Habsburg Monarchy

gigatos | March 3, 2022


The Habsburg Monarchy, the Austrian Monarchy or the Habsburg Empire is the historiographical term for the countries ruled by the Austrian branch of the House of Habsburg from 1526 to 1804. These countries were formally linked only in a personal union, but through a slow state-building process, a unity emerged within them. In 1804, Francis I confirmed this by uniting all the countries of the monarchy under one crown, creating the Empire of Austria.

The history of the monarchy was characterized by great contrasts at the cultural and administrative level between the different countries within the monarchy. In addition, the fact that the Habsburg rulers had been emperors of the Holy Roman Empire almost continuously since 1438 meant that they had to divide their attention between the government of their own domains and that of the Holy Roman Empire. The contradictions between the two areas often brought about major problems. Furthermore, the strategic location of the Habsburg monarchy meant that the country could count on many different enemies and allies. Primarily through diplomacy, the monarchy became a superpower in early modern Europe.


In 1506, Emperor Maximilian I and King Wladislaus II Jagiello entered into a marriage agreement that marked the beginning of the Habsburg monarchy: Maximilian”s youngest grandson Ferdinand would marry Wladislaus” daughter Anna. Also, Maximilian”s granddaughter Maria would possibly be married off to the still unborn child of Wladislaus” pregnant wife. This indeed turned out to be a boy (Louis). After the eventual extinction of either dynasty (the house of Habsburg or the house of Jagiello), the other dynasty would succeed it. In 1515 this agreement was definitively sealed at the First Congress of Vienna and in 1521 the marriage of Ferdinand and Anna was consummated in the Stephansdom in Vienna. (In 1522, Maria and Louis also married in Prague).

The reason behind the marriage was that the house of Jagiello of Kingdom of Hungary and Lands of the Bohemian crown was coming under increasing pressure from the advancing Ottoman Turks. The Habsburgs were strong enough to provide assistance in fighting the Turks, but at the same time not strong enough to pose a threat.

After Maximilian”s death, the Austrian possessions came to Maximilian”s eldest grandson, Charles. Charles also inherited the crowns of Castile and Aragon and the Habsburg possessions in Burgundy, Burgundian Netherlands and Italy (Sardinia, Kingdom of Sicily, Kingdom of Naples). To better focus his attention on this Atlantic-oriented part of his empire, Charles transferred his Austrian possessions to his younger brother Ferdinand by the Treaty of Brussels in 1522.

Hungary divided

In 1526, Louis II of Hungary was killed at Mohács in battle against the Turks. At the Land Days of Bohemia, Croatia and Hungary, Ferdinand was elected king. This created a large empire with great linguistic, economic, cultural and administrative differences.

Ferdinand was not unanimously elected in Hungary. Part of the Hungarian nobility and the Slavonic Landdag preferred the Hungarian governor of Transylvania, Jan Zápolya, as king over a “foreigner. Ferdinand managed to defeat Zápolya and push him back to Transylvania. From here, Zápolya called on the Turks for help. Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent invaded Hungary in 1529 and after a successful campaign his army stood at the gates of Vienna. The Turkish armies were unable to conquer the city, and withdrew. From 1529 to 1541, the Turkish armies repeatedly invaded Hungary and the Erflands where they caused great devastation. After 1541 Hungary was divided into a Turkish, a Habsburg and a Sevenburg part. The Habsburgs tried unsuccessfully to conquer Hungary during the Fifteen Years” War (1591-1606).

Thirty Years” War

Were Maximilian II (1564-1576) as well as his successors Rudolf II (1576-1612) and Matthias (1612-1619) in favor of religious tolerance, Ferdinand II was an adept of the Counter-Reformation. In 1617 he became king of Bohemia and began censoring Protestant writings and only Catholics were admitted to the civil service. When he revoked the Protestants” right to assemble and express their dissent, the Bohemian Protestants became too much. On May 23, 1618, some Bohemian noblemen marched into Prague Castle where they threw Matthias” representatives out of the window in the Second Prague Defenestration.

