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"That extraordinary empire known as the Austrian-Hungarian Dual Monarchy is less an Empire or a Kingdom or a State, than the personal property of the Habsburgs, whose hereditary talent for the acquisition of land is recorded on the map of Europe today!"
James W. Gerard (1867-1951), American diplomat

Für Kaiser und König!

The Habsburg Empire was not a normal empire. Even when Austria was the premier power, its preeminence was not the same as that of Russia under the Tsars. Rather the Habsburgs, one of the great houses of Europe, were the feudal system taken to its logical extreme, with dozens of nations having no connection to one another except their joint allegiance to the Habsburg Family. (Note that the spelling "Hapsburg," common in older English translations, is not considered the most correct.) Therefore it is proper to refer to their state (and by extension its military) by reference to The Family. (Not that one despite occasional resemblances.)

The first Habsburg king was a warlord named Rudolph who was Feudal Overlord of an alpine fortress called Habichtsburg (now in Switzerland note ), which translates into English as "the Hawk's Castle", whence the name "Habsburg." He was elected "King of Germany" (not Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire note ) in Oct 1273, because of his lack of resources, which it was hoped would make him controllable. As it turned out, Rudolph had considerable military skill and sacked enough rebellious barons' castles to persuade them of the advisability of good order and loyalty to the crown. Rudolph and his son Albert both became Kings of Germany, but were never crowned Holy Roman Emperor. After Albert's assassination in May 1308, the house's fortunes sagged a little; the next king from the house was Albert II in 1438.

The Habsburg family became known for its skill in diplomacy and acquired many possessions by marriage, giving rise to the motto "Let others wage wars, but you, merry Austria, marry!" (Bella gerant alii, tu, felix Austria, nube!). At one time, by a merger with the Spanish royal family of Trastámara in the 15th century, the Habsburg crowned themselves at the head of the nascent Spanish Empire and became an entity with holdings in the Western as well as the Eastern hemisphere, becoming the first - and until its end the largest - "empire on which the sun never sets". The Spanish-based section of the family and the Austrian-based one were split, with Charles V giving Spain and the Netherlands to his son Philip II and the Central/Eastern European realms to his brother Ferdinand, albeit those would remain closely allied. Their union coincided with a golden age for both parties, though marked by an ever-present squeezing of resources from Spain and Italy to fund warring efforts in Northern Europe, which would be a perennial headache for the Mediterranean lower classes, much less inclined to fight unproductive conflicts in remote, unpronounceable countries. Philip would also briefly bring the Portuguese Empire to the team for (guess what) reasons of blood and marriages, forming the Iberian Union, although the Portuguese would end up later revolting and breaking away upon realizing that becoming a target for the Habsburg's enemies had turned the whole thing into a severe case of Awesome, but Impractical.

The Habsburg imperial forces were always a motley and colorful patchwork of levies from their various possessions as well as mercenaries. They probably reached their greatest height of prestige during the Italian Wars, in which they took on France - previously the most feared army in Europe - and its various allies, and utterly, brutally crushed both of them under heel, using to full effect the tactical innovations their Spanish branch had previously acquired from the work of Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba. This ushered in almost a century of continuous Habsburg dominance in Europe, represented by the famous Spanish model of multi-national armies known as tercios and the combined naval power of their coastal properties, a reign that only began to slip during The Eighty Years' War and Thirty Years' War decades later. The former war saw a portion of the Habsburg Netherlands painfully breaking away to form the Dutch Republic after a century of fighting, only leaving in Austrian hands the provinces later known as Belgium, while the latter saw brilliant but ruthless general Albrecht von Wallenstein fight on against the enemies of the Empire and win a number of battles, only to lose his position due to anti-Imperial Western intervention hammering his army coupled with an overweening personal ambition. Furthermore, the next century would see the Habsburg suffering a massive setback, this time the extinction of their Spanish branch for lack of male issue (and health), ultimately leaving the Spanish throne in the hands of their enemies, French House of Bourbon in the War of the Spanish Succession. Without their global reach, unending natural resources and privileged access to the Mediterranean, the Habsburg saw their power drastically reduced in a way they would never recover from.

