisticated nobility and court culture, were the rulers of substantial territories on the eastern and northern boundaries of France. The reigning duke, Charles the Bold, was the chief political opponent of Maximilian's father Frederick III. Frederick was concerned about Burgundy's expansive tendencies on the western border of his Holy Roman Empire, and, to forestall military conflict, he attempted to secure the marriage of Charles' only daughter, Mary of Burgundy, to his son Maximilian. After the Siege of Neuss (1474-75), he was successful. The wedding between Maximilian and Mary took place on 19 August 1477.[6]

Reign in Burgundy and the Netherlands

Weisskunig, garden scene with Maximilian and Mary in Hortus conclusius. Maximilian wrote, "Had we but peace, we would sit here as in a rose garden."[7]

Maximilian's wife had inherited the large Burgundian domains in France and the Low Countries upon her father's death in the Battle of Nancy on 5 January 1477. Already before his coronation as the King of the Romans in 1486, Maximilian decided to secure this distant and extensive Burgundian inheritance to his family, the House of Habsburg, at all costs.[8]

The Duchy of Burgundy was also claimed by the French crown under Salic Law,[9] with Louis XI of France vigorously contesting the Habsburg claim to the Burgundian inheritance by means of military force. Maximilian undertook the defence of his wife's dominions from an attack by Louis XI and defeated the French forces at Guinegate, the modern Enguinegatte, on 7 August 1479.[10]

Maximilian and Mary's wedding contract stipulated that their children would succeed them but that the couple could not be each other's heirs. Mary tried to bypass this rule with a promise to transfer territories as a gift in case of her death, but her plans were confounded. After Mary's death in a riding accident on 27 March 1482 near the Wijnendale Castle, Maximilian's aim was now to secure the inheritance to his and Mary's son, Philip the Handsome.[8]

Some of the Netherlander provinces were hostile to Maximilian, and, in 1482, they signed a treaty with Louis XI in Arras that forced Maximilian to give up Franche-Comté and Artois to the French crown.[9] They openly rebelled twice in the period 1482-1492, attempting to regain the autonomy they had enjoyed under Mary. Flemish rebels managed to capture Philip and even Maximilian himself, but they were defeated when Frederick III intervened.[11][12] Maximilian continued to govern Mary's remaining inheritance in the name of Philip the Handsome. After the regency ended, Maximilian and Charles VIII of France exchanged these two territories for Burgundy and Picardy in the Treaty of Senlis (1493). Thus a large part of the Netherlands (known as the Seventeen Provinces) stayed in the Habsburg patrimony.[9]

Reign in the Holy Roman Empire

Recapture of Austria

Siege of Kufstein, 1504

Maximilian was elected King of the Romans on 16 February 1486 in Frankfurt-am-Main at his father's initiative and crowned on 9 April 1486 in Aachen. Much of Austria was under Hungarian rule, as a result of the Austrian-Hungarian War (1477-1488). Maximilian was now a king without lands. After the death of king Matthias Corvinus of Hungary, from July 1490, Maximilian began a series of short sieges that reconquered cities and fortresses that his father had lost in Austria. Maximilian entered Vienna without siege, already evacuated by the Hungarians, in August 1490. He was injured while attacking the citadel guarded by a garrison of 400 Hungarians troops who twice repelled his forces, but after some days they surrendered.[13] With money from Innsbruck and southern German towns, he raised enough cavalry and Landsknechte to campaign into Hungary itself. Despite Hungary's gentry's hostility to the Habsburg, he managed to gain many supporters, including several Corvinus's former supporters. One of them, Jakob Székely, handed over the Styrian castles to him.[14] He claimed his status as King of Hungary, demanding allegiance through Stephen of Moldavia. In seven weeks, they conquered a quarter of Hungary. His mercenaries committed the atrocity of totally sacking Székesfehérvár, the country's main fortress.[15] When encountering the frost, the troops refused to continue the war though, requesting Maximilian to double their pay, which he could not afford. The revolt turned the situation in favour of the Jagiellonian forces.[16] Maximilian was forced to return. He depended on his father and the territorial estates for financial support. Soon he reconquered Lower and Inner Austria for his father, who returned and settled at Linz. Worrying about his son's adventurous tendencies, Frederick decided to starve him financially though.

The "Golden Roof" residence in Innsbruck, Tyrol

The crown of Hungary thus fell to King Vladislaus II.[16] In 1491, they signed the peace treaty of Pressburg, which provided that Maximilian recognized Vladislaus as King of Hungary, but the Habsburgs would inherit the throne on the extinction of Vladislaus's male line and the Austrian side also received 100,000 golden florins as war reparations.[17]

In addition, the County of Tyrol and Duchy of Bavaria went to war in the late 15th century. Bavaria demanded money from Tyrol that had been loaned on the collateral of Tyrolean lands. In 1490, the two nations demanded that Maximilian I step in to mediate the dispute. His Habsburg counsin, the childless Archduke Sigismund, was negotiating to sell Tyrol to their Wittelsbach rivals rather than let Emperor Frederick inherit it. Maximilian's charm and tact though led to a reconciliation and a reunited dynastic rule in the 1490.[18] Because Tyrol had no law code at this time, the nobility freely expropriated money from the populace, which caused the royal palace in Innsbruck to fester with corruption. After taking control, Maximilian instituted immediate financial reform. In order to symbolize his new wealth and power, he built the Golden Roof, a canopy overlooking the town center of Innsbruck, from which to watch the festivities celebrating his assumption of rule over Tyrol. The canopy is made entirely from golden shingles. Gaining theoretical control of Tyrol for the Habsburgs was of strategic importance because it linked the Swiss Confederacy to the Habsburg-controlled Austrian lands, which facilitated some imperial geographic continuity.

