Habsburg Dynasty

History of Germany between 1255 - 1516

For almost twenty years after the death of Conrad IV in 1254, the German princes fail to elect any effective king or emperor. This period is usually known (with a grandiloquence to match the Great Schism in the papacy) as the Great Interregnum. It ended with the election of Rudolf I as German king in 1273. The choice subsequently seems of great significance, because he was the first Habsburg on the German throne. During the next century the electors choose kings from several families.

Charles IV was crowned emperor in Rome in 1355. He made his capital in Prague (he has inherited Bohemia as well as Luxembourg), bringing the city its first period of glory. The imperial dignity remained in Charles's family until 1438, when it is transferred again to the Habsburgs. The real ascendancy of the Habsburgs began when Frederick V, the king of Germany from 1440, was crowned Holy Roman emperor as Frederick III in 1452. The Habsburgs married their way to the power. They began with Austria and then married the princesses from Netherlands, Burgundy, the duchy of Milan, Sicily and finally Spain merging countries under their power including all dominions on the American continent. The highpoint of Habsburg power came under Charles V (1500-58) who ruled over an empire over which the sun never set.

In 1356 Charles IV issues the "Golden Bull" which clarified the new identity which the Holy Roman empire had gradually adopted. It ended papal involvement in the election of a German king, by the simple means of denying Rome's right to approve or reject the electors' choice. The Golden Bull also clarified and formalized the process of election of a German king. The choice was traditionally been in the hands of seven electors, but their identity has varied. In return, by a separate agreement with the pope, Charles abandoned imperial claims in Italy - apart from a title to the kingdom of Lombardy, inherited from Charlemagne.

Imperial Cities

The fragmented political structure of Germany had certain advantages for the larger German towns. An elected emperor often found it difficult to control virtually independent territories, held by hereditary nobles or by dignitaries of the church. In such circumstances there may had a natural alliance between the emperor and the citizens of a prosperous borough - who frequently had their own grudge against their local feudal overlord. The rich burghers were able to help the emperor with funds or troops for his armies and he was able help burghers with privileges to protect their trade. Gradually, over the centuries, a premier league of German cities began to emerge. Such cities ran their own affairs and make alliances among themselves for mutual benefit, even put armies into the field to enforce their interests. Each of them was ran by a Rat, or council, membership of which is often limited to the leading local families. Imperial cities were inclined to group together in large trading alliances - of which the Hanseatic League is the best known example. A document of 1422 lists 75 free German cities. They included many of the most distinguished places in early German history - Aachen, Cologne, Lübeck, Hamburg, Bremen, Dortmund, Frankfurt am Main, Regensburg, Augsburg, Nuremberg, Ulm. From 1489 all the free cities were formally represented in the imperial diet.

The Hanseatic League was a commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and their market towns (like Lübeck, Rostock and Wismar). It dominated Baltic maritime trade (c. 1400-1800) along the coast of Northern Europe. It stretched from the Baltic to the North Sea and inland during the Late Middle Ages and early modern period.

Population and Economy

Around 1350 Germany and almost the whole of Europe were ravaged by the Black Death. Jews were persecuted on religious and economic grounds; many fled to Poland. The Black Death is estimated to have killed 30–60 percent of Europe's population in the 14th century. After the plague and other disasters of the 14th century, the early-modern European society gradually came into being as a result of economic, religious, and political changes. A money economy arose which provoked social discontent among knights and peasants. Gradually, a proto-capitalistic system evolved out of feudalism. The Fugger family gained prominence through commercial and financial activities and became financiers to both ecclesiastical and secular rulers. The knightly classes found their monopoly on arms and military skill undermined by the introduction of mercenary armies and foot soldiers. Predatory activity by "robber knights" became common.

During his reign from 1493 to 1519, Maximilian I tried to reform the Empire. An Imperial supreme court was established, imperial taxes were levied, and the power of the Imperial Diet was increased. The reforms, however, were frustrated by the continued territorial fragmentation of the Empire.

References: Wikipedia, Historyworld.net, Hyperhistory.com

Popular sites founded between 1255 and 1516 in Germany

Old Town Hall

The Old Town Hall (Altes Rathaus) serves today as a building for representative purposes for the city council in Munich. The Old Town Hall bounds the central square Marienplatz on its east side. The building, documented for the first time in 1310, had its Grand Hall constructed in 1392/1394. The former Talburg Gate of the first city wall serves as spire. The Old Town Hall was re-designed in late-gothic style by Jörg ...
Founded: 1392 | Location: Munich, Germany

The Church of Our Lady

The Church of Our Lady (Frauenkirche) is undoubtedly the most famous landmark in the city of Munich. Its impressive domed twin towers rising a hundred metres into the sky can be seen from miles around. This triple-naved late-Gothic cathedral in Munich"s old quarter, which houses art treasures spanning five centuries, is the cathedral church of the Archbishop of Munich and Freising. The late-Gothic brick edifice with its ...
Founded: 1468-1488 | Location: Munich, Germany

