Maximilian I, (1459–1519) Holy Roman Emperor and German king, was the son of the Habsburg emperor Ferdinand III. He was resolute in his ambition to form a lasting personal and family legacy.
Let’s have a look at the top 10 most interesting facts about Maximilian I.
Maximilian I Facts
1. The Habsburg matrimonial policy was integral to securing their empire.
There were three generations of strategic marriages that locked up vast territories for the Hapsburgs. Maximilian married Mary of Burgundy in 1477, thereby gaining control of the Netherlands. Their son, Phillip the Handsome, married Joan the Mad of Spain, and their daughter Margaret, married Joan’s brother, John. When John died, Phillip was able to lay claim to the Spanish throne, giving his son, Charles V, control of Spain, the Netherlands, and Austria. Finally, Maximilian I and Ladislaus Jagiello, king of Hungary and Bohemia agreed to marry their grandchildren. Maximilian’s granddaughter Mary married Louis II, and when he was killed in battle, Hungary and Bohemia came to the Hapsburgs.
2. The Emperor married three times.
Mary of Burgundy died after the couple had been married for only five years. Maximilian then negotiated a marriage by proxy to Anne of Brittany in 1490. But before the marriage was consummated, Charles VIII of France invaded Brittany and forced Anne to repudiate the marriage and marry him instead. This was doubly offensive because Maximilian’s daughter Margaret was supposed to marry Charles, an interesting fact about Maximilian I. To this end, she had been sent as a child to live at the French court and be raised to become Queen. She has held hostage and only returned to her father with the signing of the Treaty of Senlis. In 1493, Maximilian married Bianca Maria Sforza (1472-1510), for her extensive dowry. She spent the last years of her life in isolation, and they had no children together.
3. Maximilian I fought twenty-five wars in forty years.
The Emperor’s success came mostly from his matrimonial alliances, but that didn’t stop him from trying his hand on the battlefields. He was involved in twenty-five military campaigns in forty years. The majority of these were against his archenemy, France. He established a militia called the “Landsknechte” (Servants of the Land) and had them trained by Swiss mercenaries. They were widely regarded as the best foot soldiers in the world, capable of defeating cavalries with their unique formations.
4. Wars prevented the Emperor from being crowned by the Pope.
In 1508, Maximilian declared himself “Roman Emperor Elect.” Traditionally, a papal coronation was required for the award of the imperial title. However, his war with the Venetians prevented him from passing through their lands in order to get to Rome. So instead, a ceremony was held at Trent, with Pope Julius II giving his blessing remotely, an interesting Maximilian I fact.
5. He was known as “The Last Knight.”
Maximilian was athletic and an accomplished horseman. His love of jousting and armor earned him the nickname “The Last Knight”. He viewed armor as artwork and amassed a vast collection, much of which remains today. The elaborate metal-work that became fashionable during his reign is referred to as Maximilian armor. He even gave a helmet modeled after his likeness to King Henry VIII as a gift.
6. Administrative reform was implemented to unite the Empire.
Maximilian was impressed by the streamlined and hierarchical administration in Burgundy and emulated it in Austria, focusing on the financial and juridical sectors. His intention was to extend this bureaucracy, but the imperial princes of the Empire were resistant to concede further power to the Emperor. He was, however successful in dividing the Empire into districts for regional administration of Empire taxes, implementation of decrees, and the administration of military contingents. He also created the Imperial Court to resolve intra-Empire conflicts.
7. Jews were expelled from Austria under Maximilian I.
The role of the Holy Emperor was synonymous with keeping Europe Catholic. Energies in this regard were mostly focused on preventing the further expansion of the Ottoman Empire, but in 1496, Maximilian issued a degree to expel Jews from Austria. In 1509, urged on by Johannes Pfefferkorn, a Jewish convert to Catholicism, he ordered that Jews hand over all Jewish books as a first step to converting them, but this was rescinded a year later.
8. Maximilian was determined to leave a written memory.
Maximilian was adamant that he create a lasting impression of himself for future generations, “he who makes no memory of himself during his lifetime will have none after his death, and will be forgotten with the tolling of the final knell.” To preserve a favorable view of himself, he authored a number of works detailing his youth, his courtship of Mary, and his sports interests, an interesting Maximilian I fact.
9. His Arch of Honor remains one of the largest prints ever made.
The printing press was invented in the mid-15th century, and Maximilian was one of the first politicians to realize the propaganda opportunity of printed media such as handbills and news-sheets. His biggest print project was a woodblock print of 36 pages designed mainly by the renowned Nuremberg artist Albrecht Dürer. When fitted together, the pages made up an arch detailing Maximilian’s achievements, ancestry, and ambitions. Unlike the fixed arches of his contemporaries, this was both portable and replicable. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a complete proof of The Arch printed in 1517/18.
10. He left a legacy of debts totaling a decade of tax revenue.
Maximilian’s grandiose expansion policies constantly exceeded his income. He once loaned almost 1 million gulden just for bribes to ensure his grandson Charles V was selected as Emperor. He became endebted to a number of German banker families, and at the time of his death, owed 6 million gulden. This was equivalent to ten years’ worth of tax revenue for the Hapsburgs, and it took the family until the end of the 16th century to repay it, an interesting fact about Maximilian I.
Maximilian I’s expansion of the Habsburg influence survived right up to the dissolution of the Austria-Hungary Empire in 1918 and significantly influenced the history of Europe.
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