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Rudolf I (1218-1291)

Rudolf I, also known as Rudolf of Habsburg (German: Rudolf von Habsburg, Latin Rudolfus) May 1, 1218 – July 15, 1291) was King of Germany from 1273 until his death. He played a vital role in raising the Habsburg family to a leading position among the German feudal dynasties.

Early life

Rudolf was the son of Albert IV, Count of Habsburg, and Hedwig, daughter of Ulrich, Count of Kyburg, and was born in Limburg an der Lahn. At his father's death in 1239, Rudolf inherited the family estates in Alsace and Aargau. In 1245 he married Gertrude, daughter of Burkhard III, Count of Hohenberg. As a result, Rudolf became an important vassal in Swabia, the ancient Alemannic stem duchy.

Rudolf paid frequent visits to the court of his godmother, the Emperor Frederick II, and his loyalty to Frederick and his son, Conrad IV of Germany, was richly rewarded by grants of land. In 1254 he was excommunicated by Pope Innocent IV as a supporter of king Conrad, due to ongoing political conflicts between the Papacy and the Holy Roman Imperial office (the status of the Papal States in Italy, and who was supposed to be in charge of them, was unclear; there were other disputed areas as well, such as Lombardy).

Rise to power

The disorder in Germany after the fall of the Hohenstaufen afforded an opportunity for Rudolf to increase his possessions. His wife was an heiress; and on the death of his childless maternal uncle, Hartmann VI, Count of Kyburg, in 1264, he seized Hartmann's valuable estates. Successful feuds with the bishops of Strassburg and Basel further augmented his wealth and reputation, including rights over various tracts of land that he purchased from abbots and others. He also possessed large estates inherited from his father in the regions now known as Switzerland and Alsace.


These various sources of wealth and influence rendered Rudolf the most powerful prince and noble in southwestern Germany (where the tribal duchy Swabia had disintegrated, leaving room for its vassals to become quite independent) when, in the autumn of 1273, the princes met to elect a king after the death of Richard of Cornwall. His election in Frankfurt on 29 September 1273, when he was 55 years old, was largely due to the efforts of his brother-in-law, Frederick III of Hohenzollern, Burgrave of Nuremberg. The support of Albert II, Duke of Saxony (Wittenberg) and of Louis II, Count Palatine of the Rhine and Duke of Upper Bavaria, had been purchased by betrothing them to two of Rudolf's daughters. As a result, Otakar II (1230-78), King of Bohemia, a candidate for the throne and grandson of Philip of Swabia, King of Germany (being the son of the eldest surviving daughter), was almost alone in opposing Frederick. Another candidate was Frederick of Meissen (1257-1323), a young grandson of the excommunicated Emperor Frederick II who did not yet have a principality of his own as his father yet lived.

King of Germany

Rudolf was crowned in Aachen on 24 October 1273. Friedrich Schiller in Der Graf von Habsburg ("The Count of Habsburg") presents a fictionalized rendering of the feast King Rudolf held following his coronation. To win the approbation of the Pope, Rudolf renounced all imperial rights in Rome, the papal territory, and Sicily, and promised to lead a new crusade. Pope Gregory X, in spite of Otakar's protests, not only recognized Rudolf himself, but persuaded Alfonso X, King of Castile (another grandson of Philip of Swabia), who had been chosen German king in 1257 as the successor to William of Holland, to do the same. Thus, Rudolf surpassed the two heirs of the Hohenstaufen dynasty that he had earlier served so loyally.

In November 1274 it was decided by the Diet of the Realm in Nuremberg that all crown estates seized since the death of the Emperor Frederick II must be restored, and that Otakar must answer to the Diet for not recognizing the new king. Otakar refused to appear or to restore the provinces of Austria, Styria, Carinthia and Carniola, which he had claimed through his first wife, a Babenberg heiress, and which he had seized while disputing them with another Babenberg heir, Hermann VI, Margrave of Baden. Rudolf refuted Otakar's succession to the Babenberg patrimony, declaring that the provinces reverted to the crown due to the lack of male-line heirs (a position that conflicted with the provisions of Privilegium Minus). King Otakar was placed under the state ban; and in June 1276 war was declared against him. Having persuaded Otakar's ally Henry I, Duke of Lower Bavaria, to switch sides, Rudolf compelled the Bohemian king to cede the four provinces to the control of the royal administration in November 1276. Rudolf then invested Otakar with Bohemia, betrothed one of his daughters to Otakar's son Wenceslaus, and made a triumphal entry into Vienna. Otakar, however, raised questions about the execution of the treaty, made an alliance with some Polish chiefs, and procured the support of several German princes, including his former ally, Henry of Lower Bavaria. To meet this coalition, Rudolf formed an alliance with Ladislaus IV, King of Hungary, and gave additional privileges to the citizens of Vienna. On 26 August 1278 the rival armies met on the banks of the River March in the Battle of Dürnkrut and Jedenspeigen where Otakar was defeated and killed. Moravia was subdued and its government entrusted to Rudolf's representatives, leaving Kunigunda, the Queen Regent of Bohemia, in control of only the province surrounding Prague, while the young Wenceslaus was again betrothed to one of Rudolf's daughters.