Maximilian became ruler of the Holy Roman Empire upon the death of his father in 1493.

Italian and Swiss wars

Sallet of Maximilian I, c. 1490-95, by Lorenz Helmschmid, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

As the Treaty of Senlis had resolved French differences with the Holy Roman Empire, King Louis XII of France had secured borders in the north and turned his attention to Italy, where he made claims for the Duchy of Milan. In 1499/1500 he conquered it and drove the Sforza regent Lodovico il Moro into exile.[19] This brought him into a potential conflict with Maximilian, who on 16 March 1494 had married Bianca Maria Sforza, a daughter of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, duke of Milan.[9][19] However, Maximilian was unable to hinder the French from taking over Milan.[19] The prolonged Italian Wars resulted[9] in Maximilian joining the Holy League to counter the French. In 1513, with Henry VIII of England, Maximilian won an important victory at the battle of the Spurs against the French, stopping their advance in northern France. His campaigns in Italy were not as successful, and his progress there was quickly checked.

The situation in Italy was not the only problem Maximilian had at the time. The Swiss won a decisive victory against the Empire in the Battle of Dornach on 22 July 1499. Maximilian had no choice but to agree to a peace treaty signed on 22 September 1499 in Basel that granted the Swiss Confederacy independence from the Holy Roman Empire.

Jewish policy

Jewish policy under Maximilian fluctuated greatly, usually influenced by financial considerations and the emperor's vacillating attitude when facing opposing views. In 1496, Maximilian issued a decree which expelled all Jews from Styria and Wiener Neustadt.[20] Between 1494 and 1510, he authorized no less than thirteen expulsions of Jews in return of sizeable fiscal compensations from local government. After 1510 though, this happened only once, and he showed an unusually resolute attitude in resisting a campaign to expel Jews from Regensburg. David Price comments that during the first seventeen years of his reign, he was a great threat to the Jews, but after 1510, even if his attitude was still exploitative, his policy gradually changed.A factor that probably played a role in the change was Maximilian's success in expanding imperial taxing over German Jewry: at this point, he probably considered the possibility of generating tax money from stable Jewish communities, instead of temporary financial compensations from local jurisdictions who seeked to expel Jews.[21]

In 1509, relying on the influence of Kunigunde, Maximilian's pious sister and the Cologne Dominicans, the anti-Jewish agitator Johannes Pfefferkorn was authorized by Maximilian to confiscate all offending Jewish books (including prayer books), except the Bible. The confiscations happened in Frankfurt, Bingen, Mainz and other German cities. Responding to the order, the archbishop of Mainz, the city council of Frankfurt and various German princes tried to intervene in defense the Jews. Maximilian consequently ordered the confiscated books to be returned. On May 23, 1510 though, influenced by a supposed "host desecration" and blood libel in Brandenburg, as well as pressure from Kunigunde, he ordered the creation of an investigating commission and asked for expert opinions from German universities and scholars. The prominent humanist Johann Reuchlin argued strongly in defense of the Jewish books, especially the Talmud.[22] Reuchlin's arguments seemed to leave an impression on the emperor, who gradually developed an intellectual interest in the Talmud and other Jewish books. In 1514, he appointed Paulus Ricius, a Jew who converted to Christianity, as his person physician. He was more interested in Ricius's Hebrew skills than in his medical abilities though. On 1515, he reminded his treasurer Jakob Villinger that Ricius was admitted for the purpose of translating the Talmud into Latin, and urged Villinger to keep an eye on him. Perhaps overwhelmed by the emperor's request, Ricius only managed to translate 2 out of 63 Mishna tractates before the emperor's death.[23]


The estates paying homage to Maximilian, dated 1515

Within the Holy Roman Empire, Maximilian faced pressure from local rulers who believed that the King's continued wars with the French to increase the power of his own house were not in their best interests. There was also a consensus that deep reforms were needed to preserve the unity of the Empire.[24] The reforms, which had been delayed for a long time, were launched in the 1495 Reichstag at Worms. A new organ was introduced, the Reichskammergericht, that was to be largely independent from the Emperor. A new tax was launched to finance it, the Gemeine Pfennig, though its collection was never fully successful.[24] The local rulers wanted more independence from the Emperor and a strengthening of their own territorial rule. This led to Maximilian agreeing to establish an organ called the Reichsregiment, which met in Nuremberg and consisted of the deputies of the Emperor, local rulers, commoners, and the prince-electors of the Holy Roman Empire. The new organ proved politically weak, and its power returned to Maximilian in 1502.[19] To create a rival for the Reichskammergericht, Maximilian establish the Reichshofrat, which had its seat in Vienna. Unlike the Reichskammergericht, the Reichshofrat looked into criminal matters and even allowed the emperors the means to depose rulers who did not live up to expectations. During Maximilian's reign, this Council was not popular though.[25]

