So having explained most of the official terms used to describe the Habsburg empire, what about some of the other terms you come across in museums and palaces?
For example, who were the Hapsburgs (with a P)?
(Excerpt from a 16th-century Habsburg family tree. Note the spelling! Photo courtesy of the Rijksmuseum)
Hapsburg is simply an alternate spelling for Habsburg.
Arguments about the rights and wrongs of different spellings are largely futile. Suffice it to say that the Habsburg family itself uses the “b” version and they would probably know best.
Habsburg is also the spelling generally used in English information displays in Vienna.
(The Glorification of the Union of the Houses of Hapsburg (with a P!) and Lorraine, by Franz Anton Maulbertsch (1775). Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program)
Ah, now, Habsburg-Lorraine is actually the official family name as of the mid-1700s. And yet everyone just talks about Habsburgs. Here’s the story…
In the early 1700s, Emperor Joseph I proved a problem for the Habsburg line. He was not the most faithful of husbands, so managed to infect his wife with a disease that led to her infertility. And then he died.
The result: no male heir.
Joseph’s brother, Karl, succeeded him. One thing the new Emperor did was attempt to regulate the unity of the disparate lands under the monarchy. This “Pragmatic Sanction” also included the new rule that a female could also inherit Habsburg titles (gasp!).
The Pragmatic Sanction turned out to be an inadvertent stroke of genius on Karl VI’s part, because he was survived by three daughters and no sons. Karl’s eldest daughter, Maria Theresa, took on the Habsburg family mantle in 1740.
However, Maria Theresa had earlier married a chap called Franz Stephan, who was Duke of Lorraine (an independent duchy in what is now France), thereby forming the House of Habsburg-Lorraine.
So the new monarch was technically no longer a Habsburg at all, but part of this new family line. The same principle applies to future monarchs, since they were all Maria-Theresa’s descendants. As such, Karl VI was actually the last truly “Habsburg” emperor.
However, few people bother to make the difference. So the term Habsburg continues to be used to refer both to Maria Theresa’s successors and her ancestors.
Other Habsburg monarchies
(Philip II, King of Spain and of Armada fame. He was a Habsburg, too. Photo courtesy of the Rijksmuseum)
The term “Habsburg Empire” usually refers to what we think of historically as THE Habsburg Empire (Austria, Hungary, etc.). But the Habsburg family were a busy bunch, so you’ll find other lands also ruled by a monarch belonging to the Habsburg line. This presumably guaranteed lots of suitably-expensive presents at birthday parties and family get-togethers.
Chief among these other Habsburgs were the Spanish Habsburgs, who ruled Spain from the early 1500s until the line died out in 1700.
The Habsburgs were in charge, for example, during the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs and Incas, and during the failed invasion of England by the Armada in 1588.
In fact, Spain’s first Habsburg monarch (who became Karl V, the Holy Roman Emperor) also inherited the central European lands at the beginning of his reign. However, he quickly transfered these Habsburg territories to his brother, Ferdinand.
The German Confederation
(Illustration from the Battle of Gitschin in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866. Image courtesy of the British Library)
You can think of the German Confederation as a very loose association established in 1815 between German-speaking states, primarily as a military alliance able to handle the pushing and shoving of big boys like Russia or the UK.
The Austrian Empire was a member, but most of its lands (like Hungary) were actually outside the confederation.
Prussia and the Austrian Empire were the two powerhouses in the confederation and their rivalry came to a head in 1866 when they engaged in a game of “who’s got the biggest cannons?”
It turned out the Prussians did.
This Austro-Prussian war brought an end to the confederation and contributed, as we saw earlier, to the decision to redefine the Austrian Empire as Austria-Hungary.
Incidentally, Prussia went off and formed a new confederation imaginatively named the North German Confederation.
Now, we’re almost done with Habsburg terms that visitors need to know. Our penultimate article will look at the issue of Habsburg titles, particularly the rather marvellous idea of an Archduke or Archduchess.