The House of Habsburg took root in the 13th century at a small castle in the canton of Aargau in modern day Switzerland. Over the ensuing centuries it expanded and mutated to dominate Central Europe, the Low Countries, parts of Italy, Iberia, large tracts of North and South America, and the Philippines at various times. It was the first empire on which the sun never set, and its head usually held the elective title of Holy Roman Emperor. This growth was accomplished not so much by conquest, but through strategic marital alliances.
During the 19th century, the dynasty’s dominant role in Central Europe was irremediably weakened by seismic changes resulting from the Napoleonic wars and later eclipsed by the emergent Prussian state and new German Empire. After three-quarters of a millennium, this multi-ethnic empire collapsed at the close of the Great War it had started. Unable to stave off military defeat and the sweeping tide of nationalism and self-determination, it joined three other empires in disintegration. Echoes of the House of Habsburg would reverberate through the 20th century into the 21st century in the personalities of the last emperor’s widow and son.
Over the course of seven weeks, we will look at this remarkable dynasty and the times in which it flourished, declined, adapted, and ultimately collapsed.