Due to the difficult external and internal situation he faced, Maximilian also felt it necessary to introduce reforms in the historic territories of the House of Habsburg in order to finance his army. Using Burgundian institutions as a model, he attempted to create a unified state. Michael Erbe opines that the model was not very successful, but one of the lasting results was the creation of three different subdivisions of the Austrian lands: Lower Austria, Upper Austria, and Vorderösterreich.[19]

Historian Joachim Whaley points out that there are usually two opposite views on Maximilian's rulership: one side is represented by the works of nineteenth century historians like Heinrich Ullmann or Leopold von Ranke, which critize him for selfishly exploiting the German nation and putting the interest of his dynasty over his Germanic nation, thus impeding the unification process; the more recent side is represented by Hermann Wiesflecker's biography of 1971-86, which praises him for being "a talented and successful ruler, notable not only for his Realpolitik but also for his cultural activities generally and for his literary and artistic patronage in particular".[26][27]

According to Whaley, if Maximilian ever saw Germany as a source of income and soldiers only, he failed miserably in extracting both. His hereditary lands and other sources always contributed much more (the Estates gave him the equivalent of 50,000 gulden per year, a lower than even the taxes paid by Jews in both the Reich and hereditary lands, while Austria contributed 500,000 to 1,000,000 gulden per year). On the other hand, the attempts he demonstrated in building the imperial system alone shows that he did consider the German lands "a real sphere of government in which aspirations to royal rule were actively and purposefully pursue." Whaley notes that, despite struggles, what emerged at the end of Maximilian's rule was a strengthened monarchy and not an oligarchy of princes. If he was usually weak when trying to act as a monarch and using imperial instituations like the Reichstag, Maximilian's position was often strong when acting as a neutral overlord and relying on regional leagues of weaker principalities such as the Swabian league, as shown in his ability to call on money and soldiers to mediate the Bavaria dispute in 1504, after which he gained significant territories in Alsace, Swabia and Tyrol. His fiscal reform in his hereditary lands provided a model for other German princes.[28] Benjamin Curtis opines that while Maximilian was not able to fully create a common government for his lands (although the chancellery and court council were able to coordinates affairs across the realms), he strengthened key administrative functions in Austria and created central offices to deal with financial, political and judicial matters - these offices replaced the feudal system and became representative of a more modern system that was administered by professionalized officials. After two decades of reforms, the emperor retained his position as first emong equals, while the empire gained common institutions through which the emperor shared power with the estates.[29]

Maximilian was always troubled by financial shortcomings; his income never seemed to be enough to sustain his large-scale goals and policies. For this reason he was forced to take substantial credits from Upper German banker families, especially from the Baumgarten, Fugger and Welser families. Jörg Baumgarten even served as Maximilian's financial advisor. The Fuggers, who dominated the copper and silver mining business in Tyrol, provided a credit of almost 1 million gulden for the purpose of bribing the prince-electors to choose Maximilian's grandson Charles V as the new Emperor. At the end of Maximilian's rule, the Habsburgs' mountain of debt totalled six million gulden, corresponding to a decade's worth of tax revenues from their inherited lands. It took until the end of the 16th century to repay this debt.

In 1508, Maximilian, with the assent of Pope Julius II, took the title Erwählter Römischer Kaiser ("Elected Roman Emperor"), thus ending the centuries-old custom that the Holy Roman Emperor had to be crowned by the Pope.

Tu felix Austria nube

Der Weisskunig: Maximilian on horseback in besieged town

As part of the Treaty of Arras, Maximilian betrothed his three-year-old daughter Margaret to the Dauphin of France (later Charles VIII), son of his adversary Louis XI. Under the terms of Margaret's betrothal, she was sent to Louis to be brought up under his guardianship. Despite Louis's death in 1483, shortly after Margaret arrived in France, she remained at the French court. The Dauphin, now Charles VIII, was still a minor, and his regent until 1491 was his sister Anne.[30][31]

Dying shortly after signing the Treaty of Le Verger, Francis II, Duke of Brittany, left his realm to his daughter Anne. In her search of alliances to protect her domain from neighboring interests, she betrothed Maximilian I in 1490. About a year later, they married by proxy.[32][33][34]

However, Charles and his sister wanted her inheritance for France. So, when the former came of age in 1491, and taking advantage of Maximilian and his father's interest in the succession of their adversary Mathias Corvinus, King of Hungary,[35] Charles repudiated his betrothal to Margaret, invaded Brittany, forced Anne of Brittany to repudiate her unconsummated marriage to Maximilian, and married Anne of Brittany himself.[36][37][38]

Margaret then remained in France as a hostage of sorts until 1493, when she was finally returned to her father with the signing of the Treaty of Senlis.[39][40]

In the same year, as the hostilities of the lengthy Italian Wars with France were in preparation,[41] Maximilian contracted another marriage for himself, this time to Bianca Maria Sforza, daughter of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan, with the intercession of his brother, Ludovico Sforza,[42][43][44][45] then regent of the duchy after the former's death.[46]

Maximilian talking to German knights (depiction from the contemporary Weisskunig)

