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Rudolph I of Germany

Rudolph I (Rudolph of Hapsburg) (1218-1291), German king, son of Albert IV, count of Habsburg, and Hedwig, daughter of Ulrich count of Kyburg, was born at Limburg an der Lahn on May 1, 1218. At his father's death in 1239 Rudolph inherited the family estates in Alsace, and in 1245 he married Gertrude, daughter of Burkhard III count of Hohenberg. He paid frequent visits to the court of his godfather the emperor Frederick II, and his loyalty to Frederick and to his son Conrad IV was richly rewarded by grants of land, but in 1254 was excommunicated by Pope Innocent IV. The disorder in Germany after the fall of the Hohenstaufen afforded an opportunity for Rudolph to increase his possessions. His wife was an heiress; and on the death of his childless uncle, Hartmann VI, count of Kyburg, in 1264, he seized his valuable estates. Successful feuds with the bishops of Strassburg and Basel further augmented his wealth and his reputation; rights over various tracts of land were purchased from abbots and others; and he was also the possessor of large estates in the regions now known as Switzerland and Alsace.

These various sources of wealth and influence had rendered Rudolph the most powerful prince in south-western Germany when, in the autumn of 1273, the princes met to elect a king. His election at Frankfort on the 29th of September 1273 was largely due to the efforts of his brother-in-law, Frederick III of Hohenzollern, burgrave of Nuremberg. The support of Albert duke of Saxe-Lauenburg, and of Louis II count palatine of the Rhine and duke of upper Bavaria, had been purchased by betrothing them to two of Rudolph's daughters; so that Ottokar II king of Bohemia, a candidate for the throne, was almost alone in his opposition. Rudolph was crowned at Aix-la-Chapelle on the 24th of October 1273, and the feast which followed has been described by Friedrich Schiller in Der Graf von Hapsburg. To win the approbation of the pope Rudolph renounced all imperial rights in Rome, the papal territory and Sicily, and promised to lead a new crusade; and Pope Gregory X, in spite of Ottokar's protests, not only recognized Rudolph himself, but persuaded Alfonso X, king of Castile, who had been chosen German king in 1257, to do the same. In November 1274 it was decided by the diet at Nuremberg that all crown estates seized since the death of the emperor Frederick II must be restored, and that Ottokar of Bohemia must answer to the diet for not recognizing the new king. Ottokar refused to appear or to restore the provinces of Austria, Styria, Carinthia and Carniola which he had seized. He was placed under the ban; and in June 1276 war was declared against him. Having detached Henry I duke of lower Bavaria from his side, Rudolph compelled the Bohemian king to cede the four provinces in November 1276. Ottokar was then invested with Bohemia by Rudolph, and his son Wenceslaus was betrothed to a daughter of the German king, who made a triumphal entry into Vienna. Ottokar, however, raised questions about the execution of the treaty, made an alliance with some Polish chiefs and procured the support of several German princes, including his former ally, Henry of lower Bavaria. To meet this combination Rudolph entered into alliance with Ladislaus IV, king of Hungary, and gave additional privileges to the citizens of Vienna. On the 26th of August 1278 the rival armies met on the banks of the river March near Dtirnkrut, and Ottokar was defeated and killed. Moravia was subdued and its government entrusted to Rudolph's representatives, while Wenceslaus was again betrothed to one of his daughters.

Rudolph's attention was next turned to his new possessions in Austria and the adjacent countries. He spent several years in establishing his authority there, but found some difficulty in making these provinces hereditary in his family. At length the hostility of the princes was overcome, and in December 1282 Rudolph invested his sons Albert and Rudolph with the duchies of Austria and Styria at Augsburg, and so laid the foundations of the greatness of the house of Habsburg.

Turning to the west he compelled Philip I count of upper Burgundy to cede some districts to him in 1281, forced the citizens of Bern to pay the tribute which they had previously refused, and in 1289 marched against Philip's successor, Otto IV, and compelled him to do homage. In 1281 his first wife died, and on the 5th of February 1284 he married Isabella, daughter of Hugh IV. duke of Burgundy. Rudolph was not very successful in restoring internal peace to Germany. Orders were indeed issued for the establishment of landpeaces in Bavaria, Franconia and Swabia, and afterwards for the whole of Germany; but the king lacked the power, or the determination, to enforce them, although in December 1289 he led an expedition into Thuringia where he destroyed a number of robber-castles. In 1291 he attempted to secure the election of his son Albert as German king; but the princes refused on the pretext of their inability to support two kings, but perhaps because they feared the increasing power of the Habsburgs. Rudolph died at Speyer on the July 15, 1291 and was buried in the cathedral of that city. He had a large family, but only one of his sons, Albert, afterwards the German king Albert I of Hapsburg, survived him.

Rudolph was a tall man with pale face and prominent nose. He possessed many excellent qualities, bravery, piety and generosity; but his reign is memorable rather in the history of the house of Habsburg than in that of the kingdom of Germany.

from a 1911 encyclopedia

Preceded by:
Alfonso X of Castile
List of German Kings and Emperors Succeeded by:
Adolf of Nassau-Weilburg