After that the Habsburg forces mostly just scrapped by. They could always field a decent army, but rarely a Badass Army, though exceptional generals like Tilly, Eugene of Savoy, or Archduke Charles of Austria-Teschen occasionally won outstanding victories. It was, however, always a colorful force and had as one of its most interesting features a number of Proud Warrior Races from Central Europe and the Balkans, such as the Hussars from Hungary and the Grenzers from Croatia, Serbia and Romania. Slightly less romantic were the rather stolid ethnic Germans from Austria and allied states. Unfortunately, being a "colorful" force was also its own downfall. The diversity in the armed forces, comprised of conscripts from dozens of ethnicities together speaking more than ten languages often made command and control difficult. They won few spectacular battles, but they did keep the Empire together until World War I which ushered in the end of the Habsburgs as a state and the end of their military, a time by which the Austro-Hungarian forces were probably one of the worst armies in Europe. Before Russia's domestic collapse in 1917, the Russian Army under Brusilov utterly smashed their Austro-Hungarian opponents in Ukraine, to the point that Imperial Germany had to bail them out. The Austrians also suffered embarrassing defeats at the hands of the much smaller Serbian army, again only managing to occupy the country with substantial German aid. The Austro-Hungarian army had considerably more success against the incompetent Italians, to the point Germany felt it could only trust Austria to hold the Italian Front... but even there, in the end, they still managed to lose! It should be mentioned that many of the Austro-Hungarian soldiers were Slavs, and were understandably reluctant to fight against other Slavs for the sake of German or Hungarian masters.

One rather odd victory they had was Lissa, in which they defeated the Italian fleet in the war with Prussia and Italy in the nineteenth century — probably the only naval battle the Central-European Habsburgs ever won. Also, while their battleships did practically nothing during World War I, the tiny Austrian submarine force managed to pull off some amazing stunts; Captain Von Trapp (made popular in The Sound of Music) was their greatest submarine ace. Another peculiarity noted by historians was that by the end of WWI, the Austro-Hungarian Army "laid down their arms" (rather than surrendered); they outlasted the Empire they served.

Rather amazingly, the last Austrian Crown Prince, Otto von Habsburg (or Otto Habsburg-Lothringen in Austria)note  lived until the ripe old age of 98, dying on the 4th of July, 2011 . Had he actually succeeded his father on the throne he would have reigned for 88 years, becoming the longest reigning monarch in history by a huge margin (The record holder, Louis XIV reigned for 72 years). A politician of The European Union, he allegedly once punched Ian Paisley after the latter insulted The Pope as the Antichrist in the European Parliament.

House members who have their own pages:

Tropes as depicted in fiction:

