Habsburg, House of

Habsburg, House of, also spelled Hapsburg, also called House of Austria, royal German family, one of the principal sovereign dynasties of Europe from the 15th to the 20th century. The name Habsburg is derived from the castle of Habsburg, or Habichtsburg ("Hawk's Castle"), built in 1020 by Werner, bishop of Strasbourg, and his brother-in-law, Count Radbot, in the Aargau overlooking the Aar River, in what is now Switzerland.

Counts of Habsburg are known as early as the 11th century. One of their number became German king, as Rudolf I, in 1273; and in 1282 he bestowed Austria and Styria on his two sons, thus beginning the age-old identification of the Habsburgs with Austria, which they ruled without interruption until 1918, as dukes, archdukes, and emperors. Habsburgs ruled Hungary and Bohemia from 1526 and retained control over them until 1918; Habsburgs also ruled Spain and the Spanish Empire for almost two centuries (1504-06, 1516-1700).

In general, the Habsburgs successfully imposed a system of hereditary descent over a widening group of kingdoms that nominally functioned under elective monarchies. Frederick V, the Habsburg king of Germany from 1440, was crowned Holy Roman emperor as Frederick III in 1452; this title remained in the family until the dissolution of the empire in 1806. His son, Maximilian I, through a momentous marriage in 1477, acquired the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Burgundy, and eventually, through his descendants, Spain, Naples, Sicily, and Sardinia as well as New World possessions. The zenith of Habsburg power came under Charles I, king of Spain and emperor (as Charles V) in the 16th century. The dynastic division at Charles's death initiated the Spanish Habsburg line (ruling Spain until 1700) and the Austrian line (known after 1740 as the House of Habsburg-Lorraine), which ruled the Habsburg possessions in central Europe until 1918.