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A Peak Inside the Exploits of Europe’s
Most Famous Dynasty

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Just like it wouldn’t be Hollywood without the Kardashians, it wouldn’t be Vienna without the Habsburgs. Though it’s been nearly a century since they reigned from the spectacular Hofburg Palace in the heart of the city, the House of Habsburg’s legacy cannot be missed. Over six hundred years of rule leaves a lasting impression—and Vienna wasn’t the only place the Habsurgs made their mark. This mega dynasty expanded their brand from Barcelona to Budapest and even held dominion over the Americas.

And we thought twelve seasons was staying power. After learning about the Habsburgs on our adventure through Austria we couldn’t help but wonder—what was being in Europe’s most enduring dynasty all about? Join us as we take a closer look into the lives of the Habsburgs’ most successful rulers and find out why the family name is still strong to this day.

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Catch Phrases Make History

habs-1The idea of an “Empire on which the sun never sets” began with the Habsburgs. In the 16th century, theirs was the first truly global brand, with a presence from the Caribbean to the Philippines. Describing their empire as a land where the sun is always shining is the kind of powerful image you know and love from a dynasty with a flair for grandeur.

Being a Triple Heir is Everything

habs-2How exactly did the Habsburgs go global? It all started with Charles V. Born the heir to multiple dynasties, Charles was destined to wear many crowns. While King of Spain, he inherited the role of Holy Roman Emperor, Duke of Burgundy, King of the Netherlands, the Crown of Aragon…the list goes on and on. After his death the House of Habsburg split into two branches, Austrian and Spanish, and enjoyed their golden age of European rule from the Renaissance through the Classical period, until Napoleon broke up the Holy Roman Empire in 1806.

Brick-and-Mortar Matters

habs-3The Habsburgs used their wealth to beautify many of the grandest cities in Europe, leaving behind extravagant palaces, cathedrals, opera houses, monasteries, museums and manors from Italy to Germany to Spain and Slovakia—and especially their capital city of Vienna. There, the Habsburgs were constantly expanding their main residences, Hofburg Palace, where they wintered, and Schoenbrunn Palace, where they summered. To this day you can visit the palaces and get a glimpse of what it took to run a 5,000 person imperial household.

Oil Paintings are the Original Selfie

habs-4The Habsburgs may not have left us many good photos, but they did have their portraits done by some of the biggest names in art history, from Diego Velazquez to Gustav Klimt. The family’s patronage and support shaped western art from the renaissance to early modernism. Their incredible collection is still shown in museums around the world, when not hanging in one of their palaces in Vienna.

Do You Believe in Magic?

habs-5Along with beautiful paintings, sculptures and decorative works, the Habsburgs collected many rare and magical objects believed to amplify the family’s power. In the Hofburg Palace treasury you can see all the precious oddities, like a 500-year-old unicorn horn that was understood to give the Habsburg emperor the grace of God. You’ll also see imperial swag like the emperor’s crown, orb and scepter, plus exquisite jewels and decorative items carved from precious stone.

Don’t Be Afraid to Break

habs-6the Rules
You do not stay in power for centuries by playing by the book. You have to make your own rules. The Habsburgs once came close to extinction—that is there was no viable male heir to the Austrian throne—and instead of allowing the crown to fall to some other family, Charles VI reformed the law so that his daughter Maria Theresa could become Empress. She turned out to be one of Vienna’s most beloved rulers, balancing the budget, re-organizing the imperial government and setting up the House of Habsburg for another couple of centuries of success.

Don’t Be Afraid to Break the Rules

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You do not stay in power for centuries by playing by the book. You have to make your own rules. The Habsburgs once came close to extinction—that is there was no viable male heir to the Austrian throne—and instead of allowing the crown to fall to some other family, Charles VI reformed the law so that his daughter Maria Theresa could become Empress. She turned out to be one of Vienna’s most beloved rulers, balancing the budget, re-organizing the imperial government and setting up the House of Habsburg for another couple of centuries of success.

Power Couples Only

habs-7“Make love, not war” was the Habsburg MO. A cleverly arranged marriage was their favorite way of expanding the family business and they had a knack for lining themselves up to inherit a throne or two. Take the famous Empress Maria Theresa, who had sixteen children she married off to royalty all across Europe, including Marie Antoinette, who wed Louis XIV and became Queen of France (the one who let them eat cake). A couple of revolutions later, when the Emperor Napoleon went to choose his bride, it was a no brainer. He went with a Habsburg.

Weddings Always WOW

habs-8When your nuptials shape the fate of nations and you have several hundred master gold artisans on staff there is no excuse for the groom to arrive on anything less than a gilded sleigh. (Emperor-to-be Joseph II rode to the altar on this one, covered in over two hundred gold bells, to wed Maria Josefa of Bavaria in 1765.) At the very least, a proper Habsburg celebration required the most lavish dining served on palace silver, exquisite couture gowns and a show by the finest musicians in the empire. And naturally, a Habsburg wedding was only ever held in the most splendid cathedrals in Vienna—like St. Stephen’s and St. Augustine’s.

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