Years later, in order to reduce the growing pressures on the Empire brought about by treaties between the rulers of France, Poland, Hungary, Bohemia, and Russia, as well as to secure Bohemia and Hungary for the Habsburgs, Maximilian met with the Jagiellonian kings Ladislaus II of Hungary and Bohemia and Sigismund I of Poland at the First Congress of Vienna in 1515. There they arranged for Maximilian's granddaughter Mary to marry Louis, the son of Ladislaus, and for Anne (the sister of Louis) to marry Maximilian's grandson Ferdinand (both grandchildren being the children of Philip the Handsome, Maximilian's son, and Joanna of Castile).[47][48] The marriages arranged there brought Habsburg kingship over Hungary and Bohemia in 1526.[49][50] Both Anne and Louis were adopted by Maximilian following the death of Ladislaus.[]

Thus Maximilian through his own marriages and those of his descendants (attempted unsuccessfully and successfully alike) sought, as was current practice for dynastic states at the time, to extend his sphere of influence.[50] The marriages he arranged for both of his children more successfully fulfilled the specific goal of thwarting French interests, and after the turn of the sixteenth century, his matchmaking focused on his grandchildren, for whom he looked away from France towards the east.[50][51] These political marriages were summed up in the following Latin elegiac couplet: Bella gerant ali?, t? f?lix Austria n?be/ Nam quae Mars ali?s, dat tibi regna Venus, "Let others wage war, but thou, O happy Austria, marry; for those kingdoms which Mars gives to others, Venus gives to thee."[52]

Death and succession

Maximilian's cenotaph, Hofkirche, Innsbruck
Maximilian's death mask

Maximilian's policies in Italy had been unsuccessful, and after 1517 Venice reconquered the last pieces of their territory. Maximilian began to focus entirely on the question of his succession. His goal was to secure the throne for a member of his house and prevent Francis I of France from gaining the throne; the resulting "election campaign" was unprecedented due to the massive use of bribery.[53] The Fugger family provided Maximilian a credit of one million gulden, which was used to bribe the prince-electors.[54] However, the bribery claims have been challenged.[55] At first, this policy seemed successful, and Maximilian managed to secure the votes from Mainz, Cologne, Brandenburg and Bohemia for his grandson Charles V. The death of Maximilian in 1519 seemed to put the succession at risk, but in a few months the election of Charles V was secured.[19]

In 1501, Maximilian fell from his horse and badly injured his leg, causing him pain for the rest of his life. Some historians have suggested that Maximilian was "morbidly" depressed: from 1514, he travelled everywhere with his coffin.[56] Maximilian died in Wels, Upper Austria, and was succeeded as Emperor by his grandson Charles V, his son Philip the Handsome having died in 1506. For penitential reasons, Maximilian gave very specific instructions for the treatment of his body after death. He wanted his hair to be cut off and his teeth knocked out, and the body was to be whipped and covered with lime and ash, wrapped in linen, and "publicly displayed to show the perishableness of all earthly glory".[57] Although he is buried in the Castle Chapel at Wiener Neustadt, an extremely elaborate cenotaph tomb for Maximilian is in the Hofkirche, Innsbruck, where the tomb is surrounded by statues of heroes from the past.[58] Much of the work was done in his lifetime, but it was not completed until decades later.[]


Military innovation, chivalry and equipments

Albrecht Altdorfe's 'Der große Venezianische Krieg', which depicts the Landsknechte in Maximilian's triumphal procession -- c. 1512-1515

Maximilian is generally considered an able commander (although he lost many wars, usually due to the lack of financial resources) and a military innovator who contributed to the modernization of warfare.[59] He and his condottiero George von Frundsberg organized the first formations of the Landsknechte based on inspiration from Swiss pikement, but increased the ratio of pikemen and favoured handgunners over the crossbowmen, with new tactics being developed, leading to improvement in performance. Discipline, drilling and a highly developed staff by the standard of the era were also instilled.[60][61][62] He started the standardization of the artillery (according to the weight of the cannon balls) and made them more mobile.[63] He sponsored new types of cannons, initiated many innovations that improved the range and damage so that cannons worked better against thick walls, and concerned himself with the metallurgy, as cannons often exploded when ignited and caused damage among his own troups.[64] According to contemporary accounts, he could field an artillery of 105 cannons, including both iron and bronze guns of various sizes.[65] The artillery force is considered by some to be the most developed of the day.[66][67] The arsenal in Innsbruck, created by Maximilian, was one of the most notable artillery arsenal in Europe.[68] His typical tactic was: artillery should attack first, the cavalry would act as shock troups and attack the flanks, infantry fought in tightly-knitted formation at the middle.[64]

Maximilian was described by the nineteenth century politician Anton Alexander Graf von Auesperg as 'the last knight' (der letze Ritter) and this epithet has stuck to him the most.[69] Some historians note that the epithet rings true, yet ironic: as the father of the Landsknechte (of which the paternity he shared with George von Frundsberg), he ended the combat supremacy of the cavalry and his death heralded the military revolution of the next two centuries.[70][71] He threw his own weight behind the promotion of the infantry soldier, leading them in battles on foot with a pike on his shoulder and giving the commanders honours and titles.[72] With Maximilian's establishment and use of the Landsknechte, the military organisation in Germany was altered in a major way. Here began the rise of military enterprisers, who raised mercenaries with a system of subcontractors to make war on credit, and acted as the commanding generals of their own armies.[73][74] Maximilian became an expert military enterpriser himself, leading his father to consider him a spendthrift military adventurer who wandered into new wars and debts while still recovering from the previous campaigns.[75]