  • All Your Base Are Belong to Us: Vienna was occupied by the Hungarian Black Army from 1485 to 1490. More famously, the Ottomans attempted it twice, being defeated in both sieges. The Swiss seized Habsburg Castle in 1415 and held onto it ever since.
  • Born in the Wrong Century: Austria under the Habsburgs had the strange honor of being seen as both bafflingly backward for its time and oddly progressive for the era, which tends to show in works and folklore involving the Empire. Among other things, the Empire pre-World War I was a multicultural and multinational an Europe where ethnic nationalism and the effects of the "Springtime of Nations" were still in vogue.
  • Cool Horse: The famous Lipizzaner stallions of the Spanish Riding School, which even merited a Disney movie, Miracle of the White Stallions.
  • Determinator: Tends to be shown as this trope as well. Given that until World War I, Austria/Austria-Hungary had gone through centuries of threats that would have torn up other countries. This could also apply to the Austro-Hungarian military, which for all its weaknesses effectively outlasted their own Empire.
  • Fair for Its Day: Despite being historically a deeply Catholic, decidedly anti-democratic realm that flirted with feudalism and absolutism at times where both were considered hopelessly antiquated concepts, the Austrian Empire became, by necessity, a European trailblazer in terms of religious, ethnic, political and national integration. Towards the end of its existence, the Empire encouraged the use of regional cultures and tongues, to the point of forcing its bureaucrats to learn one or more languages. The national anthem had no less than fourteennote  official versions. Jews also prospered under the Habsburgs, with places such as Czernowitz (modern-day Chernivtsi, Ukraine) becoming international centres of Judeo-European culture. During World War 1, a record-breaking percentage of the officer corps was made up of Jews, and the troops were tended to by Catholic, Protestant, Christian Orthodox, Jewish and Muslim chaplains alike. Archduke Franz Ferdinand's plans for a United States of Greater Austria, while never realised, served as a major influence for the Pan-European movement and later the EU. Unfortunately, the simmering nationalist, supremacist and fundamentalist elements in the constituent nations (and, in particular, one of their most famous disciples) ended up destroying the Empire from within and directly kicked off decades of Fascism and more than a century of ethnic, religious and political strife across Central and Eastern Europe.
  • Folk Hero: Prince Eugene of Savoy, undoubtedly Austria's best military commander during the 17th and 18th centuries, has a German folksong, Prinz Eugen, der edle Ritter ("Prince Eugene, the noble knight") about him, which details his recapture of Belgrade from the Turks in 1717.
    Als Prinz Eugenius dies vernommen,
    Ließ er gleich zusammenkommen
    Sein' Gen'ral und Feldmarschall.
    Er tät sie recht instruieren,
    Wie man sollt' die Truppen führen
    Und den Feind recht greifen an.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: How the dynasty is sometimes portrayed. Given how it rose from a relatively obscure noble house in what is now Switzerland to becoming sovereigns of the Danubian realms until the end of World War I.
  • I Have Many Names: Depending on the time period and whoever's describing it, the Habsburg Empire has been referred to as the Habsburg Monarchy, Danube Monarchy, Austrian Empire, Austro-Hungarian Empire, Dual Monarchy, or simply The Empire.
  • Kicked Upstairs/Reassignment Backfire: The Habsburgs initially gained the Imperial throne of the Holy Roman Empire amidst a conniving nobility who thought they could manipulate the new Emperor into forwarding their own agenda. By the time the HRE was dissolved in the Napoleonic Wars however, the Empire had long become synonymous with Austria and the Habsburgs in particular; with one exception, the position was held by a Habsburg in continuous succession in the later centuries of the HRE.
  • Modest Royalty: The Habsburgs, at least later on, were also depicted as this compared to most other royal houses in Europe. Franz Joseph's quarters in particular were said to be relatively spartan and bare-bones, reflecting his military background.
  • Multinational Team: The Habsburg Empire tends to be depicted as in real life as a veritable multinational, multicultural and multi-religious domain with a predominantly German (and later, Hungarian) veneer, in contrast to the more homogeneous Imperial Germany.
  • The Remnant: The Habsburg realms tend to be seen as one to the old Holy Roman Empire.
  • Ruritania : Often thought to have inspired this trope. Justified a bit, but more often than not, even its contemporaries didn't do the research and thought of the country as far more backwards, ignorant and undeveloped than it was in reality.
  • Token Enemy Minority: Prince Eugene of Savoy was French by birth.
  • What Could Have Been: The myriad possible fates of the Austro-Hungarian Empire open up a can of "what ifs" used in Alternate History fiction. One major concept that's speculated on is Franz Ferdinand of Austria's plan for the United States of Greater Austria, which would've divided the empire into 14 states and 14 semi-autonomous German enclaves within several of the non-German states, giving each of the major nationalities within the empire at least one state of their own instead of only the German Austrians and the Hungarians having that status. Such a multi-ethnic federation would've been practically the European Union in miniature. Rather fittingly, multiple Habsburgs are to this day active in various pan-European organisations.

Appearances in fiction:

  • Erich von Stroheim's The Wedding March is about an aristocratic Austrian cavalry officer who falls in love with a working-class girl, in the last days before the Great War breaks out in 1914.
  • Captain von Trapp in The Sound of Music (and in Real Life) was a former Habsburg officer.
  • The Illusionist (2006): It takes place in turn of the century Vienna involving a dramatized retelling of the Mayerling Incident.
  • Sunshine: A 1999 Hungarian film staring Ralph Fiennes follows a Jewish family through three different successive eras, with the first set during the final years of the Habsburg Empire. The following ones take place before World War II and during the 1956 Revolution respectively, long after the Monarchy fell.
  • The Habsburg Empire exists in Europa Universalis and is a fan favorite. There was a fan write-in campaign to keep Austria's traditional white color for Victoria II.
  • The Habsburgs are also around in the Crusader Kings II and its sequel, although in 1066 they only rule a single county in Switzerland. Recreating the Habsburg empire from this humble origin is a common challenge among players.
  • The first Victoria: An Empire Under The Sun features them as one of the major obstacles for Prussia/an Italian state to unify Germany and Italy, respectively.
  • Although Hearts of Iron takes place during the immediate period after the empire was disbanded, IV allows for the player to restore Austria-Hungary with Otto von Habsburg as the leader if they play as Hungary, or it can be willed back into existence if either Germany restores the Kaiser or Turkey returns to the Ottoman Empire and then rekindles sentiment for the empire, with Austria in charge in the latter examplenote . In a somewhat more outlandish case, it's also possible for the Habsburgs to return to power in Poland in IV if the player establishes a monarchy and chooses Karl Albrecht von Habsburg as the monarchnote , with said option allowing for Poland to unite with Czechoslovakia and claim the German-held territories bordering both countries (as well as force Miklos Horthy to allow Otto von Habsburg to rule Hungary)note . Curiously, despite the Habsburgs having ruled Spain in the past and Spain having a monarchist path in this game (and Francisco Franco offered Otto von Habsburg the crown in real life before Juan Carlos I of the House of Bourbon was crowned), there is no option to have Habsburg Spain.
  • Hetalia: Axis Powers also follows the embodiments of Austria and Hungary, as well as Prussia from the Renaissance through the War of the Austrian Succession and beyond. Of course, knowing history, we all know how it all ends down the line.
    • And with Himaruya moving their story towards the Seven Years' War and the 19th Century, this could be made all the more bittersweet.
  • A Disney production as a two-parter for its TV series, Miracle of the White Stallions was about Patton rescuing the horses of the Vienna Spanish Riding School, a showcase of the old Hapsburgs still around today.
  • Robert Musil's "unfinished" novel The Man with No Qualities revels in this, depicting the Empire in its final decade. Ironically, the author laments on how Austria-Hungary was so successful and deceptively progressive for the time that it became a victim of that very success.
  • They appear as bad guys in 1632. Ditto for just about any work that focuses on Napoléon Bonaparte (he forced the last Holy Roman Emperor to abdicate, though marrying his daughter).
  • Jaroslav Hašek's The Fateful Adventures of the Good Soldier Švejk During the World War, better known just as The Good Soldier Švejk or just Švejk (with all attendant variations thereof), an utterly hilarious (though also gut-wrenching no less often) satirical novel about titular "good soldier" during the last days of the Empire. Sadly also unfinished — Hašek died of tuberculosis after finishing barely a third of its intended size, with Švejk didn't even getting to the front lines — it's still one of the greatest achievements of the Czech literature in particular and world literature in general.
  • Apart from Švejk, there was a Polish novel and later a film, C.K. dezerterzy. Its similarity in depiction of WWI-era KundK army brought a number of plagiarism accusations, but was a genuine work. Which is yet another example of KundK forces' image of a Red Shirt Army.
  • The post-apocalyptic 1983: Doomsday fics for Hetalia: Axis Powers take place in and around Austria, with a number of nods to Franz Joseph and the Habsburg Empire in general. Including the embodiment's brutally cut short "marriage" to Hungary.
  • The latest DLC and expansion pack for Civilization V, Gods and Kings features Austria as a playable nation for the first time in the series. Also of note is that it is represented in-game by Maria Theresa and that its unique building is a Coffee House.
  • The Hungarian film Colonel Redl (1985) takes place during the Dual Monarchy's waning days, focusing on spy-turned-traitor Alfred Redl. The movie depicts the ethnic and religious tensions within the Austro-Hungarian Empire, showing Archduke Franz Ferdinand using unsavory means (entrapping military officers as spies, provoking conflict with Serbia and Russia) to keep the Empire together at all costs.
  • Rachelle McCalla's ebook trilogy The Girl Who Started the War to End All Wars is set in an Alternate History where Sophie Chotek died during her teenage years and never met Archduke Franz Ferdinand, starting a chain of events that led to nuclear war and the threatened extinction of humanity. The heroine, Torin Sinclair, must go back through time to 1885 Bohemia and take the place of Sophie, of whom she's an exact lookalike.
  • John Biggins' Otto Prohaska series about an Austrian U-boat commander.
  • Much of The Seven-Per-Cent Solution takes place in and around Vienna.
  • The Austrian-Hungarian Empire forces appear as a playable faction in Battlefield 1's multiplayer. While unique looking in appearance, they otherwise speak the same German dialect as the German Empire. They appear as enemies in the War Story, "Avanti Savoia!".
  • Elisabeth covers the life of Empress Elisabeth, Emperor Franz Joseph I, and their son Crown Prince Rudolf.
  • The manga Wolfsmund has an Austrian noble in charge of the eponymous (and fictional) fortress-cum-checkpoint which is set up at St Gotthard Pass. The cruelty of said noble eventually stirs the Swiss forest cantons into rebellion, leading to the Battle of Morgarten in the finale. The co-dukes of Austria at the time, Leopold I and Frederick the Fair, appear as characters.
  • Ancestors Legacy has a campaign depicting Rudolph's trials as "Holy Roman Emperor".
  • Vienna Blood, a TV miniseries based on a series of mystery novels by Frank Talis, is set in Vienna in 1906-7. A Vienna detective forms an oddball partnership with a young psychiatrist (an early devotee of Sigmund Freud), and together, they fight crime.
  • Isonzo is set on the Italian Front of World War I, along the borders of northern Italy and Austria-Hungary, with the Austro-Hungarian Army themselves serving as the sole Central Powers faction currently in the game.
  • The Empress is about the early marriage of Franz Joseph and Elisabeth.

Alternative Title(s): The House Of Habsburg