This began a general rebellion in the Bohemian Crown lands, which extended into the Thirty Years” War. A hastily convened country council elected a new government and raised an army to defend the country. The nobles of the two archduchies (Upper and Lower Austria) and Hungary joined the Bohemian revolt, leaving only Croatia, Inner Austria, and the county of Tyrol loyal to the emperor. During this crisis, both the Archduke of Tyrol (1618) and Emperor Matthias himself (1619) died. As a result, all of Austria”s Habsburg territories came to belong to Archduke Ferdinand of Inner Austria. The states of Bohemia declared his earlier election as successor to Matthias invalid and, at the same time that Ferdinand was crowned emperor, elected the Calvinist Frederick V of the Palatinate as king of Bohemia. In Hungary, the prince of Transylvania, Gabriel Bethlen, was elected the new king, and it looked as if the Habsburg monarchy would fall.

Ferdinand”s salvation came from the timely intervention of foreign allies. Catholic King Sigismund III of Poland invaded Upper Hungary and forced the prince of Transylvania to retreat. The Catholic League, led by Duke Maximilian I of Bavaria, promised to offer Ferdinand aid, and the Lutheran Elector of Saxony, Johan George I of Saxony, also joined Ferdinand in exchange for the Lusatia. The Spanish Empire also joined the emperor, and through papal grants Ferdinand was able to raise an army of his own. With the help of his allies, Ferdinand managed to defeat Frederick in the Battle of White Mountain (1620). This brought Bohemia back under imperial rule.

To rule out rebellions in Bohemia in the future, Ferdinand had the 21 rebellious nobles executed and of several hundred he confiscated their property. In 1627 he issued the Verneuerte Landesordnung in which the Bohemian elective monarchy was abolished and replaced by a hereditary crown. The Bohemian Court Chancellery was moved to Vienna so that the emperor could control Bohemian finances. With the help of Reformation commissions and the arrival of the Jesuits, a large-scale conversion of Protestants in Bohemia and the Erfland began.

The Thirty Years” War would continue until 1648. The Swedes who fought on the Protestant side repeatedly invaded Bohemia and the French attacked Pre-Austria. With the Peace of Westphalia ending the war, the monarchy lost the Voor-Austrian territories west of the Rhine and the power of the emperor was curtailed to the point where the German princes became effectively independent.

Wars and uprisings

After the signing of the Peace of Westphalia, the monarchy was in bad shape internationally. France and Sweden had become more powerful. The election of Leopold I as emperor in 1658 was extremely difficult due to the intrigues of the French cardinal Mazarin, who tried to have King Louis XIV elected as emperor. The fact that Leopold was elected after all was mainly due to his bribing of the German electors. But it was not only diplomacy that was in bad shape for the dynasty; there were also problems surrounding the succession.

Spain had lost the Spanish-French War (1635-1659) and the Spanish-Habsburg royal family was also on the verge of extinction. The ailing Charles II of Spain was the last male Spanish Habsburg after the death of his father Philip IV in 1665. Similarly, the Austrian branch of the dynasty had thinned out considerably. The last Tyrolean Habsburger died in 1665 leaving Leopold I as the only one left to continue his family branch. Charles II”s health was so poor that both Leopold I and Louis XIV attempted to obtain the rights to the Spanish inheritance through marriage politics.

Another problem for the monarchy was the renewed Turkish aggression led by grand viziers from the powerful Köprülü family. The Turkish armies conquered their rebellious vassal state of Transylvania. Not long after, the Turks declared war on the monarchy. The Habsburg army managed to defeat the Turks crushingly in the Battle of Szentgotthárd (1664). The Hungarian nobles saw the victory as an opportunity to free all of Hungary from the Ottoman Empire. Leopold I, however, signed a humiliating peace with the sultan. This left his hands free to go to war with France because of the Spanish inheritance.

The Hungarian magnates saw this as treason against Hungary and tried to dethrone the Habsburgs during the Rakoczi conspiracy. The conspiracy failed, upon which Leopold subjected Hungary to an absolutist policy. This period is referred to in Hungary as the “Ten Dark Years.” Guerrilla attacks by the Kurds had no effect on Leopold”s policy. Under pressure from French and Turkish aggression, Leopold restored the rights of the Hungarian nobles in 1680. Leopold tried to prolong peace with the Ottoman Empire and turned his attention to the west, where France was annexing more and more territories of the Holy Roman Empire.