While favouring more modern methods in his actual military undertakings, Maximilian had a genuine interest in promoting chivalric traditions like the tournament, being an exceptional jouster himself. The tournaments helped to enhance his personal image and solidify a network of princes and nobles over whom he kept a close watch, fostering fidelity and fraternity among the competitors. Taking inspiration from the Burgundy tournament, he developed the German tournament into a distinctive entity.[76] In addition, during at least two occasions in his campaigns, he challenged and killed French knights in duel-like preludes to battles.[77]

Bellows-visored Maximilian armour

Knights reacted to their decreased condition and loss of privileges in different ways. Some asserted their traditional rights in violent ways and became robber knights like Götz von Berlichingen. The knights as a social group became an obstacle to Maximilian's law and order and the relationship between them and "the last knight" became antagonistic.[64] Some probably also felt slighted by the way imperial propaganda presented Maximilian as the sole defender of knightly values.[78] In the Diet of Worms in 1495, the emperor, the archbishops, great princes and free cities joined force to initiate the Perpetual Land Peace (Ewige Landfriede), forbidding all private feuding, in order to protect the rising tide of commerce.[79] The tournament sponsored by the emperor was thus a tool to appease the knights, although it became a recreational, although deadly extreme sport.[64] After spending 20 years creating and supporting policies against the knights though, Maximilian changed his ways and began trying to engage them to integrate them into his frame of rulership. In 1517, he lifted the ban on Franz von Sickingen, a leading figure among the knights and took him into his service. In the same year, he summoned the Rhenish knights and introduce his Ritterrecht (Knight's Rights), which would provide the free knight with a special law court, in exchange of their oaths for being obedient to the emperor and abstaining from evil deeds. He did not succeed in collecting taxes from them or creating a knights' association, but an ideology or frame emerged, that allowed the knights to retain their freedom while fostering the relationship between the crown and the sword. [80][81]

Maximilian had a great passion for armour, not only as equipment for battle or tournaments, but as an art form. He prided himself on his armor designing expertise and knowledge of metallurgy. Under his patronage, "the art of the armorer blossomed like never before." Master armorers across Europe like Lorenz Helmschmid and Franck Scroo created custom-made armors that often served as extravagant gifts to display Maximilian's generosity and devices that would produce special effects (often initiated by the emperor himsefl) in tournaments.[82] The style of armour that became popular during the second half of his reign featured elaborate fluting and metalworking, and became known as Maximilian armour. It emphasized the details in the shaping of the metal itself, rather than the etched or gilded designs popular in the Milanese style. Maximilian also gave a bizarre jousting helmet as a gift to King Henry VIII - the helmet's visor features a human face, with eyes, nose and a grinning mouth, and was modelled after the appearance of Maximilian himself.[83] It also sports a pair of curled ram's horns, brass spectacles, and even etched beard stubble.[83]

Cultural patronage, reforms and image building

Maximilian was a keen supporter of the arts and sciences, and he surrounded himself with scholars such as Joachim Vadian and Andreas Stoberl (Stiborius), promoting them to important court posts. Many of them were commissioned to assist him complete a series of projects, in different art forms, intended to glorify for posterity his life and deeds and those of his Habsburg ancestors.[84][85] He referred to these projects as Gedechtnus ("memorial"),[85][86] which included a series of stylised autobiographical works: the epic poems Theuerdank and Freydal, and the chivalric novel Weisskunig, both published in editions lavishly illustrated with woodcuts.[84] In this vein, he commissioned a series of three monumental woodblock prints: The Triumphal Arch (1512-18, 192 woodcut panels, 295 cm wide and 357 cm high - approximately 9'8" by 11'8½"); and a Triumphal Procession (1516-18, 137 woodcut panels, 54 m long), which is led by a Large Triumphal Carriage (1522, 8 woodcut panels, 1½' high and 8' long), created by artists including Albrecht Dürer, Albrecht Altdorfer and Hans Burgkmair.[87][88] According to The Last Knight: The Art, Armor, and Ambition of Maximilian I, Maximilian dictated large parts of the books to his secretary and friend Marx Treitzsaurwein who did the rewriting.[89] Authors of the book Emperor Maximilian I and the Age of Durer cast doubt on his role as a true patron of the arts though, as he tended to favor pragmatic elements over high arts.[90] On the other hand, he was a perfectionist who involved himself with every stage of the creative processes. His goals extended far beyond the emperor's own glorification too: commemoration also included the documentation in details of the presence and the restoration of source materials and precious artifacts.[91]

Under his rule, the University of Vienna reached its apogee as a centre of humanistic thought. He established the College of Poets and Mathematicians which was incorporated into the university.[92] Maximilian invited Conrad Celtis, the leading German scientist of their day to University of Vienna. Celtis found the Sodalitas litteraria Danubiana (which was also supported by Maximilian), an association of scholars from the Danube area, to support literature and humanist thought. Maximilian supported and utilized the humanists partly for propaganda effect, partly for his genealogical projects, but he also employed several as secretaries and counsellors - in their selection he rejected class barriers, believing that "intelligent minds deriving their nobility from God", even if this caused conflicts (even physical attacks) with the nobles. He relied on his humanists to create a nationalistic imperial myth, in order to unify the Reich against the French in Italy, as pretext for a later Crusade (the Estates protested against investing their resources in Italy though).[93]