Rudolf's attention next turned to the possessions in Austria and the adjacent provinces, which were taken into the royal domain. He spent several years establishing his authority there but found some difficulty in establishing his family as successors to the rule of those provinces. At length the hostility of the princes was overcome. In December 1282, in Augsburg, Rudolf invested his sons, Albert and Rudolf, with the duchies of Austria and Styria and so laid the foundation of the House of Habsburg. Additionally, he made the twelve-year-old Rudolf Duke of Swabia, which had been without a ruler since Conradin's execution. The 27-year-old Duke Albert (married since 1274 to a daughter of Count Meinhard II of Tirol (1238-95)) was capable enough to hold some sway in the new patrimony.


In 1286 King Rudolf fully invested the Duchy of Carinthia, one of the provinces conquered from Otakar, to Albert's father-in-law Meinhard. The princes of the realm did not allow Rudolf to give everything that was recovered to the royal domain to his own sons, and his allies needed their rewards too.

Turning to the west, in 1281 he compelled Philip, Count Palatine of Burgundy, to cede some territory to him, then forced the citizens of Bern to pay the tribute that they had been refusing, and in 1289 marched against Philip's successor, Otto IV, compelling him to do homage.

In 1281 his first wife died. On 5 February 1284 he married Isabella, daughter of Hugh IV, Duke of Burgundy, his western neighbor.

Rudolf was not very successful in restoring internal peace to Germany. Orders were indeed issued for the establishment of landpeaces in Bavaria, Franconia and Swabia, and afterwards for the whole of Germany. But the king lacked the power, resources, or determination, to enforce them, although in December 1289 he led an expedition into Thuringia where he destroyed a number of robber-castles.

In 1291 he attempted to secure the election of his son Albert as German king. However, the princes refused claiming inability to support two kings, but in reality, perhaps, leery of the increasing power of the Habsburgs.


Rudolf died in Speyer on July 15, 1291, and was buried in the Speyer Cathedral. Although he had had a large family, he was survived by only one son, Albert, afterwards the German king Albert I.

Rudolf was a tall man with a pale face and a prominent nose. He was known for his bravery, piety and generosity. His reign is memorable, however, chiefly for his establishment of the House of Habsburg, which henceforth held sway over the southeastern and southwestern parts of the realm. In the rest of Germany, he left the princes largely to their own devices.

In the Divine Comedy, Dante finds Rudolf sitting outside the gates of Purgatory with his contemporaries, who berate him as "he who neglected that which he ought to have done".

Family and children

He was married twice. First, in 1245, to Gertrude of Hohenberg and second, in 1284, to Isabelle of Burgundy of Burgundy, daughter of Hugh IV, Duke of Burgundy and Beatrice of Champagne. All children were from the first marriage.

1. Albert I of Germany (July 1255 – 1 May 1308), Duke of Austria and also of Styria.
2. Hartmann (1263, Rheinfelden–21 December 1281), drowned in Rheinau.
3. Rudolf II, Duke of Austria and Styria (1270–10 May 1290, Prague), titular Duke of Swabia, father of John the Patricide of Austria.
4. Matilda (ca. 1251/53, Rheinfelden–23 December 1304, Munich), married 1273 in Aachen to Louis II, Duke of Bavaria and became mother of Rudolf I, Count Palatine of the Rhine and Louis IV, Holy Roman Emperor.
5. Katharina (1256–4 April 1282, Landshut), married 1279 in Vienna to Otto III, Duke of Bavaria who later (after her death) became the disputed King Bela V of Hungary and left no surviving issue.
6. Agnes (ca. 1257–11 October 1322, Wittenberg), married 1273 to Albert II, Duke of Saxe-Wittenberg and became the mother of Rudolf I, Elector of Saxony.
7. Hedwig (d. 1285/86), married 1270 in Vienna to Otto VI, Margrave of Brandenburg and left no issue.
8. Klementia (ca. 1262–after 7 February 1293), married 1281 in Vienna to Charles Martel of Anjou, the Papal claimant to the throne of Hungary and mother of king Charles I of Hungary, as well as of queen Clementia of France, herself the mother of the baby king John I of France.
9. Jutte/Bona (13 March 1271–18 June 1297, Prague), married 24 January 1285 to King Wenceslaus II of Bohemia and became the mother of king Wenceslaus III of Bohemia, Poland and Hungary, of queen Anna I of Bohemia, duchess of Carinthia, and of queen Elisabeth I of Bohemia, countess of Luxembourg.

King Rudolf also had an illegitimate son, Albrecht I of Schenkenberg, Count of Löwenstein.


Text source: Wikipedia