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A skyline view of Vienna

Vienna: Empire, Dynasty and Dream

The rise of one of the great cities of the world, and how the city today is a window into a past of power, religion and culture.

About this commission

Simon Sebag Montefiore tells the story of how the Habsburg family transformed Vienna into the capital that it is today, during a dynasty era lasting nearly 1,000 years.

To find out more about Vienna: Empire, Dynasty and Dream, head over to the BBC for the full programme details. 

Discover the range of qualifications and modules from the OU related to this programme:

Simon Sebag Montefiore in Vienna for BBC series

Copyright: BBC

A picture showing show the coat of arms of the Habsburg family.

Family Tree of the Habsburg Dynasty

Check out our family tree showing relations of the Habsburg dynasty while exploring how arranged marriages increased the Habsburg's power.

Kings and Emperors 1273 - 1918

A picture of the family connections of the Habsburg dynasty

The Open University under Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 license

The family of Habsburg ruled Austria for nearly 650 years, from a modest beginning as dukes protecting the border of Germany, they became emperors of Austria and of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. The following graphics show a selection of family relations in the House of Habsburg. But there is a flipside to this family tree: the role of women for the politics of the Habsburg rulers becomes visible when you view the marriage and relations to other ruling houses of Europe and beyond.


The Habsburg family tree

The Open University under Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 license

At this point the line of succession splits: from Charles V follows the Spanish Line and from Ferdinand I the Austrian Line, which we will focus on.


The Habsburg family tree

The Open University under Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 license

Maria Theresa and her Husband, Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor, had sixteen children. Joseph II and Leopold II went on to become Holy Roman Emperors.


Women of the Habsburg dynasty

Painting of Maria von Burgundy

Copyright free: By Antoni Boys [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 

Maria von Burgund (1457-1482

An heiress in her own right, Mary of Burgundy was a coveted price on the marriage mart.

Mary married Archduke Maxmilian of Austria, who would go on to become Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor.

When Maximilian’s father, Emperor Frederick III arranged this union, he had his eyes on the money as well as on the rich lands of Burgundy.

Mary, apparently, was taken by the young, handsome prince who looked like a knight in shining armour. His nickname in German is “Maximilian, der letzte Ritter”: Maximilian – last of the knights.

Read more on Wikipedia: in English  | in German 


Picture of Kunigunde

Copyright free: von Unknown Master, Austrian (active around 1485 in Tyrol) (Web Gallery of Art:   Image  Info about artwork) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 


Kunigunde (1465-1520)

A daughter of the house of Habsburg was always a sought-after bride.

Kunigunde, daughter of Emperor Frederick III and his wife Eleanor of Portugal, and sister of Maximilian I, was used in the emperor’s political plans.

At one time, her father even considered the sultan of the Osman empire as a potential son in law and, in 1470, King Matthias Corvinus of Hungary requested her hand.

Eventually, she was married to the duke of Bavaria, Albert IV, with whom she had seven children.

Read more on Wikipedia: in English  | in German 


Picture of Johanna von Kastilien

Copyright free: Master of the Legend of Mary Magdalene (fl. between 1480 and 1537) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 

Joanna von Kastilien (1479-1555)

Joanna, daughter of Isabella of Castille and Ferdinand of Aragon, she was also called Joanna the Mad (‘Juana la Loca’).

She was married to Philip the Handsome, son of Maximilian I and Mary of Burgundy, in an attempt to link the houses of Spain and of Austria-Burgundy.

The couple had six children. When Philip died, Joanna is purported to have his corpse embalmed and take it with her wherever she travelled.

Deposed as queen, declared a lunatic and confined in a castle by her own father, Joanne died decades later. Her two sons, Charles and Ferdinand, later divided the Habsburg possessions between them. They ruled an empire in which the sun never set, from the South Americas to Hungary.

Read more on Wikipedia: in English  | in German 


Master of Moulins (fl. circa 1480-1500)

Copyright free: Master of Moulins (fl. circa 1480-1500) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 

Margarete (1480 - 1530)

Married three times, Margaret was the typical pawn in political machinations.