He had notable influence on the development of the musical tradition in Vienna as well. After witnessing the brilliant Burgundian court culture, he looked to the Burgundian court chapel to create his own imperial chapel. As he was always on the move, he brought the chapel as well as his whole peripatetic court with him. In 1498 though, he established the imperial chapel in Vienna, under the direction of Goerge Slatkonia, who would later become the Bishop of Vienna.[94]

The Triumphal Arch

Among some authors, Maximilian has a reputation as the "media emperor". The historian Larry Silver describes him as the first ruler who realized and exploited the propaganda potential of the print press both for images and texts.[95] The reproduction of the Triumphal Arch (mentioned above) in printed form is an example of art in service of propaganda, made available for the public by the economical method of printing (Maximilian did not have money to actually construct it). At least 700 copies were created in the first edition and hung in ducal palaces and town halls through the Reich.[96]

Historian Joachim Whaley comments that: "By comparison with the extraordinary range of activities documented by Silver, and the persistence and intensity with which they were pursued, even Louis XIV appears a rather relaxed amateur." Whaley notes, though, that Maximilian had an immediate stimulus for his "campaign of self-aggrandizement through public relation": the series of conflicts that involved Maximilian forced him to seek means to secure his position. Whaley further suggests that, despite the later religious divide, "patriotic motifs developed during Maximilian's reign, both by Maximilian himself and by the humanist writers who responded to him, formed the core of a national political culture."[26]

Maximilian's reign witnessed the gradual emergence of the German common language. His chancery played a notable role in developing new linguistic standards. Martin Luther credited Maximilian and the Wettin Elector Frederick the Wise with the unification of German language. Tennant and Johnson opine that while other chanceries have been considered significant and then receded in important when the research direction changes, the chanceries of these two rulers have always been considered important from the beginning. As a part of his influential literary and propaganda projects, Maximilian had his autobiographical works embellished, reworked and sometimes ghostwritten in the chancery itself. He is also credited with a major reform of the imperial chancery office: "Maximilian is said to have caused a standardization and streamlining in the language of his Chancery, which set the pace for chanceries and printers throughout the Empire."[97]

Modern postal system

Franz von Taxis received the Postmaster order from Frederick III, Maximilian's father

Together with Franz von Taxis, in 1490, Maximilian developed the first modern postal service in the world. The system was originally built to improve communication between his scattered territories, connecting Burgundy, Austria, Spain and France and later developing to an Europe-wide, fee-based system. Fixed postal routes (the first in Europe) were developed, together with regular and reliable service. From the beginning of the sixteenth century, the system became open to private mail.[98][99]

Political legacy

Maximilian had appointed his daughter Margaret as the Regent of the Netherlands, and she fulfilled this task well. Through wars and marriages he extended the Habsburg influence in every direction: to the Netherlands, Spain, Bohemia, Hungary, Poland, and Italy. This influence lasted for centuries and shaped much of European history. The Habsburg Empire survived as the Austro-Hungarian Empire until it was dissolved 3 November 1918 - 399 years 11 months and 9 days after the passing of Maximilian.

Geoffrey Parker summarizes Maximilian's political legacy as follows[100]:

By the time Charles received his presentation copy of Der Weisskunig in 1517, Maximilian could point to four major successes. He had protected and reorganized the Burgundian Netherlands, Whose political future had seemed bleak when he became their ruler forty years earlier. Likewise, he had overcome the obstacles posed by individual institutions, traditions and languages to forge the sub-Alpine lands he inherited from his father into a single state: 'Austria', ruled and taxed by a single administration that he created at Innsbruck. He had also reformed the chaotic central government of the Holy Roman Empire in ways that, though imperfect, would last almost until its demise three centuries later. Finally, by arranging strategic marriages for his grandchildren, he had established the House of Habsburg as the premier dynasty in central and eastern Europe, creating a polity that his successors would expand over the next four centuries.

Maximilian's life is still commemorated in Central Europe centuries later. The Order of St. George, which he sponsored, still exists.[101] In 2011, for example, a monument was erected for him in Cortina d'Ampezzo.[102] Also in 1981 in Cormons on the Piazza Liberta a statue of Maximilian, which was there until the First World War, was put up again.[103] On the occasion of the 500th anniversary of his death there were numerous commemorative events in 2019 at which Karl von Habsburg, the current head of the House of Habsburg, represented the imperial dynasty.[104][105][106]


Official style

Maximilian I, by the grace of God elected Holy Roman Emperor, forever August, King of Germany, of Hungary, Dalmatia, Croatia, etc. Archduke of Austria, Duke of Burgundy, Brabant, Lorraine, Styria, Carinthia, Carniola, Limburg, Luxembourg, Gelderland, Landgrave of Alsace, Prince of Swabia, Count Palatine of Burgundy, Princely Count of Habsburg, Hainaut, Flanders, Tyrol, Gorizia, Artois, Holland, Seeland, Ferrette, Kyburg, Namur, Zutphen, Margrave of the Holy Roman Empire, the Enns, Burgau, Lord of Frisia, the Wendish March, Pordenone, Salins, Mechelen, etc. etc.[]

