The Rise of the Habsburgs, 16th–17th Centuries
The Habsburgs were the last to emerge of a series of royal houses that vied for possession of the thrones governing the medieval states of Central-Eastern and Northeastern Europe during the 14th through early 16th centuries. The family started out within the Holy Roman Empire as obscure minor German aristocrats holding lands in the eastern regions of Switzerland. The Habsburg rise from obscurity began in 1273 when Count Rudolf of Habsburg was chosen Holy Roman Emperor (1273–91) by the German Electors of the empire precisely because of his very obscurity and perceived weakness as a prince. During Rudolf’s reign, the Grand Principality of Austria was established as the new heartland of Habsburg possessions. The family thereafter continued to enlarge its lands and to maintain claims on the imperial throne in Germany primarily through a deft political policy of marriage alliances that transformed the Habsburgs into the wealthiest and most politically powerful ruling house in all of Europe by the 16th century.