Bremen Town Hall and Roland Statue

Bremen Town hall was built between 1405 and 1410 and the Weser Renaissance facade added in the 17th century. The Town Hall and the statue of Roland on the marketplace are outstanding representations of civic autonomy and sovereignty, as these developed in the Holy Roman Empire in Europe. The old town hall was built in the Gothic style in the early 15th century, after Bremen joined the Hanseatic League. The building was re ...
Founded: 1404-1410 | Location: Bremen, Germany

Bremen Ratskeller

The Bremen Ratskeller is the council wine cellar of the Townhall of Bremen. Since 1330 the Council of Bremen held the privilege of white wine which was valid until 1815. No citizen should sell wine without the permission of the Council. All wines had to be stored in the Cellar of the Council. The purpose was to control the prices and the payment of taxes. The Ratskeller was built in 1405 and it is one of the oldest wine ...
Founded: 1405 | Location: Bremen, Germany

Munich Residenz

The Munich Residenz is the former royal palace of the Bavarian monarchs of the House of Wittelsbach. The Residenz is the largest city palace in Germany and is today open to visitors for its architecture, room decorations, and displays from the former royal collections. The complex of buildings contains ten courtyards and displays 130 rooms. A wing of the Festsaalbau contains the Cuvilliés Theatre since the reconstructio ...
Founded: 1508 | Location: Munich, Germany

Aachen City Hall

Aachen"s Gothic Rathaus looms over the Markt opposite to the Aachen Cathedral. In the first half of the 14th century, Aachen’s citizenry built the city hall as a sign of their civic freedom. Yet, they had to promise to establish a space in the new town hall that could host the traditional coronation feast that was part of the coronation ceremony of the Holy Roman Empire. Construction began in 1330 on top ...
Founded: 1330 | Location: Aachen, Germany

St. James' Church

St. James" Church serves as a church on the pilgrimage route to St. James Church in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. The church was built between 1311-1484. Its east chancel was completed in 1322, nave built from 1373-1436, and west choir, which bridges the street, from 1453-1471. The church was consecrated in 1485 by the Bishop of Würzburg. In 1525 the peasant leader Florian Geyer read aloud the articles of the r ...
Founded: 1311-1484 | Location: Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany

Church of Our Lady

The Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) stands on the eastern side of the main market. An example of brick Gothic architecture, it was built on the initiative of Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor between 1352 and 1362. The church contains many sculptures, some of them heavily restored. Numerous works of art from the Middle Ages are kept in the church, such as the so-called Tucher Altar (c. 1440, originally the high altar of th ...
Founded: 1352-1362 | Location: Nuremberg, Germany

Bamberg Town Hall

The old town hall of Bamberg was built in 1386 in the middle of the Regnitz River, accessible by two bridges. According to legend the bishop of Bamberg did not grant the citizens any land for the construction of a town hall. This prompted the townsfolk to ram stakes into the river Regnitz to create an artificial island, on which they built the town hall they so badly wanted. The Old Town Hall"s frescoes never fail t ...
Founded: 1386 | Location: Bamberg, Germany

Ulm Minster

Ulm Minster, like Cologne Cathedral, was begun in the Gothic era and not completed until the late 19th century. It is the tallest church in the world, and the 4th tallest structure built before the 20th century, with a steeple measuring 161.5 metres. From the top level at 143m there is a panoramic view of Ulm. The foundation stone was laid in 1377. The planned church was to have three naves of equal height, a main spire ...
Founded: 1377 | Location: Ulm, Germany

St. Lorenz Church

St. Lorenz (St. Lawrence) is a medieval church of the former free imperial city of Nuremberg. The nave of the church was completed by around . In 1439, work began on the choir in the form of a hall church in the late German sondergotik style of gothic architecture. The choir was largely completed by 1477 by Konrad Roriczer, although Jakob Grimm completed the intricate vaults. In the choir one can find the carving of the ...
Founded: 1400 | Location: Nuremberg, Germany

Albrecht Dürer's House

Albrecht Dürer's House was the home of German Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer from 1509 to his death in 1528. The House lies in the extreme north-west of Nuremberg"s Altstadt, near the Kaiserburg section of the Nuremberg Castle and the Tiergärtnertor of Nuremberg"s city walls. The house was built around 1420. It has five stories; the bottom two have sandstone walls, while the upper stories are t ...
Founded: 1420 | Location: Nuremberg, Germany

Franciscan Friary

The Franciscan Friary of Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a former friary of the Conventual Franciscans in the town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber. The friary, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, was founded in 1281 by Hermann von Hornburg, Schultheiß of Rothenburg, and others. It was wound up in 1548 in the wake of the Reformation. The buildings of the friary, vacated voluntarily, were used initially for the establishment of a ...
Founded: 1281 | Location: Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany

St. Gangolf's Church

The original St. Gangolf"s Church was built in 958 AD, but replaced with a current one between 1284-1344. The Gothic parts were added around 1500 and Baroque elements between 1731-1746.
Founded: 1284-1344 | Location: Trier, Germany