However, the Turks left Leopold no choice. In 1683, a 100,000-strong army began advancing toward Vienna. As soon as this news reached Vienna, Leopold fled to Passau, from where he tried to raise an army to defeat the Turks. The Siege of Vienna (1683) lasted two months, but eventually a Christian alliance managed to defeat the Turkish army. During the Great Turkish War, Hungary and large parts of the Balkans were conquered from the Ottomans. Louis XIV, however, could not allow the total destruction of the Ottoman Empire and, despite a peace treaty, attacked the Holy Roman Empire in 1688, beginning the Nine Years” War. The monarchy held its own during this two-front war. The Peace of Rijswijk ended the war with France in 1697 and the Peace of Karlowitz was concluded with the Turks in 1699.

The Spanish Legacy

Charles II of Spain died on November 1, 1700. Both Emperor Leopold I and King Louis XIV tried to seize the Spanish inheritance for their dynasty. In order to avoid another war, a number of treaties were signed that decided to divide the Spanish Empire. Eventually, the attempts at a peaceful solution foundered and the War of the Spanish Succession broke out, lasting from 1701 to 1714.

The war was concluded with the Peace of Rastatt. Spain and the Spanish colonies came into the hands of the House of Bourbon and the Spanish Italian possessions and the Southern Netherlands joined the Habsburg monarchy. Charles VI, emperor from 1711-1740, who had personally led his army in Spain, found it difficult to accept the partition of Spain, which would still regularly lead to conflicts between the monarchy and Spain under Philip V. Nevertheless, the monarchy had gained from the war. Only the Empire of Russia was larger in area than the Habsburg monarchy, and with 17 million inhabitants, the monarchy was second only to France (20 million).

Domestic problems were hardly addressed by Charles VI. Nevertheless, he issued one of the most important documents in the history of the Habsburg monarchy: the Pragmatic Sanction (1713). This established the indivisibility of the core countries of the monarchy and allowed succession through the female line. Charles VI spent most of his life getting the sanction recognized by the European powers.

Charles” disinterest in financial and administrative reform led to a large national debt and a poorly organized army. As a result, the monarchy suffered defeats in a number of wars. The War of the Polish Succession led to the loss of Naples, and with another war with the Turks it lost large territories on its border with the Ottoman Empire.

Maria Theresa

Maria Theresa, Charles” eldest daughter, succeeded Charles VI in 1740. Despite the recognition of the Pragmatic Sanction, the Elector of Bavaria still tried to have his rights as successor recognized. However, it was not Bavaria, but Prussia that gave the go-ahead for a war. Frederick the Great of Prussia promised to protect Maria Theresa from aggressors in exchange for Lower Silesia. Maria Theresa did not respond to this attempt at blackmail, whereupon Frederick invaded Silesia and began the War of the Austrian Succession.

The war was initially dramatic for the monarchy. The house of Habsburg lost the imperial crown to Bavaria, and Silesia to Prussia. With no help from allies such as Britain, Maria Theresa had to seek help from the Hungarian nobles. After several weeks of meetings, the nobles proclaimed that they would give their “life and blood” to her. In the end, the monarchy managed to win the victory, although Silesia remained in the hands of Prussia. The imperial crown returned to the hands of the Habsburgs through the coronation of Emperor Francis I Stephen, Maria Theresa”s husband.

To make the reconquest of Silesia possible, the army, finances, and administrative apparatus were reformed by Chancellor Frederick William von Haugwitz. Wenzel Anton von Kaunitz, minister of foreign affairs, managed to form a coalition with France and Russia to defeat Prussia through the Diplomatic Revolution. However, during the Seven Years” War, Frederick the Great managed to retain Silesia.

The lighting

The Austrian defeat in the Seven Years” War meant that more reforms were needed to make the state more efficient. Kaunitz and Joseph II, Maria Theresa”s eldest son and co-regent, implemented a wide range of reforms in the spirit of the Enlightenment. Although Maria Theresa was not “enlightened” herself, she recognized that state interest was served by applying enlightened ideas. Agriculture, criminal law, and education were reorganized.