Chivalric orders

A gold-and-silver coin featuring the bust of a crowned man in armour, holding a sceptre and a sword. The bust is surrounded with the text 'Maximilianus Dei Gra Rex & Imper Augustus'.
A gold-and-silver coin featuring five coats of arms, three crowned, and the chain of the Order of the Golden Fleece. The coin is surrounded by text.
Maximilian's coin with the Burgundian Order of the Golden Fleece

On 30 Arpil, 1478, Maximilian was knighted by Adolf of Cleves (1425-1492), a senior member of the Order of the Golden Fleece and on the same day he became the sovereign of this exalted order. As its head, he did everything in his power to restore its glory as well as associate the order with the Habsburg lineage. He expelled the members who had defected to France and rewarded those loyal to him, and also invited foreign rulers to join its ranks.[112]

Maximilian I was a member of the Order of the Garter, nominated by King Henry VII of England in 1489. His Garter stall plate survives in St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle.[113]

Appearance and personality

Maximilian by Bernhard Strigel, around 1500

Maximilian was strongly built with an upright posture, had neck length blond or reddish hair, a large hooked nose and a jutting jaw (like his father, he always shaved his beard, as the jutting jaw was considered a noble feature.[114] Although not conventionally handsome, he was well-proportioned and in his youth was considered physically attractive, with an affable, pleasing manner.[115][116]

Maximilian was a late developer. According to his teacher Johannes Cuspinian, he did not speak until he was nine-year-old, and after that only developed slowly. Frederick III recalled that when his son was twelve, he still thought that the boy was either mute or stupid.[117] In his adulthood, he spoke six languages (he learned French from his wife Mary)[118] and was a genuinely talented author.[119] Other than languages, mathematics and religion, he painted and played various instruments and was also trained in farming, carpentry and blacksmithing, although the focus of his education was naturally kingship.[120] Gerhard Benecke opines that by nature he was the man of action, a "vigorously charming extrovert" who had a "conventionally superficial interest in knowledge, science and art combined with excellent health in his youth" (he remained virile into his late thirties and only stopped jousting after an accident damaged a leg).[121] He was brave to the point of recklessness, and this did not only show in battles. He once entered a lion's enclosure in Munich alone to tease the lion, and at another point climbed to the top of the Cathedral of Ulm, stood on one foot and turned himself round to gain a full view, at the trepidation of his attendants. In the nineteenth century, an Austrian officer lost his life trying to repeat the emperor's "feat", while another succeeded.[122][123]

Historian Ernst Bock, with whom Benecke shares the same sentiment, writes the following about him[124]:

His rosy optimism and utilitarianism, his totally naive amorality in matters political, both unscrupulous and machiavellian; his sensuous and earthy naturalness, his exceptional receptiveness towards anything beautiful especially in the visual arts, but also towards the various fashions of his time whether the nationalism in politics, the humanism in literature and philosophy or in matters of economics and capitalism; further his surprising yearning for personal fame combined with a striving for popularity, above all the clear consciousness of a developed individuality: these properties Maximilian displayed again and again.

Marriages and offspring

Emperor Maximilian I and his family; with his son Philip the Fair, his wife Mary of Burgundy, his grandsons Ferdinand I and Charles V, and Louis II of Hungary (husband of his granddaughter Mary of Austria).
Maximilian in armour, a posthumous portrait in 1618 by Peter Paul Rubens.

Maximilian was married three times, but only the first marriage produced offspring:

  • Maximilian's first wife was Mary of Burgundy (1457-1482). They were married in Ghent on 19 August 1477, and the marriage was ended by Mary's death in a riding accident in 1482. Mary was the love of his life. Even in old age, the mere mention of her name moved him to tears (although, his sexual life, contrary to his chivalric ideals, was unchaste).[125] The grand literary projects commissioned and composed in large part by Maximilian many years after her death were in part tributes to their love, especially Theuerdank, in which the hero saved the damsel in distress like he had saved her inheritance in real life.[126][127] His heart is buried inside her sarcophagus in Bruges according to his wish.[128]

The marriage produced three children:

Habsburg realms (green) under Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor
  1. Philip I of Castile (1478-1506) who inherited his mother's domains following her death, but predeceased his father. He married Joanna of Castile, becoming king-consort of Castile upon her accession in 1504, and was the father of the Holy Roman Emperors Charles V and Ferdinand I
  2. Margaret of Austria (1480-1530), who was first engaged at the age of 2 to the French dauphin (who became Charles VIII of France a year later) to confirm peace between France and Burgundy. She was sent back to her father in 1492 after Charles repudiated their betrothal to marry Anne of Brittany. She was then married to the crown prince of Castile and Aragon John, Prince of Asturias, and after his death to Philibert II of Savoy, after which she undertook the guardianship of her deceased brother Philip's children, and governed Burgundy for the heir, Charles.
  3. Francis of Austria, who died shortly after his birth in 1481.
  • Maximilian's second wife was Anne of Brittany (1477-1514) - they were married by proxy in Rennes on 18 December 1490, but the contract was dissolved by the pope in early 1492, by which time Anne had already been forced by the French king, Charles VIII (the fiancé of Maximilian's daughter Margaret of Austria) to repudiate the contract and marry him instead.
  • Maximilian's third wife was Bianca Maria Sforza (1472-1510) - they were married in 1493, the marriage bringing Maximilian a rich dowry and allowing him to assert his rights as imperial overlord of Milan. The marriage was unhappy, and they had no children.