Her first husband, Charles VIII of France, divorced her when he found a more promising spouse in Anne of Brittany. The marriage was never consummated, as Margaret was only 11 years old at that time.

Her next marriage with John of Asturias was no more successful: her husband died after only six months of marriage and Margaret was delivered of a still-born daughter.

Her last marriage was to the Duke of Savoy. After his death at an early age, Margaret returned to her native land of Burgundy and took care of the education of her late brother, Philip’s, six children.

Read more on Wikipedia: in English  | in German 


Master of the Legend of Mary Magdalene (fl. between 1480 and 1537)

Copyright free: Master of the Legend of Mary Magdalene (fl. between 1480 and 1537) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 


Isabella (1501-1526)

One of the daughters of Philip the Handsome, Isabella was married to the king of Denmark, Christian II, just before her 13th birthday.

Upon her marriage to Philip, Isabella became Queen of Denmark and Norway. He later took over the throne of Sweden, making Isabella Queen of Sweden.

Although her husband continued his relationship with his mistress during their marriage, Isabella remained faithful to Christian and followed him into exile when he was deposed in 1523.

Read more on Wikipedia: in English  | in German 


Hans Maler zu Schwaz [Public domain]

Copyright free: Hans Maler zu Schwaz [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 

Anna Jagiello (1503-1547)

The daughter of the King of Hungary and Bohemia, Anne was married to Ferdinand I at a young age. Ferdinand was the younger son of Philip the Handsome and a grandson of Maximilian I. He inherited Austria and his marriage to Anna also gave him access to the Hungarian throne.

Read more on Wikipedia: in English  | in German 


Mary Tudor

Copyright free: Hans Eworth (circa 1520–1574?) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 

Mary Tudor (1516-1558)

The Habsburg marriage policy reached as far as England. Mary Tudor, daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, married Philip II, son of Catherine’s nephew Charles V and thus her own cousin once removed.

The Habsburgs hoped for a dynastic boost from this union of two royal families but instead it ended sadly: the marriage was childless and Mary’s attempts to re-introduce Catholicism in England earned her the sobriquet “Bloody Mary”.

Read more on Wikipedia: in English  | in German 


Picture - Anne of Austria

Copyright free: Frans Pourbus the younger [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 

Anna (1601-1666)

Although she grew up in Spain, Anne was an Archduchess of Austria by birth.

She was married to King Louis XIII of France and was called Anne d’Autriche (Anne of Austria) at the French court.

At the death of her husband in 1643 she became regent of France in the name of her son, Louis XIV, who at that time was only four years old.

Read more on Wikipedia: in English  | in German 


Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun - Marie Antoinette

Copyright free: Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 

Marie Antoinette (1755-1793)

One more tragic figure in the Habsburg marriage carousel is Maria Antonia, better known under her French name of Marie Antoinette.

The youngest of Maria Theresia’s 16 children, she was selected as spouse for the French dauphin when she was a teenager and married at 14 years of age.

Throughout most of her live she was hated by the French people who called her “l’Autrichienne” and saw her as a foreigner with little understanding and little sympathy for her people. She was beheaded in the French Revolution.

Read more on Wikipedia: in English  | in German 


Meet the expert

A photograph of Dr Ursula Stickler
Ursula SticklerSenior Lecturer (German), Faculty of Wellbeing, Education & Language studiesVIEW FULL PROFILE
A photograph of Dr Ursula Stickler
Ursula SticklerSenior Lecturer (German), Faculty of Wellbeing, Education & Language studies

Language Studies

I received my PhD in Philosophy from the Karl-Franzens University in Graz, Austria, before moving to the United Kingdom.

I have been working at The Open University since 2002. My research here focuses on language teaching, particularly independent and technology-enhanced forms of language teaching, and language teacher development. Before joining the OU I worked on the Interculture project, a project looking at the experiences of students during their year abroad and how they negotiated the cultural differences and linguistic challenges of living abroad.

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