To make the monarchy more powerful, Kaunitz and Joseph II tried to obtain as many additional territories as possible to compensate for the loss of Silesia. In 1772, during the First Polish Partition, Galicia was annexed. In 1775, Bukovina was obtained from the Ottoman Empire. During the Potato War, attempts were made to conquer Bavaria, but in the end only the Innviertel came to Austria.

Maria Theresa died in 1780 upon which Joseph II took complete control of the administration. He began to implement his enlightened ideas without consultation. The freedom of religion instituted by Joseph led to protests from the Catholic majority, and all other Christian groups also reviled the idea that Jews could openly practice their faith. Similarly, Joseph confiscated a third of all monasteries as state property. Both priests and judges were required to receive a proper education at a state institute. Torture was banned and peasants were given the right to legal counsel against their lord, unlike the nobles, who had to pay all the costs of a lawsuit themselves. With the exception of Hungary, serfdom was abolished everywhere in the monarchy. In the more remote areas of the monarchy, such as Lombardy, the Austrian Netherlands, and the Tyrol, Joseph tried to create administrative unity. However, all these projects led to great resistance: the Hungarian nobles revolted and the Austrian Netherlands tried to secede as the United Dutch States. In the end, Joseph managed to suppress the uprisings with the help of the army, but he did not understand that the people could have turned against him when he was only doing what was for their good. When Joseph II lay dying in 1790, he wrote his own epitaph: “Here lies Joseph II, who failed in all that he undertook.”

Napoleonic era

The French Revolution that broke out in 1789 would have major consequences for the Habsburg monarchy. Initially, the revolution was not seen as a threat. Most of the laws passed by the Assemblée nationale had already been decreed by Joseph II and his successor Leopold II (1790-1792). In order to protect King Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette, Emperor Leopold”s sister, the Declaration of Pillnitz was made jointly with Prussia. The Assemblée nationale saw the declaration as a threat and France declared war on the Habsburg monarchy and Prussia. This would mark the beginning of the French Revolutionary Wars in which the monarchy and its allies were almost constantly at war with France.

Leopold II was succeeded by Francis II who would have to continue the war with France. With the Peace of Campo Formio, the First Coalition War ended and Austria obtained almost all the territories of Venice. However, the Austrian Netherlands and some other territories were ceded to France. After the Second Coalition War went badly for the monarchy, Napoleon Bonaparte crowned himself Emperor of the French in 1804.

Francis II recognized that the Holy Roman Empire was doomed. To prevent himself from being lower in rank than Napoleon and the Russian Tsar (or Napoleon from taking the title of Holy Roman Emperor), he renounced the title of Holy Roman Emperor on August 6, 1806, and dissolved the Holy Roman Empire. Francis II replaced the Holy Roman Empire with the Empire of Austria and had himself crowned “hereditary emperor of Austria,” thus uniting the Habsburg monarchy under one crown. The Empire of Austria would continue the wars against Napoleon, finally achieving victory in 1815 with the Battle of Waterloo.


The administration of the Habsburg monarchy was highly decentralized. Each individual territory had its own regional government that often operated independently of the central government in Vienna. The local States held regional power and had the right to negotiate the demands of the Crown. The landowning nobles had the task of administering justice on their domains. The interests of the States and nobles almost always took precedence over those of the Crown.

Unlike many other monarchies in early modern Europe, the Habsburg rulers sought to build consensus with the nobility and clergy who held the most power in the local States. This came at the expense of the power of the bourgeoisie and the cities, which were almost entirely excluded from politics.

Governing Bodies

Ferdinand I established several bodies during his reign to improve the administration of the monarchy:

Under Ferdinand”s successors, the administration of the monarchy was hardly modernized, with a few exceptions:

Under Maria Theresa and her successors, the administration was thoroughly reformed, leading to the creation of several new governing bodies:

Regional economies

The economic developments of the Habsburg monarchy during the 16th century and early 17th century were determined by large regional differences. The Hofkammer, the central body responsible for collecting taxes, levying tolls, and selling rights for mining, had to share so much responsibility with the regional capitals that there was no unified economic policy.