In addition, he had several illegitimate children:

  • By unknown mistress:
  1. Martha von Helfenstein or Margaretha, Mathilde, Margareta, née von Edelsheim (?-1537), wife of Johann von Hille (died 1515), remarried Ludwig Helferich von Helfenstein (1493-1525, married in 1517 or 1520); Ludwig was killed by peasants on 16 April 1525 in the Massacre of Weinsberg during the German Peasants' War. They had a surviving son named Maximilian (1523-1555)[129][130] Some sources reported that she was born in 1480 or her mother was Margareta von Edelsheim, née Rappach.[131]
  • By Margareta von Edelsheim, née Rappach (?-1522) Dingel reports that she was born around 1470 [132] while others report that in 1494 she was still a minor when she married von Rottal[133]:
  1. Barbara von Rottal (1500-1550), wife of Siegmund von Dietrichstein. Some report that she was the daughter of Margareta von Edelsheim, née Rappach[134], while Benecke lists the mother as unidentified.[130]
  2. George of Austria (1505-1557), Prince-Bishop of Liège.
  • By Anna von Helfenstein:
  1. Cornelius (1507-c. 1527).[]
  2. Maximilian Friedrich von Amberg (1511-1553), Lord of Feldkirch.[]
  3. Leopold (c. 1515-1557), bishop of Córdoba, Spain (1541-1557), with illegitimate succession.[]
  4. Dorothea (1516-1572), heiress of Falkenburg, Durbuy and Halem, lady in waiting to Queen Maria of Hungary; wife of Johan I of East Frisia.
  5. Anna Margareta (1517-1545), lady in waiting to Queen Maria of Hungary; wife of François de Melun ( -1547), 2nd count of Epinoy.[]
  6. Anne (1519-?). She married Louis d'Hirlemont.[]
  7. Elisabeth (d. 1581/1584), wife of Ludwig III von der Marck, Count of Rochefort.[]
  8. Barbara, wife of Wolfgang Plaiss.[]
  9. Christoph Ferdinand (d. c. 1522).[]
  • By unknown mistress (parentage uncertain):
  1. Guielma, wife of Rudiger (Rieger) von Westernach.[]

Triumphal woodcuts

A set of woodcuts called the Triumph of Emperor Maximilian I. See also Category:Triumphal Procession of Maximilian I - Wikimedia Commons

Triumph of the Emperor Maximilian I - 004.jpg Triumph of the Emperor Maximilian I - 005.jpg Triumph of the Emperor Maximilian I - 006.jpg Triumph of the Emperor Maximilian I - 007.jpg Triumph of the Emperor Maximilian I - 008.jpg Triumph of the Emperor Maximilian I - 009.jpg People from Calicut People from Calicut Triumph of the Emperor Maximilian I - 012.jpg Hans burgkmair il vecchio, spadaccini con alabarde, dalla serie della processione trionfale di massimiliano I, 1526 (ristampa del 1796).jpg Triumph of the Emperor Maximilian I - 013.jpg Triumph of the Emperor Maximilian I - 014.jpg Triumph of the Emperor Maximilian I - 015.jpg Triumph of the Emperor Maximilian I - 016.jpg Triumphzug Kaiser Maximilians 1.jpg Triumphzug Kaiser Maximilians 2.jpg Wartime Triumphs Musikantendarstellungen Cart with Horn Musicians Triumph of the Emperor Maximilian I - 001.jpg Hungarian combatants, escort of Emperor Maximilian I Triumph of the Emperor Maximilian I - 002.jpg Triumph of the Emperor Maximilian I - 003.jpg The Triumphal Chariot of Maximilian I

See also

  • Family tree of the German monarchs. He was related to every other king of Germany.
  • First Congress of Vienna - The First Congress of Vienna was held in 1515, attended by the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian I, and the Jagiellonian brothers, Vladislaus II, King of Hungary and King of Bohemia, and Sigismund I, King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania
  • Landsknecht - The German Landsknechts, sometimes also rendered as Landsknechte were colorful mercenary soldiers with a formidable reputation, who became an important military force through late 15th- and 16th-century Europe


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  • Hermann Wiesflecker, Kaiser Maximilian I. 5 vols. Munich 1971-1986.
  • Manfred Hollegger, Maximilian I., 1459-1519, Herrscher und Mensch einer Zeitenwende. Stuttgart 2005.
  • Larry Silver, Marketing Maximilian: The Visual Ideology of a Holy Roman Emperor (Princeton / Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2008).

External links

Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor
Born: 22 March 1459  Died: 12 January 1519
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Frederick III
Holy Roman Emperor
4 February 1508 - 12 January 1519
Succeeded by
Charles V
King of the Romans
16 February 1486 - 12 January 1519
Archduke of Austria
19 August 1493 - 12 January 1519
Preceded by
Archduke of Further Austria
19 March 1490 - 19 August 1493
Reunited rule
Preceded by
Mary the Rich
as sole ruler
Duke of Brabant, Limburg,
Lothier, Luxemburg and Guelders;
Margrave of Namur;
Count of Zutphen, Artois,
Flanders, Charolais,
Hainaut, Holland and Zeeland;
Count Palatine of Burgundy

19 August 1477 - 27 March 1482
with Mary the Rich
Succeeded by
Philip the Fair

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Music Scenes