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

Gemen Castle

The beautiful water castle of Gemen near Borken was founded probably in the 9th or 10th century. The first document dates from 1274. The current appearance is a result of five essential reconstruction phases. Since 1946, the castle has been used as a youth camp under the guidance of the diocese of Münster.
Founded: 13th century | Location: Borken, 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

Linz Castle

Linz Castle is an old customs castle and fortress. It dates back to 1365 and was built by the Archbishop of Cologne, Engelbert von der Mark. After an eventful history, the castle has been under private ownership since 1985. The castle in the heart of the town of Linz on the Rhine is once again a major tourist attraction after undergoing extensive refurbishment. Today visitors will find catering from the Middle Ages in th ...
Founded: 1365 | Location: Linz am Rhein, 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

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

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 reconst ...
Founded: 1508 | Location: Munich, 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

Church of All Saints

The Church of All Saints, also known as Holy Cross Church (Kreuzkirche) was built in 1478 by Jörg von Halsbach and was the first church with a cemetery in the St. Peter parish. It was once located at the crossing of four roads, whence the original suffix am Kreuz ('at the Cross'). It has unadorned brickwork walls, Gothicvaults and a tall bell tower. The interior was rebuilt from 1620 in Baroque style, the ...
Founded: 1478 | 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

Ingolstadt New Castle

The New Castle in Ingolstadt is one of the most important Gothic secular buildings of the 15th century in Bavaria. The builders were Louis VII, Duke of Bavaria-Ingolstadt and Duke George the Rich of Bavaria-Landshut, both of the Wittelsbach dynasty. The neighboring Old Castle, a medieval fortress from the 13th Century, is today called Herzogkasten. As a brother of the French queen Isabeau, Ludwig spent more than ten year ...
Founded: 1418 | Location: Ingolstadt, 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

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. Mary's Church

The chapel created in 1291 by Cistercian monks assumed its present shape in 1440 when it was rebuilt as a St. Mary"s brick church. The half-timber framed nave (oak beams with brick fillings) was constructed in the 16th and 17th centuries with the choir annex added in the 18th century. Later restoration works served to expose paintings from around 1470 on the walls and the triumphal arch. The oldest decorative feature ...
Founded: 1440 | Location: Waase, Germany

Lede Castle

Burg Lede in Bonn-Vilich, the oldest part of Bonn, is a real gem. The origins of the site goes back to the 14th century. Von Loë family still lives in the castle. The personal atmosphere of the castle with its salons, the library, the castle kitchen and the small courtyard create an unusual ambiance for events ranging from weddings, official business events to a private cookery course with friends. A limited number of re ...
Founded: 14th century | Location: Bonn, Germany

Ingolstadt Münster

Ingolstadt Münster, built in the 15th century, is one of the largest Gothic brick buildings in Bavaria. Inside, the mighty cathedral houses altars, valuable stone reliefs and figures, paintings and wood carvings. The high altar (1572) commemorates the centenary of the foundation of Ingolstadt"s university.
Founded: 15th century | Location: Ingolstadt, Germany

St. Catherine's Church

St. Catherine's Church is one of the five principal Lutheran churches of Hamburg. The base of its spire, dating from the 13th century, is the second oldest building preserved in the city, after the lighthouse on Neuwerk island. It is situated on an island near what was formerly the southern boundary of the medieval city, opposite the historic harbour area on the Elbe river. It traditionally served as the church of the sea ...
Founded: 1256 | Location: Hamburg, 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

Neuenburg Castle

Schloss Neuenburg was built in 1462 as a fortress by Graf Gerd. In the 16th century, the castle was converted into a residence. In the 17th century, the castle was used for breeding horses and stallions. The castle was then used to house many institutions like the Ackerbauschule, Landfrauenschule, and Reservelazarett among many others. Today, the castle is home to a museum, a kindergarten, a chapel, and a wedding hall.
Founded: 1462 | Location: Neuenburg, 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

Jever Castle

Jever castle dates back to a weir from the late 14th century. The fortress got its typical characteristics mostly from the massive keep, which during the 15th and 16th century was surrounded by a Vierseitanlage. When Jever became part of the Duchy of Oldenburg in 1818, the castle was declared an auxiliary residence of the Dukes of Oldenburg and the now useless outbuildings and fortification were done away with. The museum ...
Founded: 14th century | Location: Jever, 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

St. Mary's Church

The largest church in Bielefeld is the Neustädter Marienkirche, a Gothic hall church dating back to 1293, completed 1512. Historically speaking, this building is considered to be the most precious possession of the town. It was the starting point of the Protestant Reformation in Bielefeld in 1553. A valuable wing-altar with 13 pictures, known as the Marienaltar is also kept inside. The baroque spires were destro ...
Founded: 1293 | Location: Bielefeld, Germany

Laufen Castle

Laufen Castle is a square-shaped castle overlooking the Salzach river that was built for the Archbishop of Salzburg in the 15th century. It is assumed to be built on the ruins of an ancient Roman structure and was first mentioned in the reign of Bishop Vergilius of Salzburg, and once again in the 13th century. On March 29, 1166, Emperor Barbarossa held court here. During World War II the castle was used first as a prison ...
Founded: 15th century | Location: Laufen, Germany

St. Michael Church

St. Michael’s, one of the main churches in Lüneburg, is a good example of the red-brick hall churches of Northern Germany. In AD 956 the Holy-Roman emperor, Otto I, presented the Benedictine Abbey with the income from customs deriving from the extraction of the salt, which later made Lüneburg both famous and extremely wealthy. St. Michael’s was at that time part of the castle of the Billunger ducal family, which wa ...
Founded: 1376-1412 | Location: Lüneburg, Germany

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Historic Village of Olargues

Olargues is a good example of a French medieval town and rated as one of the most beautiful villages in France. It was occupied by the Romans, the Vandals and the Visigoths. At the end of the 11th century the Jaur valley came under the authority of the Château of the Viscount of Minerve. The following centuries saw a succession of wars and epidemics, and it was not until the 18th century that Olargues became re-established. This was due to the prosperity of local agriculture and artisanal industry.

The Pont du Diable, 'Devil's Bridge', is said to date back to 1202 and is reputed to be the scene of transactions between the people of Olargues and the devil. The old village is clustered around the belltower, which was formerly the main tower of the castle (Romanesque construction). The old shops have marble frontages and overhanging upper storeys. A museum of popular traditions and art is to be found in the stairs of the Commanderie.