Agriculture and mining were reasonably well developed in the Erfland. Styria was one of the main European centers of iron production, Carinthia and Krain produced lead and mercury respectively. Although some of the export of these minerals was via the Danube, most was traded across the Adriatic, so Inner Austrian trade was mainly with Italy. The County of Tyrol also had commercial ties with Italy because it was on the trade route between Italy and the German countries. Trade and industry, on the other hand, were well developed only in the two archduchies. Linz became a regional center of textile industry and a center for trade in wine and minerals from Hungary.

The Lands of the Bohemian Crown were economically the most developed part of the monarchy. They were densely populated, had rich soil, and the Sudetes and the Ore Mountains were rich in silver, iron, and tin. Silesia was a major producer of textiles.

Hungary”s economy concentrated mainly on agriculture. Grain, wine and livestock were the main export products. The Ottoman Turks, who had taken possession of most of Hungary from 1541, regularly undertook raids into the Habsburg part of Hungary. As a result, Hungary remained one of the poorest parts of the monarchy.

New feudalism

At the beginning of the 17th century, the Habsburg economy was suffering from major European changes in the economic field. With the rise of Atlantic trade, trade routes shifted westward and the Habsburg monarchy was no longer at the economic center of the continent. The importation of precious metals from the New World caused mining profits to fall and caused the price revolution. Inflation rose, making it more profitable to produce products for export to Western and Central Europe. However, this came at the cost of investment in industry, making the Habsburg countries dependent on imports from abroad for finished products.

The price revolution also created greater contrast between rich and poor. The nobles, who often owned large tracts of land, sought to increase their profits by increasing the productivity of their land. This led to innovations in agriculture, such as the cultivation of mulberry trees for the production of silk and even the breeding of carp and pike in artificial lakes. It also led to a worsening of the situation of the small farmers. The nobles expanded their estates at the expense of the peasants” private property. The nobles also increased the robot, the work that the peasants owed as rent to their lord. The lord could also require his peasants to trade only in the villages that were in his domain or to sell their produce directly to him at a discount. The towns of the monarchy usually could not compete with the nobles, so they became impoverished and politically less important.

The Thirty Years” War increased the economic problems in the monarchy. Military occupation and epidemics resulted in the population of the Bohemian lands decreasing by one third. Exports declined due to the war damage suffered in the Holy Roman Empire. Large groups of Protestants had fled the monarchy, causing a decline in production. The position of the small peasants and towns deteriorated even more in relation to the nobles.


To overcome the devastation of the Thirty Years” War, a government-driven economic policy emerged for the first time during the second half of the 17th century. The central government needed revenue to make possible the election of Leopold as emperor, to pay for the wars against the Ottoman Empire and Sweden, to pay for the reconstruction of Hungary, and, later, to compete with the economic growth of France.

Under the influence of German chamberalism, finances were regulated more efficiently. More attention was paid to the economy of the cities and the monopoly power of the guilds was curtailed. Attempts were made to have raw materials processed into finished products within the monarchy. Trade was promoted through the establishment of trading companies. However, due to poor governance, wars, and persecution of religious minorities, most initiatives failed. As a result, the monarchy remained an exporter of food and raw materials that later had to be reimported as finished products.

Another area of concern for the chamberalists was the position of the peasants. The peasants had to be protected because they were the main producers of all kinds of products and brought in most of the taxes. A healthy and satisfied peasantry would be more productive and therefore yield more for both the nobles and the government. Attempts to lighten the robot and to pay peasants for services they used to owe their lord met with much resistance from the nobles, especially in Hungary.

Economic Initiatives

From the beginning of the 18th century, the government tried to improve the economy by pursuing a policy of mercantilism. Under Emperor Joseph I, the Vienna City Bank was established to provide loans to private entrepreneurs to boost the economy. Secretly, the City Bank also took on one-fifth of the national debt.

Emperor Charles VI undertook all kinds of initiatives to strengthen the trading position of the monarchy. He had new roads and canals built, connecting the coastal towns of Trieste and Fiume with the rest of his empire. As a result of imperial interest, the two port cities became important trading centers, supplanting Venice as the most important port in the Adriatic. Another initiative of Charles of the establishment of the General Imperial and Royal Indian Company that traded with India from the Austrian Netherlands. However, under British, Northern Dutch and French pressure, the successful company was disbanded again in 1739.

