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

Wawel Castle

Wawel Hill – a Jurassic limestone rock, a dominant feature in the landscape of Kraków, have provided a safe haven for people who have settled here since the Paleolithic Age. It is supposed that the Slav people started living on Wawel hill as early as the 7th century. Early medieval legends tell stories about a dreadful dragon that lived in a cave on Wawel Hill, about his slayer Krakus, and about the latter’s daughter Wanda, who drowned herself in the Vistula rather than marry a German knight. Towards the end of the first millennium A.D Wawel began to play the role of the centre of political power.In the 9th century it became the principal fortified castrum of the Vislane tribe. The first historical ruler of Poland, Miesco I (c.965-992) of the Piast dynasty as well as his successors: Boleslas the Brave (992-1025) and Miesco II (1025-1034) chose Wawel Hill as one of their residences.

At that time Wawel became one of the main Polish centres of Christianity. The first early Romanesque and Romanesque sacral buildings were raised here, including a stone cathedral that was erected after the bishopric of Kraków was established in the year 1000.

During the reign of Casimir the Restorer (1034-1058) Wawel became a significant political and administrative centre for the Polish State. Casimir’s son, Boleslas the Bold (1058-1079) began the construction of a second Romanesque cathedral, which was finished by Boleslas the Wrymouth (1102-1138). In his last will of 1138, this prince divided Poland into districts, and provided that Kraków was to be the residence of the senior prince. In 1291 the city of Kraków along with Wawel Hill temporarily fell under the Czech rule, and Wenceslas II from the Premysl dynasty was crowned King of Poland in Wawel cathedral.

In 1306 the Duke of Kuyavia Ladislas the Short (1306-1333) entered Wawel and was crowned King of Poland in the Cathedral in 1320. It was the first historically recorded coronation of a Polish ruler on Wawel Hill. Around that time, at the initiative of Ladislas the Short, the construction of the third Gothic cathedral began, the castle was expanded and the old wooden and earthen fortifications were replaced by brick ones. The tomb of Ladislas the Short in the cathedral started a royal necropolis of Polish kings in Krakow.The last descendant of the Piast dynasty, Casimir the Great (1333-1370) brought Wawel to a state of unprecedented splendour. In 1364 the expanded gothic castle witnessed the marriage of Casimir’s granddaughter Elizabeth to Charles IV accompanied by a famous convention of kings and princes, subsequently entertained by a rich burgher Wierzynek. The accession to the throne in 1385 of Jadwiga from the Hungarian dynasty of Andegavens, and her marriage to a Lithuanian prince Ladislas Jagiello (1386-1434) started another era of prosperity for Wawel. The royal court employed local and western European artists and also Rus painters. During the reign of Casimir Jagiellon (1447-1492) the silhouette of the hill was enriched by three high brick towers: the Thieves’ Tower, the Sandomierz Tower and the Senatorial Tower. The first humanists in Poland and tutors to the king’s sons: historian Jan Długosz and an Italian by the name Filippo Buonacorsi (also known as Callimachus) worked there at that time.

The Italian Renaissance arrived at Wawel in the early 16th century. King Alexander (1501-1506) and his brother Sigismund I the Old (1506-1548) commissioned the construction of a new palace in place of the Gothic residence, with an impressive large courtyard with arcaded galleries which was completed about 1540. Sigismund’s patronage also left an indelible impression in the cathedral, where a family chapel was erected, known today as Sigismund’s Chapel - the work of Bartolomeo of Berrecci Florence, and through various foundations, one of which was that of a large bell, called the Sigismund to commemorate the king. Close artistic and cultural relations with Italy were strengthened in 1518 by the king’s marriage to Bona Sforza. Alongside Italian artists, German architects, wood workers, painters and metal smiths worked for the king. The last descendant of the Jagiellonian dynasty, Sigismund II Augustus (1548-1572), enriched the castle’s interiors with a magnificent collection of tapestries woven in Brussels. In the “Golden Age” of Polish culture Wawel became one of the main centres of humanism in Europe.

The reign of Sigismund III Waza (1587-1632) also made a strong impression on the history of Wawel. After a fire in the castle in 1595 the king rebuilt the burned wing of the building in the early Baroque style. The relocation of the royal court to Warsaw was the cause of a slow but nevertheless steady deterioration in the castle’s condition. The monarchs visited Kraków only occasionally. Restoration of the castle was undertaken during the reign of John III Sobieski, the Wettins and Stanislas Augustus to counteract neglect.

After Poland had lost its independence in 1795, the troops of partitioning nations, Russia, Prussia and Austria, subsequently occupied Wawel which finally passed into the hands of the Austrians. The new owners converted the castle and some of the secular buildings into a military hospital, and demolished some others, including churches. After the period of the Free City of Kraków (1815-1846) Wawel was once more annexed by Austria and turned into a citadel dominating the city. By the resolution passed by the Seym of Galicia in 1880, the castle was presented as a residence to the Emperor of Austria Franz Josef I. The Austrian troops left the hill between 1905-1911. At the turn of the 20th century a thorough restoration of the cathedral was conducted, and shortly afterwards a process of restoration of the royal castle began which lasted several decades.

When Poland regained its independence in 1918, the castle served as an official residence of the Head of State, and as a museum of historic interiors. During the Nazi occupation the castle was the residence of the German governor general, Hans Frank. Polish people managed to remove the most valuable objects, including the tapestries and the “Szczerbiec” coronation sword to Canada, from where they returned as late as 1959-1961. At present, the main curators of Wawel are Wawel Royal Castle – State Art Collection and the Metropolitan Basilica Board on Wawel Hill.