Regensburg Cathedral

The Regensburg Cathedral, dedicated to St Peter, is the most important church and landmark of the city of Regensburg. It is the prime example of Gothic architecture in Bavaria. A first bishop"s church was built around 700, at the site of the present-day cathedral parish church Niedermünster (St. Erhard"s tomb). Around 739, St. Boniface chose the area of the Porta Praetoria (North Gate of the old Roman fort) for the ...
Founded: 1273 | Location: Regensburg, Germany

St. Thomas Church

St. Thomas Church is associated with a number of well-known composers such as Richard Wagner and Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, but mostly with Johann Sebastian Bach who worked here as a Kapellmeister (music director) from 1723 until his death in 1750. Today, the church also holds his remains. Martin Luther preached here in 1539. There has been a church at the current site of the Thomaskirche at least since the 12 ...
Founded: 1496 | Location: Leipzig, Germany

Isartor

The Isartor is one of four main gates of the medieval city wall. It served as a fortification for the defence and is the most easterly of Munich"s three remaining gothic town gates (Isartor, Sendlinger Tor and Karlstor). The Isartor was constructed in 1337 within the scope of the enlargement of Munich and the construction of the second city wall between 1285 and 1337 which was completed under the Emperor Louis IV. T ...
Founded: 1337 | Location: Munich, Germany

Hospital of the Holy Spirit

Established from 1332 to 1339 as a foundation endowed by the wealthy patrician Konrad Groß for the elderly and needy. Considered the largest private endowment by any individual before 1500. The Hospital of the Holy Spirit was established in 1332–39 by Konrad Gross, a wealthy patrician, for the care for the elderly and needy. It was the largest private endowment in the Holy Roman Empire up to 1500. After 1500 ...
Founded: 1332-1339 | Location: Nuremberg, Germany

St. Mary's Church

St. Mary"s Church is the biggest of three town churches in the Hanseatic city of Rostock. St. Mary"s was designated in 1265 as the main parish church and since the Protestant Reformation in 1531 it"s the house of a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran State Church of Mecklenburg. St. Mary"s Church is a large Brick Gothic church. It was enlarged and modified at the end of the 14th century into the ...
Founded: 1265 | Location: Rostock, Germany

St. George's Collegiate Church

St. George"s Collegiate Church is a late gothic structure built by Peter von Koblenz in 1470. The stained glass windows were designed by Peter Hemmel of Andlau. It is the central landmark and one of the first to convert to Martin Luther"s protestant church. It maintains (and carefully defends) several 'Roman Catholic' features, such as patron saints.
Founded: 1470 | Location: Tübingen, Germany

St. James' Church

St. James" Church is one of the five principal churches of Hamburg. The history of the church goes back to 1255 when St. James" was a small chapel located outside the Hamburg city walls. After these were extended in 1260, it became part of the Hamburg city territory. Between 1350 and 1400, the chapel was replaced by a hall church with three naves, similar to St. Peter"s. Around one hundred years later, a f ...
Founded: 1255 | Location: Hamburg, Germany

Old Main Bridge

Alte Mainbrücke (Old Main Bridge) was built 1473–1543 to replace the destroyed Romanesque bridge dated from 1133. In two phases, beginning in 1730, the bridge was adorned with statues of saints and historically important figures.
Founded: 1473-1543 | Location: Würzburg, Germany

St. Lambert's Church

St. Lambert"s church in Münster was built between 1375 and 1450. It is best known for of three iron cages in which the bodies of Anabaptist leader Jan Matthys and his lieutenants were exhibited in 1535 after their torture and execution. This  was the last episode of so-called Münster Rebellion. Jan Matthys was a charismatic Anabaptist leader in Haarlem. In 1534, an Anabaptist insurrection took control of Mü ...
Founded: 1375-1450 | Location: Münster, Germany

St. Mary's Chapel

Marienkapelle (St. Mary"s Chapel) is a late Gothic hall church. The construction started in 1377 and was finished in 1480 with the erection of a church tower. Elaborate ornamentation, especially in the arches of the doorways (figures of Adam and Eve by Tilman Riemenschneider – the originals are now on display in the Mainfränkisches Museum, replaced by replicas from 1975). Interior was replaced after fire ...
Founded: 1377-1480 | Location: Würzburg, Germany

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Castel del Monte

Castel del Monte, located in the municipality of Andria, rises on a rocky hill dominating the surrounding countryside of the Murgia region. A unique piece of medieval architecture, it was completed in 1240. The castle’s location, its perfect octagonal shape, as well as the mathematical and astronomical precision of its layout all reflect the broad education and cultural vision of its founder, Emperor Frederick II.

As a leader of modern humanism, the Germanic Emperor brought scholars together in his court from throughout the Mediterranean, combining Eastern and Western traditions. The castle’s unique design, an octagonal plan with octagonal towers at each angle, represents a search for perfection. Interior features reflect Eastern influences, such as the innovative hydraulic installation used by Frederick II for bathing in accord to the typical Arabic customs.

The site is of outstanding universal value in its formal perfection and its harmonious blending of cultural elements from northern Europe, the Muslim world and classical antiquity. Castel del Monte is a unique masterpiece of medieval architecture, reflecting the humanist ideas of its founder, Frederick II of Hohenstaufen.