Hungary continued to lag behind the rest of the Habsburg monarchy in commercial matters. The Hungarian magnates tried to set up some industrial enterprises, but these usually soon went bankrupt. The central government hardly invested in Hungarian industries. However, the land devastated by the continuous wars was repopulated by settlers. These were mostly Germans, but Slovaks, Romanians and Serbs were also attracted to repopulate the south of the Great Hungarian Plain.

Another problem for the Habsburg economy was that most industries were not run by residents of the monarchy, but by foreign investors from Western Europe. As a result, many of the profits from these enterprises did not accrue to the residents of the monarchy.

Economic Growth

After the death of Charles VI, the state debt had become high. His successor, Maria Theresa, had to strengthen the economy and increase state revenues to make the reconquest of Silesia possible. Initially, the tax collectors appointed by the States were controlled by the central government. The taxes were collected annually. Part of the taxes were also raised by the nobles, who had previously always been excluded from this. This revolutionary change in the tax system doubled government revenues in the period from 1744 to 1754.

The loss of Silesia forced the government to invest more in the industries of other areas. To weaken the Prussian economy, new tariffs were imposed to limit the import and export of goods to and from the north. The result was that trade increasingly began to pass through Fiume and Trieste. Industry flourished as a result of government policy. A factory was established in Litvínov where 400 workers each performed one step of a 54-step wool production process. The Moravian city of Brno was also called the Manchester of Central Europe.

After the Austrian defeat in the Seven Years” War, the ideas of chamberalism came to be the basis of Habsburg economic policy. The robot was addressed by issuing several robot patents in which the number of days peasants had to work for their lord was reduced to an average of 3 days per week. Peasants were given the right to sell their goods to anyone other than just their lord. Some peasants were given back land that had previously been confiscated by their lord. Unlike previous rulers, Maria Theresa had her officials check very strictly that the nobles were abiding by the law, which addressed many abuses. The church also became less powerful as a result of the new policy, the number of religious festivals was reduced and there was a cap on the number of people allowed to live in the monasteries.

In the last decades of the 18th century, the government focused more on the development of the free market. In 1775, all tolls within the monarchy were abolished except in the Tyrol. When Emperor Joseph II added Galicia to this customs union, one of Europe”s largest free trade zones was created.

The government-driven combination of protectionism and laissez-faire allowed the monarchy”s economy and population to grow steadily. Thus, by the end of the 18th, the monarchy was well equipped to face the problems of the next century.

The Habsburg monarchy was a multi-ethnic state, and in each individual region the individual culture was adhered to. Nevertheless, a gesamtstaat slowly developed, a society in which, especially among the nobles, a distinct “Habsburg” culture increasingly emerged.

Catholicism of the Counter-Reformation was a major influence on Habsburg culture for a long time. Through the Baroque style, the power and importance of the Roman Catholic Church was expressed throughout the monarchy. New Baroque churches were built and old churches were rebuilt in the Baroque style. The victory over the Muslim Turks was celebrated by rebuilding the destroyed Vienna entirely in the Baroque style. Rebellious nobles in Hungary stuck to Renaissance architecture to shape their resistance.

In the 18th century, the rise of rococo and classicism began. Maria Theresa had Schönbrunn Castle finished in this rococo style. The Hungarian magnates did adopt these styles in the construction of their own palaces, making clear their acceptance of Austrian culture.

One consequence of the Counter-Reformation was that the inhabitants of the monarchy contributed virtually nothing to the scientific revolution, with the exception of scientists sponsored by Emperor Rudolf II such as Johannes Kepler and Tycho Brahe.

Another binding cultural element was the slow acceptance of German language and culture within the elites of the monarchy. The government did not pursue a policy of Germanization; on the contrary, it was the vernacular languages that were used during the large-scale conversion of Protestants. Nevertheless, the use of German offered so many advantages to the elites that they slowly but surely eclipsed it. The only exception was the Hungarians, who were the only people to object to the institution of German as an official language during the reign of Emperor Joseph II.

To show the power and wealth of the Habsburg house, a rich court culture developed in Vienna. The arts were generously sponsored by the court, and especially in the fields of opera and classical music, the Vienna court distinguished itself from other European courts. Antonio Salieri, the court chapel master, was one of the most popular composers of the Opéra Comique. Court composer Christoph Willibald Gluck reformed the opera genre, and Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf introduced the singspiel to the Viennese court. After Gluck”s death in 1787, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who arrived in Vienna in 1781, became the court composer. Not much later Ludwig van Beethoven managed to secure a position in the court orchestra. Literature received significantly less attention from the court, an exception being Josef von Sonnenfels, who was funded by the state to improve the position of German and thus contributed to the development of the modern German language.


The erflanden (German: Erblande) consisted of the areas in present-day Germany, Austria and Slovenia that the Habsburgs had owned since the Middle Ages. Although the population of the erflanden spoke mostly German and the Habsburgs had ruled these areas for centuries, there was no unity within these areas. The various Landholdings had a great deal of autonomy from their Habsburg ruler, and the heirlooms were divided between different branches of the House of Habsburg several times in history.

Upon the death of Emperor Ferdinand I in 1564, the Erfland were divided among his sons. In 1619 all the Erfland were again united under the rule of Emperor Ferdinand II, who, however, under pressure from his family, ceded Tyrol and Pre-Austria to his younger brother Leopold V. Not until 1665 would all the Erfland be united again, when the Tyrolean line of the house of Habsburg died out.

Gradually, the name Hereditary Lands took on a broader meaning: during the reign of Emperor Leopold I, the Lands of the Bohemian Crown were also increasingly seen as Hereditary Lands, both by the Habsburgs themselves, and by the Czech nobility.

Bohemian Crown

The Lands of the Bohemian Crown (Czech: Země koruny české, German: Böhmische Kronländer) consisted of the present-day Czech Republic, the eastern parts of Saxony and Brandenburg, and the southwestern part of Poland.

The Bohemian crown lands were formally linked in a personal union, but in this union the Kingdom of Bohemia had the greatest influence. The States of Bohemia had the right to elect the king for all crown lands, and the Bohemian court chancellery, the central executive body, was directly accountable to the Bohemian States. Each crown land had its own Ministry of Finance (chancellery) that operated autonomously from it.

In 1627, Emperor Ferdinand II issued the Verneuerte Landesordnung, declaring the Bohemian crown hereditary. This started a slow process of integration with the hereditary lands. Eventually, the Lands of the Bohemian Crown were also referred to as hereditary lands.

Hungarian Crown

The Lands of the Holy Hungarian Stephen Crown (Hungarian: Szent István Koronájának Országai, German: Länder der heiligen Ungarischen Stephanskrone, Croatian:Zemlje krune Svetog Stjepana, Slovak: Krajiny Svätoštefanskej koruny) lay in present-day Hungary, Slovakia, Croatia and the northwestern part of Romania. Unlike the rest of the Habsburg monarchy, the Hungarian crown lands lay entirely outside the borders of the Holy Roman Empire.

The Landdag of Hungary consisted entirely of Hungarian nobles and had the right to choose the king of the kingdom. A united Landdag of Slavonia and Croatia also had this right, independent of the choice of the Hungarian States.

In 1687, during the Great Turkish War, the Hungarian Landdag declared the Holy Hungarian Stefans Crown hereditary. For this the Habsburgs had to make concessions to the Hungarian nobles: the Landdag would be convened regularly, Hungary would keep its own separate administration and the nobles were excluded from paying taxes. This kept Hungary a separate status within the Habsburg monarchy.

Other areas

In addition to the territories the Habsburgs inherited after the death of Louis II, other territories were added to the Habsburg Empire between 1526 and 1804. Some territories were conquered from the Turks, others were obtained after the extinction of the Spanish Habsburgs, and Galicia came into Habsburg hands during the Polish partitions. The Grand Duchy of Tuscany, although ruled by the House of Habsburg, was never part of the monarchy.


  1. Habsburgse monarchie
  2. Habsburg Monarchy
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